Featuring two of Chelsea's floundering midfielders, a patient Barça star and Lyon's Premier League-targeted hitman...
70. Keylor Navas
What more can Keylor Navas do? He kept schtum when forced to be Iker Casillas’s reserve in 2014/15. He bossed the disgracefully few games he did start, letting in just three goals in eight La Liga and Champions League matches, all of them wins. Then with Casillas gone, he opened 2015/16 with five clean sheets.
Yet Florentino Perez still tried to swap him for something shiny. The collapsed exchange with David de Gea could have distracted some, but not Navas, who conceded only three goals in his first 13 games this season (although he does admit to shedding a tear over the episode. “I never wanted to leave Real,” Navas said. “If God wanted me to leave, it’d be for the best, but he didn’t want me to and I’m still here.”) Sorry, Florentino. There’s still one guy more powerful than you. – HD
69. Alvaro Morata
To say Morata was vital to Juventus’s indefatigable run to the 2015 Champions League Final would perhaps be an understatement. The 23-year-old scored in both legs of the last 16 against Borussia Dortmund, both legs of the semi-final against former club Real Madrid and equalised in the 3-1 final defeat to Barcelona.
Hitherto filed under ‘promising youngster’, Morata has blossomed into a genuine talent of world standing. Yes, eight Serie A goals last season isn’t a lot, but this is a low-scoring league and in finding the net against both Milan clubs, Morata has proven himself the man for the big stage. Blessed with a great touch and nose for goal, Morata is the archetypal Spanish centre-forward. If he can up that goalscoring rate, he could be Spain’s catalyst to Euro 2016 glory, as well as Juve’s propeller to a fifth successive Serie A crown. – AM
68. Bastian Schweinsteiger
The English jury is still out on the Germany captain, but quite what they’re deliberating is anyone’s guess. Sure, he started a mere 15 Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich last season – one of the reasons he’s dropped some way down our list – due in part to a series of ankle injuries, but Schweinsteiger’s trophy cabinet speaks for itself. Forget the fact that goals and assists are at a premium, or that former Manchester United legends such as Paul Scholes have questioned his contribution this season.
You wanted backup to Michael Carrick in midfield and more leadership behind Wayne Rooney? Well, you’ve got it – and then some. And nobody knows this more than Louis van Gaal, who converted Schweini from a winger to a midfielder conductor during his time at the Allianz Arena. Pure class, and still only 31. – LM
67. Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas enjoyed an extraordinary start to his Chelsea career, providing 10 assists in his first 12 Premier League appearances for the Blues. It was perhaps a bit much to expect him to keep that up, particularly with the Spaniard playing in a deeper role from where he excelled at Arsenal or Barcelona.
Perhaps Jose Mourinho was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – he is, after all, renowned for saddling creative talents with defensive duties. While Cesc has no problem getting stuck into a challenge, it’s not where he excels. His vision and ability to pick out a pass remains among the best in the league, if not Europe – just ask Chris Brunt. Improvement is needed, but this playmaker's far from finished. – JM
66. Alexandre Lacazette
Last season was by far Lacazette’s best since turning professional. The Frenchman’s 27 goals spearheaded Lyon’s unlikely title challenge, with Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi (17) the only non-PSG player who has found the back of the net in Ligue 1 more regularly than the 24-year-old (16) since the beginning of January.
A slow start to the current campaign was put down to a public fallout with long-serving club president Jean-Michel Aulas in the summer, but Lacazette has got back to his best in recent weeks, shooting back up towards the top of the French top flight’s scoring charts. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs – including Premier League Arsenal and Chelsea – are thought to be paying close attention. – GL
There’s something about Isco. It isn’t the ungainly hack on Neymar in the Clasico, nor the immaculately groomed stubble that’s a constant part of the modern footballer’s armoury. It’s his waddle.
Some footballers glide over the turf, others resemble traction engines, legs and arms akimbo, yet the playmaker peacocks around the pitch. Backside back, chest out, he runs from his shoulders, not his legs.
This characteristic gait, combined with a low centre of gravity, is what enables the Spaniard to extricate himself from even the tightest of markers. Though trophyless in 2014/15, his goals and assists output remain high. Rumours abound of a rift with Rafa Benitez (which is hardly news at the minute), and if true, countless clubs will fancy the 23-year-old schemer. Anyone got Jurgen Klopp’s number? – AM
64. Nemanja Matic
Eden Hazard may draw most of the attention, but while there’s no questioning the Belgian’s influence at Chelsea, it’s Matic who not only dictates the play but often the result.
It's no coincidence that Chelsea’s first loss of their title-winning 2014/15 campaign was also Matic’s first absence of the league season. When Chelsea were flying in the latter stages of 2014, Matic was bursting forward and covering a lot of ground over the course of 90 minutes.
With the intensity of the Premier League, it’s unsurprising he was unable to quite maintain that level towards the end of the season, but it was a shock to see him looking lethargic in the early months of 2015/16. Like many at Chelsea, Matic had a tough start to the new season.
Being a substituted substitute in the shock home defeat to Southampton will have stung, but Matic has since shown signs of improvement, and has the ability and will to shine again in 2016. – JM
63. Gonzalo Higuain
The Argentine’s inconsistent performances in early 2015 were summed up on the final day of the Serie A season. Trailing 2-0 to Lazio and needing a win to seal Champions League qualification, the striker scored twice to level the tie only to sky a penalty that would have edged Napoli in front.
Instead, the Romans rallied to score two late goals and triumph 4-2. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Higuain then repeated the trick in the Copa America final against Chile.
The departure of Rafael Benitez led many to expect the striker to follow suit, but the attacking philosophy of Maurizio Sarri has re-affirmed Higuain as one of Europe’s most lethal frontmen; his 12 goals in 14 league games have given Napoli the chance to seal a first Scudetto since 1989/90. – BC
62. Arda Turan
It’s been a curious year for the Turk, for whom there was good news and bad news in the summer. The good, first: he’d earned a £24m move to Barcelona. The bad: because of Barça’s transfer embargo, he couldn’t play for his new club until 2016. Fellow recruit Aleix Vidal was left in the same boat, albeit a luxurious one moored a few short miles from the Camp Nou.
Arda earned his move to Barcelona thanks to his form for Atletico Madrid last term and their title-winning year a season earlier, and he was allowed to come out of his temporary club exile to captain Turkey to a place in Euro 2016 – netting in a crucial victory over the Netherlands. – CF
61. Mats Hummels
Hummels has had a tough 2015. His Dortmund side began the year joint-bottom of the Bundesliga after a horrendous first half of last season that contributed to Jurgen Klopp’s departure, but the Germany international skippered his side through a much stronger Rückrunde to help secure European football.
It wasn’t so long ago that the 26-year-old was being linked with the world’s biggest clubs, but the centre-back stayed put to help new Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel restore die Schwarzgelben to Germany’s upper echelons. It’s fair to say Hummels isn’t at the level he was two years ago too, but there’s no denying the overall class of a technically astute stopper who’ll be playing at the highest level for years to come. – JB
- The small print: how we chose the #FFT100 list