Liverpool, Bayern dominate, USMNT stars break into our annual rating of soccer’s greatest gamers


We’re almost on the finish of 2020, which implies it is time for ESPN’s annual rating of the very best males’s gamers and coaches in world soccer! Welcome to the FC 100.

This yr, our fifth version of the countdown has lots of surprises and new faces — extra on that later — in addition to two groups rising above the remaining to dominate the listing. As at all times, our listing is damaged down into 10 High 10s for each place on the pitch in addition to managers, making for essentially the most significant and deep have a look at the expertise throughout the boys’s sport from goalkeeper to striker.

The highest spots have been dominated by two golf equipment: Bayern Munich, winners of the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League, and Liverpool, winners of their first league title in 30 years. They claimed each No. 1 spot besides for 2, ATTACKING MIDFIELD and FORWARD — see when you can guess who took these prizes? — as our voters leaned into their on-field domination.

This was arguably essentially the most numerous and most refreshed FC 100 since we started in 2016. Almost half the listing — 47 out of 100 — have been both new to the FC 100 or not ranked in 2019, which displays not solely the challenges of the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic but additionally the turnover of high gamers and the generational “passing of the guard” to a youthful group of superstars. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund), Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan) and Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) all pop up after transcendent seasons, as do Leon Goretzka (Bayern), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) and Houssem Aouar (Lyon).

This type of refreshment is strictly what we’re seeing within the sport as getting older legends fade and new stars are made.

It won’t seem to be a lot, however after being shut out in 2019 for a lot of causes, the USMNT will get two into the 100 this time round: Christian Pulisic returns — after a stellar 2020 till accidents hit — and Sergino Dest, a newcomer to the U.S. scene since selecting to rep the Yanks late final yr. Dest cracked the High 10 at right-back after an excellent marketing campaign with Ajax, a summer time switch saga with Bayern Munich and Barcelona, and an eventual transfer to the Spanish giants, the place he turned the primary U.S. participant to start out in a Clasico, in addition to the primary American to attain a objective for the storied membership.

However sufficient preamble; here is how we did the listing.

To compile the 2020 version of the FC 100, 65 ESPN FC consultants (from editors to writers, TV expertise to former gamers) from around the globe got an inventory of about 250 gamers and managers to make their choices.

This is the important thing: We did not use one megalist with all gamers blended collectively — such conceits inevitably favor attackers, as a result of everybody loves objective, do not they? However that is not honest to these engaged at nighttime arts on the again. So as a substitute, we broke down the world’s greatest gamers by place in a 4-3-3 formation, plus supervisor. Every knowledgeable then contributed a High 10 for every class, and we crunched the numbers and did a last overview with a choose few writers.

Agree with our picks? Disagree? Now comes the enjoyable half. FC 100: It. Is. On.

NOTE: All participant ages are as of Nov. 20

GOALKEEPER

The trendy goalkeeper is not simply there to cease photographs. He is additionally step one in constructing assaults; whether or not with a protracted, correct throw or a raking crossfield move, it is the primary main evolution for the place for the reason that “sweeper-keeper” turned a factor because of Manuel Neuer. Agility and reflexes are a given, however confidence, imaginative and prescient and assertive play are important, too.

Participant capsules by Elaine Teng


Membership/nation: Man United/Spain

Age: 30

2019 rank: 9

De Gea has been a relentless via United’s many ups and downs since he joined the membership in 2011. He has confronted lots of criticism over the previous 9 years — some followers suppose he must be dropped for 23-year-old Dean Henderson — however De Gea is tied for essentially the most Premier League clear sheets in United’s historical past (112, shared with Peter Schmeichel) and made the second-most PL appearances (411) between the posts. Final season, solely Liverpool and Manchester Metropolis conceded fewer targets, an enormous a part of why the Crimson Devils managed to complete third regardless of a poor begin.

Excessive level of 2020: Between February and July, De Gea stored 9 clear sheets — essentially the most within the league — to assist United go from seventh to 3rd (and certain saving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job on the similar time).


Membership/nation: Inter Milan/Slovenia

Age: 36

2019 rank: Not ranked

Final season, Inter fell one level in need of seizing the Serie A crown from Juventus and made it to the Europa League last. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez acquired a lot of the reward, however credit score must also go to Handanovic’s rock-solid performances between the posts. Inter conceded the fewest targets within the league, and their wily captain stored 13 clear sheets. At 36, his reflexes stay sharp, his presence imposing, and he is tremendous adept on the full-stretch spotlight save.

Excessive level of 2020: An outstanding save towards Getafe‘s Nemanja Maksimovic helped Inter via to the Europa League quarterfinal and, in the end, the ultimate.


Membership/nation: AC Milan/Italy

Age: 21

2019 rank: Not ranked

Think about this: Donnarumma made his Serie A debut 5 years in the past, has performed over 200 video games for Milan and is firmly established because the legendary Gianluigi Buffon‘s successor for Italy. And he is 21 years outdated. Regardless of his membership’s managerial chaos and monetary turmoil, he has been a pillar of calm and consistency, conserving at the very least 10 clear sheets in every of his 5 seasons and steadily enhancing his passing accuracy. The Rossoneri are off to a flying begin this time period, and the earlier they’ll tie Donnarumma down — his contract expires subsequent summer time — the higher their probabilities at long-term success.

Excessive level of 2020: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the targets in Milan’s 2-1 derby win over Inter, however Donnarumma made a key save towards Romelu Lukaku in his first sport again after testing constructive for the coronavirus to cement their victory.


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Costa Rica

Age: 33

2019 rank: Not ranked

Navas would not get as a lot consideration as a lot of his colleagues on this listing, however that does not make him much less deserving. At Actual Madrid, his teammates used to name him “Keylor Paras” (“Keylor Stops”), and he is lived as much as that identify after shifting to Paris. In his first season at PSG, he stored 5 clear sheets — trailing Bayern’s Manuel Neuer by only one regardless of taking part in 191 fewer minutes — to information his crew to the Champions League last. When it comes to European success, few can usurp him: He has performed in 4 of the previous 5 Champions League finals — and received three of them.

Excessive level of 2020: Making save after save towards Atalanta within the Champions League quarterfinal to maintain PSG’s hopes alive earlier than Neymar & Co. orchestrated a dramatic late comeback.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/Brazil

Age: 27

2019 rank: 4

At his greatest, Ederson can really feel like an additional outfield participant who additionally occurs to be unbelievable at stopping photographs. The proper keeper for Pep Guardiola’s model of possession-based soccer, his scarily correct lengthy balls begin many a Metropolis assault. Metropolis have struggled with accidents and have been uncharacteristically fragile on the again, however final season Ederson nonetheless managed to maintain 16 clear sheets, incomes him the Premier League Golden Glove. As they appear to wrest the league title again from Liverpool, Metropolis will want him at his greatest on each offense and protection.

Excessive level of 2020: Raheem Sterling scored the winner towards Arsenal in October, however Ederson made spectacular saves to disclaim Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka to get Metropolis again on monitor.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Belgium

Age: 28

2019 rank: Not ranked

Actual Madrid did not at all times look as if they might win the league final season, however Courtois was a large in objective. He conceded 20 targets in 34 league matches, stored 18 clear sheets and boasted the very best save proportion in La Liga. However he has been identified for making some outrageous gaffes from time to time. In November, throughout a Nations League match towards Denmark, the Belgian No. 1 let a again move roll straight previous him into objective. If Belgium, the top-ranked crew on the planet, are to win the Euros subsequent yr, Courtois will want all of his focus.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable his first La Liga title with Actual Madrid.


Membership/nation: Barcelona/Germany

Age: 28

2019 rank: 3

In September 2019, Ter Stegen rushed out of the penalty space, beat a Getafe attacker to the ball and performed a protracted move into the other field for Luis Suarez to calmly lob into the objective. That help was traditional Ter Stegen, a assured sweeper-keeper who’s snug with the ball at his toes and might convert saves into counterattacks in a flash. The German would not get as a lot consideration in a crew filled with attacking superstars, however he performs a pivotal function in Ronald Koeman’s plans as he appears to take Barcelona again to the highest of La Liga.

Excessive level of 2020: Claiming his second profession help in December 2019, when Antoine Griezmann ran onto his objective kick to attain towards Mallorca.


Membership/nation: Atletico Madrid/Slovenia

Age: 27

2019 rank: 2

Within the six seasons Oblak has tended the Atletico objective, they’ve conceded fewer than 30 targets every marketing campaign. The environment friendly, reserved Slovenian is the right keeper for Diego Simeone’s hardworking, disciplined facet. He made 9 saves — greater than any keeper within the event — in a man-of-the-match efficiency away at Liverpool in final season’s Champions League to ship Atletico via to the quarterfinals. There are extra glamorous gamers in soccer, however few are as constant or as efficient.

Excessive level of 2020: Liverpool had 72% possession and 34 photographs on the Wanda Metropolitano in March, however they could not get previous Oblak.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 1

The consummate fashionable goalkeeper, Alisson can flip protection into offense within the blink of an eye fixed. Equally calm on the ball together with his fingers and his toes, he was instrumental in Liverpool’s cost to their first Premier League trophy in three a long time. In January, he even notched an help when he performed a protracted upfield move to Mohamed Salah, who made it 2-0 towards Manchester United. (Alisson was so delighted he sprinted the size of the pitch, previous all of his teammates, to have a good time with the Egypt worldwide.) Liverpool’s lengthy harm listing this season, particularly in central protection, means Alisson is extra essential to their hopes of retaining the title than ever.

Excessive level of 2020: Serving to Liverpool finish their 30-year look forward to a Premier League title.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 34

2019 rank: 5

EDITOR’S NOTE: Neuer and Alisson completed tied on total factors after the tallying of ballots, however Neuer was awarded first place by advantage of receiving extra first-place votes from the FC voters, with 19 to Alisson’s 18.

Germany’s sweeper-keeper appeared to be slowing down as he reached his mid-30s, however prior to now 12 months, the 34-year-old has been again at his imperious greatest. Seven years since he most just lately received a treble with Bayern, Neuer lifted the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League trophies in 2020 as membership captain. He made a string of essential stops within the Champions League last to disclaim PSG, together with a spectacular double save towards Neymar. In October, he stored his 2 hundredth clear sheet for Bayern, a membership file. At occasions it appears attackers are intimidated simply realizing he is in objective.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable his second Champions League title, although an eighth consecutive Bundesliga trophy is not any small feat, both.

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RIGHT-BACK

At one level, right-backs have been thought of the least expert gamers on the pitch, however the subsequent era brings boldness and unpredictability. Positional consciousness, pinpoint crossing and breakneck tempo separate the very best from the remaining.

Participant capsules by Stephan Uersfeld


Membership/nation: Barcelona/United States

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

It has been an unbelievable yr for the younger defender. After only one season and 23 appearances for Ajax’s first crew since debuting in July 2019, Dest has been on a dizzying upward trajectory, changing into the primary American to signal for La Liga giants Barcelona after being concerned in a switch saga that additionally included Champions League winners Bayern Munich. Not the worst choices! The Dutch-born participant, able to taking part in both full-back place, is taken into account the most effective younger U.S. internationals since committing in October 2019, and he has already proven in 4 appearances for Barca that he can remedy their points at right-back.

Excessive level of 2020: Beginning the Clasico, changing into the primary American to characteristic in Barcelona vs. Actual Madrid, and even profitable Barca’s man-of-the-match award within the 3-1 defeat.


Membership/nation: Atletico Madrid/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: 8

Now in his second La Liga season with Atleti, Trippier has absolutely embraced his new life away from Tottenham and the Premier League. He is an integral a part of Diego Simeone’s first XI and has began and completed each match of the 2020-21 season. Taking part in at right-back on the membership degree, he is versatile sufficient to play a extra superior function for England, that includes as a wing-back in Gareth Southgate’s 3-4-2-1 formation. Although England have lots of competitors for full-back spots, Trippier’s expertise, work charge and pinpoint accuracy with crosses may very well be essential within the Three Lions’ bid to compete on the Euros in the summertime.

Excessive level of 2020: Trippier’s greatest second got here in a “return” to England. In one of many final large matches performed in entrance of followers earlier than the coronavirus shut down the game, Trippier was instrumental in Atletico’s 3-2 win at Liverpool again in March, ably shutting Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson down earlier than coming off in additional time.


Membership/nation: Leicester Metropolis/Portugal

Age: 27

2019 rank: 3

The dynamic defender began all however one among Leicester’s 29 Premier League matches earlier than the pandemic, however we’re nonetheless ready to see him again in motion. His absence resulting from an ACL harm has been a significant problem for the Foxes, who’ve missed Pereira’s tempo and poise on the flank. Earlier than that, Pereira had been concerned in 471 duels, greater than every other defender throughout the highest 5 leagues in Europe. With out Pereira, Leicester dropped out of the Champions League spots on the finish of the 2019-20 season, proof of his significance to Brendan Rodgers’ plans.

Excessive level of 2020: It is uncommon for defenders to point out up on the scoresheet, however Pereira put collectively an excellent sport towards West Ham in January, notching a objective and an help in a 4-1 win.


Membership/nation: Atalanta/Netherlands

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Thriving in his function at wing-back for Atalanta, Hateboer was an integral a part of one among Europe’s most fun groups final time period because the unheralded Italian facet got here inside a late PSG objective of reaching the Champions League semifinals. A drive in aerial duels and his facet’s intricate passing sport, he pairs a superhuman work charge with positional intelligence in a demanding place. The 26-year-old was snapped up by Atalanta from Dutch facet Groningen for lower than 1,000,000 euros in 2017 and has since turn out to be a fixture within the Dutch nationwide crew. There’s each probability he’ll take one other step up subsequent summer time and transfer to one of many European giants.

Excessive level of 2020: A formidable two-goal efficiency within the Champions League spherical of 16, first leg, towards Valencia. Not solely was it his solely sport with targets in 2019-20 but it surely put the tiny Serie A facet into the Champions League’s final eight in Lisbon.

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Gab Marcotti praises the influence Trent Alexander-Arnold has had at Liverpool.


Membership/nation: Sevilla/Spain

Age: 35

2019 rank: Not ranked

Navas did not maintain again his tears when Sevilla received the 2019-20 Europa League in Germany this summer time. Having begun his senior profession on the membership in 2003, profitable two UEFA Cups and two Copa del Reys, clinching the Europa League at age 34 was seen as simply reward for the Spain worldwide. Certainly, he seemingly has gotten higher with age since leaving Manchester Metropolis for his boyhood membership in 2017.

Excessive level of 2020: As crew captain, Navas contributed an help towards Inter Milan within the last as Sevilla received the competitors for the sixth time since 2005.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: 5

A dependable defender underneath Pep Guardiola, Walker won’t have the attacking energy of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Achraf Hakimi, for instance, however he is been one of many steadier Metropolis performers since becoming a member of the membership in 2017. On the pitch, he patrols Metropolis’s proper facet with excessive tempo, physicality and an unrivalled depth. In his 30s and with an obvious management void within the Metropolis squad since Vincent Kompany‘s exit, Walker has been an important lieutenant for Guardiola.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring the winner — however not celebrating it! — towards one among his former golf equipment, Sheffield United, in his one centesimal Premier League look for Manchester Metropolis.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Spain

Age: 28

2019 rank: 4

It is exhausting to seek out anybody extra constant at right-back over the previous couple of years. He has fended off the specter of shedding his place in Madrid’s first XI with one other excellent season, trying so good that his presumed substitute, Achraf Hakimi, returned from a mortgage at Borussia Dortmund solely to be bought to Inter Milan. Carvajal is not a flashy right-back, identified extra for his work behind the ball, however he is additionally been an excellent help to Karim Benzema every time he is in a position to get ahead and play crosses into the field. Carvajal was part of the Actual facet that received La Liga for the primary time since 2016-17, and regardless of his lacking the beginning of the marketing campaign via harm, his imminent return will increase Zinedine Zidane’s squad immensely.

Excessive level of 2020: Was very good in each Clasico clashes final season, outcomes that performed a key function in Actual Madrid’s title problem.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/France

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

Pavard continues to be removed from being a family identify, although the younger defender was arguably Bayern Munich’s unsung hero of a Treble-winning season. Having joined from relegated VfB Stuttgart in 2019, he supplied the soundness at right-back that allowed Joshua Kimmich to maneuver right into a everlasting defensive midfield function. Much less attacking than a few of his Bundesliga right-back friends like Hakimi, he nonetheless scored 4 targets and arrange seven in all competitions in his debut season on the Allianz Area. The €35 million switch price for the France defender appears to be a discount though his unspectacular fashion of play will get him few plaudits. Oh, and Pavard can be able to placing in a shift at centre-back to additional improve Bayern’s myriad choices.

Excessive level of 2020: In his first league match underneath Hansi Flick, Pavard was very good, notching an help as Bayern demolished Borussia Dortmund 4-0 halfway via final season.


Membership/nation: Inter Milan/Morocco

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

A spectacular, adventurous two-way participant able to brilliance on both facet of the ball, Hakimi has quick turn out to be the most effective right-backs in world soccer. After scoring six targets and offering six assists for Dortmund final season and forming an excellent relationship with England star Jadon Sancho whereas on mortgage within the Bundesliga, Hakimi joined Inter Milan this summer time and has continued to entertain on the wing. One of many quickest defenders within the sport, his sloppy passes have prompted complications for teammates at occasions, although he’s at all times fast to make up for errors with attacking contributions.

Excessive level of 2020: Down 2-0 at half-time, Hakimi’s brace within the Champions League group-stage match towards Inter Milan turned across the tie for Dortmund (they went on to win 3-2).


Membership/nation: Liverpool/England

Age: 22

2019 rank: 1

The child from Liverpool resides the dream at Anfield. Liverpool adopted up their exceptional Champions League win in 2018-19 with their first league title in 30 years, and Alexander-Arnold as soon as once more was important to the Reds’ success. The younger defender, who was initially a midfielder within the Liverpool academy, continues to outline, and redefine, what full-back play could be within the fashionable sport. His set items are a relentless risk, and his crosses trigger havoc within the penalty space. The England worldwide stays on the way in which up, however a muscle harm has curtailed his progress this season. That mentioned, the long run appears vivid for a participant who has received 77 of 101 Premier League appearances for his boyhood membership.

Excessive level of 2020: Notching two assists for Virgil van Dijk within the 2-1 win towards Brighton in late November, each from set items. It was one of many key wins for Liverpool en path to their first-ever Premier League title.

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CENTRE-BACK

Being an incredible central defender requires greater than measurement, assertiveness and energy. Among the fashionable greats are cultured in possession; others are the epitome of no-nonsense drive. One of the best central defenders mix timing and energy with class and poise underneath stress.

Participant capsules by Tom Hamilton


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil

Age: 26

2019 rank: 8

The PSG defender was on the forefront of the Ligue 1 champions’ journey to the Champions League last in 2019-20. His versatility means PSG boss Thomas Tuchel generally makes use of him within the coronary heart of their midfield, however that has been a bone of rivalry, with sporting director Leonardo eager to see Marquinhos at centre-back. Wherever he performs, the Brazilian is influential. He is seen because the long-term successor for Thiago Silva, who left for Chelsea in the summertime, and isn’t afraid to talk his thoughts when requested for his opinion. This made him the right candidate to be PSG’s new captain, with the membership’s former defender Jean-Marc Pilorget describing Marquinhos as “unflappable on the sector.”

Excessive level of 2020: Excellent in PSG’s Champions League marketing campaign, scoring two key targets towards Atalanta and RB Leipzig to assist the facet into the ultimate.


Membership/nation: Sevilla/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

Rated as one of many world’s greatest younger centre-backs, Kounde’s sensible season led to a “magnificent” switch supply from Manchester Metropolis, in accordance with Monchi, the membership’s sporting director. Monchi later praised Kounde’s response to the rejected bid, saying he displayed “skilled and respectful behaviour.” Metropolis ultimately went for Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias, however Manchester United are additionally within the man who now has his sights on supplanting Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano with the France nationwide crew. Having moved to Sevilla from Bordeaux for £22.5m forward of the 2019-20 season, he is since helped them to the Europa League title final season and is a vital determine of their Champions League aspirations this time period.

Excessive level of 2020: Had loads of eye-catching performances final season, however was singularly magnificent of their quarterfinal win over Wolves within the Europa League.


Membership/nation: Juventus/Netherland

Age: 21

2019 rank: 3

The Dutch centre-back accomplished his big-money, €75 million transfer to Juventus forward of the 2019-20 marketing campaign and, in doing so, adopted within the footsteps of his idols, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro. Initially, then-coach Maurizio Sarri deliberate to combine him slowly, however Giorgio Chiellini‘s long-term harm noticed the younger defender thrust into the primary crew. He made a shaky begin, however regardless of battling a shoulder harm in 2020-21, he is turn out to be an integral a part of the Juventus defence. Juve’s 2-0 win at Bologna in June was the match during which De Ligt actually introduced himself in Serie A. “He was solely born in 1999, and he has been catapulted into a brand new means of taking part in. He is sensible,” Chiellini mentioned of De Ligt. The CIES Soccer Observatory ranks De Ligt as essentially the most precious central defender on the planet, placing his present worth at an eye-watering €105m.

Excessive level of 2020: Neatly summed up in his efficiency towards Lyon within the last 16 of the Champions League when he battled on regardless of having his head minimize open early within the match.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/France

Age: 26

2019 rank: 4

Laporte’s significance at Manchester Metropolis is maybe greatest illustrated by his absence. There is a common faculty of thought that if Laporte hadn’t suffered a knee harm that dominated him out for 4 months, the Premier League title race would have been far nearer final season. “Now we have missed him quite a bit; he is the very best left central defender on the planet,” Metropolis boss Pep Guardiola mentioned of Laporte. “Think about the very best groups on the planet lose their greatest central defender. He’s quick, sturdy within the air.” Laporte is one half of a formidable partnership on the again for Metropolis alongside new signing Ruben Dias, and they’ll type the foundations for an additional push for trophies. Laporte continues to be ready to make his debut for the French nationwide crew, such are Didier Deschamps’ embarrassment of riches for France, but it surely’s a matter of when, not if.

Excessive level of 2020: Merely seeing him again in motion after a protracted layoff. Laporte is so vital to Metropolis that Guardiola needed to warn towards his return again in January being seen as the one reply to fixing all of their defensive worries.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/France

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

One more French worldwide on the listing, Varane is one-half of Actual Madrid’s formidable partnership alongside Sergio Ramos, although the 27-year-old has endured a blended 2020. He was indispensable in Actual’s watertight rear guard en path to the league title, with Los Blancos conceding simply six in 11 video games after the restart, and Varane’s mates and teammates, like France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, aren’t involved. “He is a good champion above all else,” Lloris mentioned. “He has nice expertise. He’s a pacesetter in our crew.” And his Actual Madrid teammate Eden Hazard has additionally been impressed: “I’ve come throughout some unbelievable defenders throughout my profession, resembling John Terry and Vincent Kompany. I feel that though [Varane] continues to be younger, he is already the most effective centre-backs of all time.” Regardless of questions over his type — he nonetheless ranks fourth in Europe’s large 5 leagues for aerial defensive duels received this season — he at all times fronts up, takes accountability and seeks enchancment.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking part in 32 league video games as Actual clinched their first La Liga crown since 2016-17.


Membership/nation: RB Leipzig/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

The younger Frenchman has been linked with nearly each European large after one other sturdy season, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich reportedly on the entrance of the queue. “As for the long run, I am unsure [if Upamecano will stay] as he’s very proficient,” Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann instructed ESPN. “Plenty of golf equipment will need to purchase him — maybe subsequent season, it may very well be actual that he leaves the membership.” Despite the fact that he is simply 22, Upamecano performs with authority on the again, unafraid to hold the ball out of defence but additionally positionally conscious to know when to take a safer possibility. Alongside Kounde, Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte, he is one among various sensible defenders at France boss Didier Deschamps’ disposal.

Excessive level of 2020: In a season when RB Leipzig acquired to the semifinals of the Champions League, he was at his commanding greatest of their quarterfinal win towards Atletico Madrid.


Membership/nation: Napoli/Senegal

Age: 29

2019 rank: 2

There’s not a switch window that goes by with out a handful of the European giants being linked with the Napoli defender. The most recent crew to chase the 6-foot-5 Senegal worldwide was PSG in the summertime, however Napoli have been resolute in rejecting any affords that fell in need of their €75m asking worth. “I had no doubts, he is likely one of the strongest champions on the planet in his function,” Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso mentioned in September of Koulibaly. He is now his nationwide crew’s captain and was rated by ex-Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina as the very best centre-back he is performed behind. The long run stays unsure for Koulibaly with various groups ceaselessly linked with him — Liverpool may return in for him amid their defensive harm disaster — however for now, he’s indispensable to Napoli.

Excessive level of 2020: Although Napoli completed second to Juventus once more within the league, Koulibaly was very good within the Coppa Italia last as his facet bested the league champions on penalties.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Austria

Age: 28

2019 rank: 2 (left-back)

What are you able to say about one of the vital versatile defenders within the fashionable sport? Alaba began final season at left-back underneath earlier coach Niko Kovac, solely to complete it as a triple-winning centre-back. The Austrian participant’s contract is up on the finish of the season, and Bayern Munich are bracing for his exit — anticipate the likes of Liverpool to have an interest. Bayern supervisor Hansi Flick says Alaba “holds the defence collectively,” whereas Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in August likened Alaba’s influence at centre again to the transformational qualities of Franz Beckenbauer. “We have not had a ‘chief’ in defence for a while now, one who actually takes the reins in hand and units the tone there and easily acts as the pinnacle of the defensive unit — he did that,” Rummenigge mentioned.

Excessive level of 2020: There have been quite a few standout moments for Alaba, however the previous 12 months can be remembered because the time Bayern Munich swept all earlier than them, profitable the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Spain

Age: 34

2019 rank: 5

The Actual Madrid talisman continues to be a polarising determine, however love him or hate him, he’s a very exceptional participant. His Actual teammate Toni Kroos calls him the “absolute captain” and the “greatest you may have.” Regardless of his age, Ramos would nonetheless stroll into most sides and can be a high free agent if he opts towards extending his keep at Actual Madrid after this season. Within the meantime, he continues to set data, having handed the 100-goal mark for Los Blancos and in addition set a file together with his forty fifth El Clasico look when Actual Madrid beat Barcelona 3-1 in late October. Ramos continues to be indispensable for Spain on the worldwide degree, too, with Luis Enrique calling him a “distinctive, totally different degree” defender, and he just lately set a file there as effectively, together with his 177th Spain cap towards Germany, essentially the most appearances at worldwide degree for anybody within the males’s sport in Europe.

Excessive level of 2020: Los Blancos supporters will keep in mind his key penalties in Actual’s back-to-back 1-0 wins over Getafe and Athletic Bilbao in July, as they continued their cost to the 2019-20 La Liga title.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Netherlands

Age: 29

2019 rank: 1

It is testomony to Van Dijk that when he suffered his season-ending harm towards Everton in October, the temper round Liverpool modified. Gigi Wijnaldum mentioned that the squad had suffered “sleepless nights,” whereas Jurgen Klopp admits Van Dijk is irreplaceable. “Each crew on the planet would miss Virgil van Dijk,” Klopp mentioned quickly after his harm. “He’s the very best on the planet.” As much as that harm, the Dutch worldwide had missed only one Premier League sport for Liverpool after signing from Southampton for £75m in January 2018.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking part in each single minute (and scoring 5 targets) in Liverpool’s 2019-20 Premier League-winning season, the membership’s first league title in 30 years. Want we are saying extra?

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LEFT-BACK

High left-backs are as snug locking down an opposing winger as they’re turning into one when their groups are in possession. Some aren’t even left-footed, utilizing their positional consciousness to float infield and be one other central defender or midfielder if wanted.

Within the fashionable period, no positions contact the ball greater than full-back, making the very best of them merely indispensable.

Participant capsules by Alex Kirkland


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/France

Age: 25

2019 rank: 7

Mendy established himself as Actual Madrid’s undisputed first-choice left-back this yr after coach Zinedine Zidane requested his signing in the summertime of 2019. Within the greatest video games, towards Barcelona in La Liga or Manchester Metropolis within the Champions League, Mendy — not Marcelo — will get the nod. Mendy would possibly lack his teammate’s eye-catching expertise, however he affords a defensive solidity that helped the crew maintain clear sheet after clear sheet post-lockdown. He is no slouch going ahead, both.

Excessive level of 2020: His solely objective for the membership up to now, a thunderous near-post end towards Granada as Actual Madrid closed in on the La Liga title.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Brazil

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Marcelo’s fame and historical past — and Actual Madrid’s title win — see him make this listing though, by his personal requirements, he had a disappointing yr. The 32-year-old began fewer than half of Actual Madrid’s video games in 2019-20, and the defensive lapses which have made him an occasional legal responsibility throughout a vastly profitable membership profession turned more and more widespread. Since Zinedine Zidane returned for his second spell in cost, in 2019, Madrid have misplaced 9 league video games, and Marcelo began all of them. Nobody doubts his expertise and persona, although, and on his day, there are few footballers who’re extra enjoyable to look at.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable his fifth league title in 14 years as a Actual Madrid participant.


Membership/nation: Chelsea/England

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Chilwell was an vital a part of Leicester Metropolis’s spectacular 2019-20 marketing campaign, and his August transfer to Chelsea — after a drawn-out switch saga that noticed Leicester demand a world-record price for a defender earlier than accepting “solely” £50m — cemented his standing as one among English soccer’s greatest younger gamers. Losing no time at Stamford Bridge, Chilwell supplied a objective and help on his Premier League debut. Coach Frank Lampard says he is “unbelievable,” praising Chilwell’s “means to be so excessive up the pitch once you need him.”

Excessive level of 2020: A wonderful Ninetieth-minute objective vs. Watford in Leicester’s first sport again in June, which was considerably spoiled by Watford equalising three minutes later.


Membership/nation: AC Milan/France

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

This has been a yr of rediscovery for the younger Frenchman as he lastly began to resemble the highly effective, expansive full-back it was hoped he’d turn out to be when he graduated from the Atletico Madrid academy alongside his older brother, Lucas. Hernandez excelled on mortgage at Alaves in 2016-17, regarded out of his depth at Actual Madrid in 2017-18 and was decidedly common at Actual Sociedad in 2018-19. At Milan, although, he is been a revelation. Hernandez scored six targets in Serie A final season, with Opta ranking him as the very best left-back in Italy.

Excessive level of 2020: A crisp, volleyed end in a 3-2 win over Udinese in January.


Membership/nation: Tottenham/Spain

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Arguably the very best full-back in La Liga final season, Reguilon was a blur of fixed motion on the left flank of Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla crew as they cruised to a top-four league end and received the Europa League. However, remarkably, Actual Madrid selected to money in, promoting him to Tottenham off the again of that spectacular mortgage. It is true that Actual have a buyback clause, however why look forward to a season or two? Reguilon is sweet sufficient to be beginning for Actual Madrid proper now. Within the meantime, he is turn out to be an integral a part of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs facet, one which has a really actual shot at profitable the Premier League.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable the Europa League in his final sport for Sevilla.


Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Guerreiro would not appeal to the headlines of others on this listing — or of some high-profile teammates at Dortmund — however he quietly had the very best season of his profession in 2019-20. Coach Lucien Favre’s tactical swap to a 3-4-3 formation helped enormously, enabling Guerreiro to function within the wing-back function to which he’s greatest suited whereas minimising the defects that maintain him again as a pure full-back or winger. A well-rounded participant, he contributed a powerful eight targets to Dortmund’s second-placed Bundesliga end. At 26, he is approaching his peak, and selected to signal a brand new deal in October 2019 regardless of reported curiosity from Barcelona and PSG.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring twice in Dortmund’s 4-0 derby win over Schalke in Could.


Membership/nation: Juventus/Brazil

Age: 29

2019 rank: 4

Taking fourth place in our listing for the fourth yr in a row suggests Sandro is consistency personified. Into his sixth season at Juventus and shortly to show 30, he stays one of the vital dependable performers in world soccer in his place. (Juventus have been so enthusiastic about signing him in 2015 that they revealed a glowing story on the crew web site about his myriad qualities.) Sandro is not fairly as harmful going ahead as you would possibly anticipate, although there are not any actual weaknesses to his sport. Brazilian nice Roberto Carlos mentioned in 2015 that Sandro was his true “successor,” and few can argue together with his evaluation.

Excessive level of 2020: Scored Juventus’ third objective in a 3-3 roller-coaster draw with Sassuolo, then cleared a possible winner off the road.


Membership/nation: Barcelona/Spain

Age: 31

2019 rank: 3

Alba is previous his peak and appears to have been left behind by Spain on the worldwide degree, however he is nonetheless Barcelona’s undisputed first-choice left-back. His link-ups with Lionel Messi — as soon as one of the vital fruitful attacking partnerships in soccer — stay harmful, albeit much less frequent. Alba has arrange three targets this season underneath new coach Ronald Koeman. His defensive failings are well-known, and unlikely to vary at this stage. Barcelona have tried to organize for all times after Alba — the Spain worldwide can be 32 in March — however Lucas Digne and Junior Firpo have already didn’t supplant him on the Camp Nou.

Excessive level of 2020: No matter it was, it wasn’t Barca’s 8-2 defeat to Bayern.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Canada

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

Davies’ emergence as a world-class participant has been thrilling to look at. Take his help in Bayern’s 8-2 Champions League demolition of Barcelona, when he evaded Lionel Messi, left Arturo Vidal on the ground and flummoxed Nelson Semedo earlier than slicing the ball again for Joshua Kimmich to faucet in. Was there a extra memorable setup in 2020? “I used to be virtually ashamed of how pleased I used to be after scoring, as a result of it was 99% his objective,” Kimmich mentioned afterward, and it was exhausting to disagree.

Excessive level of 2020: That help, clearly, although profitable a home/European Treble with Bayern was additionally extraordinarily particular.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Scotland

Age: 26

2019 rank: 1

This yr’s title win, ending Liverpool’s 30-year wait, was the end result of a exceptional journey for Robertson. In three years at Anfield, he is gone from Premier League prospect to, fairly merely, the very best left-back on the planet. It virtually appears incorrect to name him “left-back” given how prolific he’s in assault, racking up 23 assists prior to now two Premier League seasons from a defensive place. When it comes to creating probabilities, taking set items and dealing tirelessly off the ball, he’s a minimize above. He racked up his one centesimal Premier League look for the membership, and the £10m that Liverpool spent on Robertson in 2017 from Hull Metropolis more and more appears like the most effective bits of switch enterprise ever.

Excessive level of 2020: Liverpool received the league. You may need heard about it.

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CENTRAL MIDFIELD

The important thing to taking part in central midfield is an efficient sense of rhythm: realizing when to hurry up in transition and when to gradual the tempo. There are various types, too: the powerful tackler, box-to-box machine and the nimble playmaker. It is about seeing the entire subject — and exploiting it.

Participant capsules by Sam Marsden


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Italy

Age: 28

2019 rank: 9

It has been a stop-start yr for many gamers amid the coronavirus pandemic, however particularly for Verratti. The French league determined to curtail the 2019-20 season in March, and when PSG ultimately returned to aggressive motion within the French Cup last and Champions League in the summertime, Verratti was injured. He reappeared in its place within the CL semifinal win over RB Leipzig earlier than that includes for 25 minutes within the last towards Bayern. Nevertheless, whereas staying match stays an issue, his absences from Thomas Tuchel’s facet serve solely to spotlight his significance. PSG are a special facet with pass-master Verratti of their midfield, and he is additionally taking part in an enormous function within the rejuvenation of the Italian nationwide crew underneath Roberto Mancini.

Excessive level of 2020: Finishing a home Treble with PSG.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Croatia

Age: 35

2019 rank: Not ranked

Modric could be within the twilight of his taking part in profession, however he is nonetheless getting it completed in one of the vital demanding midfields and for one of the vital demanding fan bases. The Croatian midfielder’s means on the ball and his imaginative and prescient of the sport have at all times been his sturdy go well with. It is how he casually guided Croatia to the World Cup last in 2018 and picked up the Ballon d’Or — the primary participant not named Messi or Ronaldo to win it since 2007 — in the identical yr. That is why Zinedine Zidane nonetheless trusts him to ship on the highest degree.

Excessive level of 2020: Scored his first-ever El Clasico objective final season as Actual surged to the title at their rivals’ expense.


Membership/nation: Barcelona/Netherlands

Age: 23

2019 rank: 2

The Dutch midfielder was the poster boy of European soccer when he joined Barca from Ajax for €70 million in 2019, however his first season in Spain confirmed him that not every thing is at all times rosy in soccer. After excelling because the deepest midfielder at Ajax, he’s taking part in a extra attacking function underneath first Ernesto Valverde and later Quique Setien in Spain. Regardless of being moved round and having to adapt to a brand new nation and a brand new language, De Jong confirmed glimpses of his expertise, and there are indicators of enchancment in his second season on the membership. Below his third coach at Camp Nou — his compatriot Ronald Koeman — he appears extra snug in a “double pivot” (a pair of deep-lying midfielders who protect the protection and share inventive obligations), and Barca hope he can rule their midfield for the following decade.

Excessive level of 2020: Has performed each minute for Barcelona in La Liga this season.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 27

2019 rank: 6

The Brazilian received the Champions League in his first season with Liverpool and the Premier League title in his second. Not unhealthy, proper? He has excelled for Jurgen Klopp’s facet on the base of the midfield as an imposing determine who additionally affords a contact of sophistication on the ball. He was unbelievable within the 3-1 win over Manchester Metropolis in November 2019, opening the scoring. His versatility is more and more vital, too. He performed as a full-back earlier in his profession at Actual Madrid and AS Monaco, however is simply as snug slotting into central protection for the Reds after a critical harm to Virgil van Dijk.

Excessive level of 2020: Performed 28 video games in Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League title win.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

There are extra glamorous gamers at Liverpool, however England worldwide Henderson took the plaudits for his facet’s Premier League triumph final season. For his performances on the pitch, his affect because the membership’s captain and his work with the #playerstogether initiative through the coronavirus lockdown, he is lastly getting the respect his profession has demanded. Henderson is just not a highlight-reel participant on the base of the Reds’ midfield, however his exhausting work, unfussy fashion of play and passionate captaincy stay important to the Reds’ success. He is by no means been a participant who captures the creativeness at Liverpool — or anyplace, for that matter — however there is a purpose his is the primary identify Jurgen Klopp places on the crew sheet.

Excessive level of 2020: A Premier League title, anybody?

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Julien Laurens is filled with reward for N’Golo Kante, who finishes simply fifth in ESPN’s FC 100.


Membership/nation: Chelsea/France

Age: 29

2019 rank: 1

Eden Hazard as soon as mentioned that Kante is so good that he performs like two males in midfield, and who can argue? Understated and at all times prepared to let extra proficient teammates get the glory, Kante is the right pivot for membership and nation. Although accidents and a positional change underneath then-Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri lowered his effectiveness, there are indicators underneath Frank Lampard that he’s refinding his greatest type. Again on the base of the midfield and with a stellar assault forward of him, his relentless work in profitable the ball again and distributing it may show simply as vital because the targets and assists Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner contribute.

Excessive level of 2020: Helped Chelsea to complete runner-up within the FA Cup regardless of lacking a lot of the season via harm and considerations round COVID-19. Additionally handed 150 appearances for the membership regardless of switch curiosity from PSG.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 5

To categorise Casemiro as a “destroyer” in midfield is to do the Brazil worldwide a disservice. He affords far more to Madrid than simply safety to the again 4, and you can even argue he is turn out to be their most vital participant. When he would not play, Madrid wrestle. He missed three league video games final season, and Madrid received solely one among them. Madrid conceded 4 at Valencia in November when he was absent with the coronavirus. He additionally has developed a knack for scoring vital targets: twice within the 2-1 win towards Sevilla final season, and the winner within the 1-0 victory at Espanyol as Madrid closed in on the league title. He was additionally on the right track towards Borussia Monchengladbach in October as Zinedine Zidane’s facet got here from behind to attract 2-2 within the Champions League. The opposite objective was scored by Karim Benzema, however guess who set it up? Casemiro.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking part in 35 video games within the coronavirus-impacted La Liga season en path to the league title, his second since becoming a member of the membership in 2013.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Germany

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

Kroos is into his seventh season with Madrid and stays as vital to Zinedine Zidane’s facet as ever. Take it from ZZ himself, who enjoys merely watching the German midfielder at follow. “I like to look at Toni practice,” Zidane mentioned. “I like to be there for his coaching periods. They’re distinctive periods. I am not saying it for the sake of it. It is true. I’ve by no means seen him lose the ball. Effectively, possibly as soon as. His sport is at all times elegant and environment friendly. He by no means has a foul day.” Even Pep Guardiola, who managed Kroos at Bayern Munich, raved about his former cost in a 2020 documentary: “The gamers that shout essentially the most are those who disguise when issues go badly. Toni is the other, he is the bravest of all of them in essentially the most tough moments.” Earlier than final season, Kroos had received La Liga as soon as, however his consistency in Madrid’s 10-game profitable run — Casemiro mentioned earlier this yr that “Actual Madrid matches at all times go in Kroos’ rhythm” — when soccer resumed in June helped Los Blancos finish a three-year look forward to the Spanish title.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking part in 35 video games and including a number of key assists on the way in which to Actual’s La Liga title, their first since 2016-17.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Spain

Age: 29

2019 rank: Not ranked

Thiago turned heads this summer time when he signed for Liverpool, but it surely wasn’t the switch that shocked individuals; moderately, it was the truth that different elite groups throughout Europe did not put up a struggle to signal him as a substitute. Regardless of a string of difficult accidents all through his profession, Thiago has means and artistic expertise which have by no means diminished. Even final season he missed the run-in within the Bundesliga, though earlier than that he had been influential in Bayern’s turnaround underneath Hansi Flick, and he returned in time for the Champions League knockout section to exert his authority on the competitors. At his greatest, he is a peerless deep-lying playmaker, excellent for unlocking packed defenses — one thing Liverpool face usually — with a intelligent move or swivel of the hips. He makes every thing look so easy and was the very best participant on the pitch within the last in Lisbon — finishing 85 passes, greater than every other participant (Kimmich managed 78) — as Bayern beat PSG to clinch the Treble.

Excessive level of 2020: Ending his last season at Bayern in fashion, with a home/European Treble and, most notably, his first Champions League winners’ medal since he acquired one with Barcelona in 2010-11.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: 2 (right-back)

Kimmich is a coach’s dream. Final season, he alternated effortlessly between the right-back and defensive midfield positions. He even crammed in at centre-back often, although coach Hansi Flick prefers him in midfield, particularly for the reason that sale of Thiago to Liverpool. For outdated time’s sake, it was at right-back, with Benjamin Pavard getting back from harm, the place he took on the function of chief creator in Bayern’s run to Champions League glory in the summertime. He scored one and created 4 of his facet’s targets within the quarterfinal stage, together with aiding the winner within the last for Kingsley Coman. Nonetheless simply 25, he’s Bayern’s current and future.

Excessive level of 2020: He was instrumental in Bayern’s first Champions League win since 2012-13, Jupp Heynckes’ last season with the membership.

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ATTACKING MIDFIELD

One of the best attacking midfielders have a way of mischief, able to cracking a strong defensive set with improvisation or magic. Greats take advantage of their free roles to entertain, create and convert.

Participant capsules by Sam Marsden


Membership/nation: Aston Villa/England

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

Huge issues have been anticipated from Grealish since he made his Premier League debut at 18 for Aston Villa in 2014. Nevertheless, it is over solely the previous 12 months that he has actually kicked on. He is a extra mature, productive participant on the pitch and, after serving to Villa keep up on the ultimate day of final season, he is began the brand new season in red-hot type for membership and nation. A midfielder who excels with the ball at his toes and who is aware of how one can create house, it is not exhausting to grasp why he is been linked to each Manchester United and Manchester Metropolis in 2020.

Excessive level of 2020: Grealish scored twice and arrange three targets in Villa’s extraordinary 7-2 win towards Liverpool in October.


Membership/nation: Lyon/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

The Lyon facet that reached the Champions League semifinal final season was brimming with expertise, however the jewel within the Ligue 1 facet’s crown was undoubtedly Aouar. He tore aside Juventus and Manchester Metropolis in a sophisticated midfield function, organising 4 of Lyon’s 5 targets towards the 2 European giants as they arrange a last 4 assembly with eventual winners Bayern. A fast-footed creator with trickery in abundance, Aouar resisted a summer time transfer to the Premier League, although it is only a matter of time till his expertise improve a much bigger membership and on a much bigger stage.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking Lyon to inside 90 minutes of the Champions League last with a string of match-winning performances.


Membership/nation: Man United/France

Age: 27

2019 rank: 6

Few gamers divide opinion fairly like Pogba. France teammate Antoine Griezmann instructed ESPN that Pogba is the “most underrated participant on the planet,” however not everybody would agree. He has arguably flattered to deceive since returning to Manchester United from Juventus for €100m in 2016 — collectively, they’ve received only one League Cup and a Europa League in 4 seasons — however the underlying feeling is that he’s nonetheless the most effective box-to-box midfielders on his day. He’s able to the chic, if he can keep match. Final season was tainted by accidents — he was restricted to 21 appearances, scoring only one objective — however with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at Outdated Trafford and a settled XI underneath Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the situations are ripe for Pogba to point out his greatest.

Excessive level of 2020: Establishing the essential second objective after coming off the bench in a Champions League group stage win at Paris Saint-Germain.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: 1

Silva was not in a position to reside as much as his wonderful 2018-19 marketing campaign final season, however when on type, he stays one among Europe’s most inventive midfielders. Even so, he nonetheless managed to attain six targets and file seven assists as Man Metropolis completed second within the Premier League in 2019-20. Nevertheless, he did not even make it off the bench as Metropolis have been surprised by Lyon within the Champions League quarterfinal when the event resumed in August. His purpose this season is to win his place again within the Metropolis XI by rediscovering the shape that led coach Pep Guardiola to say: “Proper now, it is Bernardo and 10 extra gamers.”

Excessive level of 2020: Notched a objective and an help towards Manchester United within the Carabao Cup semifinals, placing Metropolis heading in the right direction to win their solely trophy of the 2019-20 season.


Membership/nation: Chelsea/Germany

Age: 21

2019 rank: 8

Chelsea have lacked a dominant playmaker from midfielder for years, however in signing Havertz, the No. 10 spot is secured for years to return. Havertz is mature past his years: as a 20-year-old final season, he steered Bayer Leverkusen to a fifth-place end within the Bundesliga with 12 targets. He additionally scored in 4 out of 5 Europa League video games as Leverkusen reached the ultimate eight, the place they misplaced to eventual runners-up Inter Milan. Many anticipate him to turn out to be the most effective gamers on the planet, and he is already a daily underneath Frank Lampard at Chelsea, who was “overwhelmed” together with his new signing’s humility and quiet confidence upon arrival in England.

Excessive level of 2020: Taking Leverkusen to the ultimate eight of the Europa League was good, however a hat trick in a League Cup win over Barnsley was a pleasant second early in his Chelsea profession.

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Gab Marcotti reacts to Kevin De Bruyne being named the very best attacking midfielder in ESPN’s FC 100.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

Goretzka’s bodily transformation since signing for Bayern from Schalke has mirrored the German membership’s rise again to the highest of European soccer. The once-slender midfielder appears extra like a bodybuilder than a soccer star nowadays, having placed on an incredible quantity of muscle. The additional bulk has helped maintain him wholesome, and Bayern profit from his resilience: He was integral in Bayern’s dominant Treble-winning season, weighing in with eight targets and 11 assists. “The day I used to be unveiled at Bayern, I mentioned I might wish to assume a job of accountability throughout the crew,” Goretzka mentioned this summer time, “and I am shifting extra in that course now. Perhaps additionally imposing myself a bit extra as I’ve acquired bodily stronger. And that is a growth I am happy with.” Aggressive with out being reckless and assertive with out racking up yellow and pink playing cards, Goretzka is, as former RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick places it, “the very best box-to-box participant on the planet.”

Excessive level of 2020: Performed an enormous function in Bayern’s Treble-winning season.


Membership/nation: Atalanta/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Gomez is likely one of the nice Atalanta success tales. Plucked from Metalist Kharkiv for simply £4m in 2014, he is now considered one of many world’s greatest midfielders. He even acquired a recall to the Argentina nationwide crew on the age of 32, three years after he received his fourth cap. He’s arguably the frontman for this band of retro gamers who’ve was European powerhouses underneath Gian Piero Gasperini. His file of seven targets and 16 assists within the Italian high flight belies his true affect: He’s the conduit for his crew’s assault (a crew that scored essentially the most targets within the Italian high flight final season) and his type noticed him named Serie A midfielder of the yr.

As Atalanta captain, Gomez additionally performed an vital function in serving to heal Bergamo. Atalanta’s Lombardy area was hit exhausting by COVID-19 again in March, recording over 16,000 deaths due to the pandemic. Atalanta turned an emblem of hope for that a part of Italy, and their cost to the Champions League quarterfinals was as a lot for the area because it was for the gamers. Throughout lockdown, Gomez used his social media platform to share “life hacks” resembling how one can repurpose plastic bottles, or providing indoor exercise plans.

Excessive level of 2020: Returning to the Argentina nationwide crew after years with out a call-up.


Membership/nation: Manchester United/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Fernandes has been so good since signing for Manchester United for an preliminary price of €55 million that it appears as if he is been there for years. In 14 Premier League appearances final season, he scored eight targets and created seven extra, confirming that he may do in England what he’d completed in Portugal, the place he hit 20 targets within the Primeira Liga in 2018-19. Fernandes has completed extra of the identical at first of this season, with targets and match-winning performances towards Brighton and Everton. He isn’t even been at Outdated Trafford for a yr, however he is already United’s talisman.

Excessive level of 2020: Was instrumental in Man United’s return to the Champions League and third-place end in 2019-20.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 31

2019 rank: Not ranked

Not solely has Muller been the most effective gamers on the planet over the previous yr, together with his personal distinctive sense of humour, however he is additionally one of the vital entertaining. Muller was so good within the early 2010s they named a place after him — the “Raumdeuter” (“interpreter of house”) — however the previous season has been a seesaw of feelings. He began the 2019-20 season exiled underneath earlier Bayern boss Niko Kovac and was considering leaving, however when Hansi Flick took cost, he put Muller slap-bang in the course of his attacking lineup and Muller delivered. He completed the latest marketing campaign with a record-breaking 21 assists within the Bundesliga and helped Bayern ship a exceptional Treble — aided by his two targets of their 8-2 dismantling of Barcelona. His type has led to widespread requires Joachim Low to deliver him again in from the chilly for Germany, however Low continues to be attempting his greatest to disregard them.

Muller has additionally supplied us with an enormous quantity of enjoyment off the pitch. His social media account is splendidly personable, and his impression of the Highway Runner in describing Alphonso Davies’ tempo was sensible. And he has now provided a second phrase into the soccer lexicon, with “Lewan-goal-ski” now alongside his very personal place, though he is unsure whether or not the definition matches his fashion. “I am at all times on the prowl. However I am additionally greater than only a ‘Raumdeuter.’ My expertise on the ball are additionally superb. However after all, my nice energy is making runs with the precise timing.”

Excessive level of 2020: Taking part in an instrumental function in Bayern’s three-trophy season.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/Belgium

Age: 29

2019 rank: 2

Manchester Metropolis missed out on the title to Liverpool final season by an 18-point margin, however De Bruyne’s work didn’t go unnoticed. In 35 Premier League appearances, he arrange 20 targets for his teammates, matching the file for assists in a single season held by Arsenal nice Thierry Henry. He additionally scored 13 targets for Pep Guardiola’s facet as they ended the season in second place. De Bruyne will not need to come second once more, which means his motor and creativity can be pivotal to Metropolis wrestling the title again from Merseyside.

Excessive level of 2020: Matching the Premier League’s single-season help file.

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WING

Wingers nonetheless have a job to play within the fashionable period. Their tempo and persistence on the flanks give their groups one other angle of assault; their means to chop infield and shoot provides a dimension too.

Participant capsules by Alex Kirkland


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Brazil

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

Vinicius nonetheless feels extra like a bundle of uncooked attributes — tempo, trickery — than a totally fashioned participant. He frustrates as usually as he thrills, a view shared by his personal Actual Madrid teammates at occasions, as evidenced by Karim Benzema blasting Vinicius to a different participant whereas the Brazilian watched again in October. However when Actual Madrid want a objective or a special dimension in assault, they flip to Vinicius. Half the time, even he would not look as if he is aware of what is going on to occur subsequent, however possibly that is the purpose. In a contemporary sport that’s so usually outlined by inflexible tactical self-discipline, his unpredictability could be priceless.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring the opening objective towards Barcelona in El Clasico in March, a match that noticed the title race begin to tip in Actual Madrid’s favour.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/Belgium

Age: 29

2019 rank: 3

Hazard referred to as 2019-20 “the worst season of my profession” and it is exhausting to argue. He was out of practice on his arrival at Actual Madrid, and an ankle fracture in November adopted by one other in February meant Hazard was primarily an irrelevance of their title win. Not less than the marketing campaign’s delayed conclusion allowed him to get better in time to make some unremarkable late appearances. Severe questions have been requested concerning the knowledge of Madrid investing a lot — reportedly as much as €160m — in Hazard in 2019, particularly when he would have been obtainable totally free a yr later. Nobody doubts his world-class expertise, although, and we’d nonetheless see a participant who was as soon as the Premier League’s greatest repeat that type in a Actual Madrid shirt.

Excessive level of 2020: A shocking long-range objective towards Huesca in October 2020 urged that higher issues may very well be simply across the nook.


Membership/nation: Sevilla/Argentina

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Sevilla switch guru Monchi not often will get a deal incorrect, however the discount €15m signing of Ocampos from Marseille should rank amongst his greatest acquisitions ever. At that time, the Argentinian regarded like a strong skilled, albeit performing under the potential he’d proven as a teenager at River Plate, with underwhelming spells in Ligue 1 and Serie A. At Sevilla, he has developed into the very best winger, and one of the vital efficient gamers in any place, in La Liga. His boundless reserves of power are an ideal match for Julen Lopetegui’s exhausting, all-action model of soccer. One sport summed up his season: Not solely did Ocampos rating in Sevilla’s 1-0 win over Eibar in July however he additionally went in objective when keeper Tomas Vaclik acquired injured, even making a vital save within the ninth minute of added time.

Excessive level of 2020: It is tempting to say the Europa League win, however let’s face it: the sensible insanity of stand-in keeper Ocampos saving from precise Eibar keeper Dmitrovic (sure, actually) within the 99th minute is tough to beat.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/France

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

There was a merciless poetry to the way of Paris Saint-Germain’s 2020 Champions League last defeat. Having spent over a billion euros to get inside touching distance of the trophy they crave above all others, they have been denied by a headed objective from Coman — one among their very own, discarded youth merchandise. Coman joined PSG on the age of 10 and have become their youngest-ever debutant at 16 earlier than deciding to proceed his profession elsewhere. Nonetheless enhancing and into his sixth season at Bayern, he has an expertise past his years and a trophy cupboard to match.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring the winner in a Champions League last towards his former membership.


Membership/nation: Chelsea/United States

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

Pulisic’s first season in England may need ended on a bitter be aware, with him trying distraught as he limped off with a hamstring harm in Chelsea’s FA Cup last defeat to Arsenal, however that should not obscure what had come earlier than it. Pulisic did sufficient that day at Wembley — and within the 2019-20 season as an entire — to recommend that every one the hype across the U.S. star is totally justified. 9 Premier League targets from 25 appearances was a powerful return for a large participant, and greater than twice as many as he ever scored in a season at Borussia Dortmund, which suggests he is progressing properly underneath coach Frank Lampard regardless of these harm issues.

Excessive level of 2020: That fifth-minute FA Cup last objective.

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Gab Marcotti believes Sadio Mane “smartness” is likely one of the causes he tops ESPN’s FC 100.


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: 7

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe get all the eye, however Di Maria is each bit as vital to Paris Saint-Germain’s success. Simply have a look at the 3-0 semifinal win over RB Leipzig that put them via to their first Champions League last. With a objective, two assists and 5 key passes, it was a near-flawless efficiency. It is no shock coach Thomas Tuchel loves him. Di Maria has been remarkably constant all through his time at PSG, and at 32 appears higher than ever. Do not be shocked if the Parisians look to increase a contract that expires subsequent summer time.

Excessive level of 2020: A masterful efficiency within the Champions League semifinal towards Leipzig.


Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/England

Age: 20

2019 rank: 4

Sancho’s yr was nothing in need of extraordinary. Seventeen Bundesliga targets — behind solely Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner — and 16 assists are gobsmacking figures for any participant, not to mention a child with 84 senior video games underneath his belt. The scariest factor is that this appears like just the start. His type early this season has dipped, with some hypothesis linking that swoon with a failed summer time transfer to Manchester United, however there is no purpose to suppose it is greater than a short lived blip. Sancho’s thrilling, mutually helpful partnership with Erling Haaland will certainly be flourishing once more.

Excessive level of 2020: Turning into the primary participant in Europe’s high leagues to hit double figures for targets and assists final season.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

One of many first names on the crew sheet for European champions Bayern and the German nationwide crew, it is virtually unfathomable that he was, as soon as upon a time, failing on mortgage at West Brom and struggling to crack the beginning XI for Arsenal. Gnabry is the whole package deal — speedy, skilful, sensible, sturdy — and the best vast man for Hansi Flick’s ferocious Bayern crew. He is an absolute nightmare for any defender — simply ask Barcelona, after their backline was torn aside in an notorious 8-2 humiliation in Lisbon in August. Even in a crew filled with elite performers that evening, Gnabry stood out with a first-half objective and help. A hat trick in Bayern’s 8-0 thrashing of Schalke in September urged there’s far more to return, too.

Excessive level of 2020: His incandescent efficiency towards Barcelona within the Champions League.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/England

Age: 25

2019 rank: 1

The 2019-20 season was Sterling’s greatest in the case of scoring targets. He netted 20 within the Premier League alone, greater than teammates Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus. It was in the end a disappointing season for Metropolis — second within the league and crushed by Lyon within the Champions League quarterfinals — however Sterling’s fame as a participant continues to develop, as does his knack of timing runs into the field to complete Metropolis’s usually flowing attacking strikes. His subsequent steps: serving to Metropolis lastly ship in Europe and performing for England at Euro 2020.

Excessive level of 2020: A Premier League hat trick towards Brighton in July that proved he is greater than only a winger and supplier.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Senegal

Age: 28

2019 rank: 2

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are such a powerful unit that it is easy to underestimate the crew’s constituent elements. That is very true in assault, the place Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane mix so seamlessly as a trio that we most likely do not respect simply how good Mane is as a person. Is any participant extra enjoyable to look at? Or extra of a headache to face? Or a extra full package deal? He has so many strengths to his sport — tempo, contact, work charge, ending means — that it is exhausting to spotlight anyone. Former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher says Mane is pushing John Barnes for the title of Liverpool’s greatest left winger ever.

Excessive level of 2020: A four-minute brace in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September that showcased all of his qualities.

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FORWARD

One of the best gamers within the sport appear to have positions as exhausting to outline as their particular person abilities. They seem to be a potent mixture of attacking midfield, winger and centre-forward, but additionally have the intelligence and fast pondering to know the place to be.

Participant capsules by Elaine Teng


Membership/nation: Atalanta/Slovenia

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Josip Ilicic was taking part in the very best soccer of his life earlier than COVID-19 hit Bergamo, Italy. Within the 2018-19 season, he scored 12 targets in 31 video games to assist Atalanta qualify for the Champions League for the primary time of their historical past, and maintained that type the following season. He netted 4 targets towards Valencia to place the Italians via to the quarterfinal, at one level outscoring Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A. In July, he immediately went on go away for private causes, later revealed to be melancholy after contracting COVID-19. He is made a gradual return to motion this season, however his stellar pre-pandemic play earns him a spot on this listing.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring 4 targets towards Valencia within the Champions League spherical of 16


Membership/nation: Manchester United/England

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Rashford notched 17 targets and eight assists final season to maintain an uneven Manchester United crew within the high 4, however his greatest wins got here distant from Outdated Trafford. In June, after he heard the British authorities had determined to not present free faculty meals for low-income children over the summer time, the 23-year-old wrote an open letter to Parliament urging them to vary course. The federal government reversed its resolution inside a day. Rashford has continued his marketing campaign, working with Britain’s greatest meals firms to cut back poverty and beginning a ebook membership for teenagers, and continues to be in superlative type as the focus of Manchester United’s assault.

Excessive level of 2020: A cultured hat trick towards RB Leipzig in a 5-0 Champions League group-stage win on Oct. 28.


Membership/nation: Juventus/Argentina

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

Dybala hasn’t been the dominant ahead many consider he must be. Outshone at Juventus by Cristiano Ronaldo, he is struggled to claim himself underneath Andrea Pirlo’s administration and has been linked with a transfer away from Turin. And but, the 27-year-old was named Serie A’s MVP final season, helped Juve to a ninth consecutive title and is undoubtedly one of many world’s most proficient attackers. Maybe a transfer out of Ronaldo’s sizable shadow is what he wants.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable his fifth Serie A title with Juventus.


Membership/nation: Tottenham/South Korea

Age: 28

2019 rank: 5 (wing)

If there’s one Tottenham participant thriving underneath Jose Mourinho, it is Son. For the reason that mercurial supervisor took over a yr in the past, Son and his attacking companion, Harry Kane, have been unstoppable. If Son is not aiding Kane, Kane is aiding Son. Within the second week of the season, the South Korea worldwide scored 4 targets towards Southampton, all of which have been arrange by the Englishman. Although when wanted, he can do it alone, too: witness his mesmeric, Puskas Award nominee objective towards Burnley again in December, when he collected the ball on the fringe of the Spurs space and ran the size of the sector, evading six tackles and bypassing everybody earlier than calmly slotting the ball dwelling. This blistering type has earned him contract extension talks, with Spurs anticipated to supply him round £200,000 per week ($266,000). Off the pitch, the worldwide shutdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Son lastly had time to finish his necessary navy service in South Korea — and earned an award doing it.

Excessive level of 2020: Son’s greatest begin to a season received him the Premier League Participant of the Month in October, the primary such prize for a Tottenham participant since 2018.


Membership/nation: Arsenal/Gabon

Age: 31

2019 rank: 7

It is a testomony to Aubameyang’s significance to Arsenal that conserving him in North London was seen as the important thing to supervisor Mikel Arteta’s rebuild. The membership captain capped a superb 2019-20 marketing campaign by changing a penalty and scoring the winner towards Chelsea within the FA Cup last (although his subsequent dropping of the trophy could be much more memorable). Versatile, speedy and a very good finisher, he can be referred to as upon to take Arsenal again into the highest 4. Fortunately for Gunners followers, he signed a brand new three-year deal in September.

Excessive level of 2020: Beating Chelsea to win the FA Cup as Arsenal captain.

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Julien Laurens believes Kylian Mbappe would be the subsequent generational participant as soon as Messi and Ronaldo retire.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Egypt

Age: 28

2019 rank: 4

Salah is such a famous person for the Premier League champions, it is exhausting to think about a time when Jose Mourinho did not suppose he was ok for Chelsea. Along with his breakneck tempo, deft contact and killer nostril for objective, Salah is essentially the most prolific and most acclaimed member of Liverpool’s celebrated entrance three, together with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. He is began the brand new season in great type and in October, he turned the primary participant since Steven Gerrard to attain 100 targets for the Reds.

Excessive level of 2020: Salah scored many gorgeous targets to finish Liverpool’s 30-year title drought, together with an audacious back-heel end towards Watford in December.


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 8

After an injury-heavy, controversy riddled yr that nearly noticed him return to Barcelona, Neymar merely reassimilated in Paris together with his attribute swagger and silky contact. When followers booed him throughout his first sport again on the Parc des Princes in September 2019, he responded with a spectacular, game-winning bicycle kick on the demise. His targets and assists, together with a diving header towards Borussia Dortmund within the spherical of 16, have been instrumental in taking PSG to the Champions League last, the closest they’ve ever been to reaching their dream of European glory.

Excessive level of 2020: Attending to the Champions League last for the primary time with PSG. If solely Bayern Munich hadn’t gotten in the way in which …


Membership/nation: Juventus/Portugal

Age: 35

2019 rank: 2

The data maintain falling for Ronaldo. He may very well be the main scorer in 2020 throughout Europe’s greatest leagues, he’ll quickly overtake the all-time males’s worldwide objective file (he is seven shy of Ali Daei’s 109), and he is averaged almost a objective sport for Portugal since he turned 30. Even a bout of COVID-19 in October could not gradual him down. In his third season with Juventus, Ronaldo has received back-to-back home titles and can be desirous to ship the European trophy the Italian giants so desperately crave.

Excessive level of 2020: Efficiently defending Juventus’ Serie A title.


Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/France

Age: 21

2019 rank: 3

It is exhausting to consider Mbappe continues to be so younger. He is already a World Cup winner, a four-time French champion and has been the main scorer in Ligue 1 for the previous two seasons. As Neymar has struggled with accidents, Mbappe has picked up the slack and made PSG his personal. The entire attacking participant, he can play centrally or on the wing and bamboozles defenders together with his tempo, energy, ability and superior studying of the sport. As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo attain the tip of their careers, do not be shocked to see Mbappe on the high of this listing quickly.

Excessive level of 2020: His 93rd-minute help for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in PSG’s late comeback towards Atalanta within the Champions League quarterfinal.


Membership/nation: Barcelona/Argentina

Age: 33

2019 rank: 1

This was the primary yr in Messi’s lengthy profession that off-field drama overshadowed his on-field efficiency. As he made his displeasure with Barcelona identified this summer time, the world waited to see if he would decamp for Manchester. He selected to remain, unwilling to take authorized motion towards the membership he has referred to as dwelling since he was a boy. Messi nonetheless is not pleased and Barcelona are nonetheless wobbling, however anybody who thinks the 33-year-old is in decline ought to watch his latest efficiency towards Actual Betis. He got here on within the second half, the scoreline degree at 1-1, and adjusted every thing. His magnificent dummy arrange Antoine Griezmann, his penalty was unstoppable, and his 82nd-minute objective, a left-footed rocket, peeled again the years.

Excessive level of 2020: Powerful to say in a yr when Barcelona misplaced La Liga to Actual Madrid and have been humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich, so maybe it was lastly venting his rage at Barcelona and making journalists across the globe search for what precisely a “burofax” is.

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STRIKER

Across the penalty space, the striker is king. The “traditional” No. 9 (a little bit of a dying breed) will rating towards anybody, at any time, from anyplace. Whereas all nice strikers have that ruthless willpower to grab each scoring alternative, the really nice are as adept at linking play as they’re ending it.

Participant capsules by Stephan Uersfeld


Membership/nation: Wolverhampton Wanderers/Mexico

Age: 29

2019 rank: Not ranked

Jimenez is far more than the Wolves’ aerial goal, moderately an attacker who likes to distribute the ball from a deeper place. He is the epitome of a “goal man” — the ahead who receives the ball in attacking spots and retains possession whereas teammates make runs towards objective — and together with his first contact can create harmful conditions on the wing. His 27 targets and 10 assists throughout all competitions final time period have been his greatest output of his profession. It is no shock that he is been linked with Juventus and Manchester United.

Excessive level of 2020: Early on within the season when the Wolves have been out to safe their place within the Europa League, Jimenez chipped to the ball to Diogo Jota who transformed with a scissor kick. A major instance of their partnership.


Membership/nation: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 29

2019 rank: 5 (ahead)

He is a striker who would not rating as many targets as some on this listing, however Firmino has put his identify in Liverpool’s historical past books together with his contribution to LFC’s first championship in 30 years. His function is tough to outline; he isn’t a real No. 9 however moderately a fluid, always-in-motion frontman who creates confusion for opponents and scoring alternatives for the opposite members of the Reds’ all-world assault, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Firmino’s creativity and unpredictability have made him Jurgen Klopp’s go-to “difference-maker” up entrance.

Excessive level of 2020: Notched three assists within the spectacular 4-3 Champions League win over RB Salzburg, albeit overshadowed by Erling Haaland’s exploits on a memorable evening at Anfield.


Membership/nation: Chelsea/Germany

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

Werner may have left RB Leipzig in 2019. As a substitute, he remained on the membership, put a launch clause in his new deal and refined his sport underneath Julian Nagelsmann earlier than incomes a transfer to Chelsea in the summertime. A constant scorer, he thrived final time period with 28 targets within the league and 4 within the Champions League. With 23 of his 28 Bundesliga targets coming from open play and 21 of them scored within the field, he isn’t solely a counterattacking risk, but additionally a participant who can instinctively arrive within the field to complete strikes. Already appears at dwelling within the Premier League, too, with 4 targets and three assists in 9 appearances.

Excessive level of 2020: A scorer of three hat tips final Bundesliga season, Werner’s most spectacular match got here in an 8-0 win towards Mainz during which he supplied three targets and three assists.


Membership/nation: Lazio/Italy

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

A flop at Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, Motionless has been irresistible since returning dwelling to Italy, the place he led Lazio again to the Champions League final time period. In his first match again in Europe’s high flight since 2015, Motionless scored towards outdated membership BVB. A robust finisher all through his Serie A profession, he took his 2019-20 tally via the roof, with 36 targets in 37 league matches, and it is not simply from open play that he is prolific, as his coolness from the spot helped, too. He transformed 14 of his 15 penalty makes an attempt in all competitions final time period.

Excessive level of 2020: Beating the prolific Robert Lewandowski to the Golden Shoe, awarded to Europe’s main scorer throughout all leagues.


Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: 1

Aguero’s significance to Manchester Metropolis has by no means waned via the years even because the accidents have piled up. After Aguero sprinted out of the gate with eight targets in six Premier League video games to open the 2019-20 season, his season was marred by accidents and a scarcity of type as Metropolis’s season drifted away. He has now gone with out a objective in Premier League since scoring the 1-0 win at Sheffield United on Jan. 21 amid numerous knee accidents, but it surely speaks volumes that when match, he is nonetheless Pep Guardiola’s go-to up entrance: “If he is taking part in at his degree, we haven’t any doubts that he is a participant to remain till he decides as a result of he is distinctive. He is vital for us, our followers and everybody.”

Excessive level of 2020: His sole hat trick of the season got here in his classic efficiency at Aston Villa throughout a brief dash in mid-January.

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Gab Marcotti says there’s too many high strikers to justify placing Zlatan Ibrahimovic in ESPN’s FC 100.


Membership/nation: Inter Milan/Belgium

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

The participant beforehand written off as a “flop” at Manchester United has been incandescent since shifting to Serie A facet Inter. He can curl the ball like Arjen Robben, he is cool as ice from the spot, he is sturdy within the air, can fireplace in photographs from exterior the field and is current for the less complicated targets across the 6-yard field. Following on from simply 15 targets for United within the 2018-19 season, he struck 34 in 51 video games in his debut season in Italy. Add to that 9 targets in eight matches for Belgium since September 2019 as proof the Lukaku revival is in full swing. Mentioned Antonio Conte of his striker again in October, “I at all times mentioned prior to now he was a tough diamond that I wished to work with. … You possibly can see simply the way in which he receives the ball, the way in which he strikes. All the things has improved.”

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring in 11 straight Europa League video games — a brand new file — as Inter completed runners-up within the competitors.


Membership/nation: Tottenham/England

Age: 27

2019 rank: 2

The England captain has been in excellent type this yr. In double figures for each targets and assists within the 2020-21 season, Kane’s final time period — his first underneath Jose Mourinho — had been extra about scoring targets than organising. His harm forward of the suspension of the Premier League led to Spurs dropping essential factors towards Liverpool, Watford, Chelsea and Wolverhampton within the race for a top-four end and qualification for the Champions League. Such is the essence Kane brings to the Spurs facet, whether or not ending strikes or beginning them. Cruised previous 150 targets for Tottenham in 2020 as effectively, prompting Mourinho — by no means one for effusive reward — to say that Kane is “unbelievable and he very a lot represents the spirit of the crew.”

Excessive level of 2020: Confirmed his full brilliance within the 5-2 win at Southampton on Sept. 20, scoring one objective and offering 4 assists for Son Heung-Min.


Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/France

Age: 32

2019 rank: 4

An underrated striker, Benzema continued his advantageous type ever since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus. Usually maligned for being ineffective in Ronaldo’s shadow, the veteran center-forward has thrived with the added accountability. His stellar proper foot stays the most effective within the sport, introduced to make use of not solely to web targets, but additionally make his teammates look good. With over 250 aggressive targets for Actual Madrid, the 21 he added in La Liga final time period helped Actual to their first league title since 2017 and Benzema to his third total. It was the primary time in his profession, too, that he scored 20 or extra targets in back-to-back seasons.

Excessive level of 2020: Some 11 years after first netting towards Xerez on 20 September 2009, Benzema reached the landmark 250th objective for Madrid towards Levante on Oct. 4. Earlier in 2020, he eclipsed Ferenc Puskas’ 242 targets to maneuver as much as fifth in Actual’s all-time scoring charts.


Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/Norway

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

The weirdest factor about Haaland is that he is nonetheless discovering his toes however is already up there with the perfect strikers on the planet. Not solely is the Norway worldwide a participant who is aware of how one can use his towering top, however he’s additionally one of many quickest forwards. Most of his targets (and ensuing celebrations) are price a meme, particularly these the place he bulldozes previous a whole crew as he sprints from his personal field to the opposite finish to neatly end off a counterattack, often arrange by Jadon Sancho. What you admire most about him, maybe, is his seemingly infinite self-belief. Final winter, he opted to affix Borussia Dortmund from FC Salzburg to realize extra expertise at the next degree and for a membership with a fame of creating gamers for the European tremendous golf equipment. He then scored a hat trick on his Bundesliga debut, the second participant in BVB historical past to do it, and completed the truncated marketing campaign with 16 targets in all competitions. With 17 and counting this season, the sky is the restrict.

Excessive level of 2020: Scoring twice within the Champions League spherical of 16, first leg towards Paris Saint-Germain. Whereas Dortmund would go on to be eradicated, his targets earned the final Westfalenstadion roar earlier than followers have been pressured to go silent amid the pandemic.


Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Poland

Age: 32

2019 rank: 3

It is tough to maintain monitor of Lewandowski’s data. The Bayern Munich striker has scored 68 targets and arrange an additional 15 in simply 58 aggressive appearances for the membership for the reason that begin of the 2019-20 season. In Bundesliga, he has been on the right track in 30 of the 37 matches since then. Now in his eleventh season in Germany and his seventh at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski was lastly in a position to carry the Champions League trophy this summer time. On the mini event in Lisbon, Lewandowski labored exhausting for his crew, monitoring again deep into midfield and floating to the wings to create space within the field. At 32, Lewandowski has a few seasons left in him as he chases Gerd Muller’s file of 40 targets in a single Bundesliga season.

Excessive level of 2020: A peak Lewandowski efficiency at Stamford Bridge and the Allianz Area paved the way in which for Bayern to win the Champions League. The Polish star had his hand in each single one of many seven targets Bayern scored within the 7-1 combination win over Chelsea.

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MANAGER

Soccer could be chaos, however high managers are in a position to see the larger image and will not panic when Plan A would not work. In spite of everything, they have Plans B, C and D. High coaches can ease their big-ego, big-talent squads via the emotional ups and downs whereas conserving everybody pleased, harmonious and absolutely dedicated to the trigger.

Supervisor capsules by Tom Hamilton


10: Carlo Ancelotti

Membership: Everton

Age: 61

2019 rank: 7

Ancelotti took cost of Everton in January. The membership have been within the relegation zone in December 2019, however Ancelotti guided them to eighth after which launched into a well-planned summer time spending spree, recruiting Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez and Ben Godfrey. Everton began the season in wealthy type, profitable their first 4 matches, and are presently in seventh. Ancelotti’s greatest belongings have at all times been bringing diplomacy and self-discipline to groups, and Everton have discovered each: Their dreadful file of defending set items — they conceded 24 targets from set items previous to his arrival final season, essentially the most within the high flight — has been addressed, and the Italian is now concentrating on Champions League soccer for Everton. He already has received three Champions Leagues, one Premier League, one FA Cup, one Bundesliga, one Serie A and a Ligue 1 title, however did add the September supervisor of the month award to his assortment. “After I heard he was going there I believed, ‘Oh, God,'” Jurgen Klopp mentioned of Ancelotti when he acquired the Everton job. “I did not like that truth, however he’s there and he’s doing an unbelievable job.”

Excessive level of 2020: It could be the persuasive expertise he used to persuade James Rodriguez to return to the Premier League. The Colombia worldwide has been incandescent up to now.


9: Zinedine Zidane

Membership/nation: Actual Madrid

Age: 48

2019 rank: Not ranked

The French maestro returned to Actual Madrid in March 2019 and completed the fragmented 2019-20 season with the La Liga title, his Los Blancos facet additionally smashing various Spanish high flight data alongside the way in which. It was a real crew effort, too: Actual boasted their greatest defensive file in three a long time, alongside essentially the most scorers from one crew — 21 gamers discovered the web through the season. Toni Kroos hails Zidane because the “greatest coach you can ask for,” but it surely’s his man administration that basically units him aside. Although he by no means fairly noticed eye-to-eye with Gareth Bale, he manages to maintain the array of stars all on the identical web page, with Kroos saying “he meets each participant at eye degree, brings everybody on board and has every thing round Actual underneath management.” Although Actual have had a shaky begin to the 2020-21 marketing campaign, Zidane continues to be, as Sergio Ramos places it, the “captain of the ship.”

Excessive level of 2020: Bringing the league title again to the Bernabeu after a number of seasons of futility and frustration.


8: Julen Lopetegui

Membership/nation: Sevilla

Age: 54

2019 rank: Not ranked

The Spanish supervisor helped lengthen Sevilla’s love affair with the Europa League, as they received final season’s event because of a 3-2 victory over Inter Milan within the last. It was Lopetegui’s first main honour of a tumultuous profession that noticed him handle Spain into the 2018 World Cup, solely to then lose his job earlier than it began after agreeing to turn out to be Actual Madrid supervisor. He lasted simply 4½ months within the Spanish capital earlier than getting sacked, however he is comfortably reaffirmed his undoubted means at Sevilla, profitable the Europa League and guiding them into this season’s Champions League.

“It’s a must to understand how to deal with tough moments and overcome them. This can be a feeling of immense happiness,” Lopetegui mentioned quickly after lifting the Europa League trophy. It was his personal second of redemption, and the aftermath of their 1-1 draw towards Barcelona in October is proof of how far Lopetegui has taken Sevilla in a short while after taking up in June 2019. As defender Jules Kounde mirrored on their draw at Camp Nou, he mentioned “I am a bit disillusioned.” This can be a Sevilla crew now with expectations of being within the combine for La Liga.

Excessive level of 2020: Profitable the Europa League and securing a top-four end in La Liga in the identical season.


7: Diego Simeone

Membership/nation: Atletico Madrid

Age: 50

2019 rank: 5

Although the 2019-20 season completed with extra a whimper than a roar, the indicators this time period are extraordinarily encouraging. João Félix is now on the coronary heart of Atletico’s assault (and arguably essentially the most thrilling participant in La Liga), whereas Simeone continues his tactical evolution right into a extra thrilling model of soccer. His triumphs over the previous yr embody remodeling Marcos Llorente from a holding midfielder to a second striker, which paid off brilliantly of their greatest results of the previous 12 months.

Again in March, Atletico knocked out the reigning Champions League champions at Anfield because of a 3-2 win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, which sparked Mourinho-esque scenes with Simeone sprinting down the touchline to have a good time together with his gamers. Their marketing campaign would ultimately come to an abrupt finish towards RB Leipzig within the quarterfinals, however that was an actual triumph for Simeone. He is now acquired an getting older, however nonetheless ruthless, Luis Suarez up entrance — because of personally phoning him to seal the deal — and regardless of a vastly inferior finances to Actual Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico proceed to be annual title challengers, which is a exceptional feat in itself. They could even be favorites this season.

Excessive level of 2020: Beating Liverpool at Anfield in March, a masterpiece of intelligent, counterattacking soccer.


6: Marcelo Bielsa

Membership/nation: Leeds United

Age: 65

2019 rank: Not ranked

The person whom Mauricio Pochettino calls “a genius” and “particular” guided Leeds United again into the Premier League for the primary time since 2004. He’s now the darling of West Yorkshire, and this season additional cemented his place in managerial greatness together with his Leeds crew exhibiting zero worry and attacking the highest flight with great ambition. Bielsa is arguably essentially the most fascinating coach in world soccer: nicknamed “El Loco,” Pep Guardiola says of Bielsa, “no one can imitate him and that makes him particular,” and that watching Bielsa throughout a sport is leisure sufficient. He sits on his specifically made bucket like a coiled viper, however usually stays comparatively calm, meticulously watching each ball being kicked and planning his subsequent transfer.

Collectively, he and Leeds spent £96m in the summertime to organize for the season, however he is nonetheless stored the backbone of the crew that acquired Leeds into the Premier League. The most important praise one will pay him is how universally he is revered and adored by the teaching neighborhood; even gamers previous and current adore him. “He is God. He is the particular one,” former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe instructed ESPN.

Excessive level of 2020: Getting Leeds again into the Premier League for the primary time in 16 years, and doing it in fashion with the Championship title and a 10-point cushion between them and second-place West Brom.

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Gab Marcotti explains how Jurgen Klopp beat Hansi Flick to the FC 100 greatest supervisor award.


5: Julian Nagelsmann

Membership/nation: RB Leipzig

Age: 33

2019 rank: Not ranked

Any listing of candidates to take over at one of many European superpowers will inevitably have Nagelsmann’s identify on it. He is one of the vital admired younger managers in world soccer and did his fame no hurt in guiding the Bundesliga crew to the semifinals of the Champions League final season. Nagelsmann has a glowing fame within the sport: he is beloved by his gamers, has an unbelievable means of creating a crew better than the sum of its elements and is tactically sensible.

In an interview with ESPN, he spoke of how he would not hassle with formations, however as a substitute has a collection of methods that he alternates amongst relying on how matches are going. Atletico Madrid discovered this out to their value in final season’s Champions League quarterfinals, when Leipzig quashed Diego Simeone’s crew’s hopes of progressing. Nagelsmann’s contract is up on the finish of this season and Manchester United are identified to be admirers. “I consider he may do Actual Madrid,” ex-Leipzig supervisor Ralf Rangnick mentioned. “I feel it is very potential that he may go to a greater and even larger membership [than Leipzig], if he needs that.”

Excessive level of 2020: Taking RB Leipzig to the Champions League semifinals, even with out Timo Werner on the tail finish of the competitors following his transfer to Chelsea.


4: Gian Piero Gasperini

Membership/nation: Atalanta

Age: 62

2019 rank: Not ranked

Gasperini and Atalanta are the right footballing marriage of ideology, ways and utility. They’re one of the vital entertaining groups in world soccer, with Gasperini’s ways discovering their foundations in Solar Tzu’s proverb: “Defending makes you invincible, however if you wish to win, you should assault.” His Atalanta crew are actually synonymous with Gasperini’s 3-4-1-2 system, however their familiarity is born from brutal coaching periods and a relentless give attention to self-improvement — Gasperini is continually seeking to push his crew ahead.

Final season they have been high scorers in Serie A with a exceptional 98 targets (17 forward of Inter, subsequent on the listing) and has turned the likes of Papu Gomez (named Serie A midfielder of the yr) and Josip Ilicic into a few of the greatest gamers on the planet. “Whenever you attain the maturity essential to grasp that onerous work results in outcomes, you now not really feel drained,” Gasperini mentioned. He isn’t simply managing a crew, both; over the previous yr, his Atalanta facet have supplied hope to their area, Bergamo, part of Italy hit exhausting by COVID-19, and that continues to be their gasoline as they appear to complete within the high 4 of Serie A for the fourth time in 5 seasons.

Excessive level of 2020: Got here inside two late Paris Saint-Germain targets of taking Atalanta into the Champions League semifinals.


3: Pep Guardiola

Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis

Age: 49

2019 rank: 2

To many, he’s the very best coach on the planet. Unwaveringly intense, ceaselessly animated and brilliantly dressed, Guardiola will dearly need one other title at Manchester Metropolis this season. The 18 factors by which Liverpool received the league final season would have harm Guardiola, as did his facet’s continued incapability to win in Europe: Final season, Lyon eradicated them within the quarterfinals after Metropolis had brilliantly dispatched Actual Madrid within the earlier spherical. Regardless of this, each Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane charge Guardiola as the very best coach on the planet, whereas Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo says Guardiola’s philosophy is his “mannequin.”

“I do know the requirements of the membership and if I do not obtain the requirements, I most likely do not deserve [to stay], so I’ve to win to increase my contract,” Guardiola mentioned earlier within the season about his future on the membership. Fortunate for Metropolis, he has prolonged his contract, excellent news for the membership’s long-term targets and unhealthy information for these groups standing of their means.

Excessive level of 2020: Masterminding that Champions League last-16 win over Actual Madrid.


2: Hansi Flick

Membership/nation: Bayern Munich

Age: 55

2019 rank: Not ranked

When Flick took over Bayern Munich on an interim foundation in November 2019, the membership — by their excessive requirements — have been in disarray. They’d simply misplaced 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt and have been fourth within the Bundesliga. By the next August, Flick had guided Bayern Munich to 32 wins in 35 matches and to a exceptional triple of trophies as his crew swept all earlier than them to win the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal. He additionally breathed new life into the careers of Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng, who regarded as if they have been on the way in which out of Bayern having fallen out of favour and type.

Flick’s Bayern are already setting off at fairly a tempo this time period, sitting atop the Bundesliga and boasting an ideal file within the Champions League group stage. Flick is now being talked about as a successor to Joachim Low as Germany supervisor, whereas his gamers say he introduced the enjoyable again to Bayern Munich. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by his contemporaries: “It will be tough to jot down extra historical past in eight months!” Jurgen Klopp mentioned of Flick’s accomplishments.

Excessive level of 2020: Revived the Bavarian giants to a home/European Treble this season in his first head teaching function since 2005.


1: Jurgen Klopp

Membership/nation: Liverpool

Age: 53

2019 rank: 1

Klopp’s legacy at Liverpool is grand sufficient, however a pair of his glasses have been buried in a time capsule on the membership’s new coaching floor to additional anchor him on Merseyside. Having received the Champions League after which the Premier League, Klopp’s place is assured within the pantheon of Liverpool greats. When Klopp stood together with his Liverpool crew within the empty Kop and lifted the Premier League trophy into the firework-lit sky, it marked an finish to their 30-year look forward to a top-flight title. They ran up a exceptional file 99-point tally within the Premier League final time period and Klopp would find yourself being topped Supervisor of the Season.

This time period has proved to be a bit of rockier, with Liverpool struggling a monumental collection of harm setbacks — together with shedding the world’s greatest defender, Virgil van Dijk, for the season — however Klopp will nonetheless discover a means to make sure Liverpool are within the combine to retain their title later within the season. He’s adored in Liverpool, and any membership on the planet would need his companies. He even acquired reward from the nice Sir Alex Ferguson. “Your persona runs proper all through the entire membership,” Sir Alex instructed Klopp when he was named LMA supervisor of the yr. “It was a marvellous efficiency. I am going to forgive you for waking me up at 3:30 a.m. to inform me you will have received the league.”

Excessive level of 2020: Bringing a league title to Anfield for the primary time in 30 years.

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