Football is a beautiful sport. Just when a status quo is set, the foundations shift and suddenly the landscape looks completely different to how it looked just a few weeks ago. Football’s liquid foundations struck again, with almost none of the proven performers of the last few weeks delivering due to injury or other circumstances. Let’s see how the chips stack up this week.
10. Lautaro Martínez (New)
Lautaro Martínez has been one of the most exciting players in world football, and this season he has stepped it up with the killer instinct he sometimes seemed to miss out on due to a systemic necessity when paired with a more physical presence such as Romelu Lukaku.
The weekend saw an instant classic match between Fiorentina and Inter Milan, a game that went 3-4 to Inter, and Martínez was the difference maker. It was his fantastic through ball on the back-foot that allowed Nicolò Barella to open the scoring just two minutes in, and the Argentinian doubled that lead fifteen minutes in with a fantastic run beating two defenders before slotting into the bottom corner with his left. Inter would see this lead evaporate but Martínez brought the Nerazzurri back into the game after he was tripped inside the box in a scoring position, only to score the resultant penalty. Against Viktoria Plzeň, Martínez once again had a great game, this one more disruptive in the space between the lines of the Czech team’s low block. Martínez bagged himself an assist too in the second half with a great run wide of the centre-backs before cutting back in and laying it off for Edin Džeko at the penalty spot who finished it calmly.
Martínez’s impact was simply undeniable this week, a true showcase of his qualities in the final third both as a killer and as a playmaker.
9. Matthijs de Ligt (New)
Matthijs de Ligt has been simply fantastic this season and in the last couple of weeks has shown his quality in full effect. The Dutchman has not conceded a goal in the Bundesliga or the Champions League since the loss to Augsburg in mid-September. Let that sink in.
A pair of clean sheets is a great showcase of his ability. Against Hoffenheim in the league, De Ligt’s defensive qualities were ever-present, being the heart of the defense both off and on the ball. His tackles and last-ditch clearances were key to Bayern’s maintenance of the clean sheet. Against FC Barcelona in the Champions League, De Ligt had one of the best games I’ve seen from a center back in a while. Multiple last-ditch goal-saving tackles, excellent usage of the offside trap to pin down the wingers in deep positions, great pressing and penetrative passing from deep, and of course the tight marking of Robert Lewandowski which won Bayern the game in the defensive third. Barcelona failed to register a single shot on target all game, and no player was as important to that as De Ligt.
It may be premature but I think De Ligt has surpassed Kim Min-Jae in my mind as the best center back in the world this season, and I hope he can keep this quality of performance going. Much like Kim, he has been simply unbeatable in so many areas of his defensive and passing game, making his role seem almost effortless.
8. Kylian Mbappé (Last appearance: September 8th)
After a hot and cold month or so, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé has broken into the power rankings once again.
Playing as the man ‘up top’ in a loose 4-4-2 against AC Ajaccio, Mbappé exploded into the game with the opening goal with what has become his signature goal: breaking away from the defense at light-speed with a curved run and catching the keeper off-guard at his near post. Mbappé got himself an assist with his involvement in a simply fantastic PSG move which ended with Mbappé flicking it with his back to goal between three Ajaccio defenders, with the ball falling to Lionel Messi who scored calmly. Mbappé doubled his goal tally for the night, receiving the ball between the centre backs before taking on the shot from just inside the box with the ball nestling into the bottom left. A great finish although the defense must be criticised for sleeping on the job.
PSG dismantled Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa 7-2 in the Champions League, and Mbappé was amongst the goals, assisting the first with a ball recovery in Haifa’s box before laying it off to Messi who stuck it in. The second goal of the game was Mbappé’s himself: the ball fell to him on the left side of goal and Mbappé decided to take the shot on, a beautiful curler that fell into the top right corner beautifully. Mbappé technically got a second assist as he was the man to play the ball to Messi, although in reality it was the Argentinian who did most of the work with a beauty of a finish from the edge of the area. However, Mbappé then got his brace: he received the ball on the left side of the box before taking a shot from just inside the box, another beautiful curling shot that spun into the top corner with immense grace.
A simply spectacular set of performances from the French striker.
7. Federico Valverde (Last week: 5)
Federico Valverde had a fantastic outing against Sevilla FC, running the game on the right wing. His performance was topped by a goal in the 83rd minute.
The goal was a belter. Valverde’s catalogue of goals has been simply outstanding this season, and this strike was no different. Receiving the ball outside the area in the right half-space, Valverde took the shot on his right and it simply blew into the top left corner across Yassine Bounou in goal who didn’t even dive to attempt to save it. Leroy Sané may be the best long shot taker in the world in my mind, but Valverde is not far behind if he even is behind. Valverde was not just a man looking to score, he enjoyed a great game inverting into the right half-space and linking up with midfielder Luka Modrić and especially right back Dani Carvajal throughout the game. Their quick interchanges opened up spaces in the middle for other players to exploit and created routes especially on the opposite flank as Sevilla shifted their back-line towards Valverde’s flank to compensate for the overload Real forced.
6. Alphonso Davies (Last week: 8)
This week only further solidified my opinion that Alphonso Davies is the best left back in the world.
The Canadian had a fantastic outing against Hoffenheim, thoroughly earning his clean sheet with some great defensive contributions especially against Hoffenheim’s counter attacks. His contributions offensively must be mentioned as well, as his ability to overload the left side with Sadio Mané being key to Bayern’s progression. His dribbling in particular was what set him apart from everyone else on the pitch, his ability to just knock the ball forward and chase it down before his opponent being a particular highlight of his play. Against Barcelona he had a similarly solid outing. Although it wasn’t his best as he was beaten by Ousmane Dembélé once or twice, he always recovered, with the French winger never really getting a chance to do anything dangerous once he got past Davies due to Davies’ ability to recover from failed challenges and Mané’s defensive work rate.
Davies was offensively great too, assisting Mané in the attack with his overloading runs and pace on the overlap. He is very clearly the most impactful left back in the world even if not the very best. You can read more about Bayern and Davies’ game against Barcelona in the Champions League right here with out match awards and match observations articles about the match!
5. Leroy Sané (Last week: 1)
Leroy Sané suffered a minor muscle tear last week against SC Freiburg, causing him to miss Bayern’s two games this week. He is expected to return by the game against Internazionale next week, but for now will have to be content with slipping down the rankings for this week and probably the next too.
4. Rodrygo (Last week: 6)
Rodrygo looks like one of the best in the world in his new role in the centre of attack as a hybrid between the kind of false 9s we’ve seen in the past from the likes of Phil Foden and Lionel Messi and what can only really be classified as a Raumdeuter.
Rodrygo didn’t get a goal or assist against Sevilla but that’s not the centre of his play. He was destructive with his movement off the ball, dragging defenders all over the place which opened up spaces for his fellow attackers Fede Valverde and Vinícius Júnior. Rodrygo’s drifting to the left allowed Real players to burst into otherwise unavailable spaces through the attacking overload messing up Sevilla’s defensive and marking structure, but Rodrygo was very good on the ball too, playing his teammates in on goal multiple times as well as being brilliant in the dribble, luring fouls and beating men several times throughout the night.
Against RB Leipzig in the Champions League, the Madrid team didn’t do too well but Rodrygo was the pick of the bunch, winning a penalty and scoring it himself. His link-up play and movement off the ball was once again excellent, and he made up for the change in system to a 4-2-3-1 from the usual 4-3-3 with a slight deviation from his usual movement patterns to get himself into better shooting areas. A great set of performances from the Brazilian.
3. Lionel Messi (Last appearance: Two weeks ago)
Lionel Messi is a good footballer. Not sure that was known to all.
The Argentine forward helped open the scoring for PSG against Ajaccio at the weekend with a brilliant weight through ball to Mbappé. Messi then scored himself with a great set of passes and interplay with his teammates before receiving the ball in behind the defense with a ghosted run. Messi flattened the keeper with a Croqueta before looping it into the net. Messi’s second assist of the night was a great run on the counter followed up by a ball splitting the centre backs to Mbappé who then got his brace.
In PSG’s emphatic win over Haifa in the Champions League, Messi opened the scoring with a beautiful finish from the left half of the box after receiving a lay-off from Mbappé. Messi got himself an assist not fifteen minutes later with a great run followed by a through ball putting Neymar Jr. into a one-on-one with the keeper, and the Brazilian shot it in off the post. On the brink of half time, Messi toyed with the Haifa defense at the edge of the box before taking a fantastic shot that curled into the bottom left corner. Messi completed his perfect night with a great cut-back in the 84th minute which Carlos Soler met with a great finish for Messi’s fourth goal contribution on the night.
A pair of perfect performances from one of the greatest to ever touch the game.
2. Erling Haaland (Last week: 3)
Welp. Here we are again. Erling Haaland and a certain other striker as the top two. The Norwegian only has himself in the top two due to the fact that none of the players who were in the position to overtake him fell to poor form.
Manchester City faced Brighton & Hove Albion at the weekend, and Haaland got on the end of a long ball from goalkeeper Ederson, but didn’t have to do a lot else as the centre-back tracking him was outmuscled and Dean Henderson left his line but was left stranded after missing the ball, allowing Haaland to slot it into an empty net to open the scoring. Haaland quickly doubled his tally for the day from the spot after Pascal Groß tripped Bernardo Silva in the box.
Against Borussia Dortmund mid-week, Haaland had a poor game. He barely made an impact at all, not contributing to build-up in any significant manner while also not being able to get on the end of moves crafted by his teammates.
1. Robert Lewandowski (Last week: 2)
This may very well be the last time Robert Lewandowski tops this list with Barcelona set to drop to the UEFA Europa League and Poland not having the best of chances at a deep run in the 2022 World Cup.
Picking up the ball out wide on the left flank, Lewandowski helped Barcelona unlock the defense of Athletic Bilbao at the weekend with a fantastic cross into the middle which was met by Ousmane Dembélé’s head. Dembélé returned the favour after a great run cutting in from the right before slipping it between two defenders to Lewandowski who pivoted beautifully to send one defender slipping in the other direction before slamming the ball into the roof of the net with his left foot to get his goal. A fantastic performance.
Lewandowski would have a subpar game against Bayern Munich, failing to register any shots on target, but his contribution to the build-up of Barcelona gives him the slightest of edges over Haaland for top spot. I should say that this is the weakest these two have looked for quite a while, we are bound to see one of them toppled for good soon.
What do you think of the rankings this week? Who will topple the striker duo of Haaland and Lewandowski (if anyone)? Let us know in the forum below.