Robert Lewandowski's goal against Lazio took him to 72 strikes in the UEFA Champions League, moving him past Raul Gonzalez and outright third in the competition's all-time scoring charts. That got bundesliga.com thinking: where does the Bayern Munich man rank among the competition's greatest strikers? Let's have a look…
Let’s first establish the criteria. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are way out in front in terms of goals scored alone. Ronaldo has 134 Champions League strikes, 15 more than his great career rival Lionel Messi. The Juventus man is the only one of the two who could today be described as an out-and-out striker, though. Ronaldo's journey from the right-hand side of Manchester United’s midfield to the left wing of Real Madrid’s attack before becoming a focal point for the record European champions has also seen him collect five Champions League titles.
Messi has averaged 0.80 goals per game at Europe’s top table - to Ronaldo’s 0.76 - winning the competition four times in the process. To describe the beating heart of Barcelona as a striker, though, would perhaps be a bigger injustice for a player who has redefined attacking play in soccer’s final third than simply leaving him out of this particular equation altogether.
Finally, Alfredo Di Stefano scored 49 goals in helping Real to five European Cups between 1956 and 1960; Ronaldo’s countryman Eusebio managed just three fewer and helped Benfica inherit Real’s crown in 1962. But with the modern Champions League only founded in 1992, they don’t qualify any more than the legendary Lionel.
So, who is the greatest striker in Champions League history? Let’s get cracking…
1) Cristiano Ronaldo
Clubs: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus
A five-time winner of the competition - once with Man United and four times with Real - the Juventus attacker has scored a barely fathomable 134 goals from 175 games at a ratio 0.76 per appearance. Lewandowski coming second to the competition’s all-time record goalscorer on this list is, in itself, something to celebrate. The Poland captain has also stolen his Portuguese counterpart’s thunder before now…
Back in 2013, Lewandowski obliterated Ronaldo’s Real with one of the most remarkable performances in the competition’s history, hitting all four goals for Borussia Dortmund in a 4-1 victory at Signal Iduna Park. Typically, Ronaldo got Real’s consolation that night, but it’s no surprise he and Madrid captain Sergio Ramos were reportedly keen on the club adding Lewandowski to their ranks.
“If you’re playing at one of the best clubs in Europe, in the world, you know you can be happy,” Lewandowski explained to the BBC at the time. “And I’m happy being at Bayern Munich. Because what we have here is a high level. And if you play here it’s simple – you have to be focused on your game, give the fans what they want and what the team needs.”
He may not have scored as many Champions League goals as Ronaldo – 72 to CR7’s 134 – but their ratios are one and the same at 0.76 goals per game.
In the decade since arriving in Germany from Lech Poznan, Lewy has never missed more than three consecutive games with injury. Dessert for starters and the main course for dessert might be part of the fittest man in football’s secret, but his appetite for goals is simply insatiable.
He was just two short of matching Ronaldo's 17-goal single-season goals record in 2019/20 - don't be surprised if he eats it for breakfast this or next season.
Watch: What makes Lewandowski so special
Clubs: Real Madrid, Schalke
“If I had to pick one [idol], it would be Raul. I’ve always liked him.” Those were the words of Lewandowski back in 2015, confirming the Spaniard’s status as one of the most influential players of his generation.
Watch: He may have done most of his best European work for Real Madrid, but Raul scored some stunners for Schalke!
After nearly 15 years as the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack – which took in three Champions League triumphs – Raul moved to Schalke. Even at 33, Raul was still a force to be reckoned with, scoring five goals and assisting three more as the Royal Blues went all the way to the competition’s semi-finals in 2011.
4) Karim Benzema
Clubs: Lyon, Real Madrid
That’s the podium accounted for, but what about the rest? Benzema’s 67 goals in the competition leave him behind Ronaldo, false-9, withdrawn right-winger, positional revolutionary Messi, Lewandowski and Raul.
Lewandowski’s position ahead of him is safe, though, Benzema's peak years having come alongside Ronaldo’s at Real.
Watch: Coutinho's first Bayern goal
5) Ruud van Nistelrooy
Clubs: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United and Real Madrid
Rounding out the top six Champions League marksmen is Van Nistelrooy. A Champions League goalscorer with PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United and Real, the Dutchman later turned out for Hamburg, scoring 12 goals in 33 Bundesliga appearances across two years at the Volksparkstadion.
Thierry Henry – Monaco, Arsenal, Barcelona – 50 goals in 112 games
Andriy Shevchenko – Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan, Chelsea – 48 goals in 100 games
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United – 48 goals in 120 games