The 2021-22 Champions League season is drawing to an end but it has been a riveting campaign, especially the knockout stages. Real Madrid will now line-up against Liverpool in the final on May 28 at the Stade de France. The Reds will look to avenge their defeat against Los Blancos in the 2018 Champions League final.
The Champions League knockout stages are a grueling affair
Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated the Champions League knockout stages over the last 15 years. The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in their respective teams was a key reason for the same. Both were incredible in the knockout stages of the UCL, but as have some other stars in the competition's history.
On that note, let's take a look at five players who have scored the most goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
#5 Neymar Jr. - 7 goals (2014-15)
Neymar Jr. is one of the most gifted players of his generation and had the talent and potential to become a world-beater during his Barcelona days. Although he is still an incredible player, things have not gone to plan at Paris Saint-Germain.
Regardless, he will have few regrets after winning all there was to win during his sensational stint at the Nou Camp, including winning the 2015 UCL title. While many credited Messi for the club's victory in Europe that season, Neymar was the driving force, especially in the knockout stages. The attacker bagged seven goals in the competition that year, including scoring in the 3-1 final win against Juventus.
While Neymar could still repeat those feats with PSG, there have been some signs that he is perhaps past his best.
#4 Sadio Mane- 7 goals (2017-18)
Sadio Mane is currently one of the best wingers in world football and has been a key player for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp.
The Senegalese star missed out on the title in the 2017-18 season. However, he excelled in the knockout stages of the Champions League that season.
The winger was vital in the Round of 16 tie against Porto (5-0) while also helping the Reds see off Manchester City (5-1) in grand fashion. Mane also played a hand in the thrilling 6-5 win against AS Roma in the semi-final. He then scored Liverpool's only goal in the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the final.
All in all, he racked up seven goals in seven knockout stage games that season, thereby proving his importance to his side.
#3 Lionel Messi- 8 goals (2011-12)
Lionel Messi will go down as arguably the greatest player of all time and for good reason. The Argentine has individual accolades to prove his case, not to mention countless team trophies, including multiple Champions League titles.
He has won the UCL Golden Boot on six occasions but his most prolific campaign came in the 2011-12 season when he scored 14 times. Barcelona went out in the semi-finals that year but Messi bagged eight goals in the knockout stages. He managed to do so in just two ties against Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. He remained goalless against Chelsea in the semi-finals as they bowed out against the eventual champions.
The South American star is the second-highest goal scorer in the competition's history with 125 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo (140 goals).
#2 Cristiano Ronaldo- 8 goals (2013-14), 10 goals (2016-17)
Cristiano Ronaldo has been one of the most iconic players in UCL history, not least because he is the record goal-scorer (140) in the competition. He has delivered time and again for Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid but his best days in the tournament came with the latter.
The Portuguese star has won four Champions League trophies with Los Blancos and has won the UCL Golden Boot a record seven times. Understandably, his performance in the knockout stages was quite brilliant.
He first proved the same in the 2013-14 season, when he scored a record-breaking 17 goals, including eight strikes in the knockout stages. While he has never scored more than 17 goals in a single UCL season again, he did bag 10 knockout stage goals in the 2016-17 season.
Real Madrid won the title on both occasions.
The standout fact of the 2016-17 campaign was that Ronaldo managed only two goals in the group stages but came clutch when his side needed him to.
#1 Karim Benzema- 10 goals (2021-22)
Karim Benzema is currently enjoying his most productive season as a centre-forward. The Frenchman has scored 43 goals in 43 games across all competitions, including 15 strikes in the Champions League.
However, he has reserved his best for the knockout stages. The striker scored a 17-minute hat-trick against PSG in R16, before also scoring four times against Chelsea in the two-legged quarter-final tie.
If this wasn't enough, Benzema scored thrice in the two semi-final legs against Manchester City, including the winner in extra time in the second leg. In doing so, he now has 10 knockout stage goals this season. He shares the record alongside his good friend and former teammate Ronaldo.
Benzema could break the record by scoring in the final while a hat-trick could see him bag the most goals in a single Champions League season (17).
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