Best players of the Champions League
After Saturday, there can be no question about which club is the best in the world, with Barcelona dismantling Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final. But this hasn't just been a season that celebrated teams as wholes greater than the sum of their parts, but one of exceptional individual performances, too.
So here are ESPN.com's choices for the Champions League's best players of the 2010-11 season. (And yes, we're aware that we've left off Gareth Bale. We felt he had some exceptional games but faded considerably over the long haul of the entire campaign.)
Manuel Neuer, Schalke 04
Thanks to Neuer's heroics, Schalke conceded just three times in the group phase, more than only Real Madrid (two) and Manchester United (one). And he kept his team in the tournament longer than it probably deserved.
Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
The sturdy Serb was the best man out of the back for Chelsea, whether it was on the right or in the center of defense.
Ricardo Carvalho, Real Madrid
The Portuguese veteran provided stability amid the chaos often enveloping Real.
Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United
Hands down the best defender in Europe. Just like he was last year. Even if he was partly culpable for Lionel Messi's winning goal in the final.
Marcelo, Real Madrid
His offensive foraging put fear into opponents all over the continent. Sometimes it seemed he was the most offensive-minded player on his team.
Playing high up out on the right or left wing, Pedro emerged as a lethal scoring threat this year, bagging five Champions League goals, including the first in the final. Not even his infuriating flopping could keep him off this team.
Another year, another stellar performance, helping his team glide to a second Champions League title in three years. Ho hum.
Jack Wilshere, Arsenal
At just 19, Wilshere was the revelation of the tournament, holding his own against the world's very best in the middle of the park.
Ryan Giggs, Manchester United
Single-handedly saw United through to the semifinals with two splendid assists in the decisive second leg in the quarterfinals against Chelsea. He did have a fairly anonymous final, though.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
He stood alone as the only Madridista truly eager to take the fight to Barca in the semifinals. Before that, he excelled once more.
Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Even if you've seen just a few minutes of soccer this year, this pick needs no explanation. And if it does, consider this: 12 goals in the Champions League alone. Not to mention the one that won Barca the tournament.
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Victor Valdes, Barcelona
Barca's underappreciated netminder had another strong season when even some of his best colleagues slipped up.
Dani Alves, Barcelona
Still a defensive liability at times, his offensive contributions helped overload defenses. And he took Shakhtar Donetsk apart almost by himself in the quarterfinals.
Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
With a few strong appearances, most notably against Barcelona, Koscielny showed himself a more-than-capable defender.
Lucio, Inter Milan
The galloping Brazilian hasn't yet lost his touch, even if his team has. He did have an off-game or two, relegating him to the Second Team.
Gael Clichy, Arsenal
They don't come a whole lot more reliable than Clichy. Nor do many get forward as well, either.
Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur He brought the thunder against AC Milan, dismantling the veteran team with his speed and leading Spurs at their finest hour.
Pepe, Real Madrid
Any man who can neutralize Messi, even if his methods were more sinister than his motives, deserves plaudits. And he did it while being moved out of his natural position in central defense, no less.
Jose Manuel Jurado, Schalke 04
The brain behind Schalke's surprise run into the semifinals was a breakout star. His shots from distance were a sight to behold.
Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid
One of the best pure wingers in the world was useful no matter what tactics his club employed. His quickness ravaged every defense in its path.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
The world's worst role model had a tumultuous year, with poor form festering well into the winter. Although he got himself an uncharacteristically low 11 goals in the Premier League, he did get four in the Champions League, including a stunning 1-1 equalizer in the final. While he wasn't nearly as productive in front of goal as Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez or Inter's Samuel Eto'o, Rooney's influence was still enormous.
Javier Hernandez, Manchester United
The Mexican rookie shot United past Olympique Marseille in the Round of 16 and Chelsea in the quarterfinals. While Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney perfected their inconsistency act, Chicharito was there whenever United needed him. That he was little-seen in the final had more to do with a lack of service than it did with him.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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