Mohamed Salah Liverpool Champions League

The Champions League is hotting up as the best teams in Europe fight for a place in the quarter-finals, and a number of leading scorers are finding their best form.

Cristiano Ronaldo was on target twice for Real Madrid in their 3-1 first-leg victory over Paris Saint-Germain while Lionel Messi scored Barcelona’s equaliser against Chelsea. Sergio Agüero was also on the scoresheet for Manchester City as they thrashed Basel 4-0, a result that made them one of the most popular teams to back with football punters who like to bet on the Champions League with stakers.

This year’s Champions League appears to be particularly competitive, and the quality of football on show has been impressive. The first eight games of the round of 16 produced 27 goals, including five goals from Bayern Munich and Liverpool, four from Manchester City, and an exciting 2-2 draw between Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur, and as the goals fly in, the race for the Golden Boot is becoming more intense. Who is best placed to win?

To become the Champions League top scorer takes many qualities. The history of the competition’s Golden Boot winners is littered with famous names, from Romario and Raúl to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, so it usually takes something special to finish at the top of the list.

It also helps if you’re playing in a good team. Apparently, the more games a player takes part in, the more goals he can score. Of the 25 winners of the Champions League Golden Boot so far, slightly more than half played for teams that reached the final, and 84 percent were in teams that reached the last four. Only two players – Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003 and Milinko Pantić in 2005 – finished as a top scorer without getting beyond the quarter-finals, and Pantić won his Golden Boot by scoring five goals, the joint-lowest winning total ever.

Two names have dominated this annual race in the last ten years, but only one of them is in contention this time around. Here are the top five contenders for the Golden Boot.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo has dominated this race in recent years, surpassing Messi’s four consecutive titles between 2009 and 2012 to win it five times in a row, during a spell in which Real Madrid won the Champions League on three occasions. He hasn’t been on top form this season as Real have fallen behind in the race for La Liga but has shown his best in the Champions League. Ronaldo scored a stunning curling shot from the corner of the area against Dortmund to give his team a 2-0 lead, becoming in the process the first player in history to score in all six games of the Champions League group stage.

Ronaldo is already on 11 goals – a tally that would have been enough to win 17 of the first 18 Champions League Golden Boot titles. With a four-goal lead over his nearest challenger and progression to the quarter-finals looking assured, he may take some catching, even if Real were to be knocked out in the last eight.

Harry Kane

English football’s top goalscorer, Kane is duelling with Mohamed Salah for the Premier League Golden Boot and is one of Ronaldo’s closest pursuers in the Champions League. In his favour is the fact that he is Tottenham’s main goalscorer, producing over 40 percent of their goals, and so will enjoy the lion’s share of the team’s chances. However, if he is to close the four-goal gap to Ronaldo, he will need his team to go deeper in this competition than they have ever managed before, starting with a tricky second-leg home tie against Juventus.

Roberto Firmino

Jürgen Klopp’s free-scoring Liverpool side have delighted Champions League fans all season, and they feature heavily at the top of the Golden Boot chart. Like Kane, Firmino has seven goals, but unlike Kane, he has to share striking duties with two other gifted forwards. He is also usually employed in a false-nine role, which may also limit his opportunities to grab goalscoring chances, though to date in this competition, he has had more shots on goal than either of his teammates.

Mohamed Salah

Salah is Liverpool’s top goalscorer in the Premier League and has been in prolific form all season, dazzling defences with his pace, ball skills and eye for goal. He scored a typically brilliant goal against Maribor, reacting first to glide a cross expertly past the goalkeeper to give Liverpool the lead, but he is one behind his fellow Red, Firmino, so has a little ground to make up in the goalscoring charts.

Sadio Mané

One of a trio of high-scoring Liverpool players to make the list, Mané has also claimed six goals in this campaign, with the pick of the bunch being his incredible volley in the 7-0 rout of Spartak Moscow. Like Firmino and Salah, however, his chances of claiming the Golden Boot could be hampered by having to share goalscoring opportunities with two equally prolific teammates and by Liverpool’s sometimes suspect defence, which could ultimately cost them regarding reaching the last four.

This year’s Champions League has already produced a wealth of great goals as Europe’s best strikers show what they can do on the biggest stage in domestic football. Ronaldo once again leads the way, but the race for the Golden Boot promises to go all the way to the final.

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