Europe’s Finest returns after a week’s hiatus due to the international break! Let’s see how the best players in the world stack up now, shall we?
Note: This week’s rankings do not take into account performances in the UEFA Europa and UEFA Europa Conference Leagues, which will be taken into account for next week’s rankings. Europe’s Finest will only look at club football performances this season, so the international break will be ignored.
10. David Raum (New)
David Raum has been the object of much criticism from fans of RB Leipzig and the German national team in the last year or so, but has proved in the last few weeks why Leipzig paid €26m for him, with a fantastic defensive performance against Augsburg which was capped by a goal from a tight angle after a cut across goal from Yussuf Poulsen. Raum then doubled it up with another great defensive performance against Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League, which was coupled with Raum being a key part of Leipzig’s creativity with multiple chances created from deep and wide, including getting an assist with a fantastic near post corner which Mohamed Šimakan converted beautifully.
9. Robert Lewandowski (New)
A familiar face to those who followed this series last season, Robert Lewandowski is undoubtedly a top class player even as his career and skills seem to be unwinding as the years advance. Lewandowski looked back to sharpness with some smart positioning and inter-play in FC Barcelona’s 5-0 decimation of Real Betis, with a tight finish after a gorgeous lay-off from João Félix to score the second of the game, as well as bagging himself a pair of assists, although admittedly neither assist was particularly impressive. Lewandowski shone under the lights in the Champions League too, with a key involvement in João Félix’s opening goal against Antwerp, and a goal in the form of a great far post finish from a delectable Félix cross.
8. Nick Pope (New)
Nick Pope had a great performance against Brentford at the weekend, covering for Newcastle United’s cracks in defense with some great saves when called upon. However, when Newcastle arrived in the San Siro for their first Champions League game in my entire lifetime, the story was far different as Newcastle’s defense struggled to cope with AC Milan’s attack. In spite of this, Pope put on a marathon of goalkeeping excellence, denying Milan time and time again to earn the point for his team.
7. James Maddison (Last week: 5)
James Maddison may not have gotten a goal or assist in his only game of the week against Sheffield United, but the Englishman was still fantastic, creating several chances from out wide as well as with incisive through balls, along with his usual explosive right-footed attempts. Maddison drifted into the left half-space to drag defenders out of shape and open up space for Manor Solomon throughout the game, and this movement would pay dividends as it was an overload and combination on the left involving Ivan Perišić, Maddison and Richarlison which would result in the late winner for Spurs to rescue all three points.
6. Erling Haaland (Last week: 2)
Erling Haaland drops a few spots this week due to extraordinary performances from his contemporaries, with Manchester City’s attacking attention leaning more towards Julián Álvarez in the last week or so. However, Haaland is impossible to keep completely quiet, evidenced by his performance against West Ham where he would score City’s third and final goal of the game with a powerful side-netting finish from inside the box after a lay-off from Bernardo Silva. Haaland would also bag an assist in the Champions League, bursting towards the Crvena Zvezda defense before making a smart disguised through pass for Julián Álvarez to slot home. A pair of top performances but just not quite mind-blowing enough to keep his elite spot.
5. Rodri (Last week: 10)
Haaland’s Manchester City teammate Rodri was beyond impressive, churning in a pair of fantastic performances in which he dominated play for City in the defensive and midfield thirds, giving his midfield compatriots license to express themselves creatively. Rodri was impassable in West Ham’s clawing search for any scraps against City, with David Moyes forcing his team to attempt to create from wide areas as they simply could not beat the screen. Rodri would pair this screening dominance with influence in the final third in City’s 3-1 victory over Crvena Zvezda in the Champions League, with his visionary passing nearly bagging him an assist if Kyle Walker had just kept slightly onside, as well as getting himself a great goal. Rodri received the ball ahead of the defensive line, and feeling unchallenged, dared the defense to stop him by directing himself straight at goal with the ball at his feet and then taking a comfortable curled shot from just inside the box that snuck in the side-netting.
4. Jude Bellingham (Last week: 1)
Jude Bellingham had a good game against Real Sociedad, not really threatening directly outside of a couple of spurned chances and failing to create an extensive catalogue of chances for his teammates but he was able to put his stamp on the game with a couple of moments. Bellingham of course capped his week in good nick by bagging a late winner for Real Madrid against Union Berlin, a scrappy finish from close range that is emblematic of Bellingham’s recent fox-in-the-box playstyle. However, this pair of performances is not enough to keep him near the top spots.
3. Kylian Mbappé (Last week: 7)
Kylian Mbappé had another week of stellar performances as PSG’s primary goalscorer, scoring from the edge of the box with a delectable first time shot from an Achraf Hakimi cut-back before doubling his tally for the night with a ridiculous bouncing volley response to a looping Ousmane Dembélé, although it would be for naught as Paris Saint-Germain would concede three on the night to lose 2-3. PSG would however be more fortunate in the Champions League, facing a flaccid Borussia Dortmund side in which Mbappé would trouble the defense time and time again, although his goal would only come from the penalty spot.
2. Xavi Simons (Last week: 9)
German football truly seems like the most attractive brand and league in Europe right now, and chief amongst its performers are the re-invigorated RB Leipzig, led by the unbelievable form of Xavi Simons. Xavi would get a goal with a beautiful diving header early in Leipzig’s game against FC Augsburg at the weekend, and then get himself an assist with a great pass between the Augsburg defenders to Loïs Openda. Simons was crucial to the third goal too, with a gorgeous turn and dribble which saw him beat multiple men while pivoting with his back to goal before sending Poulsen the ball in a position to cross. Simons may not have gotten a goal or assist against Young Boys in the Champions League but he was crucial to Leipzig’s attacks, constantly threatening with his visionary passing, elite dribbling in tight spaces and even the odd pop from distance. Xavi nearly got an assist too from a wide free kick, but the finish was ultimately dissatisfactory.
1. Leroy Sané (Last week: 3)
Leroy Sané is a footballing phenomenon. The German plays like he’s a titan against mortals, surging past players and combining with his teammates in an almost effortless manner to glide through defenders, bulldoze counter-attacks and win games. Sané seemed like Bayern Munich’s only real threat throughout the Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester United games, with the special facets of his game highlighted throughout both games. While I would go over those specific aspects, it would be better if you were to read about Sané’s new role in-depth in a recent BFW Film Room article that analyses Sané’s positional, technical and tactical nuances in Thomas Tuchel’s new system, and how Sané has incorporated these changes into a vein of form that has him sat the very top of Europe’s Finest.
Sané truly is playing out of his skin and is making football itself seem simple with the kind of form he’s in. Truly the best player in the world.