This Season’s European Highflyers9 min read
It might still be early doors somewhat in the 2017/18 season, but there are patterns beginning to emerge in different leagues around Europe with stars shining out from the rough.
There have been many impressive players so far this season, but none more so than the five in this list. Here are my top five players of this campaign so far:
Nicolas Pepe: LOSC Lille
Virtually unknown to the masses before the start of this season, Nicolas Pepe has been a revelation in Ligue 1 for Lille.
Playing from the right wing, the 23-year-old has already racked up eight goals and seven assists in 14 appearances, making him not only one of the most prolific players in France, but also in Europe’s top five leagues.
A tricky winger that is now beginning to be scouted by some of the Premier League giants, Pepe has youth on his side and an abundance of speed and creativity to burn.
What makes the Ivory Coast International so difficult to successfully defend against is his ingenuity in tight spaces, as he always manages to remain one step ahead of his opponent and turn him inside out.
While he is still raw in some areas of his game, Pepe has come on leaps and bounds this season and is most certainly one to keep an eye on.
Suso: AC Milan
Ever since coming to AC Milan, Suso’s career has been on the rise at an exponential rate.
His first major breakthrough season in terms of goals and assists came last year under Vincenzo Montella, but this year he has taken responsibility and has yet to look back.
Depay, Aspas, Suso…
Who else took their second chance once they left England?pic.twitter.com/Ts0H0ufi1D
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) November 14, 2018
The Spaniard might have struggled at Liverpool when attempting to cement a position down in the first-team, but that experience allowed him to understand what was needed of him and for him to go away and develop. The move to Italy worked wonders with the style of football matching his.
Suso is a fantastic goalscorer but an even better assist maker. This season, he has a combined total of 13 goals and assists in 15 appearances, with some of those coming in the form of winning goals.
What has been impressive from the 24-year-old is that he does not shy away from the responsibility and pressure, and instead welcomes it with open arms. Why Suso is so difficult to keep at bay is because of his flotation in-between the lines of midfield and defence, which also causes defenders to step out of line and position, creating space for others to exploit.
If Milan fail to qualify for the Champions League next year, there will be a whole host of clubs in Europe who will be ready to give the Spaniard what he desires.
Eden Hazard: Chelsea
No introductions are needed for the Belgium international Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s key player, in which the club are hoping to tie down to a new deal with Real Madrid lurking, has risen to the occasion under Maurizio Sarri and is reaping the rewards of the Italian’s coaching style.
While he might have taken his foot off the gas under Antonio Conte in his final year in charge, Hazard looks rejuvenated after his triumphs in the World Cup, where he was by and large the best player in Russia.
The Belgian-born superstar has seven goals in 11 Premier League appearances while also contributing four assists. He is the second-most fouled player in the league due to his quick footedness and ability to shift direction in a split second, causing defenders to become dumfounded in his movements.
A key attribute of Hazard’s is his low centre of gravity which makes it immensely difficult for any defender to get touch tight to him without avoiding the embarrassment of being beaten with ease.
Chelsea needed Hazard this season and he has come to the table with all the answers. If the Blues are to truly challenge Manchester City all the way until May for the Premier League, they need to keep Hazard match fit, for he is their key to unlock defences.
Saúl Níguez: Atlético Madrid
Saúl Níguez is often talked about as their heir to Spain’s legendary midfield that comprised of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. While he might not be at that level of performance just yet, the 23-year-old’s potential is sky high, which is exactly why pundits rave about his excellence as Spain’s beating heart.
The Atlético Madrid player is fundamental to how Diego Simeone sets up his teams, carrying out both defensive and offensive roles to maximum effect. Saúl is average 3.5 tackles per-game in La Liga, only beaten by two players in the league – Real Madrid’s Nacho and Villarreal’s Santiago Cáseres – who play in a much more defensive manner.
UEFA Nations League A – Highest rated players:
🇳🇱 Memphis Depay – 7.48
🇧🇪 Romelu Lukaku – 8.63
🇵🇹 Andre Silva – 7.83
🇪🇸 Saul Niguez – 8.29
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 14, 2018
The Spain international might not be among the goals as often as he would like, but Saúl is the key cog in both Atlético and Spain’s team. Without him, there is a noticeable difference in the transitions from defence into attack as well as a vulnerability that comes into play.
He is not the flashiest player in the pan but there is a reason why most European heavyweights have, at one point, tried to court Saúl. Watch him closely and you will understand the true brilliance in what a midfield player should offer his team-mates.
Luka Jovic: Eintracht Frankfurt
Similarly to Pepe, Luka Jovic has burst onto the European scene with Eintracht Frankfurt this season.
The 20-year-old centre forward has been a revelation after his summer two-year loan transfer from Portuguese giants Benfica. Currently the leading contender for the Bundesliga Golden Boot with nine goals in nine appearances, Jovic has been courted by German giants Bayern Munich after his stellar start to life in Germany.
It is rare for players to adapt so quickly to their new surroundings, but Jovic has taken German football like a duck takes to water. His movement, confidence and ability to find the back of the net has been mightily impressive, which is why clubs are now starting to take notice.
The Serbian international also became the youngest ever Bundesliga player to score five goals in one game, just as he did against Fortuna Düsseldorf in October. His team-mates are clearly creating chances for Jovic, given the centre forward is having, on average, 3.5 shots per-game, which comes in as the league’s fifth-highest.
Jovic is young and is currently in good form, but the question will be whether he can sustain such a level throughout the season. While his performances will likely dip at some point, which is only natural, it will be intriguing to witness whether he can dig himself out and find his scoring boots once more – just as the best striker’s do.
Jovic, no matter what, is certainly one to keep an eye on.