The Champions League is one of the most followed competitions in football every year. It is easily the most prestegious club competiion and has lived up to the name and expectations every year. The competition has produced a lot of goals over the years and it is no surprise that the top scorer list is dominated and led by forwards like Raul, Ronaldo and Messi, but in between all the strikers there are plenty of midfielders who have left their mark on the competiton with their performances and goals. Here is a look at the top 10 goal scoring central midfielders in the Champions League era.Note: The stats have been taken from STATBUNKER, WhoScored and Soccer Base.
#10 Wesley Sneijder
Goals Scored: 16
Sneijder is a Champions League winner with Internazionale. The Dutchman started his career with Ajax and was a regular in the side from 2003, but he had to wait till 2005 to get his first European goal.
Sneijder moved to Inter from Real Madrid in 2009 and was a central figure in their treble winning season. His first goal in the Champions League that season was from a free kick versus Dynamo Kyiv which almost guaranteed Inter’s progress to the knockout stage. He then scored the only goal in the second leg of the quarter final against CSKA Moscow which confirmed Inter’s place in the semi-final. His final goal of the tournament that season was the equalizer against defending champions Barcelona in the semi-final.
Although Sneijder didn’t score in the final, he assisted Milito’s first goal as Inter were crowned European Champions and completed their treble. His performances earned him the nickname “Sniper” from the media for his ability to execute long passes and score from distance. The Dutchman was also named by UEFA as the best club midfielder of the 2009-10 Champions League season.
The Dutch ace currently plays for Galatasaray and his last goal in the Champions League was a late goal in the final group stage match which knocked Juventus out of the competition last season and confirmed his team’s progress to the quarter final.
He takes center stage today as Galatasaray play Arsenal at the Emirates and this will be another chance for Sneijder to move up the ladder on the top scorers list.
#9 Cesc Fabregas
Goals Scored: 17
Fabregas still has a few good years left in him and could easily climb up this list into one of the top spots. The former Barcelona and Arsenal man currently sits in the 9th place with 17 goals. Surprisingly Fabregas scored just one Champions League goal in each of his three seasons at Barcelona and he has already matched that figure in just two Champions League games with Chelsea.
The Spaniard scored the majority of his goals in Europe with Arsenal where he spent the most successful period of his career so far. In fact his first Champions league goal which was for Arsenal made him the second youngest scorer in the tournament. The following season he started the Champions League final for Arsenal against his future employees Barcelona in a losing cause.
This season Fabregas scored Chelsea’s only goal in their opening game of the UEFA Champions League game against Schalke, the goal was also his first goal as Chelsea player. His best goal in the tournament has to be the one he scored against Milan in an away game back in 2007-08, which was from nearly 35 yards out.
#8 Lucho Gonzalez
Goals Scored: 18
Lucho is probably the least flamboyant player on this list, but the Argentine is amongst the rare breed of midfielders with an eye for a goal and good long range shooting ability. Additionally he was a hard working player with good passing skills. He spent nine years in Europe with two separate stints with Porto on either side of his time at Marseille.
Last season, he was the standout performer for a below par Porto side who got knocked out in the group stages of the Champions League. The Argentine scored the only goals in two away games versus Zenit and Austria Wien to secure a draw and a win respectively, which ultimately gave Porto 4 out of the 5 points they managed in the group stages.
Lucho who is currently 33, now plays for Qatari side Al Rayyan SC after having left Porto at the end of last season.
#7 Juninho Pernambucano
Goals Scored: 18
The Brazilian is renowned for his free-kicks and is widely considered to be the greatest free-kick specialist of all time. A perfect example of his sheer brilliance is his impact on another free-kick specialist Andrea Pirlo. The Italian openly admitted that he had spent hours to try and study Juninho’s technique and the duo met in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.
Juninho spent eight seasons in Europe and all of them were with French side Olympique Lyon who had never won a league title prior to his arrival, but went on to win 7 league titles on the trot in his first seven seasons at the club.
Although Juninho didn’t win any European titles during his time in France, he still managed to score some sensational goals in the UEFA Champions League and one of his best goals in the tournament came against Bayern Munich. Unsurprisingly that goal also came from a free kick and the goal keeper he left bamboozled was none other than the great Oliver Khan!
#6 Luis Enrique
Goals Scored: 19
The current Barcelona manager is one of the very few players to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. On top of that he made a direct move between the clubs when he joined Barcelona after seeing out his contract with Real Madrid.
Although he played for the Spanish giants he didn’t win the Champions League with either club, his only European honours are the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Super Cup he won with Barcelona in the 1996-97 season. Majority of Enrique’s goals in Europe were also for the Catalan club.
Enrique was known as an attacking midfielder with good temperament and excellent stamina and in 2004 when he announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 34, he had racked up 144 goals in club competition while averaging over 1 goal per every 4 games which is exceptional for a midfielder.
#5 Steven Gerrard
Goals Scored: 20
The Liverpool captain has scored some crucial and stunning goals in his career and some of them have come in the Champions League. His return of 20 goals in the tournament is impressive as Liverpool have failed to qualify for the tournament in the last four seasons.
The talismanic Englishman was pivotal to Liverpool’s Champions League success in 2005. During the final group stage game of the season, Liverpool needed to win by a margin of 2 goals or more to qualify for the next round. In the dying minutes of the game, Liverpool needed one more goal to progress and who else but Gerrard to step up and deliver. The goal was so spectacular that the commentator Andy Gray, who is an Everton fan and former player was sent into delirium and his commentary made the goal even more exciting.
In the final against AC Milan, Liverpool were trailing the game 3-0 at half-time and Gerrard sparked off a six minute period of sheer brilliance which probably produced the greatest ever comeback in the history of the game. The captain led from the front and scored Liverpool’s first goal of the night and then won the penalty that eventually tied the game at 3-3. He was later adjudged man of the match and won the UEFA Club footballer of the year award.
Gerrard still continues to be a vital part of the Liverpool side. In fact he scored the winning goal for Liverpool against Ludogorets this season, which was their first Champions League game in over 4 years.
#4 Frank Lampard
Goals Scored: 23
Lampard has featured in two Champions League finals in his career. The first was in 2008, where Chelsea lost the game on penalties and the second was in 2012, when they won on penalties. Lampard scored the equalizer in final of 2008 and successfully converted his penalty in the shootout on both occasions.
Lampard played a crucial role in Chelsea’s Champions League winning season. His first major performance was in the Round of 16 game against Napoli when Chelsea were trailing 3-1 after the first leg. Lampard assisted John Terry’s goal that opened Chelsea’s account on the night and then scored their second from the spot. Then again in the second leg of the next round, Lampard scored from the spot to give Chelsea a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
His contributions didn’t end there, as in the semi-final Lampard stole the ball from Messi and played a long ball to Ramires who set up Drogba for the only goal of the first leg. In the second leg he once again came to Chelsea’s rescue when they were trailing the game 2-0 just before half-time. He provided the assist for Ramires’ goal which put Chelsea ahead on aggregate on away goals. Lampard captained Chelsea in the final as they lifted their first Champions League title.
Lampard has scored goals against many European giants in his career, most notably on more than one occasion against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool.
#3 Jari Litmanen
Goals Scored: 23
Litmanen is considered to be the greatest Finnish player of all time and he is fondly called ‘Litti’ in Finland. During his career Litti played for Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona, and the peak of his career was during his first spell at Ajax. The Finn was part of the famous Ajax side that reached the final of UEFA Champions League in back to back seasons under current Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal.
The Dutch side lifted the Champions League in 95 and this made him the first Finnish player to win the prestigious tournament. Litmanen continued his fine form into the 95-96 season and he finished the season as the top scorer in Europe with nine goals. He also scored the equalizer in the final of 96, against Juventus, but Ajax lost the game on penalties.
The Finn’s career was hampered by injuries, which forced him to miss many games at Ajax. The problem grew worse in the subsequent years and he never found the level he achieved at Ajax with Barcelona or Liverpool.
His time at Barcelona was highly unsuccessful and he eventually moved to Liverpool on a free transfer. Even though initially he found his feet at Liverpool, injuries continued to take a toll and he returned to Ajax where he was greeted with a Hero’s Welcome.
Litmanen gradually faded away and eventually retired in 2011 and is still Ajax’s top scorer in European competitions.
#2 Paul Scholes
Goals Scored: 24
The former Manchester United man scored less number of goals in the Premier League in comparison to his compatriots Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, but is much ahead of the two when it comes to the number of goals scored in Europe’s elite competition. However, Lampard and Gerrard are still active and therefore can still overtake Scholes.
Scholes won the tournament with Manchester United on two occasions and has finished second best with Manchester United on two occasions.
He was key to Manchester United’s treble success in 1998-99. The Englishman scored an away goal against Internazionale in the quarter final which put the tie out of the Italian side’s reach. Although Scholes was instrumental in United’s road to the final, he picked up a yellow card in the semi-final which ruled him out of the final against Bayern Munich through suspension.
The most important goal that he scored was probably the one he scored against Barcelona in 2008. It was the semifinal of the Champions League and the first leg finished 0-0 at the Nou Camp. In the second leg the game was evenly poised at 0-0 when Scholes picked up the ball from around 40 yards from goal, took a couple of touches and fired it in. United qualified for the final thanks to that goal and eventually won the tournament.
Goals Scored: 30
The phenomenal Brazilian featured in two Champions League finals during his stay in Europe. The first one was in 2005 in a losing cause and the second in 2007, where his club Milan were crowned champions.
Kaka was at the top of his form in the 2007 title winning season. The Brazilian was the top scorer in the Champions League that season with 10 goals and some of them proved to be crucial to Milan’s progress in the tournament. During the Round of 16 game against Celtic, it was Kaka’s sole goal of the entire tie that settled the game in Milan’s favour. But it was in the semifinal against Manchester United that Kaka turned out to be their saviour.
Milan lost their away game to Manchester United, but Kaka scored two crucial away goals to end the game 3-2. In the return fixture, he put Milan ahead on aggregate in the 11th minute and eventually the Italian side won the game 3-0. Kaka was adjudged as the player of the tournament and his fine performances for Milan also fetched him the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA Player of the year award the same year.
Last season Kaka played the Champions League with AC Milan and scored his 30th and Milan’s only goal in the knockout round. The goal currently stands as Milan’s last goal in the Champions League.