Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski – Europe’s top marksmen set their sights on Champions League glory

The most prolific finishers in club football return for the conclusion of the revamped Champions League this month – and you can watch them all right here, exclusively live on BT Sport.

By George Mills Published: 5 August 2020 - 2.47pm

August brings a feast of football to BT Sport as the Champions League kicks back into action with four ties still to be settled in the round of 16.

Juventus, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are just a few of the teams yet to book their place in the World Cup-style knockout tournament taking place in Lisbon.

Atalanta v Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig v Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, are confirmed to take place in the last eight of this year’s shortened competition.

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With domestic titles now all settled, the Champions League provides the season’s last chance to claim silverware – and some of Europe’s top marksmen will be hoping their goals can be the catalyst to a historic win behind closed doors.

Here, takes a look at five key forwards aiming to fire their teams to the final at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz on Sunday 23 August.

Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

The Frenchman is not often the talk of the team at Real Madrid but over the past two seasons Karim Benzema has undergone a quiet resurgence to become one of La Liga’s most feared predators.

The 32-year-old has been infamously frozen out of the national team picture since 2015 and, earlier this season, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet declared his international career to be over.

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However, Le Graet was forced to concede that Benzema had “completed the best season of his career” following the current campaign, branding him “one of the best”.

His compliment was met with a frosty response by the player, who tweeted in reply: “I prefer to laugh.”

But how good has he been?

In 37 games for the newly-crowned La Liga champions, Benzema has scored 21 times and laid on 11 more for his team-mates, converting 16.9% of his chances – a figure that puts him ahead of both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Only Messi has scored more league goals than Benzema in the Spanish top division this season – but Madrid will need Benzema to carry his good form into Europe with a 2-1 deficit to overturn when they face Manchester City on Friday 7 August.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona

What more is there to be said about Lionel Messi that has not already been said?

The Argentinean maestro is having yet another phenomenal season in terms of his personal production, even if it comes in the context of a developing crisis at Barcelona.

Ordinarily a quietly-spoken individual who prefers to let his feet do the talking, Messi has been moved to intervene with his words amid a poor season that saw the Blaugrana surrender their league title to their rivals in Madrid.

Perhaps fired up by the perceived failures of those around him, Messi has outperformed his season’s expected goals total of 19.9 to find the back of the net 25 times in the league.

But while he continues to find the net with frightening consistency, it is his eye-watering assists tally of 21 in 32 league games that stands him apart from his peers across Europe.

Barca face Napoli in the second leg of their round of 16 tie having scored a vital away goal in Naples that will give them a boost returning to the Nou Camp on Saturday 8 August.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

He's the king of the competition.

By far and away the most prolific player in the tournament's history, Cristiano Ronaldo staggering 128 career goals to date in the Champions League have seen him fire both Manchester United, once, and Real Madrid, four times, to the title.

Only one player has won more Champions League trophies than the Portuguese superstar - former Madrid captain Francisco Gento (6) - but to draw level with the record with a third different club would see Ronaldo's legacy enhanced further still.

Rumours of the 35-year-old's demise that began to circle last year now appear greatly exaggerated in the face of a domestic season that saw him score 31 goals in 32 games while Juve scooped yet another Scudetto.

However, with a 1-0 deficit to overturn when they welcome Lyon to Turin, Ronaldo knows he'll need to add to his record-breaking goals tally to have any chance of reaching another final.

Raheem Sterling, Man City

Having enjoyed the type of success that Raheem Sterling has over the past two Premier League seasons, adulation has made way for expectation when discussing the England forward today.

It was his 18 goals and 11 assists that helped fire City to the title in 2017/18, and his 17 goals and 10 assists that did the same in the 2018/19 campaign.

However, last season he endured a barren spell between late December and early March that looked set to curtail his production before returning from the break in blistering form.

10 goals after the restart boosted his season’s Premier League tally to 20 – albeit with just a single assist – but the 25-year-old is approaching the peak of his physical prowess and continuing to develop into the modern forward.

He has scored more goals from open play than Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe and is level with Lionel Messi.

With six strikes on his left foot and three headers, his diverse goal scoring ability is also among the most impressive of the names mentioned above and he will be key to any chance City have of lifting the Champions League trophy.

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

Simply put, the Polish striker is the man right now.

At 31 years old, Lewandowski is posting the type of numbers only Messi and Ronaldo have appeared capable of in recent years – not a bad achievement for a man once destined to join Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers were it not for the intervention of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull.

An eighth straight Bundesliga title looked anything but certain at the start of the current campaign as Niko Kovac was relieved of his coaching duties with Bayern languishing in fourth place following a 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.

But under Kovac’s successor, Hansi Flick, Bayern have looked reborn both domestically and in Europe with Lewandowski’s goal scoring ferocity firing Bayern to the summit of the table.

In just 31 games, the former Dortmund man has scored 34 times – including 29 from open play – on his way to becoming the Bundesliga’s all-time leading foreign-born goalscorer.

He had been a certainty to scoop a deserved Ballon D’Or too before France Football magazine’s controversial decision to scrap this year’s award due to the coronavirus crisis.

Can he finish the season on the perfect note and fire Bayern – current joint favourites to win the Champions League – to victory for the first time since 2013?

Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

Already a superstar at just 21 years old, there are few finishers as gifted as the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

His combination of electric pace, intelligent movement and ice-cold composure have seen him become a Ligue 1 champion with two different clubs, as well as a goalscorer and key member of France’s World Cup-winning squad.

A disciple of Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Monaco man is already streets ahead of his idol at the same age and looks a certainty to scoop up every individual accolade available.

He has had to contend with a frustrating domestic season this year, blighted with injury and suspension that have restricted him to just 20 league appearances.

Even still, his 18 goals and five assists – a contribution every 65 mins – show his prodigious talent in abundance.

But if Paris Saint-Germain are to remain on course to reach their first Champions League final, they will need to navigate the challenge of Atalanta without their young French forward after he was ruled out with an ankle injury.

The hopes are that he will be fit to feature in the semi-finals of the knockout tournament and his return would be a huge boost to the Ligue 1 giants’ chances.

Watch the conclusion of the Champions League exclusively live on BT Sport throughout August, beginning on Friday 7 August with Lyon v Juventus and Manchester City v Real Madrid.

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