Five most underrated UCL players

Joao Moutinho, Lukasz Piszczek among underappreciated stars

Originally Published: February 12, 2013
By Joe Prince-Wright | ESPN Insider

 Joao MoutinhoMiguel Riopa/AFP/Getty ImagesPorto midfielder Joao Moutinho has been instrumental in keeping the team organized.

The UEFA Champions League knockout stages begin Tuesday, and visions of Cristiano Ronaldo belting in a long-range free kick and Lionel Messi dribbling through four players have flowed through the mind since the group stages concluded in early December. Now the action is about to pick up again, with the top clubs in Europe squaring off with the ultimate prize on the line.

You know about the big names, but if an underdog is to lift the UCL trophy at Wembley in May, an under-the-radar player will likely have a big role.

Here are the five most underrated players in the Champions League last 16:

1. Joao Moutinho, FC Porto

Keeping the team from the Estadio Dragao ticking is no easy feat, but Moutinho does it with ease and panache. Ranking third in total chances created (21) behind only Andrea Pirlo and Xavi is a testament to Moutinho's creative flair and eye for the killer pass. And despite Porto's obvious attacking prowess, only Paris Saint-Germain conceded fewer than Porto's four goals against in the UCL group stages.

ESPN Stats & InformationHeat map of Joao Moutinho touches during the 2012-13 Champions League season. Brighter red indicates increased frequency.

Joe Prince-Wright is a freelance writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a former college soccer player and now plays for Arbroath FC in the Scottish Second Division. He's covered the English Premier League, Serie A, Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team for several years.