There’s a lot of European football to consume on a weekly basis and plenty of top performances that warrant our attention.
Whether it’s a flurry of goals from a single player or underrated contributions that had big impacts, we’re keeping an eye on them.
As such, after every round of fixtures in Europe’s top five leagues, we pick out the outstanding performers and slot them into our Team of the Week.
Here’s our latest selection.
GK: ANTHONY LOPES | LYON
Ironically, Anthony Lopes’ most eye-catching action came in the build-up to Bordeaux’s equaliser.
The team came under pressure after Thiago Mendes’ red card and after initially punching away a cross from the left, he made a spectacular save to deny Nicolas de Preville but could do nothing to stop Jimmy Briand’s effort on the rebound. His five saves in total though helped salvage a point.
RB: BENJAMIN PAVARD | BAYERN MUNICH
It’s not often that a defender is the standout player when Bayern Munich score six goals but Benjamin Pavard was just that impressive. He was a little at fault for Mainz’s early goal but he definitely made up for that lapse.
He scored with a terrific half-volley that resembled his World Cup strike for France and levelled the tie before setting up Ivan Perisic with a great cross to net the third. He remained solid at the back and composed in possession as the Bavarians pulled away.
CB: JANNIK VESTERGAARD | SOUTHAMPTON
Victor Lindelof is a very good centre-back, but he was utterly dominated by Jannik Vestergaard when the duo rose for a cross and the Southampton man emphatically buried his header past David De Gea.
The Dane also led the back-line superbly, reading the game well and making five interceptions while denying Marcus Rashford space and time.
CB: FABIAN SCHAR | NEWCASTLE UNITED
Fabian Schar scored four goals for Newcastle United last season and that makes him the top scorer from the previous campaign who’s still at the club. He opened his account for this term with a scrappy strike that nevertheless earned the Magpies a point against Watford.
The Swiss also impressed in defence, never putting a foot wrong.
LB: DANILO | JUVENTUS
He simply couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction. Having been used as a makeweight in Joao Cancelo’s move to Manchester City, Danilo came off the bench against Napoli in the 15th minute to replace the injured Mattia De Sciglio.
Within a minute, he initiated a counter-attack after Juventus defended a corner and applied the finishing touch in the opposition’s box. He also managed to keep both Lorenzo Insigne and the drifting Dries Mertens quiet.
RM: GARETH BALE | REAL MADRID
Gareth Bale was a threat right from the start against Villarreal and deserved his tap in from Dani Carvajal’s pass. With five minutes on the clock, he rescued Los Blancos with his second, cutting inside and finding the near corner to secure a 2-2 draw.
He was also sent off before the final whistle but his second booking was rather harsh. He’s certainly playing like he has a point to prove.
CM: YOURI TIELEMANS | LEICESTER CITY
Fortunate not to be sent off for a challenge on Callum Wilson but on the ball, Youri Tielemans was certainly impressed. No Leicester City player had more shots (4) or key passes (2) than the Belgian in the 3-1 victory over Bournemouth.
He was alert to bundle in his side’s second and played an instinctive first-time pass into Jamie Vardy for the third that secured the three points.
CM: DAVID SILVA | MANCHESTER CITY
The entire Premier League fanbase, let alone City, must be bitterly disappointed that David Silva will no longer grace English football with his elegant play-making come next season.
The 33-year-old was hugely influential as the champions brushed Brighton aside with a 4-0 win. Always on the move, he regularly found space in dangerous areas and provided two assists. Should’ve had a goal himself but he narrowly missed the target when Raheem Sterling squared the ball to him in the first half.
LM: ROBERTO TORRES | OSASUNA
His two goals put defending champions Barcelona to the sword and secured a vital point for Osasuna in a 2-2 draw. Roberto Torres stunned the Catalans in the seventh minute with a perfectly executed left-footed volley, dispatching Brandon’s cross from the right into the far corner.
He showed great composure to convert a late penalty as well while his overall contribution was also immense. He had eight shots, as many as the entire Barca team mustered, and also played three key passes.
ST: TIMO WERNER| RB LEIPZIG
Timo Werner’s hat-trick against Borussia Monchengladbach perfectly encapsulated what he’s all about. He showed blistering pace and the composure to finish with all three goals.
His second strike in particular saw him latch on to a loose ball, turn on the afterburners and leave the defenders for dead. However, it’s the link-up play with Emil Forsberg for the first and the fact that he made four key passes that will catch Bayern Munich’s eye after he recently signed a new deal that includes a surprisingly low release clause of just €30 million.
ST: DOMENICO BERARDI| SASSUOLO
A first-half hat-trick against Sampdoria sees Domenico Berardi claim the final spot in our XI. In a superb display of centre-forward play, the 25-year-old steered in a low cross from the left to open the scoring before nodding in another seven minutes later.
The Italian then showed his range as a striker, cutting in from the right and curling his hat-trick goal into the far corner. In his first appearance this term, he’s already nearly halfway to equalling his tally from last season (8).
Juventus assistant coach Giovanni Martusciello hailed his side’s never-say-die spirit after a late own goal clinched them victory in a seven-goal thriller against Napoli in Turin.
Juve surrendered a 3-0 lead in the second half before Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly’s stoppage-time own goal gifted them victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo looked to have put the game beyond Napoli when he struck Juve’s third goal just after the hour-mark following first-half efforts from substitute Danilo, on his debut, and Gonzalo Higuain, against his former club.
Napoli hit back with two second-half goals in as many minutes from Kostas Manolas and Hirving Lozano and then Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s late equaliser, but Koulibaly turned the ball into his own net in the second minute of added time.
“We had an important physical decline, and against a strong team that dribble like Napoli, that was the thing that put us in difficulty,” Martusciello told a post-match press conference.
“At 3-0 we had a ‘full belly’ and we allowed Napoli to come back. But what really strikes me about this group is the fact that they never give up, and that in moments of difficulty, it brings out something more.”
Juve also handed a debut to Matthijs De Ligt, in place of injured skipper Giorgio Chiellini, and Martusciello was satisfied with the Dutch defender’s first appearance following his £67.5million move from Ajax.
“De Ligt? He comes from a team that defended differently, in a league that is not the Italian one,” Martusciello added.
“He also played well for an hour, then his condition was lacking a bit. But he is a player of the highest level.”
Martusciello has been carrying out media duties in the absence of Maurizio Sarri, who watched Juve beat his former club from the stands following his recovery from pneumonia.
Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti could not hide his disappointment at the manner of his side’s defeat and their performance.
“We conceded two goals with our defence in position. We need to mark tighter in the box,” the former Chelsea manager said.
“This was a missed opportunity tonight. We started playing football after an hour. I would have been disappointed even if we had drawn.
“The comeback is the only positive. I’m disappointed with the overall performance.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
UEFA is set to announce the 2018/19 Player of the Year on Thursday with Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo all vying for the prized trophy.
Luka Modric, the current holder, has been replaced by the Liverpool defender while the other two superstars have retained their spots in the top three nominees.
Will Van Dijk claim the award and ensure that the duopoly is truly over or will one of Messi or Ronaldo add to their vast collection?
We take a deeper look at the contenders, list our arguments and help you single out the best.
Why Messi should win
The Barcelona icon has continued to evolve and unlock new dimensions to his game even at 32. He has now established himself as arguably the best direct free-kick taker in the world, while enhancing his claim to being one of the best playmakers as well.
The Argentine carried Barcelona to yet another league title and secured another Golden Shoe, scoring 36 goals in 29 starts. He also grabbed the most assists (13) in La Liga and scored the most Champions League goals (12).
The two-time UEFA Player of the Year excelled in all areas last season, so much so that the hashtag #onlymessihasmore was trending because there were very few attacking stats which had any player above the Argentine.
Trophies aside, if the award is given to a player solely based on ability, no player deserves it more than Messi
Why Messi should not win
The bar is set so high for Messi that the failure to win the Champions League is seen as a breaking point. Given Barcelona’s heavy investment in the transfer market, a four-year Champions League drought is derisory, particularly given the manner of their exits in the last two editions.
Messi rescued Barcelona several times last season but that he failed to do so when his team needed him most – the second leg of the semi-final against Liverpool – will always be held against him.
It’s also worth noting that Messi had a poor Copa America tournament in which Argentina finished third. Both Van Dijk and Ronaldo bettered this in the Nations League.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
Why Van Dijk should win
No one individual has transformed his side quite in the way Van Dijk has Liverpool. The former Southampton defender raised eyebrows when he was acquired for a then world-record fee for a defender at £75 million. But he has done more than enough to justify the price tag.
Van Dijk inspired the Reds to their sixth Champions League success, delivering near-perfect shows in crucial games. With Joe Gomez suffering an injury-ridden season, the Dutchman was not always partnered by a top centre-back but the captain without the armband took the initiative and led Liverpool’s defence to clean-sheets, one after the other.
He also helped Liverpool to 97 points in the league and went the entire season without being dribbled past a single time.
Van Dijk also played a key role in leading the Netherlands to the final of the Nations League, just two years after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Why Van Dijk should not win
The Dutch defender missed out on the double, with Manchester City proving to be just too good domestically as they claimed the Premier League title. That there are top defenders who have managed this feat and yet have failed to win this individual award does not bode well for the Dutchman.
Comparing Van Dijk to the other two would be a classic case of apples and oranges. While stats like goals and assists can make an unfair case for forwards, no tangible stats can quantify the impact a defender has on the game. The opinion that Van Dijk was the best centre-back in the world last season, no matter how convincing, will always be subjective without numbers.
There is no legitimate reason why Van Dijk does not deserve the award, apart from the fact that Messi was, just maybe, marginally better at doing what he does and has the numbers to show for it.
Why Ronaldo should win
Ronaldo embraced a new challenge in Italy and adapted very well, scoring 21 goals in Serie A and providing eight assists. The Nations League trophy also diversified his vast collection.
He also won Serie A’s best player and created several records at the European level.
Ronaldo became the first player to reach 100 wins and score 125 goals in the Champions League. The Nations League trophy was his 10th UEFA title, and he became the first player to achieve that feat.
He also became the first player to score in all major international competitions involving European teams – the World Cup, European Championships, Confederations Cup and Nations League.
Why Ronaldo should not win
Frankly, it’s surprising that Ronaldo made the top-three ahead of compatriot Bernardo Silva, who won the domestic treble in England and the Nations League with Portugal while being the best player in both teams.
Ronaldo won the Scudetto with Juventus, a title that they’ve faced little competition for even in seasons prior to his arrival. Besides, a poacher’s job is to score goals, which is independent of the system as long as he has good supply – something he has had at Juve and Real Madrid. The real challenge in Turin involves turning them back into a force across Europe, with the Champions League title now eluding them for 24 years – so in that regard, Ronaldo failed.
In the league, Ronaldo was outscored by 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella, who notched 26 times for Sampdoria. In the Nations League, he was outshone by Silva, who walked away with the Best Player award.
Sadio Mane scored more goals (22) in a league of considerably superior quality and helped his team to the Champions League title. The Portuguese was not even the best player in his position.
Sergio Aguero managed the same numbers for Manchester City in the league and played a crucial role in their domestic treble win, implying that Ronaldo was not the best poacher either.
Ronaldo was a level below Messi, Van Dijk and several other players last season and has made the top-three purely based on reputation.