The 2020-21 European football season has been a grueling one for players across the continent, with the scheduling and lack of rest time between games causing players to pick up injuries more frequently. Liverpool and Real Madrid are two sides that have been hampered by injuries this season, with the Reds losing talismanic defender Virgil van Dijk to an ACL injury in October.
The likes of Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez have spent time on the sidelines, too, while Real Madrid have also had their fair share of fitness concerns.
Injuries, however, have led to opportunities for players on the fringes of the squad. A handful of stars have made their presence felt in what has been a tumultuous league season, having played key roles for their respective clubs in the past few months.
Here are five players who have featured more often than they'd have expected at the start of the season.
#5 Nat Phillips | Liverpool
At the start of the season, Nat Phillips was linked with a host of Championship clubs, as Liverpool looked to offload the defender who was never going to be a part of Jurgen Klopp's plans. Six months later, he is one of two senior fit central defenders at the club and is all set to start a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid.
Football is a funny old game, and Phillips' dramatic change in fortunes over the past few months has been the perfect example. A tough-tackling defender who is aerially dominant, the 24-year-old has quickly become a cult hero at Anfield for his warrior-like performances.
Phillips has made 12 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions and looks set to play a pivotal role in the business end of the season.
#4 Moise Kean | Paris Saint-Germain
Moise Kean has been Paris Saint-Germain's surprise package of the season, with the striker impressing on loan in the French capital after sealing a loan move from Everton. While it initially looked like he'd struggle for game time ahead of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Angel di Maria, the Italian has featured 30 times for the Ligue 1 champions in all competitions.
Kean has also been slotted out wide on certain occasions, but that hasn't stopped him from enjoying the most productive season of his professional career. He has scored 15 goals so far and looks set to add to his tally between now and the end of the season.
The 21-year-old endured an unproductive spell at Everton but has recaptured his mojo with PSG. If reports are to be believed, Kean could well sign for the French side permanently at the end of the season.