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FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017: 70-61

The Premier League dominates this section of the list, but defenders are at a premium. Spurs' backline shines, while the heartbeat of Napoli's sensational side gets some love...

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70. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

STATS insight

  • Sadio Mane has contributed to 15 goals in 17 Premier League starts at Anfield since the beginning of last season (11 goals, 4 assists)

2017 wasn't perfect for the Senegalese star by any means. The year started with a loss to Cameroon in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Then the 25-year-old missed the crucial last weeks of 2016/17 with knee injury, and his start to the new season was marred by that infamous red card for a high challenge on Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson as Liverpool were thumped 5-0.

And yet, more notably, Mane also made some dazzling contributions for club and country and is easily now among the Premier League's most watchable players thanks to his speed and trickery. Senegal have qualified for only their second World Cup in history, while Mane was on target in Liverpool's biggest matches at Anfield this year, endearing him to Reds' fans everywhere.

Highlight: Mane was magnificent in home wins against Everton and Arsenal (twice), but his finest performance came when he scored twice in three minutes in April's 2-0 win over Tottenham.

Words: Michael Yokhin

69. David Alaba (Bayern Munich)

STATS insight

  • David Alaba has averaged 21.5 final-third passes per 90 minutes this season, the highest average among Bundesliga defenders

Alaba was perhaps the best left-back in world football when Bayern Munich won the Treble, but he's since struggled. A combination of injuries, new positions and different head coaches have meant the now-25-year-old hasn't quite developed as many expected.

But there's a reason the Austrian is closing in on 300 appearances for Bayern: his ability to get to the byline and deliver is still there, as is the burst of speed and occasional threat from set-pieces.

His interplay with Franck Ribery is outstanding, and Bayern will have to transfer that to the post-Frenchman era if they want Alaba to get back to his best.

Highlight: Since the return of Jupp Heynckes, Alaba's form has notably improved. Against Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 11, there were plenty of signs that the player of old was returning.

Words: Jonathan Harding

68. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

STATS insight

  • Jan Vertonghen leads Tottenham with 32 tackles and 123 clearances in the Premier League this season. Only Kieran Tripper (30) has made more blocks than the Belgian (29)

A year of real growth. Reputationally, Vertonghen is still the little brother to Toby Alderweireld at Tottenham and needs his countryman alongside him to produce his best, but 2017 has certainly seem him develop into a more stable, less impulsive defender.

That being said, the last 12 months have also offered a reminder of what a fine footballing defender he’s capable of being. He carries the ball elegantly and his first-phase passing into midfield has often been exemplary; many a Spurs move starts at his feet.

Highlight: Winning his 97th cap for Belgium in October against Cyprus and becoming his country’s record appearance-maker. Now on 98 caps, an international century awaits him in the new year.

Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor

67. Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

STATS insight

  • Alba was the only defender to record at least 6 assists in both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons across Europe's five major leagues. He already has 5 assists this season

Alba has contributed 17 assists for Barcelona in La Liga since the start of the 2015/16 season, but his overlapping bursts down the left have proved one of the Catalans' calling cards for almost a decade. While coaches have changed, his approach hasn't, and his pace and timing are key when getting to the byline.

After falling out of favour in the later stages of Luis Enrique’s reign at the Camp Nou – mainly due to a 3-4-3 formation which meant he spent time on the bench – the arrival of Ernesto Valverde and sale of Neymar have helped Alba claim back the left-hand side. When used in combination with Andres Iniesta, they make a formidable blend of cunning and athleticism.

Highlight: A swashbuckling performance against Espanyol in September, where he picked up two assists and proved that he will be key under Valverde.

Words: Simon Harrison

66. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)

STATS insight

  • Since Alderweireld joined Tottenham in 2015, Spurs have won 60.3% of the Premier League matches that he has started and only 42.9% of the games without him in their starting XI

Perhaps the easiest way of quantifying Alderweireld’s worth in 2017 is to look back on what Tottenham were without him. In late 2017, a hamstring injury forced him out of Mauricio Pochettino’s line-up and, predictably, the defence melted.

Alderweireld has a clear technical worth - he’s probably the finest long-range passing defender in the league, and is outstanding both on the floor and in the air - but he brings intangibles to his side which they dare not be without. He is an organiser and a leader. That package continues to make him the finest centre-back in the country.

Highlight: Standing firm in the Bernabeu during Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Real Madrid. Playing inside makeshift full-back Jan Vertonghen and behind a central midfield of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, Alderweireld was the tough elastic which allowed the visitors to bend without breaking.

Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor