For more on what goes into determining The Mastermind’s Top 100 of 2018 click here.
40. Diego Godin
Diego Godin’s career should be slowing down by now, but he continues to be one of the very best defenders in the world and had another fantastic year. Godin played an essential role at the 2018 World Cup in helping Uruguay to a quarter final finish and was a rock at the back for his nation in all five of his appearances at the tournament. Since then he’s continued his fine form for Atletico, featuring in thirteen La Liga matches and scoring 2 goals from his position as a centre back. However, like most Atletico players, his main contribution of the year came in the Europa League, where he demonstrated his poise and prowess in helping Simeone’s side triumph at the tournament. The 32-year old played a part in 8 of Atletico Madrid’s Europa League matches in 2017-18 and earned a place in the Team of the Season for his performances. Diego Godin should soon be eased out of the team as the likes of Jose Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez take over for good, but for now the Uruguayan defender remains one of the very best defenders in Europe.
39. Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen is one of the greatest play makers in the world and with a goal-scoring centre forward like Harry Kane along his side, the 26-year old playmaker can continue to flourish. But even without a natural scorer like Kane, Eriksen still manages to play well, such was his form at the 2018 World Cup. The Danish midfielder scored 1 goal with 1 assist in Denmark’s 4 World Cup matches and he’s been their standout player in the UEFA Nations League since then with 2 goals in 3 appearances. So far this season for Spurs, Eriksen has also provided 7 assists in addition to scoring 3 himself in 17 league matches. He’s also fared very well in the UEFA Champions League, scoring 2 goals with 1 assist in 4 matches as Tottenham head into the Round of 16. Christian Eriksen is one of the best midfielders in the world and 2018 just might have been his best year yet.
38. Giorgio Chiellini
It’s amazing to think that Giorgio Chiellini is 34-years old now. In spite of the incredible experience and footballing IQ that he brings to every match, he plays as though he’s still in his mid-twenties and he’s shown no signs at all of slowing down in recent years. The Italian centre-back has also had a very good 2018, even if Italy were unable to qualify for the World Cup. Chiellini ended the 2017-18 season brightly to help Juve claim another Serie A title and finish with a stunning 95 points in doing so. He’s carried on his good form in 2018-19 with 14 Serie A appearances in which he’s been a rock in every aspect of the game. This season he’s impressed particularly in the UEFA Champions League, organizing Juve’s defense to 4 goals against in 6 matches as they finished top of Group H. He’s also continued to be selected for Italy in the UEFA Nations League, featuring in three matches thus far. Giorgio Chiellini remains the best defender in Italy by quite some margin as Juventus continue to be the best team in the country, by quite some margin.
37. Mario Mandzukic
Mandzukic has been at Wolfsburg, Atletico and Bayern Munich, but it’s at Juventus where he’s enjoyed the happiest days of his career. And speaking of happy times, Mandzukic will likely remember 2018 as the happiest of his career. Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus has only helped Mandzukic’s form as the Croatian has scored 8 goals with 3 assists in 16 matches – somehow showing no signs of tiredness after all his exertions in Russia. Speaking of his run at the World Cup, Mandzukic was one of the standout stars of the tournament and wreaked havoc over England, France, Argentina and more on his way to scoring 3 goals in 6 matches. This all coming after helping Juventus to their seventh straight Serie A title with 5 goals in 32 appearances where he operated in a different role as a left-winger. Mario Mandzukic has to be one of the most complete forwards on the planet and 2018 was undoubtedly the finest year of his incredible career.
36. Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino is one of the best centre forwards in the world and he is able to maintain that reputation despite not even being a natural goal scorer. In fact he’s probably higher than a non-prolific goal-scorer has ever been before. That’s perhaps selling Firmino short because he actually does score and assist a ton of goals and if you give him the opportunity it is very rare that he’ll miss. As a prime example, Firmino found the back of the net 10 times in 13 UEFA Champions League matches last season as the Reds made it all the way to the final. This season he’s scored 7 goals with 3 assists in 20 Premier League matches. But the Brazilian forward does so much more than score goals. He works his socks off every single game, he’s essential to Jurgen Klopp’s high press, he defends arguably better than any other forward in the world and there isn’t a single aspect of his game otherwise that could really use all that much tweaking apart from maybe chipping in with a few more goals. That final task of chipping with a few more goals has just become all the more harder given that it’s Mo Salah who now operates in the centre forward position, with Firmino actually being a bit more withdrawn in Klopp’s new 4-2-3-1 system. Nonetheless, Firmino continues to make a massive difference at Liverpool and no matter where the Brazilian plays, he continues to impress in all regards.
35. Sergio Busquets
Sergio Busquets has been one of Barcelona and Spain’s most consistent players for the past decade and he hardly ever seems to have a bad game. Nothing was different in 2018 for the Spaniard as he continued to be at the heart of the Barcelona midfield, featuring in all 17 La Liga matches so far in 2018-19 and 31 La Liga matches in 2017-18. Busquets also had a good World Cup campaign and played well in Spain’s 4 matches and he’s continued that trend in 4 UEFA Nations League matches this year. Perhaps most key has been his fantastic form in the UEFA Champions League, completing nearly 4 tackles and 75 passes per game in his 6 appearances so far in 2018-19. Sergio Busquets hardly ever seems to have a bad game and could continue to be one of the best defensive midfielders in the world well into his mid-thirties.
34. Gareth Bale
Despite not starting off the 2018-19 campaign strongly, Gareth Bale remains one of the deadliest goal-scorers on the planet. He struggled to earn a regular place in Zinedine Zidane’s starting eleven but now under Santiago Solari, Gareth Bale is one of the club’s most important players again. However, despite earning much more regular playing time this season, Bale has only notched 4 goals with 2 assists in 14 La Liga matches this term; not the greatest tally for a world record breaking striker. The Welshman has however been fantastic for his national side in 2018, scoring 5 goals in 6 matches and his form in European competitions has also been positive. Bale has scored 3 goals and assisted 2 in 5 Champions League matches so far, while also netting 3 goals in 2 FIFA Club World Cup matches. It also cannot be forgotten how crucial of a role he played in winning Real Madrid the Champions League last season, scoring a brace in the final. 2018 certainly was not the best of years for Gareth Bale, but he hasn’t fallen off the pace all that much and remains one of the best forwards in the world.
Despite being a serial winner since breaking into Zidane’s Real Madrid, Casemiro remains the most underrated figure in their illustrious eleven. In all the struggles that Los Blancos have had this season, Casemiro has not struggled at all and continues to lead their charge back up the table. A tough tackler, a beast in the air and a calming figure in the heart of Madrid’s midfield, Casemiro does not struggle at any aspect of the game and knows his role in the team better than anyone else who has tried to fill the void. Even just forgetting about this season, the 26-year old was phenomenal in 2017-18, scoring 5 goals with 3 assists and winning close to 4 tackles per game in 30 La Liga appearances. Even more impressive was his performances in 11 UEFA Champions League matches as Los Blancos lifted the trophy for their third straight time. All Casemiro needs is Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to return to form and he’ll start to get the credit he deserves again as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
32. Miralem Pjanic
Speaking of fantastic defensive midfielders, Miralem Pjanic continues to impress for The Old Lady as they sit atop the Serie A table. The Boznian midfielder’s role has changed in recent times, going from the main creator of chances to a more Jorginho-esque figure, starting the attacks but usually not being one of those to finish them. Pjanic has featured in 16 matches this season, scoring 1 goal with 2 assists, an underwhelming figure given that he’s created 40 chances in Serie A play so far this season. Impressively however is that even despite his risk taking and long-ball passing, Pjanic has completed 92% of his passes in Serie A this season, the sixth best ratio in the league. The Boznian has also scored twice in the 6 Champions League matches he and Juventus have featured in this season and he’s continued his fine form for his national team throughout the year. Miralem Pjanic is fantastically underrated, something that is very natural for someone of his quality and caliber who does everything so seamlessly. But The Mastermind will never underrate Pjanic and he just misses out on a spot in the top 30 of The Mastermind Top 100 2018.
31. Mauro Icardi
Few footballers in the world score as many goals as Mauro Icardi. In fact, you’d struggle to find a player who has scored goals at a faster rate than his 109 goals in 172 league appearances for Inter Milan. 2018 was no different for the Argentine striker and given his record, his omission from Argentina’s World Cup squad is perhaps one of the most ludicrous things seen all year. His numbers were ridiculous in 2017-18 and he finished the Serie A season with 9 goals in his final 11 appearances. So how Argentina didn’t come calling is still puzzling. It’s a bit odd to say that Icardi’s 9 goals in 16 Serie A appearances is actually his lowest at this stage of a season since the 2015-16 season, but the way he’s led the line for Inter this season has meant that he hasn’t even needed to score as many goals to reach the headlines. Inter sit in third place in Serie A right now and they had a very good run in the UEFA Champions League, to which Icardi was critical, scoring 4 goals in 6 matches. Although I Nerazzurri were unable to progress past the group stage, their form in the competition brings great hope for what they could possibly go on to achieve in the Europa League under his leadership. If only Argentina didn’t have Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Dybala to fit into one starting eleven, Icardi could already be a legend for his national team. For now, Icardi remains one of Inter Milan’s all-time greatest players and it’s only a matter time for bigger and better things come his way – if he chooses to follow.
30. Samuel Umtiti
After a fantastic year for Barcelona and a World Cup winning campaign with France, Samuel Umtiti now has a reputation as one of the best centre backs in the world. Unfortunately for Umtiti, since the World Cup, he’s suffered through injuries and has only made 7 La Liga appearances and 2 UEFA Nations League appearances for his national team. So let’s focus on the positive. Umtiti finished up the 2017-18 campaign exceptionally well with 11 La Liga appearances on route to Barcelona’s second title win in three seasons. Most importantly, he was part of a France side that shipped just 6 goals and kept 4 clean sheets on route to winning the World Cup. He formed a formidable partnership with Raphael Varane, one that was even stronger than what he accomplished alongside Gerard Pique for Barcelona. As soon as Samuel Umtiti returns from injury, the Barcelona man could set even higher standards for himself. Despite his injury woes of late, 2018 was the best year of Samuel Umtiti’s career and it helped in establishing himself as one of the very best in his position.
29. Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho has transitioned to life in Barcelona seamlessly and had a great 2018 at Camp Nou. Coutinho scored 8 goals with 5 assists in 18 La Liga appearances to cap off the 2017-18 season and he’s started off this season reasonably well with 4 goals and 1 assist in 15 league matches. His form in the UEFA Champions League has been better though with 1 goal and 3 assists in 6 matches so far as Barcelona topped their group. But it’s form for Brazil that has impressed most in 2018, as the 26-year old has scored 5 goals in 13 matches for his country this year. He also managed 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 World Cup matches, helping Brazil to the Quarter Finals. Philippe Coutinho isn’t as important to Barcelona as he once was to Liverpool, but when he turns it on there is just no stopping him. 2018 was a fantastic year for the Brazilian and although he didn’t top form for his club, he was absolutely unbreakable for his national team.
After several years in a row of being untouchable at the top of the charts of the best left-backs in the world, perhaps now the attention has to turn to whether or not Marcelo is one of the best left-backs to ever play. It was not Marcelo’s best year by any stretch of the imagination, but he still remains the best in his position and he still continues to play a major role in all of Real Madrid’s triumphs. Always vital to everything they do, Marcelo played 11 UEFA Champions League matches last term, scoring 3 goals with 4 assists on their way to another victorious campaign. This season Los Blancos haven’t been fantastic and the Brazilian fullback has garnered the first amount of criticism he’s received in years, but his performances in 9 La Liga matches haven’t really been all that bad. It cannot be forgotten how stellar the 30-year old was at the World Cup either, although he’d trade in his personal success for a deeper run in the competition any day of the week. Marcelo may not have had his best year in 2018 but it’s down to his overall quality that he is still undeniably the best left-back in the world.
27. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
No matter where he’s playing or how he’s playing, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang always finds a way to score goals. Sometimes criticized for not doing enough in other aspects of the game, it’s hard not to call Aubameyang one of the best players in the world when he scores goals as freakishly frequently as he does. This is now the third league that the Gabon international has demolished with his pace, power and eye for goal and he’s fit right into Unai Emery’s system, regardless of if it’s as a winger or striker. This season under Unai Emery, the Arsenal man has bagged 13 goals with 3 assists in 20 league matches, equal to that of Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah. He’s also netted 2 goals in 3 UEFA Europa League matches and if that’s not enough, scored 9 goals in his first 13 appearances for Arsenal toward the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the deadliest forwards on the planet and although he might disappear for the majority of most games, it’s undeniable just how talent he truly is.
26. Toni Kroos
After leading Real Madrid to a third UEFA Champions League title in three years, Toni Kroos garnered much criticism for his performances for the remainder of the year. All the criticism has been a bit unfair, especially given the fact that his individual accomplishments at the 2018 World Cup were not all that bad and he still imposed himself over a set of players that looked like minnows in comparison to him. So Kroos hasn’t been up to his usual standards in his 12 La Liga matches this season, but what Real Madrid player has been? It’s no excuse, but when his team have played well, like in the UEFA Champions League, he’s been exceptional. The German midfielder has scored 1 goal with 2 assists and a 95% pass success in his 5 UCL matches so far, leading Los Blancos to the top of Group G. In short, much has been made about Kroos’ poor performances in 2018, but it has hardly ever been as a result of anything Kroos has actually done and instead his failure to lead a team of superstars to success in La Liga or at the 2018 World Cup. In all of this, many have forgotten that Toni Kroos is not a one-man-team and his individual accomplishments have been largely overlooked. Toni Kroos remains one of the very best central midfielders on the planet and that is another undeniable fact.
25. Marco Reus
Marco Reus has made his comeback in 2018 and had the best year of his career. As a result, Borussia Dortmund sit atop the Bundesliga table and the German forward sits atop the scoring charts. The 29-year old has scored 11 goals with 5 assists in 17 Bundesliga matches, the second highest goals + assist total in the league. He’s also scored 2 goals in 2 DFB Pokal matches and his form at the 2018 World Cup was one of the only bright spots of Germany’s campaign. He’s even impressed with a more defensive-minded approach in his 5 UEFA Champions League appearances this season, completing nearly 3 tackles and 2 interceptions per game despite being deployed as a second striker. The cherry on top of a fantastic 2018-19 league campaign so far is that he returned from one of the longest injuries of his career in February of this year to score 7 goals in 11 Bundesliga matches and oddly enough earn a selection to the Team of the Season. Marco Reus is one of the most talented players in the world and has the ability that only a select few can match. 2018 was a fantastic year for the German forward and footballing fans are going to need to get used to talking about Reus in the same vein as the very best in the world again.
24. Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane scores goal after goal, game after game, and he’s not even a striker. Few would have imagined Mane would make this level of an impact following his big-money-move from Southampton, but he’s taken to Klopp’s system fantastically well and nearly led them to Champions League glory last season. The Liverpool man is never anonymous and even when he doesn’t score always seems to play well. Mane not scoring has actually been a rare sight lately though, as he’s bagged 8 goals in 18 Premier League appearances this season. Perhaps nothing will ever top the 10 goals with 7 assists he managed in Liverpool’s stunning Champions League campaign last year and the Senegal star was perhaps Klopp’s most valuable player during their historic run. Mane continues to be instrumental again as Jurgen Klopp’s side charge toward the Premier League title and head into the Round of 16 in the Champions League. 2018 was amazing for Sadio Mane personally, but what he accomplished as part of Klopp’s fantastic Liverpool team is even more impressive.
23. Paulo Dybala
Given that Paulo Dybala has only scored 2 goals in the Serie A this season, many might think that the Argentine striker has fallen off the boil. But what you’re probably not remembering is…Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo being in your team, regardless of who you are or how good you are at scoring goals, simply means that you will have a whole lot less of the ball in attacking positions and that you will not score as many goals. That is simply the way it is. Despite that, Dybala has found the net 5 times in 5 UEFA Champions League matches, a competition in which he has never struggled to score goals in, but has taken his game to a different level this season. Although Dybala’s form in the Serie A is slightly worrying, it surely cannot last. He was probably the best player of all in the Serie A last season, scoring 22 goals with 5 assists in 33 matches. For that and his form in the UEFA Champions League in 2018-19, Paulo Dybala remains one of the standout stars in world football and retains a top thirty finish on The Mastermind Top 100.
22. Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba is one of the most talked about footballers…possibly to ever live. In 2018, he just could not stay out of the headlines, whether it was for his phenomenal performances at the 2018 World Cup, or for his constant feud with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Either way, 2018 was great for Pogba and he came out of it with a World Cup medal around his neck. He may have only scored 1 goal at the tournament, but his overall play was fantastic. Pogba dominated the midfield in every match he played in, especially the final against Croatia, which was probably the toughest midfield to dominate of them all. In his 16 Premier League appearances this season, the record-breaking signing has kept his cool to achieve 5 goals and 5 assists this season; although the bulk of those have come in the past 2 matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If he can just score one more goal, he’ll equal his tally of 6 goals in 27 matches last season, highlighting his pending improvement under a manager who will give him license to express himself. Paul Pogba is an undeniable talent and was instrumental in helping France win the 2018 World Cup. For that and all else he accomplished in 2018, the French midfielder remains one of the best players on the planet.
21. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is another Real Madrid player who has suffered criticism in light of Los Blancos’ poor form in 2018-19, but the Spanish defender has kept a cool head and has maintained a solid performance level throughout. Ramos has scored 4 goals in 16 La Liga appearances this season, and can take pride in the fact that he’s only been booked once in the league this season. He’s also performed well in 4 UEFA Champions League matches, completing 92% of his passes, and his form for Spain has been exceptional, scoring 3 goals in 4 UEFA Nations League matches. Perhaps the most justified criticism of Sergio Ramos this year is a) his performance in the Champions League final to injure both Liverpool’s goalkeeper and star man; and b) his poor performances for Spain at the World Cup in failing to help them to advance past the Round of 16. One, is for his performance in a single match that he actually played very well in and the other spans a four-match period in which Spain kept 70% of the possession of the ball resulting in Ramos barely having to actually defend at all. So again, the criticism of Sergio Ramos’ performances in 2018 are hardly justified and although Real Madrid have suffered this season, he still remains the only captain to win three UEFA Champions League titles. That in itself is something incredible that could put Ramos right up there as one of the best defenders of all time. – Signed a Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos hater.
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TOP 100 FOOTBALLERS 2018