FourFourTwo's 100 best foreign Premier League players ever: 70-61
Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor, Jon Spurling, Joe Brewin, Richard Edwards, Chris Flanagan.
70. Riyad Mahrez
Before 2015/16, Mahrez had shown only fleeting glimpses of the match-deciding player he would blossom into, after a low-key and sometimes-frustrating first season in the Premier League under Nigel Pearson.
But in a shocking summer of 2015 for great escapists Leicester, Pearson went and in his place arrived Claudio Ranieri. Quite how much that change affected Mahrez can only be reduced to speculation, but the wire-legged wideman was a galvanised forced from the opening day of his team's triumphant season. The Algerian became a dazzling – and at times downright indefensible – force for the Foxes, netting four goals in the first three games of the campaign and barely lifting his foot off the gas from there.
Mahrez became rightfully relied upon as the man to manoeuvre his team beyond sticky situations; a December hat-trick at Swansea was followed up by a beautiful goal that ended Jose Mourinho's tenure at Chelsea, then two more goals at Everton which put Leicester top at Christmas. There were more – who can forget the slalom and finish at Manchester City? – in a twinkle-toed season that ended with a PFA Player of the Year award and a league winner's medal around his neck. But was it a mere one-off? JB
69. Mikel Arteta
For an illustration of how smart a footballer Mikel Arteta was, look at who he sits next to now: the Spaniard is one of Pep Guardiola's assistants at Manchester City. While that was an appointment partly determined by Arteta's experience of English football, it also spoke to his tactical acumen and ability to feel the patterns of a game.
Arriving at Everton in 2005, he spent six successful years at Goodison Park in David Moyes's establishment-upsetting side before moving to Arsenal in 2011. The more dynamic parts of his game may have faded over time, but his later career was characterised by his care for the ball and his understanding for when – and how – to involve the more celebrated attacking talents surrounding him.
He was often maligned, as nearly every possessional player is by the mainstream, but was a highly watchable midfielder who played his steady percussion in England for nearly 12 years. SSB
68. Alexis Sanchez
There may be ongoing doubts about his Arsenal future, but the former Barcelona forward remains an explosive and dynamic force in his team's attack. Equally adept at playing out wide or more centrally (it remains a moot point as to which is his best position), Sanchez has demonstrated the full range of his finishing skills this season, from his soft shoe-shuffle dummy and finish against West Ham, to his recent Panenka penalty against Burnley.
His blistering goal against Aston Villa in the 2015 FA Cup Final guided Arsenal to victory, but he'll need to win more silverware to be ranked alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Assuming he stays put, that is. JS
67. Juan Mata
What kind of person doesn't like Juan Mata? A decadently gifted playmaker who blogs to fans in his spare time and offers welcome respite from the typical footballer cliches. Smart, erudite, talented and humble; it's very hard to resist that.
His three years at Chelsea brought a European and FA Cup double and also a Europa League medal, before Manchester United paid a then-club record fee to take him to Old Trafford. It was a strange transfer at the time, apparently animated by something other than pure footballing reasons, but even as United have stumbled on their way back to the top of the game he's produced some glowing moments: that goal at Anfield, for instance, could be watched on repeat for a long time.
In Proper Football Man parlance, Mata is a 'triffic little footballer and has been a pleasure to watch. SSB