Over the course of the last decade, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have held a duopoly over football’s individual prizes. Ballon d’Or, FIFA Best Player, Golden Boots – you name it; they won it.
The top scorer in the Champions League is no different. The last 10 editions have been made the pair’s own personal dominion. Even when their teams have not been close to winning the competition, the rivals’ individual exploits have remained of the highest standard.
As such, this is a list that could easily contain just two names, for the odds are that one of the illustrious duo will claim the honours. However, both are now the wrong side of 30 and their control must surely wane at some stage.
Goal takes a look at the players in with a chance of winning the award this year (with their goal tally of last season in brackets).
ROMELU LUKAKU (N/A)
Manchester United’s marquee summer signing, Romelu Lukaku has performed with great promise for Jose Mourinho’s men in the opening weeks of the season.
The former Everton man has found the net in all of his competitive matches thus far and looks a fine focal point for the Portuguese’s direct style.
His lack of Champions League experience will count against him, though United will be hopeful of enjoying a significant run into the knockout stages, which should give him plenty of time to adapt, and shine.
HARRY KANE (2)
Harry Kane has finished as the Premier League’s leading marksman in each of the last two seasons and will seek to transfer his form across to Europe in the coming weeks.
Injury prevented him from playing a major part as Spurs crashed out at the group stages last season and he remains largely untested at this level as a result.
For the England international to stand a chance of finishing as the competition’s top scorer, he needs his club to cause an upset or two along the way.
LUIS SUAREZ (3)
Controversy might have followed Luis Suarez at every turn, but so too have goals. The Uruguay hitman has been a regular on the scoresheet in La Liga, where he netted 40 times only two seasons ago, and since signing for Barcelona three years ago he has 18 in the Champions League.
Neymar’s departure may weaken the side as a whole, but it strengthens the former Liverpool man’s chances of finishing the competition as top scorer, as he will become more of a focal point of the attack – even if Messi remains the main man.
ALVARO MORATA (3)
Alvaro Morata has had a somewhat uncomfortable start to life at Chelsea, missing a crucial penalty in the Community Shield then squandering a fine chance in the London derby against Tottenham. In between times, however, he nearly inspired an unlikely comeback against Burnley.
In time, however, the Spaniard is expected to prove himself worth the £70 million fee his club paid this summer to Real Madrid, and all will be forgotten if he hits a prolific rhythm in the Champions League.
He is certainly capable of it, as he has shown in the past with important goals for both Real and Juventus.
Signed for €222m from Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain have made Neymar the world’s most expensive player. Their aim is to launch a successful push for the Champions League, and the Brazilian attacker is expected to be to the forefront.
He has started with immense promise in Ligue 1, scoring three times in his first two appearances, yet he may have to share the scoring spotlight with centre forward Edinson Cavani.
Neymar is the only player other than Messi or Ronaldo to have held this honour in the last 10 years, albeit finishing joint leading marksman with the pair in 2014-15.
DRIES MERTENS (5)
Dries Mertens represents an intriguing outside bet as top scorer, having absolutely exploded with Napoli last season by scoring 28 Serie A goals.
The Belgian was immensely impressive following back-to-back hat-tricks in December, having scored only three times in the first 15 matches of the 2016-17 campaign.
There’s been no looking back for the 30-year-old since then and he will be aiming to better his tally of five strikes, which was achieved in last season’s European run to the last 16.
GONZALO HIGUAIN (5)
Juventus have been the nearly men of the Champions League over the course of the last three seasons. Twice they have reached the final and twice they have finished as runners-up.
Gonzalo Higuain was central to their run to Cardiff last season, scoring five times for the Turin giants, and the Argentine is bound to be vital to them as they aim to better that effort.
The 29-year-old now has a wealth of experience to call upon and proved with his double in the semi-final first-leg win at Monaco that he could become a man for the big occasion.
KYLIAN MBAPPE (6)
Whether he’s at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid by the time the group stage starts, all eyes will be on Kylian Mbappe, the 18-year-old attacker who made such an impressive breakthrough last season.
Already he has shown an incredible eye for goal, but the summer’s transfer saga seems to be working against him at present. The season is long, though, giving him the opportunity to bounce back in a competition in which he has already excelled.
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN (6)
Atletico Madrid are not Europe’s most spectacular side, but they are one of the most functional and their leading attacker remains Antoine Griezmann.
In spite of a transfer ban, which has hampered the Spanish outfit this summer, he has shunned interest from Manchester United and will again be a key figure for Diego Simeone’s side.
Perhaps moving to their new stadium will inspire them to finally get over their ‘curse’, which has seen them lose two finals in four years. If that is to be the case, Griezmann will be key.
PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (7)
Prolific in the Bundesliga for Dortmund, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has gradually been building a reputation as one of the most dangerous strikers in world football. Blessed with searing pace, he has been forced to develop the finishing skills that have made him such a threat.
Now 28 and approaching the peak of his powers, if Dortmund are going to have a successful run in Europe, it will probably be because of the French-born striker’s excellence. He scored seven times in last season’s competition but remains a long shot.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (8)
Bayern Munich have long been one of the continent’s leading forces, and there is little doubt that their most potent threat is Robert Lewandowski. Since arriving at the Allianz Arena in 2014-15, he has scored 23 times in three European campaigns, managing nearly a goal per game.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side perennially reach the knockout stages of the competition and have expectations of pushing to win the competition. If they are to get their hands on Europe’s greatest prize, the 29-year-old Poland star will need to find the net regularly.
LIONEL MESSI (11)
Lionel Messi won the European Golden Boot last term, netting 37 times in La Liga. This was comfortably the best record on the continent in domestic play, far eclipsing Ronaldo, but Barcelona’s status has taken something of a tumble over the summer.
If the Catalans are to go deep in the competition, it seems that they will have to be carried by the Argentine more than ever. Messi has finished as the Champions League top scorer on five occasions, but not since 2011-12 has he been the outright leading marksman.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (12)
Ronaldo starts the season as clear favourite to win the prize. Indeed, his scoring record in the Champions League has been unparalleled for the last five years. No-one has scored more than the Portuguese in any individual edition since 2011-12 – joint first is the worst he has finished.
He has scored 67 goals in total over these last five years, in which his Real Madrid side have won the title three times. Zinedine Zidane’s men look stronger than anyone else heading into the new campaign, having become the first side to defend the Champions League last season, so both the Blancos and Ronaldo are well placed to retain their respective titles.