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Europe’s Finest: Power rankings for football’s top players (September 29th)

The international break has ended after what has felt like seven years, how did Europe’s finest fair for their national teams?

Netherlands v Belgium: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 4 Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Club football returns this weekend after centuries of watching Slovakia play Bosnia and Herzegovina at 3AM on a Tuesday morning, rejoice!

Let’s see who the top players after this international break.

Note: International friendlies will not be taken into account, so sorry South American players! To balance things about somewhat, the UEFA Nations League games will carry lesser weightage overall.

10. Luka Modrić (Last appearance: August 25th)

Austria v Croatia: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 1 Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Luka Modrić continues to defy aging with another couple of stellar performances for his national team.

Croatia’s midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić complement each other perfectly, with Modrić in particular grabbing the role of chief playmaker by the scruff of the neck. He ran the game against Denmark, making multiple key passes and being a menace overall to Denmark’s defensive structure. His ability to pull Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Thomas Delaney out of position with his roaming between the lines was particularly impressive and massively destructive as Denmark’s backline just did not know how to respond to it. From these advanced positions, Modrić always looked to play forwards, resulting in the creation of multiple big chances crafted by Modrić himself. It was sub-par finishing from his teammates that let him down in terms of assists. In the second game of the break against Austria, the story was similar. Great movement between the lines, as well as drifts into half-spaces which were massively damaging to the structure of Austria’s play. This showed when just six minutes in, Modrić found himself with space inside the box to shoot and score, space created by him roaming in an awkward area where neither Marcel Sabitzer nor David Alaba could really commit to marking him. This pattern of play continued throughout the game, although he was admittedly not as consistently dangerous as he seemed against Denmark.

If the rumours are true about Modrić having bagged himself ninth in the 2023 Ballon d’Or, I would not be surprised as he has been a class act (although a tad overrated I will say, he should not be in the conversation for the best midfielder in the world last season or this one). His ability to take over and control games both from deep and from advanced positions is something very few players command.

9. Gianluigi Donnarumma (New)

Hungary v Italy: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 3 Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Gianluigi Donnarumma has quietly been excellent at Paris Saint-Germain, and has continued that stellar form for Italy.

The Italian is yet to have a poor game in Paris, with inconsistent defending giving him plenty to do, and while Italy’s back-line has been more reliable, there have still been holes to plug. Against England, Donnarumma would have to work double-time, making multiple key saves throughout the game to secure the clean sheet and ultimately the 1-0 victory for Italy. The game would start weak for both teams, but both teams would come alive. Most notably, Donnarumma would make a fantastic double save against Harry Kane from about ten yards out just a few minutes after Italy took the lead via a wonder-goal from Giacomo Raspadori. Against Hungary, Donnarumma’s quality was even more apparent. The three-man defense was shaky, but Donnarumma cleaned everything up and ultimately maintained yet another clean sheet. A notable save was the diving block on a Willi Orbán header from a free kick that has been pictured above.

Honourable mentions must go to the wing backs Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Federico Dimarco who were both excellent offensively and defensively, and narrowly missed out on this list due to the lower weightage of these games. If Italy can keep this kind of class going in the Nations League playoffs, there is no reason to say they cannot win it all!

8. João Cancelo (Last week: 4)

Portugal v Spain - UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2 Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

João Cancelo did not play against Czech Republic, a game in which Portugal ran riot and won 4-0.

Against Spain, Cancelo had a poor game, not contributing massively to the attack and not being defensively solid. Spain would ultimately win 1-0 with an 88th minute goal from Álvaro Morata, and the goal came from a header across from Nico Williams. Cancelo really should have been marking Williams tighter and this error cost Portugal all three points.

Cancelo really needs to buck up in international competitions, but it must be said that manager Fernando Santos’ tactics really aren’t doing him any favours with the positions and role he’s being expected to fill.

7. Kim Min-Jae (Last week: 8)

AC MIlan v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Kim Min-Jae only played friendlies over the international break, which do not primarily factor into this ranking.

South Korea drew 2-2 with Costa Rica and won 1-0 against Cameroon, in which Kim Min-Jae played the full 90 in both games.

With no real events, Kim maintains his positive standing for now, only counting friendly performances in relation to other friendly performances.

6. Neymar Jr. (Last week: 5)

Brazil v Tunisia - International Friendly Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Neymar Jr. only played friendlies over the international break, which do not primarily factor into this ranking.

Brazil won 3-0 against Ghana and then 5-1 against Tunisia, with Neymar playing a full 90 in both games, scoring once and assisting twice (as well as picking up a yellow card in both games).

Neymar was excellent in these games but it must be noted that these are friendlies so I am not counting these performances, only counting them in relation to other performances in friendlies.

5. Lionel Messi (Last week: 3)

Jamaica v Argentina Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Lionel Messi only played friendlies over the international break, which do not factor into this ranking.

Argentina won 3-0 against Honduras and then won 3-0 against Jamaica. Messi started against Honduras and scored twice, and scored another brace in just 34 minutes of playing time against Jamaica, coming off the bench.

Messi was simply unbelievable in these games but it must be noted that these are friendlies so I am not counting these performances, only counting them in relation to other performances in friendlies.

4. Sergej Milinković-Savić (Last week: 9)

Sweden v Serbia: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 4 Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Sergej Milinković-Savić was not present against Norway but wow, did he impress against Sweden.

Milinković-Savić was tasked with enforcing the midfield for Serbia with Sasa Lukić and Dusan Tadić on either side of him, and he did his job excellently, running a tight ship and keeping Sweden’s midfield quiet. Milinković-Savić could not hold down the flanks which is where Sweden got their only goal from, but that cannot be put down to him. His defensive acumen showed which is something that has not been showcased at Lazio so far, showing he is a truly complete player.

Aleksandar Mitrović must be given a shout-out for his fantastic hat-trick against Sweden, as well Dusan Vlahović who picked up and a goal and an assist for Serbia across the international break, but it was Milinković-Savić who laid the foundation for all of Serbia’s attacking talent to flourish.

3. Kevin De Bruyne (Last week: 6)

Netherlands v Belgium: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 4 Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Against Netherlands, Belgium were quiet but Kevin De Bruyne was the loudest of the attackers, consistently presenting himself as a threat for the final ball but his teammates let him down with their positioning and finishing.

Against Wales however, De Bruyne was untouchable and his teammates held the fort down too. The defense was poor but the attack was excellent, with De Bruyne in particular being involved in everything. Just ten minutes in, Michy Batshuayi cut it across the face of the box from the right flank where De Bruyne was ready and waiting. De Bruyne shot first time with his left foot and the low shot would nestle itself in the bottom left corner, although admittedly Wayne Hennessey could have done better in goal with covering his near post. Just fifteen minutes later in another transitional attack, De Bruyne would once again find himself free at the edge of the box after a cut-back from Eden Hazard. This shot, another from outside the box, nearly planted itself in the corner but this time the ball would cannon off the post denying De Bruyne what would have been a brace of the highest quality. De Bruyne would still get his second goal contribution of the game however, in the form of an assist for Belgium’s second goal a few minutes before half-time, and you can already guess how it happened. Being found running towards the byline by Thomas Meunier, De Bruyne would cross it low across the face of goal and find Michy Batshuayi at the far post who tapped it in.

It is unbelievable how De Bruyne keeps racking up assists with the cross from the byline, can he keep this streak going until the end of the season?

2. Erling Haaland (Last week: 2)


Erling Haaland was quiet against Serbia, not really contributing outside of some hold-up play.

A lot more limited in his role in his national team than he is at City, he was very quiet outside of the final touch ahead of goal. It showed as his only real action against Slovenia was his goal, an unreal first-time finish on his right foot on the half-volley which he got after pressing and intercepting a back-pass across the face of the Slovenia defense.

Haaland has thus far failed to make an impact of significant magnitude for his country in the Nations League. It cannot be put down to him either as he is almost being forced to play the role of poacher rather than a complete number 9.

1. Robert Lewandowski (Last week: 1)

Wales v Poland: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 4 Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Robert Lewandowski, similar to Erling Haaland, had one quiet game and one good game.

His quiet game came against the Netherlands. Lewandowski failed to create anything and really didn’t look comfortable linking up with his teammates as the loan striker in the 3-4-2-1 system, often ‘ghosting’ for large periods of the game as he has become notorious for doing in important games. However, against Wales, he was put into a two-striker partnership and given somebody to play off of, and it paid dividends as he became Poland’s fulcrum with somebody to sit on the last line of defense. While he would not drop into some of the deep areas we’ve seen him drop into for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he would prefer to drop centrally and carry the ball with his hold-up play. This approach would ultimately lead to Lewandowski finding space right in front of the defense and getting on the end of a deep cross at the edge of the box. Instead of controlling it, Lewandowski would flick it over the rest of the defense first time, and this beautiful pass was met with his strike partner Karol Swiderski turning on the afterburners to meet it, slotting it between Wayne Hennessey’s legs first time on his left.

Lewandowski has proven himself a complete striker to the uneducated who claimed he was nothing more than a goal poacher or a static target man for the last few years, and he has no intent on stopping at that. He is gunning for the next Ballon d’Or. What should be his third, but isn’t due to politics and ‘circumstance’.

Lewandowski maintains his spot atop the power rankings after regaining it from Erling Haaland! Can he keep this up for any lengthy amount of time? Let us know in the forum below.

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