The UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League all ended their group stages this week, and we saw some big teams get eliminated! Let’s look at the status quo of football’s top shelf after these games.
10. Mário Rúi (New)
Mário Rúi has been one of the best full backs in the world and put in yet another shift for Napoli against Sassuolo this week. He is such a well-rounded player and showed that with a defensive masterclass coupled with a powerhouse of a performance in terms of progressing the ball from deep. The peak of this performance was a simply sumptuous ball over the top of the Sassuolo defense which Khvicha Kvaratskhelia took down beautifully and smashed into the net for Napoli’s third goal of the game. Rúi consistently came in clutch defensively, pinning down Sassuolo’s Emil Ceïde down Napoli’s left, and continuing to hold the fort even when midfielder Davide Frattesi came down the flank to overload that side.
9. Lisandro Martínez (New)
Lisandro Martínez has been Manchester United’s best centre back in a while, and showed his class to the best of his abilities this week, being key to United keeping back-to-back clean sheets against West Ham and Real Sociedad (great performances from Diogo Dalot and David de Gea helped too of course). Lisandro has shown his ability to be both a dangerous sweeping last man with his tackling technique and physicality, as well as an effective fourth midfielder using his excellent ball playing ability. He is a true Erik ten Hag centre back, it really was a no-brainer for him to bring over the Argentine from Ajax.
This week he had a particularly strong showing against West Ham, putting in a shift and covering especially well for Christian Eriksen who is playing in a more advanced role than the usual midfielder in a double pivot would be employed in.
8. Rodrygo (Last week: 4)
Rodrygo had a pretty good week, all things considered, but others had much more glamorous weeks in my opinion.
The Brazilian was unlucky to not get on the scoresheet against Girona, taking a fantastic shot from outside the box in the first half which cannoned off the base of the post, but had an okay game nonetheless, being the key to Real Madrid’s attacking play as the central offensive presence linking together the pieces of Madrid’s attack with his pendulum-esque passing patterns and movement, swinging the play from side to side.
Against Celtic he was much just as good, adapting his role slightly to allow for a new adapted four-man attack to flourish in a 5-1 stomping. Rodrygo was no longer just a false nine or roaming forward between the lines, instead breaking through the defensive lines with runs in the half-spaces between the centre backs and full backs to mess with Celtic’s markers and allow the three attackers behind him to find free space in dangerous areas. Rodrygo would get his goal from the spot in the 21st minute, and while it would be his only direct goal contribution on the night, his role in anchoring the attack cannot be understated.
7. Joshua Kimmich (Last appearance: September 8th)
Joshua Kimmich is the best defensive midfielder in the world, and has been that for three seasons now. Kimmich’s ability to maraud the defensive line and keep creators at bay while simultaneously being perhaps the best creative player on the planet not named Kevin De Bruyne or Lionel Messi is unbelievable. No player in the world is as well-rounded or versatile as he is.
Kimmich showed his class in a 6-2 destruction of Mainz in the league, putting in a shift defensively and then being Bayern’s main progresser of the ball through the middle. His two man midfield partnership with Leon Goretzka is paying dividends with Goretzka bombing forward and Kimmich staying back, but Kimmich somehow still manages to be a consistent threat in the final third from deep. A part of his game that has been thoroughly underappreciated is his indirect set piece play, but it’s praises were sung this week when Kimmich picked out Benjamin Pavard from a corner to open the scoring against Internazionale in the Champions League, with that goal being Bayern’s seventh from set pieces this season, all seven of which have come courtesy of the German (two goals, five assists).
6. Erling Haaland (Last week: 2)
Erling Haaland suffered a bruised foot against Borussia Dortmund, which caused him to miss the entire week that followed, causing him to slip down the rankings. It is still unknown when he will return, but he will continue to slip down the rankings until he returns to the pitch.
5. Kylian Mbappé (Last week: 8)
Kylian Mbappé had an okay game against ESTAC Troyes, scoring Paris Saint-Germain’s last goal of the game from the spot but not really contributing to anything else. Against Juventus in the Champions League however, he was the game-changer.
Mbappé expertly slipped past Federico Gatti who could do nothing but pull on Mbappé’s shirt before sending Manuel Locatelli to the shops with a cut-in, and took a shot from outside the box which wobbled and slid into the bottom right corner, a beautiful finish to open the scoring for PSG. Juventus would equalise, but Mbappé would come in clutch once again with a fantastic curving through ball behind the black and white defense to Nuno Mendes who pulled it right into the bottom right corner across the face of goal to give PSG the winner. World class.
4. Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (New)
The greatest striker of all time. The best player in Bayern Munich’s history. The legal king of Cameroon. My favourite human of all time. Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Choupo-Moting has been on fire recently and has finally broken into the power rankings with another set of imperial performances. The Cameroonian helped Jamal Musiala get his goal against Mainz at the weekend with some otherworldly hold-up play, managing to stave off four Mainz players with the ball at his feet before laying off Musiala who took the shot on and slipped it into the bottom corner. Choupo-Moting of course got his goal too, although it took 86 minutes to get there. On the break, Kingsley Coman drove down the right and narrowed in on goal before squaring it to Choupo-Moting in the centre who slotted it past Robin Zentner with ease.
Choupo-Moting was similarly imperious against Internazionale in the Champions League, leading the lines more than effectively, linking up play across the flanks like a true striker’s striker. His ability to hold-up play with his physicality and let the attackers run off him while not actively trying to centre the play around himself is just what this Bayern attack needs, and he shows it week in week out. He topped off this performance with an otherworldly overhead kick goal that is much better than any overhead kick goal ever scored by a Bayern Munich player in the group stages of the Champions League-what do you mean it was disallowed? I can see his name on the scoresheet-ohh. Receiving the ball 25 yards out from goal from the left, Choupo-Moting thought to himself “Screw it, I’m Choupo-Moting” and took the shot, planting the ball right in the top left corner. A true postage stamp finish from so far out.
Choupo for the 2023 Ballon d’Or, who says no?
3. Federico Valverde (Last week: 7)
Federico Valverde continues to tease the rules of time and space with his game-changing performances.
Against Girona at the weekend, Valverde nearly helped open the scoring for Real by setting up Rodrygo in the box, but the shot would be the aforementioned woodwork-hitter. Undeterred, Valverde would set up Viníciús Júnior with a fantastic bobbling cross into the six yard box after beating his man rather scrappily.
Against Celtic in the Champions League, Valverde played in a deeper role as part of a front four, winning the first penalty of the game with a shot that came off Moritz Jenz’s arm, a penalty which was converted by Luka Modrić. Valverde slipped in another delicious cross right into the six yard box which Viníciús once again completed the job for with a delightful flick to notch an assist for Valverde, before the Uruguayan got his customary belter, this one seeming like business as usual despite being a first time shot into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box to wrap up the score at 5-1 on the day.
An elite player, at just 24 years old.
2. Lionel Messi (Last week: 3)
Lionel Messi put in a great performance against Troyes at the weekend, the cap-stone of which was a brilliant goal. Receiving the ball from Sergio Ramos, Messi beamed the ball between two defenders, past the keeper and straight into the left corner of the goal from a good 25 yards out. Just a few minutes later, Messi played a knife-edged through ball between the Troyes midfield and defense which Neymar Jr. ran onto perfectly past the defense before finishing it with a great first time shot past the keeper.
Messi had a pretty quiet game against Juventus however, getting an assist but it was really Kylian Mbappé who did all the work, and Messi’s link-up play wasn’t as crisp as it has been in other games, keeping him away from the top spot.
1. Robert Lewandowski (Last week: 1)
Robert Lewandowski was kept on the bench against Viktoria Plzeň in the Champions League, but could not have been more impactful in the league against Valencia.
The game between FC Barcelona and Valencia was precariously poised. No team could seem to find a breakthrough, including some egregious misses from Ferrán Torres that made the game seem almost cursed for the Blaugrana. However, in the third minute of extra time, Raphinha would put in a beautiful curling through ball, but it was looping a little too perfectly for any defender or attacker to get on the end of it... or so I thought, before Lewandowski somehow managed to get his leg on it and pushed the ball past Giorgi Mamardashvili to give Barcelona the winner and add another iconic image to his quickly expanding catalogue of iconic images in the colours of Barcelona.
This may well be Lewandowski’s last week atop the rankings due to Barcelona’s drop into the Europa League, but he is still as of now the best individual performer this season in my opinion.
What do you think of the rankings this week? Will Messi be the one to dethrone Lewandowski? Can any Bayern players find themselves on the podium once again? Let us know in the forum below.