Robin Van Persie of Arsenal attacks Wigan Athletic during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at the DW Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Wigan, England.
Antonio Nocerino, M, Milan
In order to take advantage of a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a team needs players who can burst from deep onto the passes he lays off. The previously unheralded Nocerino, an under the radar acquisition the summer, does just that. His speed, awareness, and tireless work have put him in position for seven league goals, second on the team. Though he came though Juventus' youth ranks, Nocerino has never been a contributor on a title contender. Now with Milan, he is a key part of one.
Thiago Silva, D, Milan
When Milan bought Silva from Brazil's Fluminense three years ago, he was still a bit of a project - an athletic, skilled but raw player Flu had converted from midfield to central defense. Fast forward to today and Silva is one of the best in the world - the cornerstone of their defense. In addition to being a stalwart at the back, Silva is among the best passers in Italy, his 90.2 completion percentage leading the league.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic F, Milan
It's a piece of trivia that's starting to become folklore: For eight years straight, whatever team Zlatan's played for has won the league. Three leagues, five teams - it doesn't matter. Whatever it is about Zlatan, he wins, and it's happening again. As Champions League re-starts, Milan is in first place in Italy, paced by Zlatan's 15 goals (in 19 games) and six assists.
Alexander Song, M, Arsenal
Even with Robin van Persie's spectacular season, Alex Song (R) has been arguably Arsenal's most valuable player. The base of a midfield that was sent into upheaval with the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Song has had to provide stability for a group that's had to incorporate Everton-bought Mikel Arteta and young Welshman Aaron Ramsey. He has done so masterfully while asserting himself as this year's best defensive midfielder in England, a timely development considering the fragility of Arsenal's defense.
Wojciech Szczesny, G, Arsenal
For years Arsenal fans bemoaned manager Arsene Wenger's unwillingness to go out and buy a top notch goalkeeper. They're not crying anymore, not when Szczesny has asserted himself as one of the best goalkeepers in England. Despite receiving little help from a shaky defense that has also battled injury problems, the 21-year-old Poland international has kept 12 clean sheets in all competitions this season.
Robin van Persie, F, Arsenal
Life as Arsenal's captain has been good for van Persie. Having inherited the armband this summer from the departed Cesc, the 28-year-old Dutch international is in the middle of the most productive year of his professional career. Whereas his previous career high in Premier League goals was 18, he has already tallied 22 this year. And whereas his previous career best for all-competitions goals was 22, he already has 28 this season. In 2011-12, van Persie has gone from one of the most skilled players in the world to one of the best - period.
Axel Witsel, M, Benfica
The central midfielder is one of the main reasons Benfica made it thus far after scoring twice against FC Twente to help put his side into the group stages. Started life in Portugal as a right-winger and also played as an attacking midfielder, but operates a holding role now and is a key figure in Jorge Jesus' team. The Belgian started his career with Standard Liege and at the tender age of 18 helped his side lift the title in the 2007-8 season.
Nicolas Gaitan, M, Benfica
Gaitan (L) was heavily linked with a £29 million move to Manchester United during the January transfer window, but no offers materialized for the Argentine playmaker, who has been in sparkling form this season. Alex Ferguson saw his talents at first hand when he impressed during the 2-2 fall result at Old Trafford. It was Gaitan's run and cross from the right which was turned in by unfortunate home defender Phil Jones to give Benfica the lead. Starting out at Boca Juniors (where fans compared him to visionary Juan Roman Riquelme), Gaitan is certainly one for the future, although his estimated £40 million buy-out clause might put off all but the richest clubs.
Oscar Cardozo, F, Benfica
The Paraguayan has been a prolific scorer for Benfica since his move in the summer of 2007. Cardozo has netted an impressive 83 goals in 124 appearances for the Portuguese giant and crucially scored the only goal against Otelul Galati which resulted in his side finishing top of Group C. Cardozo takes a wicked free-kick with his powerful left foot, and his 14 goals from 17 league appearances have propelled unbeaten Benfica to the top of the Portuguese table, five points clear of Porto.
Bruno Alves, D, Zenit
This tough-tackling no-nonsense Portuguese defender will be familiar with Benfica having played, at arch rival Porto (and winning four titles in nine seasons) before his £20 million move to Russia in August 2010. His aerial ability has made him a key part a defense which has conceded just 23 goals from 32 league games this season. In November, he was linked with a transfer window move to Liverpool. Alves can also operate at right-back and played in that position twice for Portugal in the 2010 World Cup, though he will be at the heart of defense on Wednesday. He chipped in with a few goals while at Porto, but has scored just once in 40 appearances for Zenit.
Danko Lazovic, M, Zenit
Lazovic may play second fiddle to main striker Alexander Kerzahov, but no-one should doubt the threat posed by the talented Serbian, the joint fourth top scorer in the Russian Premier League this season (11 goals). He has established himself as a regular since his 5 million Euro move from PSV in March 2010 and has provided needed goal scoring depth. Question marks surround his future as coach Luciano Spalletti looks to finance a move for Fiorentina's Juan Vargas. Notoriously, Lazovic was tasered by a police officer when trying to give his shirt to Zenit supporters during a 2-0 win against Volga last season. "Here in Russia, apparently everything is possible," he said.
Aleksandr Anyukov, D, Zenit
While most of Zenit's key components have changed since the club won the 2008 UEFA Cup, right back Aleksandr Anyukov remains. Quietly, he is one of the steadiest at his position in the world, but with full backs taken for granted, the attention he gets may not be proportionate to his performancs. Being a big bunch of steady without a lot of spectacular does that to you. An automatic selection for the Russian national team, Anyukov provides a capable presence going forward with reliability at the back. Perhaps over a single game that isn't a star, but over the course of a season, it's got its value.