Kuala Lumpur: As the-AFC.com continues to look back at the stars from recent AFC Champions League campaigns, there is another glittering cast on offer this week as we shine the spotlight on the best midfielders from the 2018 tournament.
After selecting the 2018 competition's best goalkeeper and the four men to take their place in the backline, this week we move on to the more attacking positions by turning our attention towards the midfield positions and highlighting 10 standout performers.
A tournament that saw Barcelona legend Xavi finally make his AFC Champions League debut had no shortage of creative flair, so review the nominees and don't forget to vote for your favourite at the bottom of the article!
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Ricardo Goulart – Guangzhou Evergrande
- 7 goals, 1 assist
- 27 shots on goal ( #1 by a midfielder)
- 11 shots on target (Joint #1 by a midfielder)
One of the most consistent performers in the AFC Champions League in recent years, Ricardo Goulart produced the goods once more, netting seven times in just eight games, including a four-goal haul in the group stage against Jeju United.
The 2015 MVP also scored twice in the second leg of the last 16 against Tianjin Quanjian although an away goals defeat saw Guangzhou Evergrande exit earlier than many would have expected.
Serginho – Kashima Antlers
- 5 goals
- 3 assists
- 76.4% passing accuracy
There's a strong case to say that Serginho was the signing of the 2018 campaign, with the Brazilian arriving at Kashima Antlers ahead of the quarter-finals and subsequently scoring in five successive games to fire his new side to their first Asian title.
Goals in each leg against Tianjin in the last eight offered a glimpse of what he could do before he netted the decisive goal in a narrow semi-final win over Suwon Samsung Bluewings and added another in the 2-0 first-leg victory over Persepolis in the final.
Mislav Orsic – Ulsan Hyundai
- 4 goals
- 4 assists
- 82% tackle success rate
Ulsan Hyundai may have exited at the last 16 stage but their Croatian midfielder Mislav Orsic was on fine form, finding the back of the net four times and creating a further four goals for his teammates.
Orsic opened the campaign with a pair of stunning long-range efforts against Melbourne Victory then, against the same opponents on Matchday Five, added another brace with a performance that earned him the Toyota Player of the Week accolade.
Oscar – Shanghai SIPG
- 4 goals
- 11 shots on goal (Joint #1 by a midfielder)
- 28 chances created (#2 in ACL 2018)
As ever, Oscar was the main creative force in a free-flowing Shanghai SIPG team, with the Brazilian's 28 chances created behind only Al Sadd's Xavi, who made seven more appearances in the competition.
The former Chelsea midfielder also weighed in with goals; his tally of four was ahead of Shanghai's usual leading marksmen Hulk and Wu Lei, and level with teammate Elkeson.
Farshid Esmaeili – Esteghlal
- 5 assists (#1 by a midfielder)
- 26 dribbles, 16 completed
- 69% tackles success rate
Farshid Esmaeili was a key component in an Esteghlal side that produced their best campaign since reaching the 2013 semi-finals, creating five of his team's 15 goals to help the Iranian giants advance from arguably the toughest group in the tournament.
An attacking midfielder adept with both feet, Esmaeili proved effective running at opposition defences, while he was also strong in the tackle, winning more than two-thirds of those he attempted.
Xavi – Al Sadd
- 1 goal, 4 assists
- 34 chances created (#1 by a midfielder)
- 715 passes, 90% passing accuracy
Among the biggest names to have played in the AFC Champions League, 2018 was Xavi's maiden appearances after the Spaniard had twice fallen in the play-offs with Al Sadd.
Unsurprisingly, the midfield maestro spent plenty time on the ball, with his 642 successful passes by far and away the highest in the tournament. Throw in four typically brilliant assists and it's fair to say the FIFA World Cup winner was an excellent addition to Asia's premier club competition.
Nam Tae-hee – Al Duhail
- 1 goal, 1 assist
- 15 chances created
- 27 dribbles completed (#1 by a midfielder)
Another player who's pleasing on the eye, Nam Tae-hee was part of an Al Duhail side that equaled the tournament record nine-game winning streak with some fabulous attack-minded football that lit up the early stages.
The Korean international completed more dribbles than any other midfielder, the most notable of which came in running more than half the length of the pitch to put his side two up in a Round of 16 rout against Al Ain.
Siamak Nemati – Persepolis
- 2 goals
- 25 tackles won (Joint #1 by a midfielder)
- 20 dribbles completed
Siamak Nemati more than played his part in what was Persepolis' best AFC Champions League performance to date and, in a game that is so often remembered for goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand's save to deny Xavi, it's easy to forget the midfielder's match-winning role.
The Tehran giants were one down against Al Sadd in the second leg of the semi-final when Nemati volleyed home with what proved to be the decisive goal of the contest. A red card in the first leg of the final meant his tournament did, however, end on a sour note.
Lee Jae-sung – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 1 goal, 2 assists
- 84.5% passing accuracy
- 286 successful passes in opposition half (#2 in ACL2018)
The technically gifted Lee Jae-sung's talents were on full display in the first half of the 2018 AFC Champions League, where his performances, which were followed by starring in Korea Republic's 2-0 win over Germany at the FIFA World Cup, helped earn him a move to the Bundesliga.
Lee's last act in a Jeonbuk shirt in the competition was to curl home a delightful free-kick to seal victory over Buriram United and a place in the quarter-finals where, without his presence, the Jeonju side were eliminated.
Karim Boudiaf – Al Duhail
- 4 goals from 11 shots
- 1 assist
- 100% dribble completion
Karim Boudiaf was the man who kick-started Al Duhail's nine-game winning run when, with the Doha club one down against Zobahan and the game into its final 20 minutes, he netted twice in quick succession as his side ultimately won 3-1.
Seven months later and aiming for a record-breaking 10th successive win, Boudiaf put Al Duhail a goal up in the second leg of the quarter-final away at Persepolis before, somehow, the wheels came off and they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat.
The poll ends on July 31 at 4pm (UTC+8). The Best XI chosen by fans and the best XI based on the 2018 statistics will be announced in early August.
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