It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.


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My Top 100 Footballers 2016

It’s that time of year when I cast aside all essays and assignments, and bring to you my totally unscientific, totally biased, top 100 footballers list. Prepare for hot takes.

100. Aymeric Laporte – Athletic Bilbao and France (NEW)

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99. Serge Aurier – Paris Saint-Germain and Ivory Coast (NEW)

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98. Riyad Mahrez – Leicester City and Algeria (NEW)

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97. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 30)

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96. Mateo Kovacic – Real Madrid and Croatia (NEW)

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95. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 40)

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94. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (Down 18)

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93. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 58)

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92. Adrien Rabiot – Paris Saint-Germain and France (NEW)

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91. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 50)

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90. Blaise Matuidi – Paris Saint-Germain and France (Down 24)

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89. Vincent Kompany (Down 26)

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88. Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan and Italy (NEW)

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87. Ever Banega – Inter Milan and Argentina (NEW)

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86. Yannick Carrasco – Atletico Madrid and Belgium (NEW)

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85. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay (Down 32)

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84. Saul Niguez – Atletico Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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83. Fernandinho – Manchester City and Brazil (NEW)

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82. Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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81. Douglas Costa – Bayern Munich and Brazil (Down 35)

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80. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (Down 21)

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79. Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid and Brazil (NEW)

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78. Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona and France (NEW)

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77. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 27)

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76. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Down 56)

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75. Julian Weigl – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (NEW)

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74. Gabi – Atletico Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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73. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (Up 4)

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72. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Up 3)

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71. Claudio Marchisio – Juventus and Italy (Up 3)

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70. Mauro Icardi – Inter Milan and Argentina (Up 2)

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69. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Up 1)

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68. Alexandre Lacazette – Lyon and France (Up 13)

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67. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Manchester United and Armenia (Down 7)

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66. Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich and Germany (NEW)

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65. Mohamed Salah – Roma and Egypt (NEW)

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64. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 47)

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63. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (Down 12)

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62. Miralem Pjanic – Juventus and Bosnia (Down 19)

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61. Mats Hummels – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 4)

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60. Andrea Barzagli – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

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59. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Netherlands (Down 44)

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58. Paul Pogba – Manchester United and France (Down 28)

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57. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Down 24)

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56. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (Down 32)

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55. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 28)

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54. Roberto Firmino – Liverpool and Brazil (Up 33)

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53. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (Up 8)

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52. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Up 27)

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51. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Up 11)

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50. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool and Brazil (Up 50)

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49. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 7)

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48. Gerard Pique – Barcelona and Spain (Down 4)

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47. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Up 5)

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46. Angel Di Maria – Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina (Down 27)

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45. Keylor Navas – Real Madrid and Costa Rica (Down 17)

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44. Harry Kane – Tottenham and England (Up 46)

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43. Dimitri Payet – West Ham United and France (NEW)

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42. Pepe – Real Madrid and Portugal (NEW)

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41. Ilkay Gundogan – Manchester City and Germany (Down 7)

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40. Thiago – Bayern Munich and Spain (Up 24)

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39. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (Down 23)

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38. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (Down 7)

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37. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Up 58)

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36. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Up 2)

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35. Thomas Muller – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 25)

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34. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Up 14)

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33. Paulo Dybala – Juventus and Argentina (Up 55)

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32. N’golo Kante – Chelsea and France (NEW)

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31. Jan Oblak – Atletico Madrid and Slovenia (NEW)

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30. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil (Down 16)

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29. Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain and Italy (Down 3)

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28. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Down 3)

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27. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Up 12)

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26. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Up 21)

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25. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Up 29)

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24. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

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23. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Up 17)

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22. Arturo Vidal – Bayern Munich and Chile (Down 4)

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21. Gonzalo Higuain – Juventus and Argentina (Up 15)

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20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (Up 12)

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19. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Manchester United and Sweden (Down 10)

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18. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

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17. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (Up 12)

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16. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Down 11)

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15. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Down 3)

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14. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Down 8)

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13. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Up 36)

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12. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 33)

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11. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Down 3)

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10. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 13)

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9. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

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8. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 29)

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7. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Up 6)

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6. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (Down 2)

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5. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Down 3)

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4. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Up 17)

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3. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Up 8)

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2. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (Up 1)

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1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina

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Fin.

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Five Players Leicester Should Sign

Better writers than me have waxed lyrical about my miraculous Leicester City, our once-in-a-lifetime season, and the superb players who made it happen. That’s done now, though, and it’s time to start looking to the future. Leicester are in a very strong position in this summer’s transfer market, with Champions League football to offer, and the new TV deal meaning they can offer higher wages and transfer fees than they ever could before. We will never have a better chance to attract top players to the club. However, Claudio has said he isn’t interested in signing established world class players who would disrupt the harmonious atmosphere among the squad. So, here are five promising young players who would greatly improve our squad, but still have it all to prove.

Wissam Ben Yedder – Toulouse

Ben Yedder has quietly been one of the best strikers in Ligue 1 for the least few seasons, and scored 17 goals this season for a Toulouse side that only avoided relegation with a dramatic final day escape. He has stated that he will look to move on this summer, and with 62 league goals in his last four seasons, and still being only 25, there will be many interested sides. Lyon and Napoli have been linked, but Leicester have the attraction of playing in the most popular and richest league in the world. Clearly a prolific finisher, he is also gifted creatively and contributes to build up play. He would take some of the goalscoring responsibility off Jamie Vardy’s shoulders.

Expected fee: £10-15million

Likelihood: 5/10

 

Sime Vrsaljko – Sassuolo

Although every Leicester player played out of their skin last season, if you had to pick a weak spot, it would be at right-back. Danny Simpson was perfectly adequate last season, but world class form doesn’t last forever – and then there’s the small matter of him being convicted for domestic assault. Clearly, a new right back should be a high priority, and Vrsaljko has been making waves in Serie A for some time now. A whole host of clubs are after him, including Juventus, Inter, Napoli and even Barcelona, but Leicester could definitely get him with the right offer.

Expected fee: £8-12million

Likelihood: 4/10

 

Juan Quintero – Porto

Two years ago, Quintero was one of the hottest young players in the world, but since then his stock has plummeted, with injury problems, failing to get into the Porto team, and this season’s disappointing loan to Rennes. However, go back a bit further, and you find an incredibly skilled playmaker with a fantastic long shot and free kick ability. Other than Riyad Mahrez, Leicester don’t have any players who can spring a great piece of skill out of nowhere, and if anyone can revitalise a career not going to plan, it’s Claudio Ranieri. Still only 23, Quintero plays best as a number 10, but can also play on the wings, a position than needs strengthening.

Expected fee: £3-6million

Likelihood: 6/10

 

Niklas Sule – Hoffenheim

A tall, strong, and quick centre back, Sule’s no-nonsense style of defending make him a perfect protege for Huth and Morgan to take under their wing. Neither of our current two centre backs are getting any younger, and at just 20 Sule could be the rock in our defence for the next decade or longer. He has been strongly linked with Dortmund as a replacement for Mats Hummels, and with Liverpool due to the Klopp connection, so Leicester would have to fight hard if they wanted to get him.

Expected fee: £15-20million

Likelihood: 3/10

 

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – Bayern Munich

Another 20-year-old from the Bundesliga, Hojbjerg looks set to leave Bayern this summer to try his luck elsewhere. A defensive midfielder who has played out wide and already plays for Denmark’s senior team, he is currently on loan at Schalke where he struggled initially, but is ending the season a regular in the team. A greatly versatile player, with excellent attacking and defensive qualities, he can fill in at a number of positions but would mainly be a good rotational option for the centre of midfield.

Expected fee: £7-12million

Likelihood: 7/10

 

Possible line-up:

Schmeichel

Vrsaljko – Morgan – Huth – Fuchs

Mahrez – Kante – Drinkwater – Quintero

Vardy – Ben Yedder

Subs: Schwarzer, Sule, Chilwell, Hojbjerg, Albrighton, Gray, Okazaki


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My Top 100 Footballers 2015

You know the drill.

100. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool and Brazil (NEW)

99. Domenico Berardi – Sassuolo and Italy (NEW)

98. Paulo Dybala – Juventus and Argentina (NEW)

97. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil (Down 27)

96. Mathieu Valbuena – Lyon and France (No move)

95. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Down 8)

94. Raheem Sterling – Manchester City and England (NEW)

93. Alex Teixeira – Shakhtar Donetsk and Brazil (NEW)

92. Hulk – Zenit St Petersburg and Brazil (NEW)

91. Yevhen Konoplyanka – Sevilla and Ukraine (NEW)

90. Harry Kane – Tottenham and England (NEW)

89. Kurt Zouma – Chelsea and France (NEW)

88. Miranda – Inter Milan and Brazil (NEW)

87. Roberto Firmino – Liverpool and Brazil (Down 27)

86. Javier Pastore – Paris St Germain and Argentina (NEW)

85. Carlos Bacca – AC Milan and Colombia (NEW)

84. Nolito – Celta Vigo and Spain (NEW)

83. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina (Down 27)

82. Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg and Switzerland (Down 27)

81. Alexandre Lacazette – Lyon and France (NEW)

80. Grzegorz Krychowiak – Sevilla and Poland (NEW)

79. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Down 12)

78. Arda Turan – Barcelona and Turkey (Down 12)

77. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (Up 23)

76. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (Down 2)

75. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Down 7)

74. Claudio Marchisio – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

73. Daniel Alves – Barcelona and Brazil (NEW)

72. Mauro Icardi – Inter Milan and Argentina (NEW)

71. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France (Down 14)

70. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Down 7)

69. Petr Cech – Arsenal and Czech Republic (NEW)

68. Carlos Tevez – Boca Juniors and Argentina (Down 16)

67. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 9)

66. Blaise Matuidi – Paris St Germain and France (Up 9)

65. Shinji Kagawa – Borussia Dortmund and Japan (NEW)

64. Thiago Alcantara – Bayern Munich and Spain (NEW)

63. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 1)

62. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Down 15)

61. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (Down 11)

60. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Borussia Dortmund and Armenia (NEW)

59. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (Down 8)

58. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 9)

57. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 17)

56. Mehdi Benatia – Bayern Munich and Morocco (Down 11)

55. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 26)

54. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Down 29)

53. Edinson Cavani – Paris St Germain and Uruguay (Down 15)

52. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 4)

51. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (Up 3)

50. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 4)

49. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Down 13)

48. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Down 9)

47. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 13)

46. Douglas Costa – Bayern Munich and Brazil (NEW)

45. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 33)

44. Gerard Pique – Barcelona and Spain (NEW)

43. Miralem Pjanic – Roma and Bosnia (Down 2)

42. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 19)

41. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 24)

40. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Up 41)

39. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Down 13)

38. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Down 3)

37. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 39)

36. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina (Up 29)

35. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 14)

34. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 45)

33. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Down 1)

32. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (Up 59)

31. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (No move)

30. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France (Up 31)

29. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (Down 7)

28. Keylor Navas – Real Madrid and Costa Rica (NEW)

27. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 6)

26. Marco Verratti – Paris St Germain and Italy (Up 57)

25. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Up 18)

24. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (Up 13)

23. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 7)

22. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 4)

21. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Down 9)

20. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Down 1)

19. Angel Di Maria – Paris St Germain and Argentina (Down 4)

18. Arturo Vidal – Bayern Munich and Chile (Up 2)

17. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 13)

16. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (Up 11)

15. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland (Down 1)

14. Thiago Silva – Paris St Germain and Brazil (Down 4)

13. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Up 11)

12. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Up 32)

11. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Down 2)

10. Thomas Muller – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 6)

9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Paris St Germain and Sweden (Down 2)

8. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Up 5)

7. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

6. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Up 2)

5. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 1)

4. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (Down 2)

3. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (No move)

2. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Up 9)

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina (No move)


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Premier League Predictions 2015/16

Arsenal

In

Petr Cech – Chelsea, £10m

Out

Carl Jenkinson – West Ham, Loan

Wojciech Szczesny – Roma, Loan

Abou Diaby – Released

Lukas Podolski – Galatasaray, £1.8m

Ryo Myaichi – St Pauli, Undisclosed

Yaya Sanogo – Ajax, Loan

Best XI:

Cech

Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal

Ramsey Wilshere

Walcott Ozil Alexis

Giroud

The Gunners ended last season strongly, with players such as Ozil, Walcott, Wilshere and Giroud in good form. Cech is an excellent signing, albeit the only one they’ve made so far. There is very little between them and the two Manchester sides at the moment, and if they can get off to a strong start there is no reason why they can’t finish as high as second, or even make a strong title challenge.

Aston Villa

In

Scott Sinclair – Man City, £2.5m

Micah Richards – Man City, Free

Jordan Amavi – Nice, £7m

Idrissa Gueye – Lille, £9m

Mark Bunn – Norwich, Free

Jordan Ayew – Lorient, £10m

Jose Angel Crespo – Cordoba, Undisclosed

Out

Christian Benteke – Liverpool, £32.5m

Fabian Delph – Man City, £8m

Shay Given – Stoke, Free

Darren Bent – Derby County, Free

Enda Stevens – Portsmouth, Free

Andreas Weimann – Derby County, Undisclosed

Matthew Lowton – Burnley, Undisclosed

Yacouba Sylla – Rennes, Undisclosed

Antonio Luna – Eibar, Undisclosed

Best XI:

Guzan

Richards Okore Clarke Amavi

Grealish Sanchez Veretout Sinclair

Ayew Gestede

Despite the renewed optimism at Villa Park since the arrival of Tim Sherwood, Villa only managed to finish 17th last season. They’ve made some intriguing signings this summer, but in losing Vlaar, Delph and Benteke, they’ve lost the entire spine of their team, and they go into this season with a lot of unknown quantities and youngsters. If the new foreign starlets can hit the ground running, and players like Sinclair and Richards rediscover their best form, they could push for a mid-table finish. It’s a big if, though.

Bournemouth

In

Tyrone Mings – Ipswich Town, £8m

Sylvain Distin – Everton, Free

Artur Boruc – Southampton, Free

Adam Federici – Reading, Free

Joshua King – Blackburn Rovers, Tribunal

Christian Atsu – Chelsea, Loan

Filippo Costa – Chievo, Loan

Out

Ian Harte – Released

Josh McQuoid – Luton, Free

Darryl Flavahan – Released

Mohamed Coulibaly – Released

Miles Addison – Released

Brett Pitman – Ipswich Town, Undisclosed

Best XI:

Boruc

Francis Cook Distin Mings

Ritchie Surman Arter Atsu

Wilson Kermorgant

Bournemouth were the story of last season, securing an improbably Championship title and Premier League football for the first time ever. Now however they face the biggest challenge in their club’s history to stay up. There’s a huge lack of top-flight experience in their squad, but momentum can be crucial, and they have plenty of that.

Chelsea

In

Radamel Falcao – AS Monaco, Loan

Asmir Begovic – Stoke, £8m

Nathan – Atletico Paranaense, £4.5m

Danilo Pantic – Partizan Belgrade, £1.25m

Out

Petr Cech – Arsenal,  £10m

Patrick Bamford – Crystal Palace, Loan

Didier Drogba – Released

Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid, £6m

Marco van Ginkel – Stoke, Loan

Danilo Pantic – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Christian Atsu – Bournemouth, Loan (subject to Premier League approval)

Josh McEachran – Brentford, Undisclosed

Tomas Kalas – Middlesbrough, Loan

Gael Kakuta – Sevilla, Undisclosed

Mario Pasalic – Monaco, Loan

Kenneth Omeruo – Kasimpasa, Loan

Andreas Christensen – Borussia Monchengladbach, Loan

Isaiah Brown – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Lewis Baker – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Best XI:

Courtois

Ivanovic Terry Zouma Azpilicueta

Matic Fabregas

Cuadrado Oscar Hazard

Costa

Chelsea are the strongest team in the country by some distance at the moment, and it would be a huge surprise if they were not to retain their crown. They’ve yet to properly improve their first eleven, bringing in only rotation options thus far, although the rumoured signing of Baba Rahman would be a good addition. Their main target this season has to be the Champions League, after last year’s disappointment.

Crystal Palace

In

Patrick Bamford – Chelsea, Loan

Yohan Cabaye – PSG, £13m

Alex McCarthy – QPR, £3.5m

Out

Jack Hunt – Sheffield Wednesday, Loan

Shola Ameobi – Released

Lewis Price – Sheffield Wednesday, Free

Owen Garvan – Released

Peter Ramage – Released

Stephen Dobbie – Released

Jerome Thomas – Released

Best XI:

Speroni

Kelly Mariappa Dann Souare

Cabaye Jedinak McArthur

Puncheon Bamford Bolasie

Palace have defied all expectations made for them and cemented themselves as a solid mid table side. In Yohan Cabaye they have made one of the signings of the summer, and their target now has to be pushing on to a top half finish. What they really lack is a prolific forward – could Patrick Bamford be that man?

Everton

In

Gerard Deulofeu – Barcelona, £4.25m

Tom Cleverley – Manchester United, Free

David Henen – Olympiakos, £0.2m

Out

Sylvain Distin – Bournemouth, Free

Luke Garbutt – Fulham, Loan

Antolin Alcaraz – Released

George Green – Oldham, Free

Best XI:

Howard

Coleman Stones Jagielka Baines

McCarthy Besic

Mirallas Naismith Deulofeu

Lukaku

Last season was bitterly disappointing for Everton, and Roberto Martinez simply must return to the top half if he is to keep his job. The return of Deulofeu is exciting, and Lukaku will want to improve on his solid if unspectacular first season as a permanent Everton player. Ross Barkley also has a point to prove after going off the boil, and keeping hold of John Stones is crucial. Top half should be the minimum requirement, and they seem well placed to achieve it without the distraction of the Europa League.

Leicester City

In

Robert Huth – Stoke, £3m

Shinji Okazaki – Mainz, £7.5m

Christian Fuchs – Schalke, Free

Out

Esteban Cambiasso – released

Anthony Knockaert – Standard Liege, free

Ben Hamer – Nottingham Forest, Loan

Paul Gallagher – Preston, Free

Chris Wood – Leeds, Undisclosed

Tom Hopper – Scunthorpe, Free

Adam Smith – Northampton, Free

Best XI:

Schmeichel

De Laet Huth Wasilewski Fuchs

Mahrez James Drinkwater Schlupp

Ulloa Kramaric/Okazaki

The future prospects of my club are shrouded in uncertainty. Nigel Pearson, idolised by Leicester fans and despised by everyone else, has finally gone after a fantastic spell in charge. Esteban Cambiasso has followed him out the door, along with fan favourite Anthony Knockaert. The Thailand sex scandal has done further dampened the club’s image after several bizarre incidents involving Pearson last season. And on the pitch, we have no idea what to expect. The great escape was simply a thrilling time to be a City fan, but for much of the season we looked totally out of our depth at this level. Claudio Ranieri is a big name, but it has been a good few years since he was an elite manager, and most fans would have liked to see more signings but this stage. N’Golo Kante seems set to be announced imminently, and he would go some way to filling a certain Argentine’s shoes, but the midfield still looks like a weak area, especially with Matty James facing several months out. The good news is we have plenty of strong attacking options, and have kept hold of Riyad Mahrez, our most creative player. This season could go one of two ways – we build on the brilliant end to the season, or all the turmoil and upheaval causes us to implode. Most likely it’ll be something inbetween.

Liverpool

In

Christian Benteke – Aston Villa, £32.5m

James Milner – Manchester City, Free

Danny Ings – Burnley, Tribunal

Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim, £29m

Nathaniel Clyne – Southampton, £12.5m

Joe Gomez – Charlton, £3.5m

Adam Bogdan – Bolton, Free

Out

Raheem Sterling – Man City, £49m

Glen Johnson – Stoke, Free

Steven Gerrard – LA Galaxy, Free

Andre Wisdom – Norwich, Loan

Lloyd Jones – Blackpool, Loan

Jordan Williams – Swindon, Loan

Kevin Stewart – Swindon, Loan

Sebastian Coates – Sunderland, Undisclosed

Brad Jones – Released

Javi Manquillo – Atletico Madrid, Loan terminated

Best XI:

Mignolet

Can Skrtel Sakho

Clyne Henderson Milner Moreno

Firmino Coutinho

Sturridge/Benteke

The much-publicised departures of club icon Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling for a huge fee have had much attention, but Liverpool have quietly made some very good signings. Nathaniel Clyne, Christian Benteke and James Milner are established Premier League players who would improve any team they played in, while Roberto Firmino has been one of the Bundesliga’s best players for the last few years. The gaps are narrowing between the top clubs, and the Reds have a great opportunity to make a return to the top four, after missing out last year.

Manchester City

In

Raheem Sterling – Liverpool, £49m

Patrick Roberts – Fulham, £12m

Fabian Delph – Aston Villa, £8m

Enes Unal – Bursaspor, £2m

David Faupala – Lens, Free

Out

Stevan Jovetic – Inter, loan

Edin Dzeko – Roma, £14m (pending)

James Milner – Liverpool, Free

Scott Sinclair – Aston Villa, Undisclosed

Micah Richards – Aston Villa, Free

John Guidetti – Celta Vigo, Free

Dedryck Boyata – Celtic, Undisclosed

Seko Fofana – Bastia, Loan

Best XI:

Hart

Zabaleta Kompany Mangala Kolarov

Sterling Toure Fernandinho Silva

Aguero Bony

City are looking a lot weaker going into this season than they have done for quite some time. Sergio Aguero remains the best player in the league, and can win games on his own, but there are a lot of questions about the rest of the team. Vincent Kompany is no longer the elite defender he was, and Mangala hardly made the best impression in his debut season. Yaya Toure is starting to show his age, and they have lost the always reliable Edin Dzeko, along with Stevan Jovetic, leaving their forward options depleted in the likely event of an Aguero injury. Raheem Sterling has arrived for a record sum, and has shown good form in pre-season, but this squad needs much more.

Manchester United

In

Morgan Schneiderlin – Southampton, £25m

Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich, £14.4m

Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven, £31m

Matteo Darmian – Torino, £12.7m

Sergio Romero – Sampdoria, Free

Out

Robin van Persie – Fenerbahce, fee to be agreed

Nani – Fenerbahce, £4.5m

Tom Cleverley – Everton, Free

Reece James – Wigan, Undisclosed

Saidy Janko – Celtic, Compensation

Ben Amos – Bolton, Free

Tom Thorpe – Rotherham, Free

Will Keane – Preston, Loan

Angelo Henriquez – Dinamo Zagreb, Undisclosed

Best XI:

De Gea

Darmian Jones Rojo Shaw

Schneiderlin Schweinsteiger

Di Maria Mata Depay

Rooney

It looked touch-and-go at times, but Louis Van Gaal’s extremely expensive United side made their return to the top four after the horror show that was the David Moyes era. The spending has not stopped this summer, with the midfield issues being well addressed, and the additions of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian are also highly impressive. Angel Di Maria seems set to leave for PSG, but going on last season’s performances, he won’t be a huge miss. The possible departure of David De Gea is another matter entirely – he would be very hard to replace. Another striker needs to come in, after the departures of Van Persie and Falcao left Wayne Rooney as the only established forward. A title challenge beckons.

Newcastle

In

Chancel Mbemba – Anderlecht, £8.5m

Aleksandar Mitrovic – Anderlecht, £13m

Georginio Wijnaldum – PSV, 14.5m

Out

Sammy Ameobi – Cardiff City, Loan

Jonas Gutierrez – Released

Ryan Taylor – Released

Adam Campbell – Notts County, Free

Remie Streete – Port Vale, Free

Best XI:

Krul

Janmaat Coloccini Taylor Haidara

Sissoko Tiote

Cabella Wijnaldum De Jong

Cisse

Newcastle fans finally got their wish for the departure of Alan Pardew, only to be saddled with the double inept Steve Carver, who did his very best to send them down the second tier. Steve McLaren now holds the reins, and he has made one very impressive signing in Georginio Wijnaldum. They probably won’t go down, but they’re a long way from making the top half.

Norwich

In

Graham Dorrans – West Brom, £3m

Youssuf Mulumbu – West Brom, Free

Andre Wisdom – Liverpool, Loan

Robbie Brady – Hull, £7m

Out

Javier Garrido – released

Mark Bunn – Aston Villa, Free

Carlton Morris – Hamilton, Loan

Cameron McGeehan – Luton Town, Undisclosed

Sam Kelly – Port Vale, Free

Remi Matthews – Burton, Loan

Best XI:

Ruddy

Martin Turner Bassong Olsson

Tettey Mulumbu Howson

Redmond Jerome Hoolahan

Norwich have bounced back up to the Premier League at the first time of asking, and their squad seems almost the same as the one that went down two years ago. A stable, if somewhat boring team, Norwich will probably be fighting off relegation for most of the season.

Southampton

In

Jordy Clasie – Feyenoord, £8m

Juanmi – Malaga, £5m

Cuco Martina – FC Twente, £1m

Cedric Soares – Sporting CP, £4.7m

Maarten Stekelenburg – Fulham, Loan

Steven Caulker – QPR, Loan

Out

Morgan Schneiderlin – Manchester United, £25m

Nathaniel Clyne – Liverpool, Undisclosed (fee understood to be £10m plus add-ons)

Artur Boruc – Bournemouth, Free

Jos Hooiveld – Released

Cody Cropper – MK Dons, Free

Omar Rowe – Released

Jake Sinclair – Released

Dani Osvaldo – Released

Best XI:

Forster

Soares Fonte Caulker Bertrand

Clasie Wanyama Ward-Prowse

Rodriguez Pelle Mane

Southampton were perhaps the most impressive side in the league last season, finishing a hugely credible 7th despite a host of big departures. They have lost two more important players in Clyne and Schneiderlin, but Ronaldo Koeman seems a hugely impressive manager who can cope with it. The Europa League will have some impact on their league form, but it will also raise their profile around Europe and allow them to attract better players. Another strong season beckons.

Stoke

In

Glen Johnson – Liverpool, Free

Phillipp Wollscheid – Bayer Leverkusen, £2.75m

Joselu – Hannover 96, £5.75m

Shay Given – Aston Villa, Free

Marko van Ginkel – Chelsea, Loan

Jakob Haugaard – FC Midtyjlland, £0.6m

Moha El Ouriachi – Barcelona, Undisclosed

Ibrahim Afellay – Barcelona, Free

Out

Asmir Begovic – Chelsea, Undisclosed

Steven Nzonzi – Sevilla, £7m

Robert Huth – Leicester City, Undisclosed

Jamie Ness – Scunthorpe, Free

Thomas Sorensen – Released

Wilson Palacios – Released

Andy Wilkinson – Released

Best XI:

Butland

Johnson Shawcross Muniesa Pieters

Arnautovic Whelan Van Ginkel Afellay

Bojan Diouf

Stoke continue to go under the radar despite two successive top half finishes. They have shed their ‘physical’ tag under Mark Hughes and are now attracting more skilful players such as Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay. Begovic and Nzonzi will be missed but they will endure as they always do.

Sunderland

In

Jeremain Lens – Dynamo Kiev, £8.5m

Younes Kaboul – Tottenham, £3m

Adam Matthews – Celtic, £2m

Sebastian Coates – Liverpool, £1.96m

Out

El-Hadji Ba – Charlton

Santiago Vergini – Getafe, Loan

Best XI:

Pantilimon

Matthews Coates Kaboul Van Aanholt

Larsson Giaccherini Gomez Cattermole Johnson

Defoe

The Black Cat’s nine lives are surely almost up. Sunderland always seem to get out of relegation, but no team can sustain that forever. Another long season beckons.

Swansea

In

Andre Ayew – Marseille, Free

Franck Tabanou – St Etienne, £3.5m

Eder – Braga, £5.2m

Kristoffer Nordfelt – Heerenveen, £0.6m

Oliver McBurnie – Bradford City, £0.25m

Out

Jazz Richards – Fulham, Undisclosed

David Cornell – Oldham, Free

Alan Tate – Released

Gerhard Tremmel – Released

Best XI:

Fabianski

Rangel Williams Fernandez Taylor

Ki Shelvey

Montero Sigurdsson Ayew

Gomis

Despite the loss of Wilfried Bony, Swansea continue to be one of the most upwardly mobile clubs in the league. Andre Ayew was one of the most in-demand free agents this summer, and Swansea did well to secure him. They will fancy their chances of claiming a Europa League spot.

Spurs

In

Toby Alderweireld – Atletico Madrid, £11.5m

Kevin Wimmer – Cologne, £4.3m

Kieran Trippier – Burnley, £3.5m

Out

Paulinho – Guangzhou Evergrande, £9.8m

Benjamin Stambouli – PSG, £6m

Etienne Capoue – Watford, Undisclosed (fee believed to be in the region of £6m)

Younes Kaboul – Sunderland, Undisclosed

Lewis Holtby – Hamburg

Best XI:

Lloris

Walker Alderweireld Vertonghen Rose

Dembele Mason

Lamela Eriksen Chadli

Kane

Spurs continue to float around in their zone of not good enough for the top four, too good to fall out of the top seven. The excellent Eriksen and Kane will provide goals, and Alderweireld is a solid defender to protect one of the league’s best keepers. Erik Lamela will surely come good eventually, and young midfielders Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb established themselves last season. Will it be enough for the top four? Probably not, but we’ll see.

Watford

In

Etienne Capoue – Tottenham, £6m

Valon Behrami – Hamburg, £3m

Jose Holebas – Roma, £1.8m

Miguel Britos – Napoli, Undisclosed

Jose Jurado – Spartak Moscow, Undisclosed

Matej Vydra – Udinese, £6m

Allan Nyom – Udinese, Undisclosed

Sebastian Prodl – Werder Bremen, Free

Giedrius Arlauskis – Steaua Bucharest, Free

Steven Berghuis – AZ Alkmaar, £4.6m

Out

Jonathan Bond – Reading, Undisclosed

Lewis McGugan – Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed

Juanfran – Deportivo La Coruna, Loan

Best XI:

Gomes

Britos Angella Ekstrand

Anya Abdi Capoue Jurado Holebas

Deeney Ighalo

Watford seem to be going down the QPR route of spending big and spending often in their quest for survival. Many players from Serie A have come in, thanks to their link with Udinese, and long serving players like Troy Deeney will be itching to show what they can do at the top level. They have huge depth to their squad, which could be crucial.

West Brom

In

James McClean – Wigan, £1.5m

James Chester – Hull, £8m

Rickie Lambert – Liverpool, Undisclosed

Out

Graham Dorrans – Norwich, Undisclosed

Youssuf Mulumbu – Norwich, Free

Chris Baird – Derby County, Free

Best XI:

Foster

Dawson Chester Lescott Pocognoli

McManaman Yacob Fletcher McLean

Berahino Lambert

West Brom were many people’s favourites to go down last season, but the appointment of Tony Pulis kept them up. With Pulis in charge, it’s hard to see them going down, but their first eleven is hardly the most inspiring. They will certainly be around the bottom three for most of the season.

West Ham

In

Angelo Ogbonna – Juventus, £7.9m

Dimitri Payet – Marseille, £10.7m

Carl Jenkinson – Arsenal, Loan

Pedro Obiang – Sampdoria, £4.3m

Manuel Lanzini – Al Jazira, Loan

Darren Randolph – Birmingham City, Free

Out

Stewart Downing – Middlesbrough, £5.5m

Dan Potts – Luton Town, Free

Paul McCallum – Leyton Orient, Free

Carlton Cole – Released

Guy Demel – Released

Jussi Jaaskelainen – Released

Nene – Released

Best XI:

Adrian

Jenkinson Tomkins Ogbonna Cresswell

Noble Obiang

Payet Zarate Jarvis

Sakho

West Ham had a decent season, but decided to part ways with Sam Allardyce in favour of Slaven Bilic. They pulled off quite the coup in luring Dimitri Payet, one of the best players in Europe last season, and they will hope to land a top half finish.

Table Prediction

1. Chelsea

2. Manchester United

3. Arsenal

4. Manchester City

5. Liverpool

6. Tottenham

7. Swansea

8. Southampton.

9. Everton

10. Stoke

11. Crystal Palace

12. West Ham

13. Newcastle

14. Watford

15. West Brom

16. Aston Villa

17. Leicester 

18. Norwich

19. Bournemouth

20. Sunderland

Championship Prediction

1. Middlesbrough

2. Derby

3. Ipswich

4. Brentford

5. Wolves

6. QPR

7. Hull

8. Birmingham

9. Burnley

10. Blackburn

11. Cardiff

12. Nottingham Forest

13. Bristol City

14. Sheffield Wednesday

15. Charlton

16. Bolton

17. Leeds

18. Fulham

19. Preston

20. Reading

21. Huddersfield

22. MK Dons

23. Brighton

24. Rotherham


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11 Truly Underrated Players

The word ‘underrated’ has become misused in football. The same old players are always mentioned, to the extent that they are no longer underrated, but overrated if anything. A truly underrated player is someone who consistently plays well, but doesn’t receive much attention for it. So with that in mind, here are 11 players who could be called truly underrated.

Nabil Fekir – Lyon and France, CAM/ST, 21

The subject of an international tussle between Algeria and France, Nabil Fekir has elected to represent France, the country of his birth. He has been overshadowed by the remarkable scoring exploits of team-mate Alexandre Lacazette, but he has been just as crucial to Lyon’s good season. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or a striker, he has 11 goals and 7 assists in Ligue 1 this season. Probably the best-known player on this list, he is destined for great things.

Nicola Sansone – Sassuolo and Italy, LW, 23

Sassuolo have defied expectations of a swift relegation and become a solid mid-table side in Serie A over the last two seasons. Their first choice XI features ten Italian players, and the attacking trident of Sansone, Zaza and Berardi has attracted rave reviews. Sansone is the least heralded of these three, An inside forward with a powerful long-range shot, it would not be a huge surprise to see him called up by the Azzurri in time to come.

Franco Vazquez – Palermo and Italy, CAM/ST, 26

Another Serie A player who is overshadowed by a team-mate is Franco Vazquez of Palermo. His partnership with Paulo Dybala has been described as mesmerising, and unlike anything else in Serie A. He is the top assister in Serie A this season, with 9 assists, as well as 7 goals. Despite being born in Argentina, he has just accepted his first call up to the senior Italian team. When Dybala inevitable moves on in the summer, his new club would do well to consider bringing Vazquez in as well.

Robin Knoche – Wolfsburg and Germany, CB, 22

Wolfsburg have been having an excellent season, and the strong centre-back partnership of Naldo and Knoche is a big reason for it. A local lad who came through Wolfsburg’s academy, he has been a regular for the last two seasons and is rumoured to be close to a call up to the world champions’ senior squad. Knoche boasts maturity beyond his years with his calmness in possession and ability to position himself perfectly.

Jordan Amavi – Nice and France, LB, 21

France seem to have an endless conveyer belt of talented young left backs, Amavi has both the attacking and defensive qualities to make it ahead of competitors such as Lucas Digne and Layvin Kurzawa. Already a regular for OGC Nice, he also currently holds a place in whoscored.com’s Team of the Season.

Wissam Ben Yedder – Toulouse and France, ST, 24

Toulouse are currently staring down the barrel of relegation from Ligue 1, and should they suffer that fate there will be a long queue of teams interested in striker Ben Yedder. The player of Tunisian descent managed to score over 15 goals in each of the last two seasons, and currently stands on 10 for this season. He has skill and speed in abundance, but he is also decent in the air. His biggest problem is consistency.

Nolito – Celta Vigo and Spain, LW, 28

The La Masia graduate has found his home at Celta Vigo, after bouncing around various clubs for most of his career. 14 goals last season led to a debut cap for Spain, and he has followed that up with 8 goals and 8 assists this season. Lots of players struggle after leaving Barcelona, but Nolito has thrived.

Giannelli Imbula – Marseille and France, DM, 22

Marcelo Bielsa has revolutionised Marseille this season, and Imbula has been ever-present for them this season. Chelsea were reportedly prepared to part with £25m to acquire his services. A tough-tackling holding player, he is also strong in possession and excellent at carrying the ball forward. Eligible to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo or Belgium, he has elected to represent France, and should do just that in the near future.

Denis Cheryshev – Villarreal and Russia, LW, 24

Russian winger Cheryshev has been Villarreal’s player of the season so far, and has impressed so much that Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, from whom he is on loan, has said he plans to incorporate him into his first team next season. He has an impressive 9 assists, and after a long time spent at Castilla, next season could finally be the time for his Bernabeu breakthrough.

Allan – Udinese and Brazil, CM, 24

Udinese have a fantastic track record of turning unknown South Americans into stars, and combative midfielder Allan has the potential to be the next. An excellent all-rounder, he has been crucial for the Zebrette this season, and has been linked with both Milan clubs. He is Serie A’s top tackler, averaging 4.6 per game, but he is also a skilful attacker.

Felipe Anderson – Lazio and Brazil, LW/RW, 21

Formerly Neymar’s partner in crime at Santos, Anderson will not remain an unknown for much longer, as on current form he is arguable the best player in Italy. He struggled with injury and form in his debut season for Lazio, but this season he has become absolutely crucial. Despite only starting 12 games, he has 8 goals and 6 assists so far. He has spectacular pace and dribbling ability, as well as a lethal long shot, as evidenced by his wonderful goal in the Rome derby. He is also equally comfortable on either foot. This array of attributes, as well as his young age, should propel him to a brilliant career.


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My Top 100 Footballers 2014

After the release of FourFourTwo’s annual ranking of the top 100 footballers currently playing, I was prompted to compile my own ranking, following on from last year. It’s impossible that a perfect ranking could be created that everyone agrees with, because it’s entirely based on opinion, but here is my list for this year anyway. It isn’t based on who had the best 2014, simply who I think the best players are overall right now. In brackets is how their position has changed from last year’s list, which you can find here: https://mattdale95.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/my-top-100-footballers-2013/

100. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (NEW)

100

99. Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven and Holland (NEW)

98

98. Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Barcelona and Germany (NEW)

Recreativo de Huelva v FC Barcelona: Pre-Season Friendly

97. Alessio Cerci – Atletico Madrid and Italy (NEW)

96

96. Mathieu Valbuena – Dynamo Moscow and France (No move)

95

95. Daley Blind – Manchester United and Holland (NEW)

94

94. Santi Cazorla – Arsenal and Spain (Down 35)

93

93. Simon Kjaer – Lille and Denmark (NEW)

92

92. Luiz Gustavo – Wolfsburg and Brazil (NEW)

91

91. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (NEW)

90

90. Giuseppe Rossi – Fiorentina and Italy (Down 19)

Giuseppe Rossi

89. Jose Callejon – Napoli and Spain (NEW)

88

88. Jackson Martinez – Porto and Colombia (NEW)

87

87. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Up 3)

Juventus FC v AS Roma - Serie A

86. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Schalke and Holland (NEW)

85

85. Borja Valero – Fiorentina and Spain (Down 24)

84

84. Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City and Montenegro (NEW)

83

83. Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain and Italy (NEW)

82

82. Carlos Vela – Real Sociedad and Mexico (NEW)

81

81. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Down 25)

80

80. Daniel Sturridge  – Liverpool and England (NEW)

79

79. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 11)

78

78. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 19)

77

77. Antonio Candreva – Lazio and Italy (NEW)

76

76. Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg and Belgium (NEW)

75

75. Blaise Matuidi – Paris Saint-Germain and France (No move)

74

74. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (NEW)

73

73. Mario Mandzukic – Atletico Madrid and Croatia (NEW)

72

72. Kevin Strootman – Roma and Holland (NEW)

71

71. Lukasz Piszczek – Borussia Dortmund and Poland (NEW)

70

70. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil (Down 24)

69

69. Andrea Pirlo – Juventus and Italy (Down 25)

68

68. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Down 38)

67

67. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Up 3)

66

66. Arda Turan – Atletico Madrid and Turkey (NEW)

65

65. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina (Down 33)

64

64. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium (Down 31)

63

63. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Down 23)

62

62. Juan Cuadrado – Fiorentina and Colombia (NEW)

61

61. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France (Down 20)

SS Lazio v FC Juventus - TIM Supercup

60. Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim and Brazil (NEW)

59

59. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United and England (Up 15)

58

58. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 21)

27-3-2010 Roma-Inter

57. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France (Down 6)

56

56. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 16)

55

55. Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg and Switzerland (NEW)

54

54. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (NEW)

53

53. Robin van Persie – Manchester United and Holland (Down 29)

52

52. Carlos Tevez – Juventus and Argentina (Up 46)

51

51. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (NEW)

50

50. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (NEW)

49

49. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 20)

48

48. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 1)

47

47. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Down 41)

46

46. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 21)

45

45. Mehdi Benatia – Bayern Munich and Morocco (Up 13)

44

44. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Down 30)

mesut ozil

43. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Up 2)

42

42. Radamel Falcao – Manchester United and Colombia (Down 23)

0

41. Miralem Pjanic – Roma and Bosnia (NEW)

41

40. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 3)

40

39. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Up 15)

39

38. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay (Down 21)

38

37. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (NEW)

37

36. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Down 20)

36

35. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Up 7)

Real Madrid's Benzema celebrates after scoring during their Spanish first division match in Madrid

34. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Up 15)

34

33. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 5)

33

32. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Up 37)

32

31. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (NEW)

31

30. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 22)

30

29. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 5)

29

28. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 8)

28

27. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (No move)

27

26. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Up 51)

26

25. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Up 23)

25

24. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Down 12)

24

23. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 5)

23

22. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (NEW)

22

21. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 12)

21

20. Arturo Vidal – Juventus and Chile (Down 7)

20

19. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 38)

19

18. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (NEW)

18

17. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 2)

17

16. Thomas Muller –  Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 34)

16

15. Angel Di Maria – Manchester United and Argentina (Up 21)

15

14. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland (Up 21)

14

13. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Up 10)

13

12. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Up 14)

12

11. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Down 1)

11

10. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil (Down 3)

10

9. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Up 19)

Real Madrid's Luka Modric celebrates after scoring in their La Liga victory against Real Mallorca

8. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Down 5)

8

7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden (Down 2)

7

6. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 15)

6

5. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 17)

Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Final

4. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 4)

Philipp Lahm playing for Bayern

3. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (Up 1)

3

2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (No move)

2

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina (No move)

1


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European Team of the Season

All of Europe’s major leagues have drawn to a close, and it is that time when we look back and reflect on the star performers over the last 9 months. There have been many players bursting onto the scene this season, many upcoming young players enhancing their reputations, and many established stars continuing to do what they do best. Here are my picks for the best players across the five major leagues.

GK: Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid

The Belgian keeper, still only 22 years old, has progressed more than anyone could have imagined in his three years on loan in Madrid from Chelsea. This season has been simply incredible for Madrid’s second club, as they won their first La Liga title since 1996, and were within  a few minutes of winning a first ever Champions League. Diego Costa grabbed the headlines for them, but equally as important was their outstanding defence and goalkeeper. As Courtois won’t be able to return to Atletico next season due to the rule forbidding players from spending more than three years on loan at the same club during one contract, he is at something of a crossroads in his career. He has stated that he has no emotional attachment to parent club Chelsea, and as one of the world’s best keepers he would not be prepared to be the understudy to Petr Cech. He had been linked with Barcelona, but their capture of fellow young keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen seems to have scuppered any chance of him moving there. There is always the chance Atletico could sign him permanently, but would Chelsea be prepared to let him leave? The most likely outcome is that he will return to Chelsea and become their number one, and Petr Cech will move on.

RB: Serge Aurier, Toulouse

He might not be the most famous name, but the versatile Ivorian Aurier has had as good a season as anyone. The attacking right back has contributed 6 goals and 6 assists in the league for Toulouse, which is a record any full back would be proud of. He has also played at centre back and right midfield. Aurier is only 21 still, and is set to play at the World Cup for the Ivory Coast, which will see his stock rise even more if he puts in a good showing. Toulouse only finished 9th in Ligue 1, so it is unlikely they will be able to hold on to him over the summer. He has been strongly linked with Arsenal as a replacement for the departing Bacary Sagna, and if they were to be able to sign him, it would be a very smart piece of business.

CB: Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid

Another crucial member of Atletico Madrid’s squad is the Uruguayan defender Diego Godin, who has been described as their John Terry due to his willingness to throw himself in front of anything. He has a perfect partnership with Miranda, and there is very little between the two of them. The team conceded only 26 goals in their 38 league games thanks mainly to this pair and the keeper behind them. They put in the defensive performance of their lives in the Champions League final, keeping Real at bay for 92 minutes, and it was so close to being enough to win them the trophy.

CB: Mehdi Benatia, Roma

In the first 10 rounds of Serie A, Roma won every single game, and somehow conceded just a single goal in those 10 games. A big reason for that is Moroccan defender Benatia, a summer arrival from Udinese for around £10million. He is arguably now worth around three times that. Last season Roma were excellent going forward but hopeless at the back, and after bringing in Benatia to solve that problem, they were able to return to the Champions League, and for much of the season, they were pushing Juventus all the way for the title. Sadly for Roma, Benatia seems set on a move away to Barcelona. If he were to make that move, it would be exactly the signing Barcelona need to make to return to challenging for the Champions League.

LB: Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg had their best season in a long time, and a big part of that was the 21-year old full back Rodriguez. Rodriguez has excellent stats for a full back, scoring 5 goals and making 9 assists in the Bundesliga, and he is considered one of the best crossers of a ball in the game. Next season, with Wolfsburg in the Europa League, he will get to show what he can do on the European stage, and more people will stand up and take notice of him.

DM: Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich

The captain of last season’s treble winners has always been one of the most consistent players in the world. That was no different this season, and he took to playing in a new position as if he was born to it. Traditionally a full back, he played mainly as a defensive midfielder this season, and did it so well he kept Javi Martinez, one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, out of the team. Pep Guardiola has called him the most intelligent player he has ever coached – high praise from a man who has coached geniuses such as Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Sergio Busquets was credited as one of the most important players for Barcelona under Guardiola, and Lahm has all the attributes to play the same role for him at Bayern.

CM: Yaya Toure, Manchester City

In 2010, Manchester City spent £28million on a defensive midfielder called Yaya Toure. This year, that same Yaya Toure finished as the top scorer in a squad containing Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo. He has been transformed from a decent defensive midfielder into a colossal attacking powerhouse. The goal he scored in the penultimate game of City’s title-winning season, summed up his season, when he picked the ball up deep in his own half, and just run all the way down the pitch, shrugging off challenge after challenge, and expertly finishing it off. He has also become something of a free kick specialist this season, and to have finished with 20 goals in the league is simply remarkable for a midfielder. The best business City could do this summer is convince him to stay, because he is simply irreplaceable.

CM: Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid

The arrival of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid seemed to signal the end of Di Maria’s time at the club. 9 months on, Di Maria arguably outshined the Welshman, playing in a different position and still managing to contribute 17 assists in La Liga. He was named man of the match in the Champions League final against Atletico, a game when Bale and Ronaldo were virtually anonymous. After being seemingly discarded by Real, he emerged as one of their most important players.

RW: Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona

Alexis has constantly been outshone at Barcelona by his more glamorous team mates, and with the arrival of Neymar this summer, many didn’t think he would get a look in any more. Despite an excellent season when he scored 19 goals and made 10 assists in the league, he continues to be unappreciated by Barcelona, with them reportedly offering him to other clubs to make room for new signings. Whoever signs him will be getting a brilliant player at probably a bargain price.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

After being continually outshone by Lionel Messi ever since he moved to Spain, this was the season when Ronaldo finally stepped out from behind Messi’s shadow. With the little Argentine sidelined by injury for several months, Ronaldo took the opportunity to fire Real Madrid to the Champion’s League title, scoring a record 17 goals in the competition. and a total of 51 goals in 47 games. His statistics since joining Real Madrid continue to defy logic, and now the argument for who the best player in the world is is more difficult than ever before.

ST: Luis Suarez, Liverpool

Love him or loathe him – and most people do the latter – Luis Suarez was easily the best player in the Premier League this season, and almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool to what would have been an unbelievable title win. His 31 goals and 12 assists in the league are even more remarkable considering he missed the first 6 games of the season, and they were enough to win him the Player of the Year award. And yet he came so close to leaving Liverpool before the season started – some Liverpool fans were even hoping he would leave after bringing so much controversy to the club. Those people have almost certainly changed their minds about him now, even if does still infuriate many with his diving antics.

Substitutes

GK: Keylor Navas, Levante

It was a big surprise when the Costa Rican Navas was named in La Liga’s team of the season over Courtois, but it was totally deserved. In his first season as a first choice keeper in La Liga, he kept 15 clean sheets for mid-table Levante.

CB: Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

It was his last-gasp goal in the Champions League final that allowed Real to go on and win in extra time, and that was the pinnacle of a season when many believe he proved himself as the best defender in the world.

RB: Seamus Coleman, Everton

Coleman, and Leighton Baines on the opposite flank, were a major reason for Everton’s excellent season, and at £60k he is one of the best bargains in football.

CM: Arturo Vidal, Juventus

While Juventus continue to dominate in Italy, they flopped in European competition this season, despite Vidal’s heroics. He is a very well-rounded footballer, scoring 11 league goals and also defending very well.

LW: Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad

The Frenchman who has spent his whole career so far in Spain had his best season yet, scoring 16 league goals. and scored an incredible overhead kick to take Sociedad into the Champions League group stage. At only 23, he will only get better.

RW: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Hazard improved on his first season at Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and assisting 7. He was also crucial in their run to the Champions League semi finals.

ST: Lionel Messi, Barcelona

He may have had a ‘below-par’ season in the minds of some, but Messi was still the second-highest scoring player in Europe behind Ronaldo, with 36 goals in 38 games. He now heads to a World Cup many are tipping Argentina to win, and if he were to help them do so, he would surely go down as the best player of all time.