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Europe’s Finest: Power rankings for football’s top players (September 1st)

The first of many English weeks just passed. Who were the best players at the very beginning of the condensed schedule?

FC Viktoria Köln v FC Bayern München - DFB Cup: First Round Photo by Stefan Brauer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The week of football that was, was an interesting one from end to end. While the Italian league saw disappointing drops in points, other leagues saw both great upsets and demolitions, just the way I like my football. Let’s go over the top performers with the last seven days fresh in our minds.

10. Kylian Mbappé (Last week: 5)

Toulouse FC v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1 Uber Eats Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Kylian Mbappé had a decent week. He was quiet against AS Monaco at the weekend, kept out of goal mostly by Bayern Munich loanee Alexander Nübel in goal, as well as hitting the woodwork from basically point-blank range, a blunder that came back to haunt Paris Saint-Germain as the game would end 1-1. In the midweek game after however, Mbappé would get on the score-sheet against Toulouse FC, with a lucky finish between the legs of keeper Maxime Dupé in goal after a cut-back from Lionel Messi. He would come close to scoring once again but would hit the woodwork once again, but PSG would get their goal as the rebound fell kindly to Juan Bernat who powered it past Dupé.

Not bad but certainly not the Frenchman’s best performances.

9. Kevin De Bruyne (Last week: 2)

Manchester City v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Kevin De Bruyne had an extremely quiet week. He would not contribute going forward in the 4-2 win against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, and could not make his mark in a 6-0 thumping of Nottingham Forest after being substituted on in the 70th minute.

The Belgian seems to have lost steam but if he’s known for anything it’s his ability to push through rough phases to maintain world class production numbers so expect him to get goals and assists flowing again very soon.

8. Rafael Leão (New)

US Sassuolo v AC MIlan - Serie A Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

Rafael Leão had a relatively silent game in the 0-0 draw against Sassuolo on Tuesday, but on Saturday against Bologna, Leão would have a field day. On the counter, Charles de Ketelaere would find Leão lurking in the box, and Leão would finish after what was admittedly poor goalkeeping from Lukas Skorupski. Leão would then play set-up man, intercepting a pass in the final third before playing a beautiful ball over the top which Olivier Giroud would get the finest of touches on to get it into the net. Leão was a constant danger, linking up with Fode-Ballo Touré out wide and causing havoc when roaming into more central spaces, almost acting as a central attacking partner to Charles de Ketelaere at times.

If Leão can consistently find the kind of form he did during the 2021/22 season, expect to see much more of him in these lists.

7. Leroy Sané (Last week: 9)

FC Bayern München v Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bundesliga Photo by Markus Gilliar - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

Bayern Munich were denied what should have been the destruction of Borussia Mönchengladbach by the superhuman performance of one Yann Sommer, who seemed to save everything that came his way. However, Leroy Sané managed to score despite Sommer’s insane form. A testament to his quality, Sané would run the game from the left half-space, unlocking the defense time and time again, only for Sommer to rain on the fire every time. It was his extremely well placed shot from inside the box in the 83rd minute that would finally break Bayern’s duck after a mazy run and incredible pass from fellow German international Jamal Musiala.

You can read more about the Elseworld-like mind-melter that was the Bayern/Gladbach game right here by checking out our observations and match awards for it!

6. Lionel Messi (Last week: 3)

Toulouse FC v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1 Uber Eats

Lionel Messi had an okay showing against AS Monaco on Sunday, failing to really trouble the defense with his movement and flair on the ball. His passing was still crisp however, as was his shooting which came painfully close to giving PSG a foot in the game before hitting the woodwork from 25 yards out. Against Toulouse on Wednesday however, he was much improved, finding Neymar Jr. with a fantastic through ball first time between three defenders, which Neymar would finish. He would then be found in behind by Marco Verratti on the left before cutting it back to Mbappé for the second goal of the game.

5. Roberto Firmino (New)

Liverpool FC v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Who would have thought that after multiple seasons of floundering and losing his starting spot, it would be Roberto Firmino who would claw Liverpool out of the grave they had been lowered into? After starting striker Darwín Núñez would eat a red card and a subsequent ban against Crystal Palace, Liverpool would be forced to turn to the Brazilian to lead the lines against Bournemouth. Firmino would grab the opportunity by the horns, opening the game with a gorgeous cross to Luís Díaz who would head it in, before getting another assist just three minutes later with a lay-off for Harvey Elliott who would score from outside the area. Firmino’s third assist would come within the half-hour mark from a silky one-two with his back to the goal with Trent Alexander-Arnold, who would shoot from 25 yards out and score. Admittedly, in the latter two assists it would be the scorer who did most of the work, but Firmino would show it was not luck playing its part as just a couple minutes after Alexander-Arnold’s goal, a ricocheted floating ball in the box would be pounced on by Firmino snaking his way between the centre backs to thump it in first time. In the second half, Firmino would cap this world class performance with another poacher’s goal, managing to get on the end of a ball Mark Travers couldn’t hold onto and pushing the ball past him for the seventh goal of the game. What a comeback!

Against Newcastle later in the week, Firmino would open the defense time and time again with great through balls and hold-up play, but would be unlucky with his teammates’ finishes. After Newcastle grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck with a goal and a second but disallowed goal, Firmino would rather poetically claw Liverpool back into the game the same way he pulled them out of their woes in the season as a whole with a wonderful first time finish just inside the box that snuck its way between the legs of Jamaal Lascelles, a goal that would eventually inspire a comeback that saw Liverpool beat Newcastle in the EIGHTH minute of extra time.

4. Erling Haaland (New)

Manchester City v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images

Erling Haaland made the Bundesliga look easy.
He’s making the Premier League look even easier.

A goal down against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Haaland would bring Manchester City on equal terms by meeting a fantastic Phil Foden cross with his head. His brace would come from a loose pass following a corner which would find him at the far post with no markers. Late in the game, İlkay Gündoğan would play Haaland in, and the Norwegian would manage to outmuscle his defenders and create just enough space to rifle the ball past Vicente Guaita in goal. His first ever Premier League hat-trick.

Four days later, Haaland would open the scoring in the twelfth minute for City by latching onto another delicious Foden cross on the half-volley. Not ten minutes later, Haaland would play Foden in on goal who would get tackled but the ball would fall back to Haaland who slotted it to complete his brace. In just another fifteen minutes, a header into the six yard box from John Stones would be placed just perfectly for Haaland to complete a record-setting hat-trick: just thirty eight minutes it took to complete it, a second hat-trick in a row for the warrior from the north.

Special mention must also go to Julian Álvarez who was fantastic, as good as Haaland on the night, but Haaland’s form elsewhere puts him on this list.

3. Yann Sommer (New)

FC Bayern München v Borussia Mönchengladbach - Bundesliga Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I was set a rule when I conceived this series: stick to players who play for clubs competing in European competitions. I will make this one-time exception because: 1. This is a Bayern Munich site, and the performance in question came against Bayern Munich, and 2. It is maybe the single greatest goalkeeping performance in sixty years of recorded football history.

Yann Sommer, up against all the odds, made nineteen, count ‘em, NINETEEN saves to deny Bayern Munich the three points on Saturday. It is a record for the most saves in a game in any competition since data collection began. There really isn’t much more you can say about the man other than ‘Please retire we’re tired of playing against you’. He may be a dreamboat to the Swiss public but he’s a nightmare for the Bavarian faithful.

2. Robert Lewandowski (Last week: 7)

FC Barcelona v Real Valladolid CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I believe it was Plato who once said: “There are three guarantees to life. Death, taxes, and Robert Lewandowski putting the ball in the back of the net.”

The laws of space and time would continue to be in order as Lewandowski netted himself a second brace in a row, this time against Real Valladolid on Sunday. Lewandowski nearly got off the mark just ten minutes into the game with a glancing header that came painfully close to going in before meeting the post, as well as playing Ousmane Dembélé in on goal who would also hit the woodwork, but he would eventually put the ball in the back of the net by meeting a curling Raphinha cross with a picturesque volley reminiscent of the Bundesliga logo. A burst of pace from Ousmane Dembélé would be followed up by a through ball, and from an angle where almost everyone thought he couldn’t have scored, Lewandowski would make the (Spotify) Camp Nou shake and deafen with an outrageous backheel that snaked between the legs of Joaquín Fernández and past former Barcelona player Jordi Masip in goal.

New country, new club, new teammates, same old Robert Lewandowski.

1. Neymar Jr. (Last week: 1)

Toulouse FC v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1 Uber Eats Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Admittedly, Neymar wasn’t up to the standard he had set for himself in the last few weeks and the gap between him and the rest of the pack has closed, but there is no mistaking the fact that he is still the best player in the world so far. He would be the only player to beat Alexander Nübel against Monaco on Sunday despite Nübel making multiple great saves, being hacked down in the box for a penalty which he would take himself and score. Against Toulouse, Neymar would open the scoring with some fantastic movement to meet Messi’s ball over the top and finished, leaving the Toulouse defense stunned. He would go on to link up well with his teammates, often taking on the role of a 10 with Messi and Mbappé taking more advanced roles on either side of him, but ultimately failed to create anymore clear cut chances for himself or for others, going off with about twenty minutes left to play.

Neymar now makes it eight goals and nine assists in six games, a still otherworldly return for a player of any calibre. The prince of football is looking to fulfill his destiny and win his crown as king.

What do you think of these rankings? Are there any significant omissions? Will Neymar slowly lose steam now with the season properly under way? Let us know in the forum below.

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