Top 100 Male Footballers 2021 Edition (40-21)

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Two weeks 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, numbers 40-21.

40

FRENKIE DE JONG

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LAST YEAR – 76

Exceptional at the Euros and a key cog in Barcelona’s youthful lineup, Frenkie de Jong is still yet to truly fulfill his Andres Iniesta promise. Undoubtedly skillful on the ball and an elegant passer, the Dutch midfielder hasn’t been quite as sharp in 2021-22, and his passing numbers have skyrocketed down. More positively, he was arguably Barca’s best player not named Messi across the 2020-21 campaign, and he’s been instrumental to the Netherlands all year long, despite their early Euros exit.

Frenkie de Jong ranked second in La Liga for progressive carrying distance, carries into the final third, and touches in 2020-21.

39

ACHRAF HAKIMI

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LAST YEAR – 57

Achraf Hakimi firmly established himself as the second best right-back in the world last year with his stellar form between Inter and Dortmund. Funny enough, this is the first season in years that he’s actually played as a right-back instead of higher in a wing-back role. But Hakimi’s transition into a slightly more defensive role has been seamless, with PSG’s possession helping him play the exact same way he did at his two previous clubs. Readers asked us back in October if he was PSG’s most important player, and with 3 goals and 3 assists from fullback, he’s certainly up there. Top that off with his fine form for Serie A winning Inter Milan, where he scored 7 goals with 8 assists, and you can see why he’s thought of so highly.

Achraf Hakimi has an impressive +/- of 21 this season at PSG, the second highest in Ligue 1.

38

ANDREW ROBERTSON

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LAST YEAR – 18

Out of all The Guardian’s glaring mistakes in their Top 100 List, failing to include Andrew Robertson is the strangest of all. The Scottish fullback has been a rock for Liverpool all year, and was the only man to feature in every single Premier League game for Klopp’s injury-struck side in 2020-21. He’s carried on that positive form into 2021-22, with 1 goal in 5 assists already at the halfway point. Little negative things can ever be said about the Scotsman, and he still remains one of the very best left-backs in world football after several years now at the top of his game.

Andrew Robertson was the target of nearly 2,600 passes in the Premier League last season – far and away the most in the league.

37

RAHEEM STERLING

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LAST YEAR – 37

Raheem Sterling hasn’t moved an inch on our list, but 2021 has been a massively impressive year for the British striker. Sterling surpassed Southgate’s expectations at the Euros by challenging for the Golden Boot and scoring 3 goals in England’s 7 matches. Arguably England’s best player in their rise to the final, Sterling’s role in that side cannot be understated. If anything slows his ranking down it would be the first half of 2020-21, where he battled for a place on the left wing with several other City stars and couldn’t quite nail it down as his own. He still found his way toward 10 goals and 7 assists in the league as City won the double, fully impressing before he shocked fans at the Euros. 2021-22 has been another stellar season for Sterling so far, with the wing wizard now up to 7 goals in 16 league matches. All and all, it’s not been the very best year of Sterling’s career, but certainly one that increases his legacy as one of Man City’s all time greats.

Often criticized for his end product, Raheem Sterling has improved his efficiency in front of goal this season, ranking seventh in shots on target per 90, at 1.34.

36

DAVID ALABA

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LAST YEAR – 14

David Alaba and centre-back met late in life, but ever since moving into that role in Hansi Flick’s UEFA Champions League winning team, the Austrian has been one of the best around. Phenomenal in his final two years at Bayern Munich in a variety of different roles, predominantly as part of a central defense pairing with Jerome Boateng, David Alaba has not shown any signs of slowing down since moving to Real Madrid. Los Blancos sit top of the table as things stand, with the Austrian a key figure at the back to their success.

David Alaba has been the target of 977 passes in La Liga this season, the 4th highest in the league.

35

RODRIGO

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LAST YEAR – N/A

It seems shocking to say that Rodri didn’t make our 2020 list, but it was a product of Fernandinho’s rapid legs lasting longer than expected, and let’s be honest, a bit of hair-brained stupidity on our part. Since the beginning of 2021, Rodri has firmly made the number six role his own for the Sky Blues, and he’s even bumped Sergio Busquets out of the Spain squad. Perhaps more importantly, when he’s not around, City miss him dearly and don’t look half as solid in transition. He’s an absolute anchor and rock in front of the back-four, and City would not be the same dominating force without his defensive presence and killer ability in possession.

No player has won more points per match than Rodri this season, with 2.69.

34

LAUTARO MARTINEZ

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LAST YEAR – 44

The goals galore duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez were absolutely on fire last season, and the Argentinean was the understated part of that partnership that led Inter’s charge toward the title. Lautaro played in all 38 Serie A matches last season, scoring a whopping 17 goals with 6 assists. He’s on track to do even better in 2021-22, shortly after winning the Copa America with Argentina in the summer, with 11 goals in just 17 league matches so far. If he can carry over his form to the UEFA Champions League, where he and his team seem to struggle a whole lot more, Lautaro will start to earn plaudits as one of the best in the world at his position.

Lautaro Martinez leads Serie A in several attacking categories this season, including goals per 90, goals + assists per 90, and expected goals per 90. If he just played a full 90 minutes, the hypothetical in that mix would undoubtedly become reality.

33

CASEMIRO

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LAST YEAR – 28

We always seem to rank Casemiro higher than most, which is puzzling given how stellar he’s been for Real Madrid’s midfield three for years and years. He’s grown into the best player among those three for the second year in a row, leading the charge in their intense pressure and defensive solidity. No player has won more tackles in La Liga this season, and any other who could come close to him in that regard is nowhere near as important to their side’s possession going the other way. Absolutely essential to Real Madrid’s success, it’s hard to find many better defensive midfielders than the Brazilian.

Casemiro has helped his team win the ball back from nearly 39% of his pressures in La Liga this season, the sixth highest in the league.

32

HEUNG-MIN SON

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LAST YEAR – 25

Heung-Min Son dazzled in 2020, showing immense promise at the start of the Jose Mourinho era at the club. But under all the uncertainty Tottenham went through in 2021, the South Korean suffered and his insane levels dropped back to normality. While Harry Kane floundered toward abysmal despair, Son showcased more glimpses of promise even when Spurs weren’t at their best. In fact, he’s still bagged 8 goals in 16 Premier League matches this campaign. But the vast majority of his goals this year have come in the Antonio Conte era at the tail-end, demonstrating a slight amount of inconsistency for the first time in a few years.

Heung Min-Son scored 0.24 of his shots in 2020-21. It sounds low, but it’s actually the 4th highest ratio in the Premier League, and an immensely impressive statistic.

31

MANUEL NEUER

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LAST YEAR – 24

The form of Manuel Neuer in 2021 has continued to the extent where he’s still in the conversation for best keeper in the world, at 35 years old. A massive part of Bayern’s title win in 2020-21, Neuer is key to the way Bayern build out from the back, hold that incredibly high line, and keep all those clean sheets. He’s impressed all the more in the Champions League this season, boasting a save percentage of 79% and conceding just 0.5 goals per game. With incredible durability and no real injury record, Neuer could continue his dominance for Bayern for years to come.

Manuel Neuer has kept clean sheets in 35% of his Bundesliga matches so far, the most in the league by quite some margin.

30

EDERSON MORAES

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LAST YEAR – 64

Immensely impressive all year long for Manchester City, it’s hard to find many better goalkeepers in the world than Ederson. The City keeper nailed down the starting spot for his country at the Copa America, and has kept more clean sheets throughout the year than any other Premier League goalkeeper. An immense part of City’s master plan in all facets of the game, Ederson easily could have been selected for the World XI had Italy and Donnarumma not won the Euros.

Ederson has conceded just 0.67 goals per game this season, the best ratio in the Premier League.

29

SERGE GNABRY

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LAST YEAR – 16

Serge Gnabry outdid most others in our voting polls of right wingers, after another amazing year for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. The German international is already close to matching the 10 goals he scored in 2020-21 with a fantastic start to the 2021-22 season and his 9 goals with 3 assists. Gnabry also bagged 5 in 8 for Germany in World Cup Qualifying, continuing to hold down the starting birth on the right wing despite much competition. Last year was more impressive for Gnabry, but it’s still been another fantastic year for the 26-year-old.

Serge Gnabry has scored 0.76 goals per 90 across the calendar year, which ranks within the top 1% of right wingers in Europe’s top five leagues.

28

EDOUARD MENDY

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LAST YEAR – N/A

From being plucked out of obscurity to earning praise as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, it has been a massive rise for Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy since his arrival in the Premier League. Mendy has been superb since Thomas Tuchel took over, leading their stellar defense toward far too many clean sheets to count. This season he’s upped his save game too, stopping an outrageous 83% of the shots that came his way. Impeccable with the ball at his feet like any top modern goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy has played a massive part in Chelsea’s success throughout the year, including their UEFA Champions League crown.

Edouard Mendy has conceded just 0.66 goals per game this calendar year, the lowest of any keeper in the Premier League.

27

LORENZO INSIGNE

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LAST YEAR – 65

Lorenzo Insigne has been a bit underrated throughout his career, primarily down to playing for Napoli, rather than say Man City, and it’s great to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves. The Napoli legend has had a phenomenal 2021, performing remarkably well in Italy’s Euro 2020 win, and playing some of his best football at club level since his debut. He’s spearheaded Spalletti’s fight for the Serie A title so far, which Napoli are definitely in with a shout, scoring 4 goals with 5 assists. He also scored 2 at the Euros, and finished with a career high 19 goals in 2020-21’s Serie A season. A remarkably gifted footballer who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, our readers were indisputably impressed with Insigne this year.

Lorenzo Insigne got himself involved in 27 goals last season (19 goals, 8 assists), the 4th best in Serie A.

26

KEVIN DE BRUYNE

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LAST YEAR – 2

Kevin de Bruyne hasn’t played an insane amount of football in 2021, but when he’s played, he’s been his usual unstoppable self. So the peculiar thing is why readers ranked him below Jack Grealish and Marco Reus, and needed us to pull him back into daylight. It’s not like losing his place in the City side has been any fault of his own, in fact he had several injuries to overcome throughout the year. He’s worked his way back in now to score 5 goals in his 14 appearances, which equates to the sixth highest goals per 90 ratio in the league. He’s also topping the charts for shot creating actions per 90 so far this season, despite only assisting 1 goal. This is all to say that we still believe De Bruyne is still one of the best midfielders in the world, and should be treated as such.

Kevin de Bruyne ranks within the top 1% of players in his position in eight different categories tracked by FBRef in 2021, including the likes of non-penalty goals, shots, and expected assists.

25

LEONARDO BONUCCI

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LAST YEAR – 61

Arguably the best player at the European Championships in the summer, Leonardo Bonucci has proven that age is just number in 2021. The 34-year-old defender was absolutely immense for Italy in the summer, leading the team in every sense of the word from start to finish at the tournament. He’s been solid all year long for Juventus too, even scoring 3 goals in his 15 league appearances so far this campaign. Still an essential player for both club and country, Leonardo Bonucci’s career continues to show no signs of slowing down.

Leonardo Bonucci won nearly 74% of his aerial duels last season, the sixth highest in Serie A.

24

MASON MOUNT

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LAST YEAR – 81

Once thought of to be Frank Lampard’s Golden Boy and his alone, Mason Mount has now become England’s Golden Boy, in an era where so many players could stake that claim. Mount has played an insurmountable role for Chelsea throughout the year, at times their best player in their charge up the Premier League table and to the Champions League final. He then played a mountain of a role during England’s summer at Euro 2020, starting five of the seven games. Impressively, the 22-year-old has already surpassed his goal and assist tallies from the year everyone called him one of the best midfielders in the world. 6 and 5 was already good enough for a man who displayed so much positivity off the ball and defensively, but he’s already hit 7 goals and 5 assists in 17 Premier League matches this season. To be ranked higher than Kevin de Bruyne does some doing, and showcases just how much quality Mason Mount has at the tender age of 22.

Mason Mount ranks 4th in the Premier League for goals + assists in 2021-22, with 12.

23

ILKAY GUNDOGAN

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LAST YEAR – N/A

Very few players have scored more goals in 2021 than Ilkay Gundogan, and the best part – he came to Manchester City as a stay at home defensive midfielder. Gundogan’s role for City evolved in all kinds of surprising ways in 2021, and he became an un-droppable figure in their sturdy midfield unit. He’s already bagged 4 goals with 3 assists from central midfield in 2021-22, adding onto the 13 goals in 28 matches he scored last campaign. But the mobile midfielder is well-versed in all areas of the game beyond just goals, and carries a massive defensive responsibility that co-exists expertly well with Bernardo and Rodri in City’s central midfield.

Ilkay Gundogan scored 0.4 goals per 90 in 2021, the highest of any central midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues.

22

SADIO MANE

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LAST YEAR – 12

Sadio Mane struggled to find the back of the net as often as he managed in 2020, but it was still a fantastic year for the Senegalese striker. Mane contributed 11 goals with 7 assists in Liverpool’s tough 2020-21 campaign, and is off to a flying start with 7 goals in 19 matches this campaign. Always fantastic with his overall play and uber important to the way Liverpool press, Mane’s goal numbers only tell half the story of how good he truly is as a footballer.

Sadio Mane has completed 39 carries into the penalty area so far in 2021-22, the third most in the Premier League.

21

LEON GORETZKA

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LAST YEAR – 53

Ranking at the top of the charts in central midfield, Leon Goretzka has been a stalwart for Bayern Munich since the departure of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool. The German midfielder has only grown in consistency and in his importance for the club alongside one of the world’s best number 6’s in Joshua Kimmich since then, while also playing his part for Germany throughout the year. He’s not only a key member of Bayenr’s attack in unlocking an opposition defense and making late runs into the box, but he’s also come on leaps and bounds in the defensive side of the game, with a supremely high amount of tackles and interceptions for a Bayern side that spend so much time with the ball at their feet. One of the best in his position, Leon Goretzka is a complete midfielder that any team in the world would be lucky to have.

Leon Goretzka has made 2.4 interceptions per 90 this year, more than 93% of the players in his position.


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