Bill Shankly once said about football:
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
The legendary Liverpool coach Shankly could not have been more right. Even when the game is not taking place every week, the who's who conversations in football never stops. Over the years there have been great players who graced this game, giving rise to plenty of different styles of playing. Some like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with their staggering records and achievements, leave their mark on a whole generation with what they do.
The eleven players on a football pitch might not all be alike or sparkling. The shot-stoppers go unnoticed a lot more while the goalscorers almost always hit the headlines. Today, we will look at ten players who have the CV to be called the 'Best in the World' right now.
Honourable Mentions: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah, Thibaut Courtois, Luis Alberto, Thiago Alcantara, Marc Andre ter Stegen. Here we go.
10. Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
The shot-stoppers always get the least credit when it comes to the game. Jan Oblak doesn't quite make the acrobatic saves that a Marc-Andre ter Stegen pulls off, and doesn't play in a team that is doing quite well like Alisson Becker's Liverpool. Oblak's saves and goalkeeping are based on very intelligent positioning and strong hands.
The Atletico Madrid custodian's close-range save in the Madrid derby earlier this season earned a draw for the Rojiblancos. His performance in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 against defending champions Liverpool, under pressure, with shots and crosses frequently peppering his box highlights his quality as a whole.
Oblak is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, both in terms of ability, and in terms of impact on his team.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
When the season started, Cristiano Ronaldo was 34 years old. The Portugal captain looked exhausted at some stages of games and was benched due to fatigue by Maurizio Sarri on a few occasions as well. Despite his age and the levels of fatigue he suffered, Ronaldo came into life in the second half of the season, scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A games. On the international stage, he is still chasing Ali Daei's record haul of goals (108).
Ronaldo is definitely among the top two players of his generation. However, this season, due to a minimal impact in the Champions League, and his early scoreless run, he would only be placed at ninth spot. He has 21 goals and three assists in Serie A, and 2 goals in the Champions League.
8. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Robert Lewandowski has to be the best goalscorer in Europe right now. He has netted 25 times in 23 appearances in the Bundesliga and 11 times in the UEFA Champions League. The number of goals he has scored this season is staggering and warrants a place in the top 10, and perhaps higher.
Despite the goalscoring, the reason he is down on the pecking order. It is because of teammates like Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, Alphonso Davies, Thiago Alcantara, all playing at their highest levels.
The dependency factor is not there on Robert Lewandowski. He just happens to be the target man in the team. Putting the goals away is an underrated feat. But considering that 8 of his 11 Champions League goals came in victories over Crvena Zvezda, Tottenham Hotspur and Olympiacos, where Bayern looked very comfortable, the numbers look a little less warranting of a higher spot.
7. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Sadio Mane was voted for first spot in the 2019 Ballon d'Or shortlist by none other than the eventual winner Lionel Messi himself. That in itself is a huge compliment for Mane. But he does more than his fair bit in backing it up on the pitch.
Mane's defensive efforts in a game are up there with any other player. The only forward who could challenge him in terms of defensive efforts put in is FC Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann. In addition, Mane has been very consistent across the season. He scored both goals in the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea where Liverpool won in a penalty shootout.
Mane's goals and assists are highly impactful in Liverpool's riot run in the EPL. Notably, he scored and assisted in the 2-1 win against Southampton, and opened the scoring in a narrow 2-1 win over Leicester. The striker also scored and assisted twice against Everton in the 5-2 win, and scored the only goal of the game against Wolves, among other performances.
In total, Mane has scored 14 goals and assisted seven in the Premier League. The reason for being behind at only the seventh spot is due to a underwhelming contribution in the Champions League where defending champions Liverpool were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Atletico Madrid..
6. Josip Ilicic
Atalanta's free-flowing attacking football under Gian Piero Gasperini has been one of the highlights of the season. Gasperini does not employ any extravagant innovation, but attacking rotations that create overloads on the sides, with a diamond. The system requires intelligence on the part of the players because often, the player in possession has less to do than the ones who make the movements.
Josip Ilicic has been the spearhead of Atalanta's attack in this system. He is highly capable of vacating space in forward areas and playing the through ball to the player who takes that spot up. Ilicic has also been among the goalscorers with 15 goals to his name in Serie A and an additional five assists. It can be argued that he benefits a lot from the scoring machine that Gasperini's team is. But it is also to be known that Ilicic is an integral part of the team.
The striker currently averages over 2.5 key passes, 2.6 dribbles and 3.6 shots per game. The numbers are something that can be matched by no one in the whole world. No one except...
5. Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Only Lionel Messi has more key passes, dribbles and shots per game this season than Josip Ilicic. What a cliche line that we've been hearing over the years! Ilicic averages a staggering amount of successful dribbles and key passes per game. It is remarkable. Yet, Lionel Messi overpowers him statistically with 5.6 successful dribbles per game, 2.5 key passes per game and 4.8 shots per game.
Messi started the season with an injury, missing about a month of action. He returned in the crucial Champions League game against Inter Milan where he dribbled a good deal of distance before setting up Luis Suarez's winner. The diminutive Argentinian was exceedingly good in the home leg against Borussia Dortmund as well.
It has been a tough ask for Messi to keep up the pace towards the latter part of the season coming into 2020. Even then, he has 19 goals and 12 assists in the league, and 2 goals and 3 assists in the Champions League. Messi has had a direct contribution in 49% of Barcelona's league goals and 71% of the Champions goals in games he has played.
Other than Sergio Busquets, the other midfielders and forwards in the Barcelona team have been under par, which forces Messi to shoulder most of the responsibility, fairly more than every other forward we have come across in this list.
4. Casemiro (Real Madrid)
It is fairly debatable if a man who has had less hand in goal-scoring should be considered more impactful that those who have had more. However, Casemiro is undoubtedly the best defensive midfielder in Europe this season and has been a vital cog in coach Zinedine Zidane's setup. The Brazilian dealt with Lionel Messi in a very commendable way when the two sides met in their second game of the season.
Casemiro averages over three tackles and two interceptions per game. He also averages about six long balls per game. Additionally, he scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Sevilla in a game that was scoreless in the first half.
The impact that Casemiro has on his team's midfield, allows Federico Valverde to shuttle up and down without worrying about defence. Casemiro's presence also frees up Toni Kroos to dictate the play.
3. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)
Being strong in defence is vital for any team. The reason Liverpool are very strong at the back is due to the impressive leadership of Virgil Van Dijk. The 2019-20 season started with keeper Alisson's injury and a rough patch for Adrian. The same pattern repeated when games were suspended.
Van Dijk has impressively managed to keep together the defensive line of his team. The Dutchman has also scored four goals. Two of Van Dijk's goals came in the 2-1 win over Brighton and one came in the 2-0 win over Manchester United. Another dangerous aspect of Van Dijk's game is his accurate long balls (5.3 per game).
His aerial prowess, physical strength, influence and obviously the manning of his defence - makes Van Dijk an excellent defender. He is as good as he was last year.
2. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
There is really nothing much to separate Van Dijk and Raphael Varane. Both have been the best defenders of their respective teams this season, and they are the two best in Europe at the moment. Raphael Varane has improved tremendously from last season. Much like Liverpool, Real Madrid also have also been strong at the back, conceding only 19 goals.
The separation between Van Dijk and Varane comes from the fact that while Jurgen Klopp's team plays extensive attacking football, Zinedine Zidane's side is less of an attacking side and built heavily on their strong defence rather. This naturally puts more responsibility on Varane. Although, on an individual basis, both Van Dijk and Varane are on the same level.
1. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Kevin de Bruyne was very unlucky to miss the majority of last season due to an injury. Even this season, the poor defence of Manchester City have resulted in the club's underwhelming performances.
De Bruyne is the player who has a major impact on the team. Despite Bernardo Silva's poor form and David Silva not playing every game, de Bruyne has maintained the attacking prowess of Manchester City. City's first loss of the season came in a game (against Norwich City) where De Bruyne did not start.
The Belgian has eight goals and 16 assists to his name this season while also averaging 3.7 open play key-passes and 1. 3 tackles per game. Despite Manchester City's rough league run, de Bruyne has been among the front runners for the PFA Player of the Year Award. In perhaps the most important game of the season against Real Madrid, De Bruyne scored and assisted, dishing out four key passes.
Arguably, Kevin de Bruyne is the best footballer in the world right now.Published 28 Apr 2020, 22:54 IST