European football's 15 best players
The CIES Football Observatory has published their 100 best performing footballers in the 2017-18 season from Europe’s top five leagues – the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.
Players from the respective leagues’ champions – Manchester City, PSG, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich – dominate the top 15 positions, but there are some surprises along the way....
15. Miralem Pjanic
CIES 2017-18 rating: 88.67
Bosnian midfielder Pjanic has enjoyed an excellent season at Juventus, helping the Old Lady to yet another Serie A and Coppa Italia Double – the fourth successive season they’ve won both major domestic trophies in Italy.
Four goals and eight assists in the league, coupled with his ability to retain possession for his side, make him a key part of Max Allegri's team. Juve will wonder whether their Champions League campaign would have been different had Pjanic been available for the pivotal first-leg loss to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
CIES 2017-18 rating: 88.74
Jorginho has been in sensational form for Napoli this term, catching the eye of clubs such as Manchester United and Manchester City. The Brazil-born Italy international combines poise, elegance, technique and work rate in Napoli's engine room, setting the tempo of their play and contributing in all phases of the game.
Maurizio Sarri's side ultimately failed in their bid to win the Serie A title, but 2017-18 was still a fine campaign for the club. Jorginho, the team's midfield metronome, deserves plenty of praise for his contributions.
13. James Rodriguez
CIES 2017-18 rating: 88.97
Colombia international James has six league titles, two Champions Leagues, a Europa League, two Club World Cups, a Puskas Award, a World Cup Golden Boot and a whole host of other trophies and awards to his name – at just 26 years old.
This season he picked up a Bundesliga title while on loan at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid, scoring seven goals and 11 assists along the way. The German champions will be keen to see him return to the Allianz Arena next term.
12. Harry Kane
CIES 2017-18 rating: 89.02
Kane keeps getting better and better. Mohamed Salah may have won the Golden Boot in the Premier League, but the Tottenham striker posted his best ever goal tally by scoring 30 times in 37 top-flight appearances.
The England international has become even more ruthless in 2017-18, while continuing to hold the ball up and bring his team-mates into play with his back to goal. There's no longer any doubt about his position among the continent's best centre-forwards.
11. Kalidou Koulibaly
CIES 2017-18 rating: 89.17
Senegal international Koulibaly is one of only two out-and-out defenders to make the top 15, with the Napoli centre-half having enjoyed another superb season as Maurizio Sarri's men came so close to knocking Juventus off their perch.
Koulibaly scored the last-minute winner against Juve that seemed to hand Napoli the advantage in the title race last month, but the southern side were ultimately unable to capitalise. The 26-year-old has nevertheless impressed with his commanding defending and composure in possession.
10. Robert Lewandowski
CIES 2017-18 rating: 89.61
Lewandowski has been the top scorer in the Bundesliga for three of the last five seasons - including this one. His goals in 2017-18 powered Bayern to their sixth successive German league title, with the Polish sharp-shooter finding the net 40 times in all competitions.
Lewandowski will hope to continue troubling goalkeepers at this summer's World Cup in Russia, where Poland - drawn in a relatively straightforward group alongside Japan, Senegal and Colombia - could be dark horses.
9. Raheem Sterling
CIES 2017-18 rating: 89.76
Sterling has improved exponentially under the guidance of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola in the last two seasons, with 2017-18 undoubtedly the best campaign of his career. Eighteen league goals, a tally bettered only by four Premier League players, is evidence of the England international's progress.
Sterling also provided 11 assists in the English top flight, with his speed and footwork helping him regularly get the better of opposing full-backs. Still only 23, the winger has got plenty of time to get even better.
8. Kevin De Bruyne
CIES 2017-18 rating: 90.14
De Bruyne can consider himself unfortunate not to have won the PFA or FWA Player of the Year prizes in 2017-18; in most other seasons, the Belgian playmaker would have been a shoe-in for both awards.
De Bruyne can console himself with his first Premier League title, a success to which he contributed hugely. City's main man provided 16 assists in the top flight, while also chipping in with eight goals of his own.
6= Mohamed Salah
CIES 2017-18 rating: 90.45
Salah won a clean sweep of the individual awards for his stunning season in the Premier League, where his 32 strikes broke the record for the most goals in a 38-game season.
The Egypt international struggled to make an impression at Chelsea earlier in his career, but he's now one of the most feared forwards in Europe. His pace and trickery are impressive, but it's his ability to continually get into scoring positions which really sets Salah apart.
CIES 2017-18 rating: 90.45
Fernandinho doesn't score or create many goals, but he was arguably the most important player in Manchester City's Premier League-conquering team in 2017-18. The Brazil international sits at the base of midfield, protecting his side's defence and also instigating many of their attacks.
Fernandinho's positional sense, work rate and technical ability are all excellent, while his selflessness allows midfield team-mates David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to express themselves higher up the pitch.
5. Nicolas Otamendi
CIES 2017-18 rating: 90.47
Manchester City have rightly been lauded for their attacking prowess this season, but no team conceded fewer goals (27) in the Premier League than Pep Guardiola's.
Otamendi played a key part in such a record, with the Argentina international much improved from the rash, unreliable centre-back we saw in previous seasons. The ex-Valencia man has become a leader in the heart of City's backline, and the calls to replace him have now subsided.
4. Sergio Aguero
CIES 2017-18 rating: 90.48
Aguero's role has changed since the appointment of Pep Guardiola as Manchester City manager, with the Argentina international forced to improve his link-up play and pressing from the front. None of that has dulled his effectiveness, though: despite being rotated more often than in previous seasons, Aguero still managed to score 21 goals in 2017-18.
Some centre-forwards in Europe are more well-rounded, but few can match Aguero's clinical edge in and around the penalty area. The 29-year-old guarantees goals - he's now closing in on 150 in the Premier League.
3. Paulo Dybala
CIES 2017-18 rating: 91.37
Juventus won their seventh consecutive Serie A title this season, fighting off strong competition from Napoli to top the table once more. Dybala hasn't had everything his own way - he was even dropped by Max Allegri earlier in the season - but he's once again been fundamental to his team's success.
Twenty-two goals in 32 appearances is an impressive tally for any forward, let alone one who usually plays in a more withdrawn role behind Gonzalo Higuain. Serie A's highest-ranked player is still only 24 and is likely to improve further in the coming years.
2. David Silva
CIES 2017-18 rating: 91.69
It's been a season of one-team title races around Europe, with Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Barcelona and PSG all winning their respective championships at a canter.
City's Premier League triumph was the third time Silva has won the competition, with the Spaniard's nine goals and 11 assists helping Pep Guardiola's men dominate the division. Despite often being overshadowed by Kevin De Bruyne, Silva's importance to this City side shouldn't be underestimated.
1. Lionel Messi
CIES 2017-18 rating: 92.12
It's no surprise the best player in the world - and possibly of all time - tops this list. Barcelona may have failed in their bid to end the La Liga season unbeaten but they still eased to the title in Spain, with Messi contributing 34 goals and 12 assists to the cause.
Ernesto Valverde has often used a nominal 4-4-2 formation, with the Argentina international fielded alongside Luis Suarez but afforded the license to drift around the pitch. Not only has Messi been decisive in the final third, he's also helped build Barcelona's attacking moves from deeper areas.
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