Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Karim Benzema among Europe's biggest over-performers

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Sadio Mane

When expectation meets reality, there’s usually a massive disparity.

Few other arenas has quite the failure in meeting expectations – good or bad – than football.

Case and point is with players. Ahead of every league season, proclamations are made about certain individuals as to whether they’ll be a success or failure.

Some either struggle to meet standards, while others surpass them. With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close around Europe, we’re examining the player’s who under and over performed given their respective expectations heading into the 2018/19.

Today, we look at the five biggest over-performers from around Europe’s top-five leagues.

Duvan Zapata, Atalanta

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Football enjoys fitting players within certain criteria and often physical attributes can disguise true vocations. Zapata is a salient case. Under the genius management of Gian Piero Gasperini, the Colombian has been reinvented, forging his very physical target-man qualities with that of a striker who likes to play off the shoulder. Indeed, Zapata has spearheaded an unexpected personal and club best season, plundering 22 Serie A goals as the league’s top scorers close in on a Champions League spot for the very first time. Compelling evidence of Zapata’s transformation from back-to-goal striker, to mobile target man, this season is exemplified by a quite glorious goal against Bologna in April.

Sadio Mane, Liverpool

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Liverpool are now a side brimming with premier players in each position, as opposed to relying upon a Ballon d’Or worthy individual. Their success under Jurgen Klopp is through their collective effort, but out of that, individual class does emerge. Sadio Mane is a player who deserves to be singled out. While Mohamed Salah bares the weight of expectation as the face and focus of Liverpool’s attack, Mane has risen – particularly in 2019 – to take a significant load away from the Egyptian. Indeed, there’s been a different feel about Mane this season, one in which he has embraced more responsibility – he was deeply impressive when operating as a false nine – and thrived with the added stress. His best-ever Premier League return of 22 goals gave him a share of the Golden Boot and while Mane has always been very good, this season he joined an elite tier.

Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

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There are precious little positives to glean from Real’s empty season. In truth, there might only be one; Benzema. It is difficult not to admire the Frenchman’s resolve because few players have been vilified by a fan base, which can be so toxic, quite like him. Benzema has been criminally underrated having sacrificed himself for Cristiano Ronaldo during the vast majority of his Los Blancos career. Without the Portuguese around, Benzema shown exactly why he should be considered one of the best No9s on the planet. He has only ever bettered this season’s 21-goal La Liga haul once during his decade stay at the club, achieved despite entering his 30s, and this arriving at a destabilised period for the club. His stock has never been higher, and few would have predicted that coming into this season.

Lucas Digne, Everton

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A Barcelona talent drain filtered its way to Everton over the summer with Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes and Digne all moving to Merseyside. Digne was the only permanent acquisition, however, the £18 million fee has looked a bargain on the evidence of this season. The 25-year-old struggled to make an impact behind Jordi Alba at Barcelona, but consistency has bred quality. No defender created more chances in the Premier League this season (71) and if Everton had a genuine goalscoring No9 in their ranks, Digne would have far more than his four assists in 2018/19. The variety of his delivery has been a feature of Everton’s attack and defensively, he’s accrued the highest crosses blocked and second-highest interceptions plus tackles for his team. Suffice to say, Digne is right there with Andrew Robertson in claiming to be the league’s best left-back.

Krzysztof Piatek, Genoa and AC Milan

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Ask the wider footballer community last summer for the lowdown on Krzysztof Piatek and a blank stare would have been received. Geona paid Polish outfit Cracovia €4 million for his services last summer and not much was thought of him. Fast forward to the present and the 23-year-old is now a Poland international drawing comparisons with Robert Lewandowski, plays his football for AC Milan and is widely considered to be one of the best young goalscorers in Europe. He’s a predatory striker, evidenced by the fact he’s accrued 21 goals in Serie A this term, but not provided one assist. But he is a well-rounded finisher, a scorer of differently styled goals. The fact Milan have even a sniff of securing a Champions League spot owes to Piatek’s success because before his arrival, they were toothless.

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