Following the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League group stage, UEFA.com takes its pick of ten players who have stepped out of the shadows of the competition's more stellar names to make their mark this season. Which player has surprised you most along the way?
Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur FC
Quite simply the sensation of the season so far, the Welshman's flying forays down the left propelled Harry Redknapp's side into the knockout phase at the first attempt. If his second-half hat-trick at FC Internazionale Milano on Matchday 3 was not special enough, he took the holders apart at White Hart Lane a fortnight later as well. "Bale was amazing," Redknapp purred. "The boy can run and run and run."
Nacer Chadli, FC Twente
An unheralded summer signing from local second-tier side AGOVV Apeldoorn, Chaldi quickly became a key figure with the Dutch champions. The 22-year-old left winger played in all six group stage games and scored three times, including the crucial opening strike in victory at SV Werder Bremen that earned the Dutch champions a UEFA Europa League place. He also ensured Twente signed off on a high with the free-kick that secured a point in the 3-3 draw with Tottenham.
Benoît Cheyrou, Olympique de Marseille
The understated 29-year-old midfielder quickly settled at Marseille after joining from AJ Auxerre in 2007, but in this his seventh successive European campaign the brother of former international striker Bruno has reached the next level. The calm he exudes as OM's midfield anchorman shows what a difference experience can make. His three assists tell only part of the story of a player happy to put in the hard graft to protect his back four.
Mathias Zanka Jørgensen, FC København
Jørgensen has played a key part in the Danish champions' run from the third qualifying round to the knockout phase (the only team to do so) and at 1.91m tall is an imposing presence in the heart of defence. Strong in the air and calm with the ball at his feet, he made his senior Denmark debut two weeks after keeping Lionel Messi et al quiet in FCK's 1-1 draw at home to FC Barcelona on Matchday 4. "Zanka has no limits right now," Denmark Under-21 coach Keld Bordinggaard has said.
Mario Gómez, FC Bayern Munchen
With Ivica Olić and Miroslav Klose ahead of him in the pecking order, Gómez looked set for another frustrating season kicking his heels on the sidelines. Injuries to both, however, have thrust the 25-year-old back on to centre stage and he has grabbed his chance with aplomb, scoring six goals in the first three Group E games he has started. The €30m signing from VfB Stuttgart complained that entering matches from the bench had upset his rhythm; he has found it again now.
Stefan Savić, FK Partizan
It is not easy for a centre-back to impress in a team that conceded 13 goals in six games, but that is exactly what this 19-year-old has managed for the Serbian champions, turning heads at some of the continents' top clubs in the process. His imperious display in the opening 1-0 defeat at FC Shakhtar Donetsk really emphasised what a huge talent the Montenegrin is. Calm, strong in the air and on the deck, comfortable linking with midfield and rarely putting a foot wrong, Savić is not far off the finished article.
Xherdan Shaqiri, FC Basel 1893
The Swiss have long known they have a diamond in the rough in 19-year-old Shaqiri and the rest of Europe is now waking up to the fact. Blessed with extraordinary technical skills, the midfielder has dazzled on the European stage and scored his first group stage goal in the 3-2 defeat by AS Roma on 3 November. Reproducing that form on a consistent basis is what coach Thorsten Fink wants to see next. "Every day people pat him on the back and tell him how good he is," Fink said. "But he is not that good at the moment." How good could he become?
Roberto Soldado, Valencia CF
Marking the start to his senior career with Real Madrid CF by striking the winning goal against Olympiacos FC back in 2005, Soldado could not have imagined it would be five years before he again hit the heights in the UEFA Champions League. After spells at CA Osasuna and Getafe CF, the forward joined hometown club Valencia in the summer and has since enjoyed his return to Europe's premier club tournament, making light of David Villa's departure by scoring five times in as many games.
Rafael van der Vaart, Tottenham Hotspur FC
The Dutch midfielder signed for €11m from Madrid with seconds remaining in the transfer window and his impact has been as thrilling as the race to register his signature. Following an assist against SV Werder Bremen, the 27-year-old tormented FC Twente with a wonderful goal, though a subsequent penalty miss and red card summed up the frenzied start to his Spurs career. He returned with another virtuoso display and the opening strike in the London club's famous 3-1 triumph against Inter.
Jack Wilshere, Arsenal FC
After making the grade in the Premier League on loan at Bolton Wanderers FC last season, the 18-year-old midfielder has now taken the step up to the UEFA Champions League in his stride. SC Braga had no answer to his passing and movement in a 6-0 defeat on Matchday 1 and, if he was denied the goal a scintillating performance deserved that night, he was rewarded with his first in the competition in a 5-1 rout of FC Shakhtar Donetsk two games later.
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