One week ago today, we launched our voting polls for the best player in each position across the calendar year. It’s all part of our annual Top 100 Footballers list, where this year, you get to have your say. In just one week, we had hundreds of votes in each category, helping us develop a comprehensive list of the very best footballers on planet earth this year. Here is our Top 100 Footballers of 2021, as voted by you and the likes, starting first with numbers 80-61.
BEN CHILWELLEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 70
In a system that prioritizes wide play and wing-backs, Ben Chilwell has thrived in 2021 under the influence of Thomas Tuchel. He’s suffered through injuries throughout the year, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing an important part in Chelsea’s excellent start to 2021-22, and from starting in last season’s UEFA Champions League final.
Ben Chilwell has the highest +/- in the Premier League this season, at 2.67.
FEDERICO CHIESAEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Federico Chiesa had a breakthrough year at Juventus in 2021, acting as arguably their best player throughout the 2020-21 campaign, as they stuttered toward 4th place. This season, following an impressive summer with Italy, has been more difficult. Chiesa’s tireless Euros campaign ultimately burnt off the wheels, and he’s scored just 1 goal in Serie A since the summer.
Federico Chiesa has completed 2.1 tackles per 90 this season, more than 90% of the players in his position.
PAULO DYBALAEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 74
Once upon a time, Paulo Dybala was destined to be a world star, practically as good as Lionel Messi. Then Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus, stole the limelight, and Dybala was never the same. Now 28 years old, Dybala is finally finding his footing again in a world where he’s the team’s main star. His overall play has been stellar in 2021-22 in both the UEFA Champions League and Serie A, but Juve have never hit top gear.
Paulo Dybala might have only scored 5 league goals this season, but he leads Serie A in shots on target per 90, with 2.01.
PATRIK SCHICKEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Many footballing fans will remember Patrik Shick for his stellar summer at the Euros, a tournament in which he finished as the joint top scorer for a Czech Republic team that vastly outperformed the sum of their parts. But Schick’s year has been so much more than just five seconds of fame at the Euros. He’s been incredible in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen all year long, and has now scored a stunning 16 goals in just 14 appearances. When you back that up with 5 goals in 5 matches at the Euros and his solid 2020-21 campaign, it’s been a year of massive improvement for a man who failed to make it at two European giants before joining Leverkusen.
Patrik Shick has the highest XG in the Bundesliga this season (5.8), even more than Lewandowski and Haaland.
VINICIUS JUNIOREmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Vinicius Junior has always shown glimpses and glimmers of quality, but now in 2021-22, he’s finally starting to showcase that immense promise. Still only 21 years old, Vinicius Jr. has bounced off Karim Benzema brilliantly this season, scoring 12 goals with 7 assists between UEFA Champions League and La Liga matches so far. If he had showcased more than just glimpses and moments at the start of the year, the Brazilian winger would undeniably be higher on this list.
Vinicius leads La Liga in several attacking categories in 2021-22, including goal-creating actions, shot-creating actions, progressive carries, carries into the penalty area, and shots on target.
pierre-emile hojbjergEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 79
Often thought of to be a hard man who does the defensive work exceptionally well, Pierre-Emile Hobjbjerg is an exceptionally talented, well-rounded midfielder who can do absolutely everything a central midfielder should be able to do. While he applied more pressure to the opposition than any other player in the Premier League during the 2020-21 campaign, he was then given more freedom to venture forward and make magic happen further up the pitch for Denmark at the Euros. He’s then continued to be a stalwart in Antonio Conte’s plans, and despite the insane amount of minutes he’s played across the calendar year, just keeps on running.
Pierre Emile Hojbjerg completed more tackles and applied more pressure to the opposition than any other player in the Premier League in 2020-21, but he also ranked third in passes into the final third, with 235.
YOURI TIELEMANSEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
It’s practically a miracle that Youri Tielemans still plays for Leicester City. He’s been exceptional all year long, from scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final to dictating the tempo of their matches and upping his progressive passing to extreme heights. Insanely impressive on the ball and even off it, Tielemans’ time at Leicester may soon be coming to an end as he steps onto a new chapter of his career.
Youri Tielemans has completed 84 progressive passes in the Premier League this season, the 6th highest in the league.
ANGEL DI MARIAEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 34
Helping earn Argentina their first Copa America win in decades is no mean feat, but unfortunately it was Angel di Maria’s final act before he was to be outshone by his compatriot – Lionel Messi, who joined him at PSG. The 33-year-old has contributed to 6 goals in his 12 matches so far in Ligue 1, but even at Copa America the signs were clear of a man who’s career is beginning to take its final tumble. Fortunately, his 2020-21 campaign was exceptional, continuing to lead the league in several play-making and passing categories.
Angel di Maria completed 164 progressive passes in 2020-21, more than any other player in Ligue 1.
GABRIEL JESUSEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Gabriel Jesus has been battling his way into Guardiola’s plans ever since he joined, and this season has finally edged out the rest, under a new role on the right wing. The slot fits the Brazilian and his exceptional pace perfectly, where he can drive toward the box and then deliver into the penalty area for someone else to tap home. That’s exactly what’s happened on 7 occasions this season, and he’s contributed a further 5 goals in his 16 appearances between Premier League and Champions League fixtures this campaign.
Gabriel Jesus has completed 86% of his passes this season, which ranks within the 99th percentile of players in his position.
LUCAS HERNANDEZEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
It’s taken a few years, but Lucas Hernandez is now fully fulfilling the promise that he came with when he signed for Bayern Munich. He’s been a mainstay at the back for Bayern since Julian Nagelsmann took over, excelling in all aspects of the game – from possession with a purpose to defending like his life depends on it. Also a mainstay for one of the best national teams in the world, Hernandez remains one of the most versatile defenders on the planet, growing in confidence with every match.
Lucas Hernandez has tackled 71.5% of the players who have attempted to dribble past him this season in the Bundesliga, the highest percentage in the league.
CESAR AZPILICUETAEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 93
Always one of the smartest defenders around, Cesar Azpilicueta has been underrated throughout his career. This year has been no different, as the Spaniard played an insurmountable role in Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League climb. He also performed massively well at the Euros for Spain, playing in several different roles for both club and country throughout the year.
Cesar Azpilicueta has made 8 goal-creating actions so far in 2021-22. The only defender to achieve more in the Premier League is Trent Alexander-Arnold, with 11.
LUKA MODRICEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 51
The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner is still going strong, continuing to shine in Real Madrid’s stellar midfield. Modric has assisted 4 goals in 12 appearances so far in La Liga’s 2021-22 season, but also contributed 5 goals in 6 matches to Croatia’s World Cup Qualifying campaign this year. It’s miraculous how well Luka Modric continues to play at 36 years old, and a real testament to his massively impressive abilities.
Luka Modric finished third in La Liga for progressive passes in 2020-21, with 219.
TONI KROOSEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 35
Oozing class in possession, Toni Kroos has continued to be fantastic for league leading Real Madrid, ranking among the very top players in world football in several passing categories. It’s commendable all on its own that Kroos continues to be a leader in a Real Madrid and Germany set-up that have so many new midfield prospects, and a testament to his undying abilities.
Toni Kroos has completed 129 passes into the final third this season, the second most in La Liga.
KALIDOU KOULIBALYEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 49
After Juve’s long run of dominance in Serie A, new teams are beginning to emerge. One of those top teams is Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli, who have been led magnificently this season by their leader at the back, Kalidou Koulibaly. Rock solid with a heart of gold, Koulibaly is one of the most difficult defenders to dribble past, and excels in possession of the ball. Had he moved to a bigger club at some point in his career, he could have been known as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
Kalidou Koulibaly has successfully tackled 71.5% of the players who have attempted to dribble past him in Serie A this season, the highest ratio in the league.
MEMPHIS DEPAYEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 66
Exceptional at the Euros for Netherlands, Memphis Depay would have hoped his start to life at Barcelona would be different. Depay’s 8 goals in 15 matches is impressive, but it doesn’t quite match the insane form he showed for both Lyon and Netherlands before it. For example, if he hadn’t netted 12 goals in 10 matches during World Cup Qualifying, Netherlands would be lost without him. If Memphis can showcase that kind of consistency for Barcelona, he will start to justify the hefty fee the club paid for him.
Memphis Depay has drawn 46 fouls so far this campaign, the 5th highest in La Liga.
DAYOT UPAMECANOEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 90
Dayot Upamecano has only grown since joining Julian Nagelsmann at Bayern Munich, forming an unbreakable bond with Lucas Hernandez. The former Leipzig man has also started to get the attention he’s always deserved for Didier Deschamps’ France, where three of the four Bayern back-line can play together. Incredibly confident on the ball, Upamecano has also popped up with 4 assists this season, making the 23-year-old defender a regular set-piece threat.
Dayot Upamecano has completed more of his dribbles than any other player in the Bundesliga, with nearly 89% of his dribbles beating his opposition.
MATEO KOVACICEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Perhaps the most underrated player in Chelsea’s rise under Thomas Tuchel, Mateo Kovacic has played a massive part in all of the Blues’ success in 2020-21. Whenever he’s not in the side, Chelsea are far more limited in their progression of the ball and ability to break the lines. Had he never gotten injured just a month before the UEFA Champions League final, we might have been talking about Kovacic (and N’Golo Kante) in a completely different light. Before then, Kovacic was establishing himself as Tuchel’s first choice midfielder, and rightly so.
Mateo Kovacic has completed 10.3 progressive carries per 90 this year for Chelsea, which ranks within the 99th percentile of players in his position.
PHIL FODENEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – N/A
Often thought of to be the star of everyone’s dreams, Phil Foden hasn’t been able to fully establish himself as an undeniable starter for Manchester City or England this year, despite it being his best. While both teams are undeniably competitive, Foden often gets praise for his fancy footwork and silky smooth moves more than actual output on a football pitch. That said, he’s a wonderfully blessed footballer who contributes more goals and assists than just about any other 21 year old on the planet. 2021 more than any other was his breakthrough year, and he will only continue to establish himself as a world beater under the influence of Pep Guardiola.
Phil Foden ranks third in the Premier League this season for expected assists per 90, at 0.39.
JADON SANCHOEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 31
Jadon Sancho excelled at Borussia Dortmund last season, scoring 8 goals with 11 assists and completely dominating the Bundesliga with his silky smooth moves. But the 21-year-old failed to feature prominently in Gareth Southgate’s plans at the Euros, and has had a disappointing start to the 2021-22 campaign at Manchester United. Good things are still to come for Jadon Sancho, but this isn’t the first time a player has moved away from Dortmund to Manchester United only to flounder under the pressure.
Jadon Sancho completed more carries into the final third (81), and into the penalty area (51), than any other player in the Bundesliga last season.
JACK GREALISHEmbed from Getty Images
LAST YEAR – 41
Jack Grealish made our Premier League Team of the Season last year, but it was mostly for his form in the first half of the season. The second half of the campaign was riddled with injuries as Villa crashed down the table, and Grealish only returned to become a hero from the bench in England’s Euro 2020 campaign. Since moving to Manchester City, Grealish has shown glimpses of promise, but hasn’t been picked on a regular enough basis. His 2 goals and 2 assists so far leaves a lot to be desired, and City fans will be hoping he can turn his form around and justify his hefty fee in the new year.
Jack Grealish won 123 fouls last season, the most in the Premier League, despite missing a third of the season.
It’s that time of year! In this week’s Tactical Thinker, we asked you to name your PFA Team of the Year, as though you were one of the pros making the difficult selection. After a countless number of responses, we compile the top eleven players as voted by our own stack of pros – you, the readers. Here is our PFA Team of the Year, from the TMS community.
What a game. If you missed this one, seriously, go back and watch the explosion of emotions and hard-felt performances across the pitch in Chelsea’s narrow 3-2 win over Manchester City. The Citizens were dominant on the day going forward, yet Chelsea kept pushing and probing to take the lead not once, not twice, but three times. Their relentless goal-scoring when the odds seemed stacked against them ensured City always had an uphill battle to climb, and eventually became too big of a task for Gareth Taylor’s team. Here is our match analysis of the 2022 Women’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and City.
A ‘Wide Warrior’ is a full-back who hasn’t quite kept up with the modern trends associated with their position. Rather than relying on attacking threat and potency to make their name, the ‘Wide Warrior’ continues to be an ever-present at the back, doing their best work closer to goal. They excel at the defensive side of the game above all else, even if they may offer certain advantages going forward (like a wing-back), or in half-spaces (like an inverted fullback). Further, not only do they excel at the defensive side of the game, their manager has made clear intentions for that to be the most important facet of their role within the team, restricting their attacking height.