Making player rankings is one of the best ways to have fun as a sports fan. There are so many superstar players, but that mere fact is never enough – we need to know who’s the best.
They’re controversial, too, which is part of the fun. Unlike team standings, player rankings come with a fair degree of subjectivity, no matter what the stats say. And in any case, the best part about rankings is arguing over your favourite players.
Then, of course, you have debates like Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi, and, sometimes, a third player who’s inserted himself into that conversation with a stunning season. This year, the competition comes via a truly special season from Mohamed Salah.
Current Ballon d’Or odds have Ronaldo and Salah as joint-favourites ahead of Messi. Handily enough, the two are set to play each other in the Champions League final next Saturday – although in a World Cup year, that may not be decisive.
We don’t have to worry about the World Cup, at least not yet. With the European season drawing to a close, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the best performers of the year.
Without further ado, here are our rankings of the top ten players across six positions in Europe’s top five leagues – with all the usual obvious names, surprise picks, talking points, and plenty of scope for debate.
There may be no Premier League side involved in the match, to be played in Lyon, but there are still plenty of reasons why English supporters may take interest.
Here, we look at five of them.
Quality of Griezmann
Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann, who has been linked with Manchester United in the past, is now rated as one of the world’s top forwards and Barcelona are reportedly preparing to make a summer swoop.
It is an excellent stage for the Frenchman to show off his talents and it will carry extra personal poignancy given that he was born in Macon, around 60 kilometres away from Lyon.
Unpredictability of Costa
Another player to relish the big occasion is Griezmann’s fiery strike partner, Diego Costa. The Spain international has rediscovered some of his old appetite since his ineffective final days at Chelsea, although form and fitness have been up and down since rejoining Atletico.
Having been forced off injured early in Atleti’s 2014 Champions League final defeat, he may be extra motivated.
Form of Newcastle flop Thauvin
It may come as a surprise to Newcastle supporters, but Florian Thauvin has been one of the stars of Marseille’s run to the final.
Thauvin had a hugely unimpressive five months on Tyneside at the start of the 2015-16 season, his time at St James’ Park best remembered for his arrival at games in a tuxedo.
Thauvin also had to win over doubters on his return to France but he has done that with some exhilarating displays on the wing.
Potential match-winner Payet
Unlike Thauvin, there was little doubt about Dimitri Payet’s ability to deliver when he rejoined Marseille in 2017.
The feeling was more that he needed a change after his relationship with West Ham, where he had previously enjoyed hero status, deteriorated badly.
The 31-year-old might be a difficult character to manage but when happy and on song – as he has been this season – he has the talent to make all the difference.
Impact of Simeone
Atletico boss Diego Simeone has been linked with clubs in the Premier League frequently in recent years having made a big impression with the Rojiblancos. He has so far resisted all moves but should he land another trophy, interest in him will keep growing.
He won the Europa League in 2012, LaLiga in 2014 and has also overseen two Champions League final appearances.
It will be interesting to see his impact as he continues to serve a touchline ban for his dismissal in the semi-final against Arsenal.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the three previous meetings.
1994 FA Cup final (May 14, Wembley)
Chelsea 0 Man Utd 4
United had finished eight points clear of Blackburn to lift a second successive Premier League title and were aiming to become the fourth team of the 20th century to complete a double.
Chelsea were rebuilding under player-manager Glenn Hoddle, having finished 14th in the league, and were big underdogs in the club’s first final for 24 years. But Chelsea had the better of the first half and Gavin Peacock struck the crossbar.
United, however, took over with three goals in nine second-half minutes as Eric Cantona converted two penalties and Mark Hughes added a third. Brian McClair wrapped up victory in stoppage time as manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated United’s first double.
2007 FA Cup final (May 19, Wembley)
Chelsea 1 Man Utd 0 aet
United were seeking a fourth domestic double under Ferguson after finishing six points clear of Chelsea in the Premier League. Chelsea had also won silverware that season with Jose Mourinho’s side having lifted the League Cup in February.
It was the first FA Cup final to be played at the new rebuilt Wembley and the crowd of 89,826 was the biggest for the fixture since 1988. But what had been a highly-anticipated contest turned into something of a damp squib.
The first Wembley shoot-out was only four minutes away when Didier Drogba played a one-two with Frank Lampard and prodded past the onrushing Edwin van der Sar.
2008 Champions League final (May 21, Moscow)
Chelsea 1 Man Utd 1 (Man Utd won 6-5 on pens)
United – and Van der Sar – avenged their FA Cup defeat of a year earlier in memorable fashion. The first all-English final in Europe’s premier club competition was played at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and did not finish until it had gone 1am local time.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave United the lead with a 26th-minute far-post header but Lampard equalised on the stroke of half-time. Chelsea struck the frame of the goal twice but the game went to penalties after Drogba had been sent off with four minutes of extra time remaining.
Chelsea captain John Terry missed the chance to win it when he lost his footing and struck the post, and Van der Sar eventually proved the hero when he saved Nicolas Anelka’s attempt as United triumphed 6-5 on spot-kicks and secured their third European Cup.
Provided by Press Association Sport