FC 100: Liverpool, Bayern dominate, USMNT stars break into our annual ranking of soccer's best players

ESPN Illustration

We're nearly at the end of 2020, which means it's time for ESPN's annual ranking of the best men's players and coaches in world soccer! Welcome to the FC 100.

This year, our fifth edition of the countdown has a lot of surprises and new faces -- more on that later -- as well as two teams rising above the rest to dominate the list. As always, our list is broken down into 10 Top 10s for every position on the pitch as well as managers, making for the most meaningful and deep look at the talent across the men's game from goalkeeper to striker.

NAVIGATION

Jump to: Goalkeepers | Right-back | Centre-back | Left-back | Central midfield | Attacking midfield | Wing | Forward | Striker | Manager

Read the FC 100 in: Spanish | Portuguese

Previous editions of the FC 100: 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016

The top spots were dominated by two clubs: Bayern Munich, winners of the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League, and Liverpool, winners of their first league title in 30 years. They claimed every No. 1 spot except for two, ATTACKING MIDFIELD and FORWARD -- see if you can guess who took those prizes? -- as our voters leaned into their on-field domination.

A couple of other themes emerged in this year's ranking, too:

-- New names, new faces

This was arguably the most diverse and most refreshed FC 100 since we began in 2016. Nearly half the list -- 47 out of 100 -- were either new to the FC 100 or not ranked in 2019, which reflects not only the challenges of the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic but also the turnover of top players and the generational "passing of the guard" to a younger group of superstars. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund), Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan) and Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) all pop up after transcendent seasons, as do Leon Goretzka (Bayern), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) and Houssem Aouar (Lyon).

This kind of refreshment is exactly what we're seeing in the game as aging legends fade and new stars are made.

-- Americans are back?

It might not seem like much, but after being shut out in 2019 for many reasons, the USMNT gets two into the 100 this time around: Christian Pulisic returns -- after a stellar 2020 until injuries hit -- and Sergino Dest, a newcomer to the U.S. scene since choosing to rep the Yanks late last year. Dest cracked the Top 10 at right-back after a superb campaign with Ajax, a summer transfer saga with Bayern Munich and Barcelona, and an eventual move to the Spanish giants, where he became the first U.S. player to start in a Clasico, as well as the first American to score a goal for the storied club.

But enough preamble; here's how we did the list.

To compile the 2020 edition of the FC 100, 65 ESPN FC experts (from editors to writers, TV talent to former players) from around the world were given a list of about 250 players and managers to make their selections.

Here's the key: We didn't use one megalist with all players mixed together -- such conceits inevitably favor attackers, because everyone loves a good goal, don't they? But that isn't fair to those engaged in the dark arts at the back. So instead, we broke down the world's best players by position in a 4-3-3 formation, plus manager. Each expert then contributed a Top 10 for each category, and we crunched the numbers and did a final review with a select few writers.

Agree with our picks? Disagree? Now comes the fun part. FC 100: It. Is. On.

NOTE: All player ages are as of Nov. 20

GOALKEEPER

The modern goalkeeper isn't just there to stop shots. He's also the first step in building attacks; whether with a long, accurate throw or a raking crossfield pass, it's the first major evolution for the position since the "sweeper-keeper" became a thing thanks to Manuel Neuer. Agility and reflexes are a given, but confidence, vision and assertive play are vital, too.

Player capsules by Elaine Teng


10: David De Gea

Club/country: Man United/Spain

Age: 30

2019 rank: 9

De Gea has been a constant through United's many ups and downs since he joined the club in 2011. He has faced a lot of criticism over the past nine years -- some fans think he should be dropped for 23-year-old Dean Henderson -- but De Gea is tied for the most Premier League clean sheets in United's history (112, shared with Peter Schmeichel) and made the second-most PL appearances (411) between the posts. Last season, only Liverpool and Manchester City conceded fewer goals, a huge part of why the Red Devils managed to finish third despite a poor start.

High point of 2020: Between February and July, De Gea kept nine clean sheets -- the most in the league -- to help United go from seventh to third (and likely saving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's job at the same time).


9: Samir Handanovic

Club/country: Inter Milan/Slovenia

Age: 36

2019 rank: Not ranked

Last season, Inter fell one point short of seizing the Serie A crown from Juventus and made it to the Europa League final. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez got much of the praise, but credit should also go to Handanovic's rock-solid performances between the posts. Inter conceded the fewest goals in the league, and their wily captain kept 13 clean sheets. At 36, his reflexes remain sharp, his presence imposing, and he's super adept at the full-stretch highlight save.

High point of 2020: A superb save against Getafe's Nemanja Maksimovic helped Inter through to the Europa League quarterfinal and, ultimately, the final.


8: Gianluigi Donnarumma

Club/country: AC Milan/Italy

Age: 21

2019 rank: Not ranked

Consider this: Donnarumma made his Serie A debut five years ago, has played over 200 games for Milan and is firmly established as the legendary Gianluigi Buffon's successor for Italy. And he's 21 years old. Despite his club's managerial chaos and financial turmoil, he has been a pillar of calm and consistency, keeping at least 10 clean sheets in each of his five seasons and steadily improving his passing accuracy. The Rossoneri are off to a flying start this term, and the sooner they can tie Donnarumma down -- his contract expires next summer -- the better their chances at long-term success.

High point of 2020: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the goals in Milan's 2-1 derby win over Inter, but Donnarumma made a key save against Romelu Lukaku in his first game back after testing positive for the coronavirus to cement their victory.


7: Keylor Navas

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Costa Rica

Age: 33

2019 rank: Not ranked

Navas doesn't get as much attention as many of his colleagues on this list, but that doesn't make him less deserving. At Real Madrid, his teammates used to call him "Keylor Paras" ("Keylor Stops"), and he's lived up to that name after moving to Paris. In his first season at PSG, he kept five clean sheets -- trailing Bayern's Manuel Neuer by just one despite playing 191 fewer minutes -- to guide his team to the Champions League final. In terms of European success, few can usurp him: He has played in four of the past five Champions League finals -- and won three of them.

High point of 2020: Making save after save against Atalanta in the Champions League quarterfinal to keep PSG's hopes alive before Neymar & Co. orchestrated a dramatic late comeback.


6: Ederson

Club/country: Manchester City/Brazil

Age: 27

2019 rank: 4

At his best, Ederson can feel like an extra outfield player who also happens to be fantastic at stopping shots. The perfect keeper for Pep Guardiola's brand of possession-based football, his scarily accurate long balls start many a City attack. City have struggled with injuries and have been uncharacteristically fragile at the back, but last season Ederson still managed to keep 16 clean sheets, earning him the Premier League Golden Glove. As they look to wrest the league title back from Liverpool, City will need him at his best on both offense and defense.

High point of 2020: Raheem Sterling scored the winner against Arsenal in October, but Ederson made spectacular saves to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka to get City back on track.


5: Thibaut Courtois

Club/country: Real Madrid/Belgium

Age: 28

2019 rank: Not ranked

Real Madrid didn't always look as though they would win the league last season, but Courtois was a giant in goal. He conceded 20 goals in 34 league matches, kept 18 clean sheets and boasted the highest save percentage in La Liga. But he has been known for making some outrageous gaffes now and again. In November, during a Nations League match against Denmark, the Belgian No. 1 let a back pass roll straight past him into goal. If Belgium, the top-ranked team in the world, are to win the Euros next year, Courtois will need all of his focus.

High point of 2020: Winning his first La Liga title with Real Madrid.


4: Marc-Andre ter Stegen

Club/country: Barcelona/Germany

Age: 28

2019 rank: 3

In September 2019, Ter Stegen rushed out of the penalty area, beat a Getafe attacker to the ball and played a long pass into the opposite box for Luis Suarez to calmly lob into the goal. That assist was classic Ter Stegen, a confident sweeper-keeper who's comfortable with the ball at his feet and can convert saves into counterattacks in a flash. The German doesn't get as much attention in a team full of attacking superstars, but he plays a pivotal role in Ronald Koeman's plans as he looks to take Barcelona back to the top of La Liga.

High point of 2020: Claiming his second career assist in December 2019, when Antoine Griezmann ran onto his goal kick to score against Mallorca.


3: Jan Oblak

Club/country: Atletico Madrid/Slovenia

Age: 27

2019 rank: 2

In the six seasons Oblak has tended the Atletico goal, they've conceded fewer than 30 goals each campaign. The efficient, reserved Slovenian is the perfect keeper for Diego Simeone's hardworking, disciplined side. He made nine saves -- more than any keeper in the tournament -- in a man-of-the-match performance away at Liverpool in last season's Champions League to send Atletico through to the quarterfinals. There are more glamorous players in football, but few are as consistent or as effective.

High point of 2020: Liverpool had 72% possession and 34 shots at the Wanda Metropolitano in March, but they couldn't get past Oblak.


2: Alisson

Club/country: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 1

The consummate modern goalkeeper, Alisson can turn defense into offense in the blink of an eye. Equally calm on the ball with his hands and his feet, he was instrumental in Liverpool's charge to their first Premier League trophy in three decades. In January, he even notched an assist when he played a long upfield pass to Mohamed Salah, who made it 2-0 against Manchester United. (Alisson was so delighted he sprinted the length of the pitch, past all of his teammates, to celebrate with the Egypt international.) Liverpool's long injury list this season, especially in central defense, means Alisson is more crucial to their hopes of retaining the title than ever.

High point of 2020: Helping Liverpool end their 30-year wait for a Premier League title.


1: Manuel Neuer

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 34

2019 rank: 5

EDITOR'S NOTE: Neuer and Alisson finished tied on overall points after the tallying of ballots, but Neuer was awarded first place by virtue of receiving more first-place votes from the FC voters, with 19 to Alisson's 18.

Germany's sweeper-keeper looked to be slowing down as he reached his mid-30s, but in the past 12 months, the 34-year-old has been back at his imperious best. Seven years since he most recently won a treble with Bayern, Neuer lifted the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League trophies in 2020 as club captain. He made a string of crucial stops in the Champions League final to deny PSG, including a spectacular double save against Neymar. In October, he kept his 200th clean sheet for Bayern, a club record. At times it seems attackers are intimidated just knowing he's in goal.

High point of 2020: Winning his second Champions League title, though an eighth consecutive Bundesliga trophy is no small feat, either.

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RIGHT-BACK

At one point, right-backs were considered the least skilled players on the pitch, but the next generation brings boldness and unpredictability. Positional awareness, pinpoint crossing and breakneck pace separate the best from the rest.

Player capsules by Stephan Uersfeld


10: Sergino Dest

Club/country: Barcelona/United States

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

It's been an incredible year for the young defender. After just one season and 23 appearances for Ajax's first team since debuting in July 2019, Dest has been on a dizzying upward trajectory, becoming the first American to sign for La Liga giants Barcelona after being involved in a transfer saga that also included Champions League winners Bayern Munich. Not the worst options! The Dutch-born player, capable of playing either full-back position, is considered one of the best young U.S. internationals since committing in October 2019, and he has already shown in four appearances for Barca that he can solve their issues at right-back.

High point of 2020: Starting the Clasico, becoming the first American to feature in Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, and even winning Barca's man-of-the-match award in the 3-1 defeat.


9: Kieran Trippier

Club/country: Atletico Madrid/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: 8

Now in his second La Liga season with Atleti, Trippier has fully embraced his new life away from Tottenham and the Premier League. He's an integral part of Diego Simeone's first XI and has started and finished every match of the 2020-21 season. Playing at right-back at the club level, he's versatile enough to play a more advanced role for England, featuring as a wing-back in Gareth Southgate's 3-4-2-1 formation. Though England have a lot of competition for full-back spots, Trippier's experience, work rate and pinpoint accuracy with crosses could be crucial in the Three Lions' bid to compete at the Euros in the summer.

High point of 2020: Trippier's best moment came in a "return" to England. In one of the last big matches played in front of fans before the coronavirus shut down the sport, Trippier was instrumental in Atletico's 3-2 win at Liverpool back in March, ably shutting Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson down before coming off in extra time.


8: Ricardo Pereira

Club/country: Leicester City/Portugal

Age: 27

2019 rank: 3

The dynamic defender started all but one of Leicester's 29 Premier League matches before the pandemic, but we're still waiting to see him back in action. His absence due to an ACL injury has been a major challenge for the Foxes, who have missed Pereira's pace and poise on the flank. Before that, Pereira had been involved in 471 duels, more than any other defender across the top five leagues in Europe. Without Pereira, Leicester dropped out of the Champions League spots at the end of the 2019-20 season, proof of his importance to Brendan Rodgers' plans.

High point of 2020: It's rare for defenders to show up on the scoresheet, but Pereira put together a superb game against West Ham in January, notching a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win.


7: Hans Hateboer

Club/country: Atalanta/Netherlands

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Thriving in his role at wing-back for Atalanta, Hateboer was an integral part of one of Europe's most exciting teams last term as the unheralded Italian side came within a late PSG goal of reaching the Champions League semifinals. A force in aerial duels and his side's intricate passing game, he pairs a superhuman work rate with positional intelligence in a demanding position. The 26-year-old was snapped up by Atalanta from Dutch side Groningen for less than a million euros in 2017 and has since become a fixture in the Dutch national team. There's every chance he'll take another step up next summer and move to one of the European giants.

High point of 2020: An impressive two-goal performance in the Champions League round of 16, first leg, against Valencia. Not only was it his only game with goals in 2019-20 but it put the tiny Serie A side into the Champions League's last eight in Lisbon.

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1:21

Alexander-Arnold takes FC 100's top spot for second year

Gab Marcotti praises the impact Trent Alexander-Arnold has had at Liverpool.


6: Jesus Navas

Club/country: Sevilla/Spain

Age: 35

2019 rank: Not ranked

Navas didn't hold back his tears when Sevilla won the 2019-20 Europa League in Germany this summer. Having begun his senior career at the club in 2003, winning two UEFA Cups and two Copa del Reys, clinching the Europa League at age 34 was seen as just reward for the Spain international. Indeed, he seemingly has gotten better with age since leaving Manchester City for his boyhood club in 2017.

High point of 2020: As team captain, Navas contributed an assist against Inter Milan in the final as Sevilla won the competition for the sixth time since 2005.


5: Kyle Walker

Club/country: Manchester City/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: 5

A reliable defender under Pep Guardiola, Walker might not have the attacking power of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Achraf Hakimi, for example, but he's been one of the steadier City performers since joining the club in 2017. On the pitch, he patrols City's right side with high tempo, physicality and an unrivalled intensity. In his 30s and with an apparent leadership void in the City squad since Vincent Kompany's exit, Walker has been a vital lieutenant for Guardiola.

High point of 2020: Scoring the winner -- but not celebrating it! -- against one of his former clubs, Sheffield United, in his 100th Premier League appearance for Manchester City.


4: Dani Carvajal

Club/country: Real Madrid/Spain

Age: 28

2019 rank: 4

It's hard to find anyone more consistent at right-back over the past couple of years. He has fended off the threat of losing his place in Madrid's first XI with another outstanding season, looking so good that his presumed replacement, Achraf Hakimi, returned from a loan at Borussia Dortmund only to be sold to Inter Milan. Carvajal isn't a flashy right-back, known more for his work behind the ball, but he's also been a superb support to Karim Benzema whenever he's able to get forward and play crosses into the box. Carvajal was a part of the Real side that won La Liga for the first time since 2016-17, and despite his missing the start of the campaign through injury, his imminent return will boost Zinedine Zidane's squad immensely.

High point of 2020: Was superb in both Clasico clashes last season, results that played a key role in Real Madrid's title challenge.


3: Benjamin Pavard

Club/country: Bayern Munich/France

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

Pavard is still far from being a household name, though the young defender was arguably Bayern Munich's unsung hero of a Treble-winning season. Having joined from relegated VfB Stuttgart in 2019, he provided the stability at right-back that allowed Joshua Kimmich to move into a permanent defensive midfield role. Less attacking than some of his Bundesliga right-back peers like Hakimi, he still scored four goals and set up seven in all competitions in his debut season at the Allianz Arena. The €35 million transfer fee for the France defender looks to be a bargain even though his unspectacular style of play gets him few plaudits. Oh, and Pavard is also capable of putting in a shift at centre-back to further enhance Bayern's myriad options.

High point of 2020: In his first league match under Hansi Flick, Pavard was superb, notching an assist as Bayern demolished Borussia Dortmund 4-0 midway through last season.


2: Achraf Hakimi

Club/country: Inter Milan/Morocco

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

A spectacular, adventurous two-way player capable of brilliance on either side of the ball, Hakimi has fast become one of the best right-backs in world soccer. After scoring six goals and providing six assists for Dortmund last season and forming a superb relationship with England star Jadon Sancho while on loan in the Bundesliga, Hakimi joined Inter Milan this summer and has continued to entertain on the wing. One of the fastest defenders in the game, his sloppy passes have caused headaches for teammates at times, though he is always quick to make up for mistakes with attacking contributions.

High point of 2020: Down 2-0 at half-time, Hakimi's brace in the Champions League group-stage match against Inter Milan turned around the tie for Dortmund (they went on to win 3-2).


1: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Club/country: Liverpool/England

Age: 22

2019 rank: 1

The kid from Liverpool is living the dream at Anfield. Liverpool followed up their remarkable Champions League win in 2018-19 with their first league title in 30 years, and Alexander-Arnold once again was vital to the Reds' success. The young defender, who was originally a midfielder in the Liverpool academy, continues to define, and redefine, what full-back play can be in the modern game. His set pieces are a constant threat, and his crosses cause havoc in the penalty area. The England international remains on the way up, but a muscle injury has curtailed his progress this season. That said, the future looks bright for a player who has won 77 of 101 Premier League appearances for his boyhood club.

High point of 2020: Notching two assists for Virgil van Dijk in the 2-1 win against Brighton in late November, both from set pieces. It was one of the key wins for Liverpool en route to their first-ever Premier League title.

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CENTRE-BACK

Being a great central defender requires more than size, assertiveness and strength. Some of the modern greats are cultured in possession; others are the epitome of no-nonsense force. The best central defenders combine timing and power with elegance and poise under pressure.

Player capsules by Tom Hamilton


10: Marquinhos

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil

Age: 26

2019 rank: 8

The PSG defender was at the forefront of the Ligue 1 champions' journey to the Champions League final in 2019-20. His versatility means PSG boss Thomas Tuchel sometimes uses him in the heart of their midfield, but that has been a bone of contention, with sporting director Leonardo keen to see Marquinhos at centre-back. Wherever he plays, the Brazilian is influential. He's seen as the long-term successor for Thiago Silva, who left for Chelsea in the summer, and is not afraid to speak his mind when asked for his opinion. This made him the perfect candidate to be PSG's new captain, with the club's former defender Jean-Marc Pilorget describing Marquinhos as "unflappable on the field."

High point of 2020: Superb in PSG's Champions League campaign, scoring two key goals against Atalanta and RB Leipzig to help the side into the final.


9: Jules Kounde

Club/country: Sevilla/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

Rated as one of the world's best young centre-backs, Kounde's brilliant season led to a "magnificent" transfer offer from Manchester City, according to Monchi, the club's sporting director. Monchi later praised Kounde's response to the rejected bid, saying he displayed "professional and respectful behaviour." City eventually went for Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias, but Manchester United are also interested in the man who now has his sights on supplanting Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano with the France national team. Having moved to Sevilla from Bordeaux for £22.5m ahead of the 2019-20 season, he's since helped them to the Europa League title last season and is an important figure in their Champions League aspirations this term.

High point of 2020: Had plenty of eye-catching performances last season, but was singularly magnificent in their quarterfinal win over Wolves in the Europa League.


8: Matthijs de Ligt

Club/country: Juventus/Netherland

Age: 21

2019 rank: 3

The Dutch centre-back completed his big-money, €75 million move to Juventus ahead of the 2019-20 campaign and, in doing so, followed in the footsteps of his idols, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro. Initially, then-coach Maurizio Sarri planned to integrate him slowly, but Giorgio Chiellini's long-term injury saw the young defender thrust into the first team. He made a shaky start, but despite battling a shoulder injury in 2020-21, he's become an integral part of the Juventus defence. Juve's 2-0 win at Bologna in June was the match in which De Ligt really announced himself in Serie A. "He was only born in 1999, and he has been catapulted into a new way of playing. He's smart," Chiellini said of De Ligt. The CIES Football Observatory ranks De Ligt as the most valuable central defender in the world, putting his current value at an eye-watering €105m.

High point of 2020: Neatly summed up in his performance against Lyon in the final 16 of the Champions League when he battled on despite having his head cut open early in the match.


7: Aymeric Laporte

Club/country: Manchester City/France

Age: 26

2019 rank: 4

Laporte's importance at Manchester City is perhaps best illustrated by his absence. There's a popular school of thought that if Laporte hadn't suffered a knee injury that ruled him out for four months, the Premier League title race would have been far closer last season. "We have missed him a lot; he's the best left central defender in the world," City boss Pep Guardiola said of Laporte. "Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. He is fast, strong in the air." Laporte is one half of a formidable partnership at the back for City alongside new signing Ruben Dias, and they will form the foundations for another push for trophies. Laporte is still waiting to make his debut for the French national team, such are Didier Deschamps' embarrassment of riches for France, but it's a matter of when, not if.

High point of 2020: Simply seeing him back in action after a long layoff. Laporte is so important to City that Guardiola had to warn against his return back in January being seen as the single answer to solving all of their defensive worries.


6: Raphael Varane

Club/country: Real Madrid/France

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

Yet another French international on the list, Varane is one-half of Real Madrid's formidable partnership alongside Sergio Ramos, though the 27-year-old has endured a mixed 2020. He was indispensable in Real's watertight rear guard en route to the league title, with Los Blancos conceding just six in 11 games after the restart, and Varane's friends and teammates, like France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, aren't concerned. "He is a great champion above all else," Lloris said. "He has great experience. He is a leader in our team." And his Real Madrid teammate Eden Hazard has also been impressed: "I've come across some fantastic defenders during my career, such as John Terry and Vincent Kompany. I think that although [Varane] is still young, he's already one of the best centre-backs of all time." Despite questions over his form -- he still ranks fourth in Europe's big five leagues for aerial defensive duels won this season -- he always fronts up, takes responsibility and seeks improvement.

High point of 2020: Playing 32 league games as Real clinched their first La Liga crown since 2016-17.


5: Dayot Upamecano

Club/country: RB Leipzig/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

The young Frenchman has been linked with just about every European giant after another strong season, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich reportedly at the front of the queue. "As for the future, I'm not sure [if Upamecano will stay] as he is very talented," Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann told ESPN. "Lots of clubs will want to buy him -- perhaps next season, it could be real that he leaves the club." Even though he's just 22, Upamecano plays with authority at the back, unafraid to carry the ball out of defence but also positionally aware to know when to take a safer option. Alongside Kounde, Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte, he's one of a number of brilliant defenders at France boss Didier Deschamps' disposal.

High point of 2020: In a season when RB Leipzig got to the semifinals of the Champions League, he was at his commanding best in their quarterfinal win against Atletico Madrid.


4: Kalidou Koulibaly

Club/country: Napoli/Senegal

Age: 29

2019 rank: 2

There's not a transfer window that goes by without a handful of the European giants being linked with the Napoli defender. The latest team to chase the 6-foot-5 Senegal international was PSG in the summer, but Napoli were resolute in rejecting any offers that fell short of their €75m asking price. "I had no doubts, he is one of the strongest champions in the world in his role," Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso said in September of Koulibaly. He's now his national team's captain and was rated by ex-Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina as the best centre-back he's played behind. The future remains uncertain for Koulibaly with a number of teams forever linked with him -- Liverpool could go back in for him amid their defensive injury crisis -- but for now, he is indispensable to Napoli.

High point of 2020: Though Napoli finished second to Juventus again in the league, Koulibaly was superb in the Coppa Italia final as his side bested the league champions on penalties.


3: David Alaba

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Austria

Age: 28

2019 rank: 2 (left-back)

What can you say about one of the most versatile defenders in the modern game? Alaba started last season at left-back under previous coach Niko Kovac, only to finish it as a triple-winning centre-back. The Austrian player's contract is up at the end of the season, and Bayern Munich are bracing for his exit -- expect the likes of Liverpool to be interested. Bayern manager Hansi Flick says Alaba "holds the defence together," while Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in August likened Alaba's impact at centre back to the transformational qualities of Franz Beckenbauer. "We haven't had a 'chief' in defence for some time now, one who really takes the reins in hand and sets the tone there and simply acts as the head of the defensive unit -- he did that," Rummenigge said.

High point of 2020: There were numerous standout moments for Alaba, but the past 12 months will be remembered as the time Bayern Munich swept all before them, winning the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League.


2: Sergio Ramos

Club/country: Real Madrid/Spain

Age: 34

2019 rank: 5

The Real Madrid talisman continues to be a polarising figure, but love him or hate him, he is a truly remarkable player. His Real teammate Toni Kroos calls him the "absolute captain" and the "best you can have." Despite his age, Ramos would still walk into most sides and will be a top free agent if he opts against extending his stay at Real Madrid after this season. In the meantime, he continues to set records, having passed the 100-goal mark for Los Blancos and also set a record with his 45th El Clasico appearance when Real Madrid beat Barcelona 3-1 in late October. Ramos is still indispensable for Spain at the international level, too, with Luis Enrique calling him a "unique, different level" defender, and he recently set a record there as well, with his 177th Spain cap against Germany, the most appearances at international level for anyone in the men's game in Europe.

High point of 2020: Los Blancos supporters will remember his key penalties in Real's back-to-back 1-0 wins over Getafe and Athletic Bilbao in July, as they continued their charge to the 2019-20 La Liga title.


1: Virgil van Dijk

Club/country: Liverpool/Netherlands

Age: 29

2019 rank: 1

It's testament to Van Dijk that when he suffered his season-ending injury against Everton in October, the mood around Liverpool changed. Gigi Wijnaldum said that the squad had suffered "sleepless nights," while Jurgen Klopp admits Van Dijk is irreplaceable. "Every team in the world would miss Virgil van Dijk," Klopp said soon after his injury. "He is the best in the world." Up to that injury, the Dutch international had missed just one Premier League game for Liverpool after signing from Southampton for £75m in January 2018.

High point of 2020: Playing every single minute (and scoring five goals) in Liverpool's 2019-20 Premier League-winning season, the club's first league title in 30 years. Need we say more?

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LEFT-BACK

Top left-backs are as comfortable locking down an opposing winger as they are turning into one when their teams are in possession. Some aren't even left-footed, using their positional awareness to drift infield and be another central defender or midfielder if needed.

In the modern era, no positions touch the ball more than full-back, making the best of them simply indispensable.

Player capsules by Alex Kirkland


10: Ferland Mendy

Club/country: Real Madrid/France

Age: 25

2019 rank: 7

Mendy established himself as Real Madrid's undisputed first-choice left-back this year after coach Zinedine Zidane requested his signing in the summer of 2019. In the biggest games, against Barcelona in La Liga or Manchester City in the Champions League, Mendy -- not Marcelo -- gets the nod. Mendy might lack his teammate's eye-catching skills, but he offers a defensive solidity that helped the team keep clean sheet after clean sheet post-lockdown. He's no slouch going forward, either.

High point of 2020: His only goal for the club so far, a thunderous near-post finish against Granada as Real Madrid closed in on the La Liga title.


9: Marcelo

Club/country: Real Madrid/Brazil

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Marcelo's reputation and history -- and Real Madrid's title win -- see him make this list even though, by his own standards, he had a disappointing year. The 32-year-old started fewer than half of Real Madrid's games in 2019-20, and the defensive lapses that have made him an occasional liability during a hugely successful club career became increasingly common. Since Zinedine Zidane returned for his second spell in charge, in 2019, Madrid have lost nine league games, and Marcelo started all of them. No one doubts his talent and personality, though, and on his day, there are few footballers who are more fun to watch.

High point of 2020: Winning his fifth league title in 14 years as a Real Madrid player.


8: Ben Chilwell

Club/country: Chelsea/England

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Chilwell was an important part of Leicester City's impressive 2019-20 campaign, and his August move to Chelsea -- after a drawn-out transfer saga that saw Leicester demand a world-record fee for a defender before accepting "only" £50m -- cemented his status as one of English football's best young players. Wasting no time at Stamford Bridge, Chilwell provided a goal and assist on his Premier League debut. Coach Frank Lampard says he's "fantastic," praising Chilwell's "ability to be so high up the pitch when you want him."

High point of 2020: A glorious 90th-minute goal vs. Watford in Leicester's first game back in June, which was somewhat spoiled by Watford equalising three minutes later.


7: Theo Hernandez

Club/country: AC Milan/France

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

This has been a year of rediscovery for the young Frenchman as he finally started to resemble the powerful, expansive full-back it was hoped he'd become when he graduated from the Atletico Madrid academy alongside his older brother, Lucas. Hernandez excelled on loan at Alaves in 2016-17, looked out of his depth at Real Madrid in 2017-18 and was decidedly average at Real Sociedad in 2018-19. At Milan, though, he's been a revelation. Hernandez scored six goals in Serie A last season, with Opta rating him as the best left-back in Italy.

High point of 2020: A crisp, volleyed finish in a 3-2 win over Udinese in January.


6: Sergio Reguilon

Club/country: Tottenham/Spain

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Arguably the best full-back in La Liga last season, Reguilon was a blur of constant movement on the left flank of Julen Lopetegui's Sevilla team as they cruised to a top-four league finish and won the Europa League. But, remarkably, Real Madrid chose to cash in, selling him to Tottenham off the back of that impressive loan. It's true that Real have a buyback clause, but why wait for a season or two? Reguilon is good enough to be starting for Real Madrid right now. In the meantime, he's become an integral part of Jose Mourinho's Spurs side, one that has a very real shot at winning the Premier League.

High point of 2020: Winning the Europa League in his last game for Sevilla.


5: Raphael Guerreiro

Club/country: Borussia Dortmund/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Guerreiro doesn't attract the headlines of others on this list -- or of some high-profile teammates at Dortmund -- but he quietly had the best season of his career in 2019-20. Coach Lucien Favre's tactical switch to a 3-4-3 formation helped enormously, enabling Guerreiro to operate in the wing-back role to which he is best suited while minimising the defects that hold him back as a pure full-back or winger. A well-rounded player, he contributed an impressive eight goals to Dortmund's second-placed Bundesliga finish. At 26, he's approaching his peak, and chose to sign a new deal in October 2019 despite reported interest from Barcelona and PSG.

High point of 2020: Scoring twice in Dortmund's 4-0 derby win over Schalke in May.


4: Alex Sandro

Club/country: Juventus/Brazil

Age: 29

2019 rank: 4

Taking fourth place in our list for the fourth year in a row suggests Sandro is consistency personified. Into his sixth season at Juventus and soon to turn 30, he remains one of the most reliable performers in world football in his position. (Juventus were so excited about signing him in 2015 that they published a glowing story on the team website about his myriad qualities.) Sandro isn't quite as dangerous going forward as you might expect, though there aren't any real weaknesses to his game. Brazilian great Roberto Carlos said in 2015 that Sandro was his true "successor," and few can argue with his assessment.

High point of 2020: Scored Juventus' third goal in a 3-3 roller-coaster draw with Sassuolo, then cleared a potential winner off the line.


3: Jordi Alba

Club/country: Barcelona/Spain

Age: 31

2019 rank: 3

Alba is past his peak and looks to have been left behind by Spain at the international level, but he's still Barcelona's undisputed first-choice left-back. His link-ups with Lionel Messi -- once one of the most fruitful attacking partnerships in football -- remain dangerous, albeit less frequent. Alba has set up three goals this season under new coach Ronald Koeman. His defensive failings are well known, and unlikely to change at this stage. Barcelona have tried to prepare for life after Alba -- the Spain international will be 32 in March -- but Lucas Digne and Junior Firpo have already failed to supplant him at the Camp Nou.

High point of 2020: Whatever it was, it wasn't Barca's 8-2 defeat to Bayern.


2: Alphonso Davies

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Canada

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

Davies' emergence as a world-class player has been thrilling to watch. Take his assist in Bayern's 8-2 Champions League demolition of Barcelona, when he evaded Lionel Messi, left Arturo Vidal on the floor and flummoxed Nelson Semedo before cutting the ball back for Joshua Kimmich to tap in. Was there a more memorable setup in 2020? "I was almost ashamed of how happy I was after scoring, because it was 99% his goal," Kimmich said afterward, and it was hard to disagree.

High point of 2020: That assist, obviously, though winning a domestic/European Treble with Bayern was also extremely special.


1: Andy Robertson

Club/country: Liverpool/Scotland

Age: 26

2019 rank: 1

This year's title win, ending Liverpool's 30-year wait, was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Robertson. In three years at Anfield, he's gone from Premier League prospect to, quite simply, the best left-back in the world. It almost seems wrong to call him "left-back" given how prolific he is in attack, racking up 23 assists in the past two Premier League seasons from a defensive position. In terms of creating chances, taking set pieces and working tirelessly off the ball, he is a cut above. He racked up his 100th Premier League appearance for the club, and the £10m that Liverpool spent on Robertson in 2017 from Hull City increasingly looks like one of the best bits of transfer business ever.

High point of 2020: Liverpool won the league. You might have heard about it.

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CENTRAL MIDFIELD

The key to playing central midfield is a good sense of rhythm: knowing when to speed up in transition and when to slow the pace. There are many forms, too: the tough tackler, box-to-box machine and the nimble playmaker. It's about seeing the whole field -- and exploiting it.

Player capsules by Sam Marsden


10: Marco Verratti

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Italy

Age: 28

2019 rank: 9

It has been a stop-start year for most players amid the coronavirus pandemic, but especially for Verratti. The French league decided to curtail the 2019-20 season in March, and when PSG eventually returned to competitive action in the French Cup final and Champions League in the summer, Verratti was injured. He reappeared as a substitute in the CL semifinal win over RB Leipzig before featuring for 25 minutes in the final against Bayern. However, while staying fit remains a problem, his absences from Thomas Tuchel's side serve only to highlight his importance. PSG are a different side with pass-master Verratti in their midfield, and he's also playing a big role in the rejuvenation of the Italian national team under Roberto Mancini.

High point of 2020: Completing a domestic Treble with PSG.


9: Luka Modric

Club/country: Real Madrid/Croatia

Age: 35

2019 rank: Not ranked

Modric might be in the twilight of his playing career, but he's still getting it done in one of the most demanding midfields and for one of the most demanding fan bases. The Croatian midfielder's ability on the ball and his vision of the game have always been his strong suit. It's how he casually guided Croatia to the World Cup final in 2018 and picked up the Ballon d'Or -- the first player not named Messi or Ronaldo to win it since 2007 -- in the same year. That's why Zinedine Zidane still trusts him to deliver at the highest level.

High point of 2020: Scored his first-ever El Clasico goal last season as Real surged to the title at their rivals' expense.


8: Frenkie de Jong

Club/country: Barcelona/Netherlands

Age: 23

2019 rank: 2

The Dutch midfielder was the poster boy of European football when he joined Barca from Ajax for €70 million in 2019, but his first season in Spain showed him that not everything is always rosy in football. After excelling as the deepest midfielder at Ajax, he is playing a more attacking role under first Ernesto Valverde and later Quique Setien in Spain. Despite being moved around and having to adapt to a new country and a new language, De Jong showed glimpses of his talent, and there are signs of improvement in his second season at the club. Under his third coach at Camp Nou -- his compatriot Ronald Koeman -- he looks more comfortable in a "double pivot" (a pair of deep-lying midfielders who shield the defense and share creative responsibilities), and Barca hope he can rule their midfield for the next decade.

High point of 2020: Has played every minute for Barcelona in La Liga this season.


7: Fabinho

Club/country: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 27

2019 rank: 6

The Brazilian won the Champions League in his first season with Liverpool and the Premier League title in his second. Not bad, right? He has excelled for Jurgen Klopp's side at the base of the midfield as an imposing figure who also offers a touch of class on the ball. He was incredible in the 3-1 win over Manchester City in November 2019, opening the scoring. His versatility is increasingly important, too. He played as a full-back earlier in his career at Real Madrid and AS Monaco, but is just as comfortable slotting into central defense for the Reds after a serious injury to Virgil van Dijk.

High point of 2020: Played 28 games in Liverpool's first-ever Premier League title win.


6: Jordan Henderson

Club/country: Liverpool/England

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

There are more glamorous players at Liverpool, but England international Henderson took the plaudits for his side's Premier League triumph last season. For his performances on the pitch, his influence as the club's captain and his work with the #playerstogether initiative during the coronavirus lockdown, he's finally getting the respect his career has demanded. Henderson is not a highlight-reel player at the base of the Reds' midfield, but his hard work, unfussy style of play and passionate captaincy remain essential to the Reds' success. He's never been a player who captures the imagination at Liverpool -- or anywhere, for that matter -- but there's a reason his is the first name Jurgen Klopp puts on the team sheet.

High point of 2020: A Premier League title, anyone?

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1:57

Laurens: No one better than Kante at what he does

Julien Laurens is full of praise for N'Golo Kante, who finishes just 5th in ESPN's FC 100.


5: N'Golo Kante

Club/country: Chelsea/France

Age: 29

2019 rank: 1

Eden Hazard once said that Kante is so good that he plays like two men in midfield, and who can argue? Understated and always willing to let more talented teammates get the glory, Kante is the perfect pivot for club and country. Though injuries and a positional change under then-Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri reduced his effectiveness, there are signs under Frank Lampard that he is refinding his best form. Back at the base of the midfield and with a stellar attack ahead of him, his relentless work in winning the ball back and distributing it could prove just as important as the goals and assists Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner contribute.

High point of 2020: Helped Chelsea to finish runner-up in the FA Cup despite missing much of the season through injury and concerns around COVID-19. Also passed 150 appearances for the club despite transfer interest from PSG.


4: Casemiro

Club/country: Real Madrid/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 5

To classify Casemiro as a "destroyer" in midfield is to do the Brazil international a disservice. He offers much more to Madrid than just protection to the back four, and you could even argue he's become their most important player. When he doesn't play, Madrid struggle. He missed three league games last season, and Madrid won only one of them. Madrid conceded four at Valencia in November when he was absent with the coronavirus. He also has developed a knack for scoring important goals: twice in the 2-1 win against Sevilla last season, and the winner in the 1-0 victory at Espanyol as Madrid closed in on the league title. He was also on target against Borussia Monchengladbach in October as Zinedine Zidane's side came from behind to draw 2-2 in the Champions League. The other goal was scored by Karim Benzema, but guess who set it up? Casemiro.

High point of 2020: Playing 35 games in the coronavirus-impacted La Liga season en route to the league title, his second since joining the club in 2013.


3: Toni Kroos

Club/country: Real Madrid/Germany

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

Kroos is into his seventh season with Madrid and remains as important to Zinedine Zidane's side as ever. Take it from ZZ himself, who enjoys simply watching the German midfielder at practice. "I love to watch Toni train," Zidane said. "I love to be there for his training sessions. They're exceptional sessions. I'm not saying it for the sake of it. It's true. I've never seen him lose the ball. Well, maybe once. His game is always elegant and efficient. He never has a bad day." Even Pep Guardiola, who managed Kroos at Bayern Munich, raved about his former charge in a 2020 documentary: "The players that shout the most are those that hide when things go badly. Toni is the opposite, he's the bravest of them all in the most difficult moments." Before last season, Kroos had won La Liga once, but his consistency in Madrid's 10-game winning run -- Casemiro said earlier this year that "Real Madrid matches always go in Kroos' rhythm" -- when football resumed in June helped Los Blancos end a three-year wait for the Spanish title.

High point of 2020: Playing 35 games and adding several key assists on the way to Real's La Liga title, their first since 2016-17.


2: Thiago Alcantara

Club/country: Liverpool/Spain

Age: 29

2019 rank: Not ranked

Thiago turned heads this summer when he signed for Liverpool, but it wasn't the transfer that shocked people; rather, it was the fact that other elite teams across Europe didn't put up a fight to sign him instead. Despite a string of challenging injuries throughout his career, Thiago has ability and creative skills that have never diminished. Even last season he missed the run-in in the Bundesliga, although before that he had been influential in Bayern's turnaround under Hansi Flick, and he returned in time for the Champions League knockout phase to exert his authority on the competition. At his best, he's a peerless deep-lying playmaker, perfect for unlocking packed defenses -- something Liverpool face often -- with a clever pass or swivel of the hips. He makes everything look so simple and was the best player on the pitch in the final in Lisbon -- completing 85 passes, more than any other player (Kimmich managed 78) -- as Bayern beat PSG to clinch the Treble.

High point of 2020: Finishing his final season at Bayern in style, with a domestic/European Treble and, most notably, his first Champions League winners' medal since he got one with Barcelona in 2010-11.


1: Joshua Kimmich

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: 2 (right-back)

Kimmich is a coach's dream. Last season, he alternated effortlessly between the right-back and defensive midfield positions. He even filled in at centre-back occasionally, though coach Hansi Flick prefers him in midfield, especially since the sale of Thiago to Liverpool. For old time's sake, it was at right-back, with Benjamin Pavard returning from injury, where he took on the role of chief creator in Bayern's run to Champions League glory in the summer. He scored one and created four of his side's goals in the quarterfinal stage, including assisting the winner in the final for Kingsley Coman. Still just 25, he is Bayern's present and future.

High point of 2020: He was instrumental in Bayern's first Champions League win since 2012-13, Jupp Heynckes' final season with the club.

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ATTACKING MIDFIELD

The best attacking midfielders have a sense of mischief, capable of cracking a robust defensive set with improvisation or magic. Greats make the most of their free roles to entertain, create and convert.

Player capsules by Sam Marsden


10: Jack Grealish

Club/country: Aston Villa/England

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

Big things have been expected from Grealish since he made his Premier League debut at 18 for Aston Villa in 2014. However, it's over only the past 12 months that he has really kicked on. He's a more mature, productive player on the pitch and, after helping Villa stay up on the final day of last season, he's started the new season in red-hot form for club and country. A midfielder who excels with the ball at his feet and who knows how to create space, it's not hard to understand why he's been linked to both Manchester United and Manchester City in 2020.

High point of 2020: Grealish scored twice and set up three goals in Villa's extraordinary 7-2 win against Liverpool in October.


9: Houssem Aouar

Club/country: Lyon/France

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

The Lyon side that reached the Champions League semifinal last season was brimming with talent, but the jewel in the Ligue 1 side's crown was undoubtedly Aouar. He tore apart Juventus and Manchester City in an advanced midfield role, setting up four of Lyon's five goals against the two European giants as they set up a final four meeting with eventual winners Bayern. A quick-footed creator with trickery in abundance, Aouar resisted a summer move to the Premier League, though it's just a matter of time until his skills enhance a bigger club and on a bigger stage.

High point of 2020: Taking Lyon to within 90 minutes of the Champions League final with a string of match-winning performances.


8: Paul Pogba

Club/country: Man United/France

Age: 27

2019 rank: 6

Few players divide opinion quite like Pogba. France teammate Antoine Griezmann told ESPN that Pogba is the "most underrated player in the world," but not everyone would agree. He has arguably flattered to deceive since returning to Manchester United from Juventus for €100m in 2016 -- together, they've won just one League Cup and a Europa League in four seasons -- but the underlying feeling is that he is still one of the best box-to-box midfielders on his day. He is capable of the sublime, if he can stay fit. Last season was tainted by injuries -- he was restricted to 21 appearances, scoring just one goal -- but with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at Old Trafford and a settled XI under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the conditions are ripe for Pogba to show his best.

High point of 2020: Setting up the crucial second goal after coming off the bench in a Champions League group stage win at Paris Saint-Germain.


7: Bernardo Silva

Club/country: Manchester City/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: 1

Silva was not able to live up to his excellent 2018-19 campaign last season, but when on form, he remains one of Europe's most creative midfielders. Even so, he still managed to score six goals and record seven assists as Man City finished second in the Premier League in 2019-20. However, he didn't even make it off the bench as City were stunned by Lyon in the Champions League quarterfinal when the tournament resumed in August. His aim this season is to win his place back in the City XI by rediscovering the form that led coach Pep Guardiola to say: "Right now, it's Bernardo and 10 more players."

High point of 2020: Notched a goal and an assist against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semifinals, putting City on course to win their only trophy of the 2019-20 season.


6: Kai Havertz

Club/country: Chelsea/Germany

Age: 21

2019 rank: 8

Chelsea have lacked a dominant playmaker from midfielder for years, but in signing Havertz, the No. 10 spot is secured for years to come. Havertz is mature beyond his years: as a 20-year-old last season, he steered Bayer Leverkusen to a fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga with 12 goals. He also scored in four out of five Europa League games as Leverkusen reached the final eight, where they lost to eventual runners-up Inter Milan. Many expect him to become one of the best players in the world, and he's already a regular under Frank Lampard at Chelsea, who was "overwhelmed" with his new signing's humility and quiet confidence upon arrival in England.

High point of 2020: Taking Leverkusen to the final eight of the Europa League was good, but a hat trick in a League Cup win over Barnsley was a nice moment early in his Chelsea career.

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De Bruyne is the FC 100's best attacking midfielder

Gab Marcotti reacts to Kevin De Bruyne being named the best attacking midfielder in ESPN's FC 100.


5. Leon Goretzka

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

Goretzka's physical transformation since signing for Bayern from Schalke has mirrored the German club's rise back to the top of European football. The once-slender midfielder looks more like a bodybuilder than a soccer star these days, having put on a tremendous amount of muscle. The extra bulk has helped keep him healthy, and Bayern benefit from his resilience: He was integral in Bayern's dominant Treble-winning season, weighing in with eight goals and 11 assists. "The day I was unveiled at Bayern, I said I'd like to assume a role of responsibility within the team," Goretzka said this summer, "and I'm moving more in that direction now. Maybe also imposing myself a bit more as I've got physically stronger. And that's a development I'm pleased with." Aggressive without being reckless and assertive without racking up yellow and red cards, Goretzka is, as former RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick puts it, "the best box-to-box player in the world."

High point of 2020: Played a big role in Bayern's Treble-winning season.


4: Alejandro "Papu" Gomez

Club/country: Atalanta/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Gomez is one of the great Atalanta success stories. Plucked from Metalist Kharkiv for just £4m in 2014, he's now regarded as one of the world's best midfielders. He even got a recall to the Argentina national team at the age of 32, three years after he won his fourth cap. He is arguably the frontman for this band of unfashionable players who have turned into European powerhouses under Gian Piero Gasperini. His record of seven goals and 16 assists in the Italian top flight belies his true influence: He is the conduit for his team's attack (a team that scored the most goals in the Italian top flight last season) and his form saw him named Serie A midfielder of the year.

As Atalanta captain, Gomez also played an important role in helping heal Bergamo. Atalanta's Lombardy region was hit hard by COVID-19 back in March, recording over 16,000 deaths because of the pandemic. Atalanta became a symbol of hope for that part of Italy, and their charge to the Champions League quarterfinals was as much for the region as it was for the players. During lockdown, Gomez used his social media platform to share "life hacks" such as how to repurpose plastic bottles, or offering indoor workout plans.

High point of 2020: Returning to the Argentina national team after years without a call-up.


3: Bruno Fernandes

Club/country: Manchester United/Portugal

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Fernandes has been so good since signing for Manchester United for an initial fee of €55 million that it seems as though he's been there for years. In 14 Premier League appearances last season, he scored eight goals and created seven more, confirming that he could do in England what he'd done in Portugal, where he hit 20 goals in the Primeira Liga in 2018-19. Fernandes has done more of the same at the start of this season, with goals and match-winning performances against Brighton and Everton. He's not even been at Old Trafford for a year, but he's already United's talisman.

High point of 2020: Was instrumental in Man United's return to the Champions League and third-place finish in 2019-20.


2: Thomas Muller

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 31

2019 rank: Not ranked

Not only has Muller been one of the best players in the world over the past year, with his own unique sense of humour, but he's also one of the most entertaining. Muller was so good in the early 2010s they named a position after him -- the "Raumdeuter" ("interpreter of space") -- but the past season has been a seesaw of emotions. He started the 2019-20 season exiled under previous Bayern boss Niko Kovac and was contemplating leaving, but when Hansi Flick took charge, he put Muller slap-bang in the middle of his attacking lineup and Muller delivered. He finished the most recent campaign with a record-breaking 21 assists in the Bundesliga and helped Bayern deliver a remarkable Treble -- aided by his two goals in their 8-2 dismantling of Barcelona. His form has led to widespread calls for Joachim Low to bring him back in from the cold for Germany, but Low is still trying his best to ignore them.

Muller has also provided us with a huge amount of enjoyment off the pitch. His social media account is wonderfully personable, and his impression of the Road Runner in describing Alphonso Davies' pace was brilliant. And he has now offered a second word into the football lexicon, with "Lewan-goal-ski" now alongside his very own position, even though he's not sure whether the definition fits his style. "I'm always on the prowl. But I'm also more than just a 'Raumdeuter.' My skills on the ball are also very good. But of course, my great strength is making runs with the right timing."

High point of 2020: Playing an instrumental role in Bayern's three-trophy season.


1: Kevin De Bruyne

Club/country: Manchester City/Belgium

Age: 29

2019 rank: 2

Manchester City missed out on the title to Liverpool last season by an 18-point margin, but De Bruyne's work did not go unnoticed. In 35 Premier League appearances, he set up 20 goals for his teammates, matching the record for assists in a single season held by Arsenal great Thierry Henry. He also scored 13 goals for Pep Guardiola's side as they ended the season in second place. De Bruyne won't want to come second again, meaning his motor and creativity will be pivotal to City wrestling the title back from Merseyside.

High point of 2020: Matching the Premier League's single-season assist record.

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WING

Wingers still have a role to play in the modern era. Their pace and persistence on the flanks give their teams another angle of attack; their ability to cut infield and shoot adds a dimension too.

Player capsules by Alex Kirkland


10: Vinicius Junior

Club/country: Real Madrid/Brazil

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

Vinicius still feels more like a bundle of raw attributes -- pace, trickery -- than a fully formed player. He frustrates as often as he thrills, a view shared by his own Real Madrid teammates at times, as evidenced by Karim Benzema blasting Vinicius to another player while the Brazilian watched back in October. But when Real Madrid need a goal or a different dimension in attack, they turn to Vinicius. Half the time, even he doesn't look as if he knows what's going to happen next, but maybe that's the point. In a modern game that is so often defined by rigid tactical discipline, his unpredictability can be priceless.

High point of 2020: Scoring the opening goal against Barcelona in El Clasico in March, a match that saw the title race start to tip in Real Madrid's favour.


9: Eden Hazard

Club/country: Real Madrid/Belgium

Age: 29

2019 rank: 3

Hazard called 2019-20 "the worst season of my career" and it's hard to argue. He was out of shape on his arrival at Real Madrid, and an ankle fracture in November followed by another in February meant Hazard was essentially an irrelevance in their title win. At least the campaign's delayed conclusion allowed him to recover in time to make some unremarkable late appearances. Serious questions have been asked about the wisdom of Madrid investing so much -- reportedly up to €160m -- in Hazard in 2019, especially when he would have been available for free a year later. No one doubts his world-class talent, though, and we might still see a player who was once the Premier League's best repeat that form in a Real Madrid shirt.

High point of 2020: A stunning long-range goal against Huesca in October 2020 suggested that better things could be just around the corner.


8: Lucas Ocampos

Club/country: Sevilla/Argentina

Age: 26

2019 rank: Not ranked

Sevilla transfer guru Monchi rarely gets a deal wrong, but the bargain €15m signing of Ocampos from Marseille must rank among his best acquisitions ever. At that point, the Argentinian looked like a solid professional, albeit performing below the potential he'd shown as a youngster at River Plate, with underwhelming spells in Ligue 1 and Serie A. At Sevilla, he has developed into the best winger, and one of the most effective players in any position, in La Liga. His boundless reserves of energy are a perfect fit for Julen Lopetegui's exhausting, all-action brand of football. One game summed up his season: Not only did Ocampos score in Sevilla's 1-0 win over Eibar in July but he also went in goal when keeper Tomas Vaclik got injured, even making a crucial save in the ninth minute of added time.

High point of 2020: It's tempting to say the Europa League win, but let's face it: the brilliant madness of stand-in keeper Ocampos saving from actual Eibar keeper Dmitrovic (yes, really) in the 99th minute is hard to beat.


7: Kingsley Coman

Club/country: Bayern Munich/France

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

There was a cruel poetry to the manner of Paris Saint-Germain's 2020 Champions League final defeat. Having spent over a billion euros to get within touching distance of the trophy they crave above all others, they were denied by a headed goal from Coman -- one of their own, discarded youth products. Coman joined PSG at the age of 10 and became their youngest-ever debutant at 16 before deciding to continue his career elsewhere. Still improving and into his sixth season at Bayern, he has an experience beyond his years and a trophy cabinet to match.

High point of 2020: Scoring the winner in a Champions League final against his former club.


6: Christian Pulisic

Club/country: Chelsea/United States

Age: 22

2019 rank: Not ranked

Pulisic's first season in England might have ended on a sour note, with him looking distraught as he limped off with a hamstring injury in Chelsea's FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, but that shouldn't obscure what had come before it. Pulisic did enough that day at Wembley -- and in the 2019-20 season as a whole -- to suggest that all the hype around the U.S. star is absolutely justified. Nine Premier League goals from 25 appearances was an impressive return for a wide player, and more than twice as many as he ever scored in a season at Borussia Dortmund, which suggests he's progressing nicely under coach Frank Lampard despite those injury problems.

High point of 2020: That fifth-minute FA Cup final goal.

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0:57

Is FC 100 winner Mane the smartest player at Liverpool?

Gab Marcotti believes Sadio Mane "smartness" is one of the reasons he tops ESPN's FC 100.


5: Angel Di Maria

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: 7

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe get all the attention, but Di Maria is every bit as important to Paris Saint-Germain's success. Just look at the 3-0 semifinal win over RB Leipzig that put them through to their first Champions League final. With a goal, two assists and five key passes, it was a near-flawless performance. It's no surprise coach Thomas Tuchel loves him. Di Maria has been remarkably consistent throughout his time at PSG, and at 32 looks better than ever. Don't be surprised if the Parisians look to extend a contract that expires next summer.

High point of 2020: A masterful performance in the Champions League semifinal against Leipzig.


4: Jadon Sancho

Club/country: Borussia Dortmund/England

Age: 20

2019 rank: 4

Sancho's year was nothing short of extraordinary. Seventeen Bundesliga goals -- behind only Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner -- and 16 assists are gobsmacking figures for any player, let alone a kid with 84 senior games under his belt. The scariest thing is that this feels like just the beginning. His form early this season has dipped, with some speculation linking that swoon with a failed summer move to Manchester United, but there's no reason to think it's more than a temporary blip. Sancho's thrilling, mutually beneficial partnership with Erling Haaland will surely be flourishing again.

High point of 2020: Becoming the first player in Europe's top leagues to hit double figures for goals and assists last season.


3: Serge Gnabry

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany

Age: 25

2019 rank: Not ranked

One of the first names on the team sheet for European champions Bayern and the German national team, it's almost unfathomable that he was, once upon a time, failing on loan at West Brom and struggling to crack the starting XI for Arsenal. Gnabry is the complete package -- speedy, skilful, smart, strong -- and the ideal wide man for Hansi Flick's ferocious Bayern team. He's an absolute nightmare for any defender -- just ask Barcelona, after their backline was torn apart in an infamous 8-2 humiliation in Lisbon in August. Even in a team full of elite performers that night, Gnabry stood out with a first-half goal and assist. A hat trick in Bayern's 8-0 thrashing of Schalke in September suggested there's much more to come, too.

High point of 2020: His incandescent performance against Barcelona in the Champions League.


2: Raheem Sterling

Club/country: Manchester City/England

Age: 25

2019 rank: 1

The 2019-20 season was Sterling's best when it comes to scoring goals. He netted 20 in the Premier League alone, more than teammates Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus. It was ultimately a disappointing season for City -- second in the league and beaten by Lyon in the Champions League quarterfinals -- but Sterling's reputation as a player continues to grow, as does his knack of timing runs into the box to finish City's typically flowing attacking moves. His next steps: helping City finally deliver in Europe and performing for England at Euro 2020.

High point of 2020: A Premier League hat trick against Brighton in July that proved he's more than just a winger and provider.


1: Sadio Mane

Club/country: Liverpool/Senegal

Age: 28

2019 rank: 2

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are such an impressive unit that it's easy to underestimate the team's constituent parts. That's especially true in attack, where Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane combine so seamlessly as a trio that we probably don't appreciate just how good Mane is as an individual. Is any player more fun to watch? Or more of a headache to face? Or a more complete package? He has so many strengths to his game -- pace, touch, work rate, finishing ability -- that it's hard to highlight any one. Former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher says Mane is pushing John Barnes for the title of Liverpool's best left winger ever.

High point of 2020: A four-minute brace in Liverpool's 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September that showcased all of his qualities.

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FORWARD

The best players in the game seem to have positions as hard to define as their individual talents. They're a potent mix of attacking midfield, winger and centre-forward, but also have the intelligence and quick thinking to know where to be.

Player capsules by Elaine Teng


10: Josip Ilicic

Club/country: Atalanta/Slovenia

Age: 32

2019 rank: Not ranked

Josip Ilicic was playing the best football of his life before COVID-19 hit Bergamo, Italy. In the 2018-19 season, he scored 12 goals in 31 games to help Atalanta qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history, and maintained that form the next season. He netted four goals against Valencia to put the Italians through to the quarterfinal, at one point outscoring Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A. In July, he suddenly went on leave for personal reasons, later revealed to be depression after contracting COVID-19. He's made a slow return to action this season, but his stellar pre-pandemic play earns him a spot on this list.

High point of 2020: Scoring four goals against Valencia in the Champions League round of 16


9: Marcus Rashford

Club/country: Manchester United/England

Age: 23

2019 rank: Not ranked

Rashford notched 17 goals and eight assists last season to keep an uneven Manchester United team in the top four, but his biggest wins came far away from Old Trafford. In June, after he heard the British government had decided not to provide free school meals for low-income kids over the summer, the 23-year-old wrote an open letter to Parliament urging them to change course. The government reversed its decision within a day. Rashford has continued his campaign, working with Britain's biggest food companies to reduce poverty and starting a book club for kids, and is still in superlative form as the focal point of Manchester United's attack.

High point of 2020: A classy hat trick against RB Leipzig in a 5-0 Champions League group-stage win on Oct. 28.


8: Paulo Dybala

Club/country: Juventus/Argentina

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

Dybala hasn't been the dominant forward many believe he should be. Outshone at Juventus by Cristiano Ronaldo, he's struggled to assert himself under Andrea Pirlo's management and has been linked with a move away from Turin. And yet, the 27-year-old was named Serie A's MVP last season, helped Juve to a ninth consecutive title and is undoubtedly one of the world's most talented attackers. Perhaps a move out of Ronaldo's sizable shadow is what he needs.

High point of 2020: Winning his fifth Serie A title with Juventus.


7: Son Heung-Min

Club/country: Tottenham/South Korea

Age: 28

2019 rank: 5 (wing)

If there's one Tottenham player thriving under Jose Mourinho, it's Son. Since the mercurial manager took over a year ago, Son and his attacking partner, Harry Kane, have been unstoppable. If Son isn't assisting Kane, Kane is assisting Son. In the second week of the season, the South Korea international scored four goals against Southampton, all of which were set up by the Englishman. Though when needed, he can do it alone, too: witness his mesmeric, Puskas Award nominee goal against Burnley back in December, when he collected the ball at the edge of the Spurs area and ran the length of the field, evading six tackles and bypassing everyone before calmly slotting the ball home. This blistering form has earned him contract extension talks, with Spurs expected to offer him around £200,000 a week ($266,000). Off the pitch, the global shutdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Son finally had time to complete his mandatory military service in South Korea -- and earned an award doing it.

High point of 2020: Son's best start to a season won him the Premier League Player of the Month in October, the first such prize for a Tottenham player since 2018.


6: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Club/country: Arsenal/Gabon

Age: 31

2019 rank: 7

It's a testament to Aubameyang's importance to Arsenal that keeping him in North London was seen as the key to manager Mikel Arteta's rebuild. The club captain capped an excellent 2019-20 campaign by converting a penalty and scoring the winner against Chelsea in the FA Cup final (though his subsequent dropping of the trophy might be even more memorable). Versatile, speedy and an excellent finisher, he will be called upon to take Arsenal back into the top four. Luckily for Gunners fans, he signed a new three-year deal in September.

High point of 2020: Beating Chelsea to win the FA Cup as Arsenal captain.

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5: Mohamed Salah

Club/country: Liverpool/Egypt

Age: 28

2019 rank: 4

Salah is such a superstar for the Premier League champions, it's hard to imagine a time when Jose Mourinho didn't think he was good enough for Chelsea. With his breakneck pace, deft touch and killer nose for goal, Salah is the most prolific and most acclaimed member of Liverpool's celebrated front three, along with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. He's started the new season in wonderful form and in October, he became the first player since Steven Gerrard to score 100 goals for the Reds.

High point of 2020: Salah scored many stunning goals to end Liverpool's 30-year title drought, including an audacious back-heel finish against Watford in December.


4: Neymar

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil

Age: 28

2019 rank: 8

After an injury-heavy, controversy riddled year that almost saw him go back to Barcelona, Neymar simply reassimilated in Paris with his characteristic swagger and silky touch. When fans booed him during his first game back at the Parc des Princes in September 2019, he responded with a spectacular, game-winning bicycle kick at the death. His goals and assists, including a diving header against Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, were instrumental in taking PSG to the Champions League final, the closest they've ever been to reaching their dream of European glory.

High point of 2020: Getting to the Champions League final for the first time with PSG. If only Bayern Munich hadn't gotten in the way ...


3: Cristiano Ronaldo

Club/country: Juventus/Portugal

Age: 35

2019 rank: 2

The records keep falling for Ronaldo. He could be the leading scorer in 2020 across Europe's biggest leagues, he'll soon overtake the all-time men's international goal record (he's seven shy of Ali Daei's 109), and he's averaged nearly a goal game for Portugal since he turned 30. Even a bout of COVID-19 in October couldn't slow him down. In his third season with Juventus, Ronaldo has won back-to-back domestic titles and will be eager to deliver the European trophy the Italian giants so desperately crave.

High point of 2020: Successfully defending Juventus' Serie A title.


2: Kylian Mbappe

Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/France

Age: 21

2019 rank: 3

It's hard to believe Mbappe is still so young. He's already a World Cup winner, a four-time French champion and has been the leading scorer in Ligue 1 for the past two seasons. As Neymar has struggled with injuries, Mbappe has picked up the slack and made PSG his own. The complete attacking player, he can play centrally or on the wing and bamboozles defenders with his pace, strength, skill and superior reading of the game. As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo reach the end of their careers, don't be surprised to see Mbappe at the top of this list soon.

High point of 2020: His 93rd-minute assist for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in PSG's late comeback against Atalanta in the Champions League quarterfinal.


1: Lionel Messi

Club/country: Barcelona/Argentina

Age: 33

2019 rank: 1

This was the first year in Messi's long career that off-field drama overshadowed his on-field performance. As he made his displeasure with Barcelona known this summer, the world waited to see if he would decamp for Manchester. He chose to stay, unwilling to take legal action against the club he has called home since he was a boy. Messi still isn't happy and Barcelona are still wobbling, but anyone who thinks the 33-year-old is in decline should watch his recent performance against Real Betis. He came on in the second half, the scoreline level at 1-1, and changed everything. His magnificent dummy set up Antoine Griezmann, his penalty was unstoppable, and his 82nd-minute goal, a left-footed rocket, peeled back the years.

High point of 2020: Tough to say in a year when Barcelona lost La Liga to Real Madrid and were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich, so perhaps it was finally venting his rage at Barcelona and making journalists around the globe look up what exactly a "burofax" is.

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STRIKER

Around the penalty area, the striker is king. The "classic" No. 9 (a bit of a dying breed) will score against anyone, at any time, from anywhere. While all great strikers have that ruthless determination to seize every scoring opportunity, the truly great are as adept at linking play as they are finishing it.

Player capsules by Stephan Uersfeld


10: Raul Jimenez

Club/country: Wolverhampton Wanderers/Mexico

Age: 29

2019 rank: Not ranked

Jimenez is much more than the Wolves' aerial target, rather an attacker who loves to distribute the ball from a deeper position. He's the epitome of a "target man" -- the forward who receives the ball in attacking spots and retains possession while teammates make runs toward goal -- and with his first touch can create dangerous situations on the wing. His 27 goals and 10 assists across all competitions last term were his best output of his career. It's no surprise that he's been linked with Juventus and Manchester United.

High point of 2020: Early on in the season when the Wolves were out to secure their place in the Europa League, Jimenez chipped to the ball to Diogo Jota who converted with a scissor kick. A prime example of their partnership.


9: Roberto Firmino

Club/country: Liverpool/Brazil

Age: 29

2019 rank: 5 (forward)

He's a striker who doesn't score as many goals as some on this list, but Firmino has put his name in Liverpool's history books with his contribution to LFC's first championship in 30 years. His role is hard to define; he's not a true No. 9 but rather a fluid, always-in-motion frontman who creates confusion for opponents and scoring opportunities for the other members of the Reds' all-world attack, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Firmino's creativity and unpredictability have made him Jurgen Klopp's go-to "difference-maker" up front.

High point of 2020: Notched three assists in the spectacular 4-3 Champions League win over RB Salzburg, albeit overshadowed by Erling Haaland's exploits on a memorable night at Anfield.


8: Timo Werner

Club/country: Chelsea/Germany

Age: 24

2019 rank: Not ranked

Werner could have left RB Leipzig in 2019. Instead, he remained at the club, put a release clause in his new deal and refined his game under Julian Nagelsmann before earning a move to Chelsea in the summer. A consistent scorer, he thrived last term with 28 goals in the league and four in the Champions League. With 23 of his 28 Bundesliga goals coming from open play and 21 of them scored in the box, he is not only a counterattacking threat, but also a player who can instinctively arrive in the box to finish moves. Already looks at home in the Premier League, too, with four goals and three assists in nine appearances.

High point of 2020: A scorer of three hat tricks last Bundesliga season, Werner's most impressive match came in an 8-0 win against Mainz in which he provided three goals and three assists.


7: Ciro Immobile

Club/country: Lazio/Italy

Age: 30

2019 rank: Not ranked

A flop at Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, Immobile has been irresistible since returning home to Italy, where he led Lazio back to the Champions League last term. In his first match back in Europe's top flight since 2015, Immobile scored against old club BVB. A strong finisher throughout his Serie A career, he took his 2019-20 tally through the roof, with 36 goals in 37 league matches, and it's not just from open play that he's prolific, as his coolness from the spot helped, too. He converted 14 of his 15 penalty attempts in all competitions last term.

High point of 2020: Beating the prolific Robert Lewandowski to the Golden Shoe, awarded to Europe's leading scorer across all leagues.


6: Sergio Aguero

Club/country: Manchester City/Argentina

Age: 32

2019 rank: 1

Aguero's importance to Manchester City has never waned through the years even as the injuries have piled up. After Aguero sprinted out of the gate with eight goals in six Premier League games to open the 2019-20 season, his season was marred by injuries and a lack of form as City's season drifted away. He has now gone without a goal in Premier League since scoring the 1-0 win at Sheffield United on Jan. 21 amid various knee injuries, but it speaks volumes that when fit, he's still Pep Guardiola's go-to up front: "If he's playing at his level, we don't have any doubts that he's a player to stay until he decides because he's unique. He's important for us, our fans and everyone."

High point of 2020: His sole hat trick of the season came in his vintage performance at Aston Villa during a short sprint in mid-January.

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Why has Ibrahimovic missed out on the FC 100?

Gab Marcotti says there's too many top strikers to justify putting Zlatan Ibrahimovic in ESPN's FC 100.


5: Romelu Lukaku

Club/country: Inter Milan/Belgium

Age: 27

2019 rank: Not ranked

The player previously written off as a "flop" at Manchester United has been incandescent since moving to Serie A side Inter. He can curl the ball like Arjen Robben, he's cool as ice from the spot, he's strong in the air, can fire in shots from outside the box and is present for the simpler goals around the 6-yard box. Following on from just 15 goals for United in the 2018-19 season, he struck 34 in 51 games in his debut season in Italy. Add to that nine goals in eight matches for Belgium since September 2019 as proof the Lukaku revival is in full swing. Said Antonio Conte of his striker back in October, "I always said in the past he was a rough diamond that I wanted to work with. ... You can see just the way he receives the ball, the way he moves. Everything has improved."

High point of 2020: Scoring in 11 straight Europa League games -- a new record -- as Inter finished runners-up in the competition.


4: Harry Kane

Club/country: Tottenham/England

Age: 27

2019 rank: 2

The England captain has been in outstanding form this year. In double figures for both goals and assists in the 2020-21 season, Kane's last term -- his first under Jose Mourinho -- had been more about scoring goals than setting up. His injury ahead of the suspension of the Premier League led to Spurs dropping crucial points against Liverpool, Watford, Chelsea and Wolverhampton in the race for a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League. Such is the essence Kane brings to the Spurs side, whether finishing moves or starting them. Cruised past 150 goals for Tottenham in 2020 as well, prompting Mourinho -- never one for effusive praise -- to say that Kane is "fantastic and he very much represents the spirit of the team."

High point of 2020: Showed his full brilliance in the 5-2 win at Southampton on Sept. 20, scoring one goal and providing four assists for Son Heung-Min.


3: Karim Benzema

Club/country: Real Madrid/France

Age: 32

2019 rank: 4

An underrated striker, Benzema continued his fine form ever since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Juventus. Often maligned for being ineffective in Ronaldo's shadow, the veteran center-forward has thrived with the added responsibility. His stellar right foot remains one of the best in the game, brought to use not only to net goals, but also make his teammates look good. With over 250 competitive goals for Real Madrid, the 21 he added in La Liga last term helped Real to their first league title since 2017 and Benzema to his third overall. It was the first time in his career, too, that he scored 20 or more goals in back-to-back seasons.

High point of 2020: Some 11 years after first netting against Xerez on 20 September 2009, Benzema reached the landmark 250th goal for Madrid against Levante on Oct. 4. Earlier in 2020, he eclipsed Ferenc Puskas' 242 goals to move up to fifth in Real's all-time scoring charts.


2: Erling Haaland

Club/country: Borussia Dortmund/Norway

Age: 20

2019 rank: Not ranked

The weirdest thing about Haaland is that he's still finding his feet but is already up there with the very best strikers in the world. Not only is the Norway international a player who knows how to use his towering height, but he is also one of the fastest forwards. Most of his goals (and ensuing celebrations) are worth a meme, especially those where he bulldozes past an entire team as he sprints from his own box to the other end to neatly finish off a counterattack, usually set up by Jadon Sancho. What you admire most about him, perhaps, is his seemingly infinite self-belief. Last winter, he opted to join Borussia Dortmund from FC Salzburg to gain more experience at a higher level and for a club with a reputation of developing players for the European super clubs. He then scored a hat trick on his Bundesliga debut, the second player in BVB history to do it, and finished the truncated campaign with 16 goals in all competitions. With 17 and counting this season, the sky's the limit.

High point of 2020: Scoring twice in the Champions League round of 16, first leg against Paris Saint-Germain. While Dortmund would go on to be eliminated, his goals earned the last Westfalenstadion roar before fans were forced to go silent amid the pandemic.


1: Robert Lewandowski

Club/country: Bayern Munich/Poland

Age: 32

2019 rank: 3

It's difficult to keep track of Lewandowski's records. The Bayern Munich striker has scored 68 goals and set up a further 15 in just 58 competitive appearances for the club since the start of the 2019-20 season. In Bundesliga, he has been on target in 30 of the 37 matches since then. Now in his 11th season in Germany and his seventh at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski was finally able to lift the Champions League trophy this summer. At the mini tournament in Lisbon, Lewandowski worked hard for his team, tracking back deep into midfield and floating to the wings to make space in the box. At 32, Lewandowski has a couple of seasons left in him as he chases Gerd Muller's record of 40 goals in one Bundesliga season.

High point of 2020: A peak Lewandowski performance at Stamford Bridge and the Allianz Arena paved the way for Bayern to win the Champions League. The Polish star had his hand in every single one of the seven goals Bayern scored in the 7-1 aggregate win over Chelsea.

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MANAGER

Football can be chaos, but top managers are able to see the bigger picture and won't panic when Plan A doesn't work. After all, they've got Plans B, C and D. Top coaches can ease their big-ego, big-talent squads through the emotional ups and downs while keeping everyone happy, harmonious and fully committed to the cause.

Manager capsules by Tom Hamilton


10: Carlo Ancelotti

Club: Everton

Age: 61

2019 rank: 7

Ancelotti took charge of Everton in January. The club were in the relegation zone in December 2019, but Ancelotti guided them to eighth and then embarked on a well-planned summer spending spree, recruiting Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez and Ben Godfrey. Everton started the season in rich form, winning their first four matches, and are currently in seventh. Ancelotti's biggest assets have always been bringing diplomacy and discipline to teams, and Everton have found both: Their dreadful record of defending set pieces -- they conceded 24 goals from set pieces prior to his arrival last season, the most in the top flight -- has been addressed, and the Italian is now targeting Champions League football for Everton. He already has won three Champions Leagues, one Premier League, one FA Cup, one Bundesliga, one Serie A and a Ligue 1 title, but did add the September manager of the month award to his collection. "When I heard he was going there I thought, 'Oh, God,'" Jurgen Klopp said of Ancelotti when he got the Everton job. "I didn't like that fact, but he is there and he is doing an incredible job."

High point of 2020: It might be the persuasive skills he used to convince James Rodriguez to come to the Premier League. The Colombia international has been incandescent so far.


9: Zinedine Zidane

Club/country: Real Madrid

Age: 48

2019 rank: Not ranked

The French maestro returned to Real Madrid in March 2019 and finished the fragmented 2019-20 season with the La Liga title, his Los Blancos side also smashing a number of Spanish top flight records along the way. It was a true team effort, too: Real boasted their best defensive record in three decades, alongside the most scorers from one team -- 21 players found the net during the season. Toni Kroos hails Zidane as the "best coach you could ask for," but it's his man management that really sets him apart. Though he never quite saw eye-to-eye with Gareth Bale, he manages to keep the array of stars all on the same page, with Kroos saying "he meets every player at eye level, brings everyone on board and has everything around Real under control." Though Real have had a shaky start to the 2020-21 campaign, Zidane is still, as Sergio Ramos puts it, the "captain of the ship."

High point of 2020: Bringing the league title back to the Bernabeu after several seasons of futility and frustration.


8: Julen Lopetegui

Club/country: Sevilla

Age: 54

2019 rank: Not ranked

The Spanish manager helped extend Sevilla's love affair with the Europa League, as they won last season's tournament thanks to a 3-2 victory over Inter Milan in the final. It was Lopetegui's first major honour of a tumultuous career that saw him manage Spain into the 2018 World Cup, only to then lose his job before it started after agreeing to become Real Madrid manager. He lasted just 4½ months in the Spanish capital before getting sacked, but he's comfortably reaffirmed his undoubted ability at Sevilla, winning the Europa League and guiding them into this season's Champions League.

"You have to know how to cope with difficult moments and overcome them. This is a feeling of immense happiness," Lopetegui said soon after lifting the Europa League trophy. It was his own moment of redemption, and the aftermath of their 1-1 draw against Barcelona in October is proof of how far Lopetegui has taken Sevilla in a short time after taking over in June 2019. As defender Jules Kounde reflected on their draw at Camp Nou, he said "I'm a bit disappointed." This is a Sevilla team now with expectations of being in the mix for La Liga.

High point of 2020: Winning the Europa League and securing a top-four finish in La Liga in the same season.


7: Diego Simeone

Club/country: Atletico Madrid

Age: 50

2019 rank: 5

Though the 2019-20 season finished with more a whimper than a roar, the signs this term are extremely encouraging. João Félix is now at the heart of Atletico's attack (and arguably the most thrilling player in La Liga), while Simeone continues his tactical evolution into a more exciting brand of football. His triumphs over the past year include transforming Marcos Llorente from a holding midfielder to a second striker, which paid off brilliantly in their best result of the past 12 months.

Back in March, Atletico knocked out the reigning Champions League champions at Anfield thanks to a 3-2 win over Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, which sparked Mourinho-esque scenes with Simeone sprinting down the touchline to celebrate with his players. Their campaign would eventually come to an abrupt end against RB Leipzig in the quarterfinals, but that was a real triumph for Simeone. He's now got an aging, but still ruthless, Luis Suarez up front -- thanks to personally phoning him to seal the deal -- and despite a vastly inferior budget to Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico continue to be annual title challengers, which is a remarkable feat in itself. They might even be favorites this season.

High point of 2020: Beating Liverpool at Anfield in March, a masterpiece of clever, counterattacking football.


6: Marcelo Bielsa

Club/country: Leeds United

Age: 65

2019 rank: Not ranked

The man whom Mauricio Pochettino calls "a genius" and "special" guided Leeds United back into the Premier League for the first time since 2004. He is now the darling of West Yorkshire, and this season further cemented his place in managerial greatness with his Leeds team showing zero fear and attacking the top flight with wonderful ambition. Bielsa is arguably the most fascinating coach in world football: nicknamed "El Loco," Pep Guardiola says of Bielsa, "nobody can imitate him and that makes him special," and that watching Bielsa during a game is entertainment enough. He sits on his specially made bucket like a coiled viper, but often stays relatively calm, meticulously watching every ball being kicked and planning his next move.

Together, he and Leeds spent £96m in the summer to prepare for the season, but he's still kept the spine of the team that got Leeds into the Premier League. The biggest compliment one can pay him is how universally he's respected and adored by the coaching community; even players past and present adore him. "He's God. He's the special one," former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe told ESPN.

High point of 2020: Getting Leeds back into the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, and doing it in style with the Championship title and a 10-point cushion between them and second-place West Brom.

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Klopp the FC 100's best boss after 'historic' season

Gab Marcotti explains how Jurgen Klopp beat Hansi Flick to the FC 100 best manager award.


5: Julian Nagelsmann

Club/country: RB Leipzig

Age: 33

2019 rank: Not ranked

Any list of candidates to take over at one of the European superpowers will inevitably have Nagelsmann's name on it. He's one of the most admired young managers in world football and did his reputation no harm in guiding the Bundesliga team to the semifinals of the Champions League last season. Nagelsmann has a glowing reputation in the sport: he's loved by his players, has an incredible ability of making a team greater than the sum of its parts and is tactically brilliant.

In an interview with ESPN, he spoke of how he doesn't bother with formations, but instead has a series of systems that he alternates among depending on how matches are going. Atletico Madrid found this out to their cost in last season's Champions League quarterfinals, when Leipzig quashed Diego Simeone's team's hopes of progressing. Nagelsmann's contract is up at the end of this season and Manchester United are known to be admirers. "I believe he could do Real Madrid," ex-Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick said. "I think it's very possible that he could go to a better or even bigger club [than Leipzig], if he wants that."

High point of 2020: Taking RB Leipzig to the Champions League semifinals, even without Timo Werner at the tail end of the competition following his move to Chelsea.


4: Gian Piero Gasperini

Club/country: Atalanta

Age: 62

2019 rank: Not ranked

Gasperini and Atalanta are the perfect footballing marriage of ideology, tactics and application. They are one of the most entertaining teams in world football, with Gasperini's tactics finding their foundations in Sun Tzu's proverb: "Defending makes you invincible, but if you want to win, you must attack." His Atalanta team are now synonymous with Gasperini's 3-4-1-2 system, but their familiarity is born from brutal training sessions and a relentless focus on self-improvement -- Gasperini is constantly looking to push his team forward.

Last season they were top scorers in Serie A with a remarkable 98 goals (17 ahead of Inter, next on the list) and has turned the likes of Papu Gomez (named Serie A midfielder of the year) and Josip Ilicic into some of the best players in the world. "When you reach the maturity necessary to understand that hard work leads to results, you no longer feel tired," Gasperini said. He's not just managing a team, either; over the past year, his Atalanta side have provided hope to their region, Bergamo, a part of Italy hit hard by COVID-19, and that remains their fuel as they look to finish in the top four of Serie A for the fourth time in five seasons.

High point of 2020: Came within two late Paris Saint-Germain goals of taking Atalanta into the Champions League semifinals.


3: Pep Guardiola

Club/country: Manchester City

Age: 49

2019 rank: 2

To many, he is the best coach in the world. Unwaveringly intense, forever animated and brilliantly dressed, Guardiola will dearly want another title at Manchester City this season. The 18 points by which Liverpool won the league last season would have hurt Guardiola, as did his side's continued inability to win in Europe: Last season, Lyon eliminated them in the quarterfinals after City had brilliantly dispatched Real Madrid in the previous round. Despite this, both Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane rate Guardiola as the best coach in the world, while Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo says Guardiola's philosophy is his "model."

"I know the standards of the club and if I don't achieve the standards, I probably don't deserve [to stay], so I have to win to extend my contract," Guardiola said earlier in the season about his future at the club. Lucky for City, he has extended his contract, good news for the club's long-term goals and bad news for those teams standing in their way.

High point of 2020: Masterminding that Champions League last-16 win over Real Madrid.


2: Hansi Flick

Club/country: Bayern Munich

Age: 55

2019 rank: Not ranked

When Flick took over Bayern Munich on an interim basis in November 2019, the club -- by their high standards -- were in disarray. They had just lost 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt and were fourth in the Bundesliga. By the following August, Flick had guided Bayern Munich to 32 wins in 35 matches and to a remarkable triple of trophies as his team swept all before them to win the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal. He also breathed new life into the careers of Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng, who looked as though they were on the way out of Bayern having fallen out of favour and form.

Flick's Bayern are already setting off at quite a pace this term, sitting atop the Bundesliga and boasting a perfect record in the Champions League group stage. Flick is now being mentioned as a successor to Joachim Low as Germany manager, while his players say he brought the fun back to Bayern Munich. It hasn't gone unnoticed by his contemporaries: "It would be difficult to write more history in eight months!" Jurgen Klopp said of Flick's accomplishments.

High point of 2020: Revived the Bavarian giants to a domestic/European Treble this season in his first head coaching role since 2005.


1: Jurgen Klopp

Club/country: Liverpool

Age: 53

2019 rank: 1

Klopp's legacy at Liverpool is grand enough, but a pair of his glasses have been buried in a time capsule at the club's new training ground to further anchor him on Merseyside. Having won the Champions League and then the Premier League, Klopp's place is assured in the pantheon of Liverpool greats. When Klopp stood with his Liverpool team in the empty Kop and lifted the Premier League trophy into the firework-lit sky, it marked an end to their 30-year wait for a top-flight title. They ran up a remarkable record 99-point tally in the Premier League last term and Klopp would end up being crowned Manager of the Season.

This term has proved to be a little rockier, with Liverpool suffering a monumental series of injury setbacks -- including losing the world's best defender, Virgil van Dijk, for the season -- but Klopp will still find a way to ensure Liverpool are in the mix to retain their title later in the season. He is adored in Liverpool, and any club in the world would want his services. He even received praise from the great Sir Alex Ferguson. "Your personality runs right throughout the whole club," Sir Alex told Klopp when he was named LMA manager of the year. "It was a marvellous performance. I'll forgive you for waking me up at 3:30 a.m. to tell me you have won the league."

High point of 2020: Bringing a league title to Anfield for the first time in 30 years.

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