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ESPN FC 100 Messi Lewandowski Oblak among No 1s; Premier Lea

2022-06-14 07:30

ESPN FC 100: Messi, Lewandowski among No. 1s; Premier League most represented

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ESPN FC 100: Messi, Lewandowski, Oblak among No. 1s; Premier League has most representatives

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Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate which manager should be placed at No.1 in the FC 100. (2:10)

For the sixth consecutive year, ESPN presents its annual ranking of the best mens players and coaches in world soccer! Welcome to FC 100.

As always, rankings are broken down into Top 10 lists for positions, plus a countdown of managers, in order to present the most meaningful look at talent on the pitch and the sideline.

Whereas last year was dominated byLiverpoolandBayern Munich-- the clubs combined for eight of the 10 No. 1 spots -- the leaders in this years edition are spread across six teams, with none having more than two men on top of their respective category.

One common theme, though, was that all but two of the 10 leaders won silverware in the past 12 months, be it at club or international level. Which is kind of what we wanted voters to think about: Put reputation to one side and focus instead on a what have you done for me lately? approach, with the years top performers getting their due.

Once again, there is large-scale turnover of names, with 41 new entries (compared to 47 in 2020 and 43 in 2019). Meanwhile, there are 28 nationalities, with 26 clubs represented, plus three international teams.

As for the dominant competitions, thePremier Leagueleads the way with 41 representatives, followed byLaLiga(21),Serie A(14),Bundesliga(10) andLigue 1(10).

During the October international break, 77 ESPN experts around the world -- from editors to writers, TV talent and former players -- made selections from a list of more than 300 players and managers. Moreover, if the name they wanted was not there, they had the option to add a write-in nomination.

Who made it? Who did not? What about the No. 1s? What do the lists say about the games balance of power? Gabriele Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate.Stream now

This is not simply a best players in the world megalist; The aim is to isolate specific areas of the pitch so comparisons can be made between those with similar roles. As such, every voter submitted 10 individual ballots, from which we crunched the numbers ahead of a final review by select writers and editors.

(And yes, we acknowledge that some players in certain positions might play elsewhere on the pitch at times; we made a call to ensure their votes were not split across two categories!)

In addition to spotlighting a high point from the year that showed each player and manager in his best light, Tor-Kristian Karlsen, who has worked as a scout and executive for clubs includingMonacoZenit St PetersburgandWatford, evaluates the game of each inclusion.

So there we have it: From goalkeeper to striker and everywhere in-between -- as well as the guys in charge -- this is FC 100!

NOTE: Player ages correct as of Nov. 30

Beyond stopping shots and acting as sweeper-keeper, goalkeepers are the first step in building attacks; be it with a long, accurate throw or raking crossfield pass. Agility and reflexes are a given, but confidence and vision and are vital.

Club / country:Paris Saint-GermainCosta Rica

Scouting report:Navas has made a successful career at some of the worlds biggest clubs thanks to his incredible reflexes, jumping ability and agility. Able to make acrobatic and memorable saves, most lasting memories of Navas are of him stretched out horizontally, getting his hands to the ball to tip it round the post. He is responsive in the sense that he tends to get better the more he is tested, though is not quite of the refined, well-rounded breed of goalkeeper that has been preferred in recent years.

High point of 2021:Even after PSG won 4-1 win at Camp Nou, there was a moment in theChampions Leaguelast-16 second leg in Paris when it looked likeBarcelonamight get back into the tie. However, Navas saved from aSergino Destdrive andLionel Messis penalty to ensure that did not happen.

Scouting report:Given that Martinez has only completed one full season as a first-choice goalkeeper, and looked average until picked up by Aston Villa, the Argentina No. 1 is making a mark as a late bloomer. Low on confidence after failing to get a chance during an eight year career atArsenal, he made the move to Villa and hasnt looked back. His well-publicised antics in resorting to any method possible to put off an attacker when faced with penalties (hes saved four this season) grab the headlines, but Martinez is a solid and reliable shot stopper.

High point of 2021:Martinez only earned his first Argentina cap in June but quickly became a hero in his homeland with Golden Glove-winning Copa America form. He produced a hat trick of saves in the semifinal penalty shootout win overColombia, then kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 final win againstBrazil.

Scouting report:Though not quite as impressive as previous seasons, the Germany international is still among the top goalkeepers in the game. As is compulsory for any Barcelona goalkeeper, Ter Stegen is always available for his defenders and contributes in moving the ball around at the back well. Blessed with rapid reflexes, he has generally proved to have good timing when rushing off his line to stop an attacker. Hes also good at restarting play through long, precise throws.

High point of 2021:Ter Stegen came up with a huge performance againstSevillain the Copa del Rey semifinal, saving a penalty fromLucas Ocamposas Barca overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to reach the final. It laid the foundations for the only trophy won by theBlaugranain the last two years.

Scouting report:Despite being a respected goalkeeper in Ligue 1 with Reims and Rennes, Mendy has taken his game even further after the switch to the Premier League. At 6-foot-4, not only does the Senegal internationals reach give him an edge at catching crosses, but hes also deceptively quick at getting down to make low saves on both sides. Increasingly composed and measured in his distribution, from which he often starts attacks, he has become a key component of Chelseas defence.

High point of 2021:Mendy almost single-handedly earned Chelsea three points atBrentfordin October. He made seven stunning saves in a 1-0 win, prompting manager Thomas Tuchel to call him absolutely decisive and left-backBen Chilwellto say: We have [Mendy] to thank, he was amazing.

Club / country:Manchester City/ Brazil

Scouting report:One of the closest rivals to Manuel Neuer when it comes to the quality of his first touch and distribution, Ederson is fundamental to Pep Guardiolas brand of football at Manchester City. The Brazilians left-footed strike is arguably the cleanest and most powerful among goalkeepers at the highest level (hed probably have a go at taking direct free-kicks, if he was allowed to). The occasions he gets caught out due to concentration lapses are getting fewer and is now a complete player with a knack for saving penalties.

High point of 2021:There are few goalkeepers with Edersons vision and distribution, which is so important to a Guardiola side. An example of his brilliance was seen in May when he played a 60-yard pass in the build-up to Citys opening goal in the Champions League semifinal second leg against PSG.

Scouting report:An attack-minded, brave goalkeeper whose excellent game-reading skills and general alertness make him capable of performing a high number of interceptions. Very offensive in the way he defends his goal; always on the front foot and off his line quickly. The Brazilian is very capable with his feet, agile and transmits confidence to his defenders with his vocal, active style.

High point of 2021:In May, Liverpools Premier League top-four hopes were in jeopardy when Alisson joined his teammates in the West Bromwich Albion penalty area. One flicked header later, the goalkeeper had scored an improbable winner that helped seal a Champions League place.

Scouting report:At 6-foot-7, Courtois is one of the tallest goalkeepers at elite level and his presence in goal makes him hard to beat. The Belgium international, who is closing in on his 100th cap, is incredibly consistent and hardly ever misses a game or commits glaring errors. Excellent at catching crosses, hes impressively acrobatic for his size and has fine instinctive reflexes. His footwork might not rate the highest, but its improving.

High point of 2021:Perhaps Courtois best performance of the year came earlier this season in a 1-0 Champions League win for Madrid at Inter. His fine saves denied a goalboundLautaro Martinezheader, as well as two efforts fromEdin Dzeko, asLos Blancossneaked the three points.

Club / country:Bayern Munich / Germany

Scouting report:The original sweeper keeper is still among the best in the game when it comes to footwork. Few other goalkeepers are as comfortable in dealing with the ball at their feet. Whether its short or medium passes with the right pace and angles, pinpointing a long diagonal or even spotting a run in behind, Neuer can do it all. He pushes up when his team is in possession like no other goalkeeper, while his reflexes and game-reading skills are still of the very highest order.

High point of 2021:Neuer is a modern goalkeeper, in that his ability on the ball remains as important as his shot stopping. As such, it was no great shock to see him arrow a 60-yard pass to set up a Champions League goal forRobert LewandowskiagainstBenficain November.

Club / country:Paris Saint-Germain (moved fromAC Milanin July) /Italy

Scouting report:In addition to having the size and presence to command his area, the Italy international is technically brilliant. While initially recognised for his sharp reflexes on the line, his ability to time and execute his closing down of an on-rushing opponent is now his trademark. Donnarummas distribution has also improved steadily over the past few seasons, to the point where hes confident enough to be used by his defenders to play away from pressure, as has his ability to get his hands safely on crosses.

High point of 2021:The 6-feet-5 stopper used every inch of his frame to become Italys Euro 2020 penalty king. He saved from Alvaro Morata to help secure a place in the final, then kept out further penalties fromJadon SanchoandBukayo Sakain the shootout win overEngland.

Club / country:Atletico MadridSlovenia

Scouting report:In contrast to the trend of sweeper keeper, the Slovenia international is all about the bread and butter of goalkeeping: stopping goals. Aside from his distribution under pressure, Oblak is the complete No. 1: equipped with strong hands and exceptional agility. He positions himself extremely well (including when rushing out) and his concentration and reflexes are so sharp that he can even reshape his body to keep out a late deflection. A world-class goalkeeper and deserving of the No. 1 spot here.

High point of 2021:A fingertip save from Lionel Messi at Camp Nou in May was perhaps the most crucial stop Oblak made this year. It ensured the game ended goalless, earning Atletico a point at the business end of the season and serving a major blow to Barcelonas hopes of winning LaLiga.

Jan Oblak says it was always his dream to be a goalkeeper after being named best in the world in the ESPN FC 100.

Perhaps once the least-skilled outfield players, right-backs now are often converted wingers, who bring boldness and unpredictability. Positional awareness, pinpoint crossing and high speed separate the best from the rest.

High points written by Alex Kirkland

Club / country:Bayern Munich /France

Scouting report:Contrary to the modern full-back, Pavard (as a re-schooled centre-back) does not have the lightning pace or the natural urge to break forward of many of his top-level contemporaries. On the other hand, the France international is a highly intelligent footballer who times his runs well and reads danger early. Hes good in the air for a wide defender, tackles well and is composed on the ball. A very useful team player who keeps on steadily improving.

High point of 2021:Pavard won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and was part of Frances UEFA Nations League-winning side. Injury and suspension have affected him recently, but his belief remains; as he put it himself: Great coaches put me at right-back because they have confidence in my abilities.

Scouting report:With over 300 Premier League appearances to his name, Azpilicueta has been an incredible servant for Chelsea with his versatility, diligence and stability. No matter the formation or position, the Spain international defender tends to put in a fine shift, having arrived mainly as a full-back but found himself used in the centre as well. His ability to read and anticipate the game makes him capable of winning most of his duels, he rarely looks in trouble and takes care of his tasks in an expert manner. A respected leader too.

High point of 2021:Lifting the Champions League trophy as Chelsea captain was a career peak for a consistent competitor and his club form also saw Azpilicueta deservedly return to the Spain team after a three-year absence; he played a key role inLa Rojas run to the Euro 2020 semifinals.

Club / country:Inter Milan(moved fromPSV Eindhovenin August) /Netherlands

Scouting report:The Netherlands wing-back drew plaudits with some impressive performances during Euro 2020 this summer, scoring two goals in the process. Still yet to claim the status of a regular after his €12.5m move from PSV to Inter in the summer, he is an eager, enthusiastic wide man who supports the attack with relentless forward running. Dumfries delivers a high number of crosses, but can struggle with accuracy.

High point of 2021:Dumfries scored in successive matches at Euro 2020 againstUkraineandAustria-- his late, headed winner in the former game provided the final, decisive twist in a five-goal thriller -- and those displays helped his profile skyrocket and earn him a move to Inter.

Club / country:Atletico Madrid / England

Scouting report:A reliable right-back with a balanced attacking vs. defensive game. In addition to being a good crosser of the ball and a regular set-piece taker, Trippier is positive in his passing and is always looking to progress with the ball after the initial touch. He has performed well in one of the best defensive units in European football at Atletico Madrid.

High point of 2021:The first trophy of his career, when Atletico won LaLiga, vindicated the 2019 decision to leave his comfort zone of England and test himself with a move to Spain. Trippier made 28 league starts in 2020-21 and his consistency was a vital factor in the success of Diego Simeones side.

Scouting report:With well over 400 league appearances for Sevilla and Manchester City, Navas -- who permanently switched to right-back from a winger two years ago -- covers the right flank with expertise. He takes up advantageous positions to involve himself going forward and is a non-stop provider of quality crosses into the box (nearly five per game). Though rapidly approaching his 36th birthday hes still consistent in his performances.

High point of 2021:Navas was already guaranteed a place in Sevilla history: The clubs appearance record holder, no player has lifted more trophies. He captained them to a fourth-place finish in LaLiga with 77 points -- another all-time high -- and is part of a title push in the ongoing campaign.

Club / country:Manchester City / England

Scouting report:From mostly trading on his sprinter-like pace as an orthodox right-back, the England defender has developed into a flexible, tactically smart, all-around defender under Guardiola. While not being particularly productive in the constructive side of the game when crossing the halfway line (his crossing rarely leads to goals or chances in the area), he is undoubtedly among the best one-vs-one defenders around.

High point of 2021:Having won back his place, Walker was pivotal in Man Citys Premier League title success and started every knockout-stage game en route to the Champions League final. His best displays came in the semifinal against Paris Saint-Germain, helping keepKylian MbappeandNeymarquiet.

Scouting report:Already a solid, strong and athletic defender, James has improved going forward since Thomas Tuchels arrival as Chelsea manager. The England international loves making well-timed attacking runs behind or on the shoulder of the opposing full-back and has recently shown off an impressive ability to score with a powerful shot off either foot. Plays with a contagious enthusiasm for the game.

High point of 2021:A sign of James all-round qualities, which have made him vital for club and country, came during Chelseas 2-0 win at Arsenal in August: He laid on the opener forRomelu Lukaku, then scored himself, all while playing his part in another stellar defensive display from the European champions.

Club / country:Manchester City /Portugal

Scouting report:The Portugal international plays with great energy, determination and confidence. Always keen to get the ball and involve himself in the build-up phase, he passes well with both feet, often looking for options infield rather than just moving the ball along wide areas. He possesses a powerful shot with both feet and is happy to try his luck from the most unlikely of distances. A constant, relentless threat, though his enthusiasm can make him prone to run into blind alleys. Cancelo wins an impressive percentage of defensive challenges (60%) and is strong in the air for a full-back.

High point of 2021:In the opening 20 minutes at West Brom in January, Cancelo almost single-handedly won three points for title-chasing City. He set up Ilkay Gundogan, then scored the second himself. And he can play on either flank; no wonder teammate Phil Foden has called him the worlds best attacking full-back.

Scouting report:An atypical full-back whose main strengths are found in the technical side of his game. While he frequently joins the attack through overlaps or bursting down the wide areas, hes equally adept at controlling the ball from a deeper position and pinpointing forward passes (2.7 key passes per game this year is quite astonishing for a right-back) or hitting early diagonals. Alexander-Arnold is also one of the best crossers of the ball in the Premier League. Not yet considered as an expert defender, but does recover a respectable amount of balls in the opponents half.

High point of 2021:His November man-of-the-match performance against Atletico Madrid was a masterclass. Both of Liverpools goals came from pinpoint right-footed deliveries into the penalty area from Alexander-Arnold, who dominated the match in a way few full-backs can.

Club / country:Paris Saint-Germain (moved from Inter Milan in July) /Morocco

Scouting report:Hakimi proved the perfect wing-back on the right side of Antonio ContesScudetto-winning Inter Milan team. Much like withBorussia Dortmundpreviously, the Morocco international -- who can also play on the left -- was an uncontainable presence, causing a constant attacking threat with his strong running and winger-esque dribbling skills. He scored a remarkable seven league goals for Inter and has started his Ligue 1 career in impressive fashion after a €60m move this summer.

High point of 2021:Having begun the year as a key member of the Inter team that won the clubs first Serie A title in 11 years, Hakimi has made the biggest impact of PSGs high-profile summer arrivals, most notably when he scored twice -- including a 95th-minute winner -- in a 2-1 win atMetzin September.

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate who deserves the No.1 right-back spot in the FC 100.

Being a top defender requires more than size, assertiveness and strength. Many of the best are cultured in possession; others epitomize no-nonsense force. The greats combine timing and power with elegance and poise under pressure.

High points written by AndrewCesare Richardson

Club / country:Liverpool / Netherlands

Scouting report:A centre-back who leads verbally, by presence and by example. Nearly unbeatable in the duels -- be it in the air or on the ground -- the Liverpool defender is also extremely intelligent in his positioning and is normally one step ahead of his opponent. His ability to hit a long diagonal pass is as good as you will find. And, with his outstanding heading technique, hes also a natural target for set pieces.

High point of 2021:The biggest sign of Van Dijks importance was seen in Liverpools struggle to qualify for the Champions League while he was out through injury. Since their defensive leaders return, Jurgen Klopps side has improved to challenge for the Premier League title and cruise in Europe.

Scouting report:Not quite as dominating as he was a few years ago, but Bonucci is still one of the most complete defenders of his generation. The Juventus man brings massive experience and leadership qualities, while he adapts his game to his defensive partners, whether its Chiellini orMatthijs de Ligt. Despite having lost some of his mobility and sprinting speed as he has aged, Bonucci is still able to use his tactical awareness and sheer power to get to the ball first. His long passes are also usually of a high standard.

High point of 2021:A colossus at the back during Italys memorable run to Euro 2020 victory, Bonucci was also a frequent starter of forward moves and scored Italys equalising goal against England in the final, as he tapped in from close range after reacting fastest to the opportunity.

Scouting report:Providing the focal point in the middle of Chelseas back three, the ex-AC Milan and PSG defender is still one of the most incisive defenders in world football. His success ratio from challenges in the air and on the ground remains above 70%, and hes still an expert organiser of a defensive line and set pieces alike. The Brazil veteran always plays with 100% focus, while he moves, acts and defends with world-class expertise.

High point of 2021:Silva produced a defensive masterclass to keep Real MadridsKarim Benzemaat bay in the Champions League semifinal second leg. The France international -- one of the frontrunners for this years Ballon dOr -- barely had a kick, with one Silva overhead-kick clearance especially impressive.

Scouting report:Despite bossing the Napoli defence for years, the Senegal international is yet to get proper recognition outside of Italy. From a visual perspective, Koulibaly can appear so casual and imposing he makes defending look easy. When he sets his mind on recouping the ball, he practically just goes to get it. The tall, elegant centre-back plays with such authority that its quite fascinating to watch (though he can be too nonchalant at times.)

High point of 2021:He loves a late winner against Juventus, and his tap-in sealed a comeback Napoli victory in September. The 2020-21 campaign was not a vintage season, but Koulibaly has been crucial to Napolis incredible start to the current season, which sees them riding high in Serie A.

Club / country:Real Madrid (moved from Bayern Munich in July) / Austria

Scouting report:Alabas goal for his new club Real Madrid in El Clasico against Barcelona in October summed him up as a player: Having made the initial interception in defence, he darted up the pitch to finish the move with a clean left-footed strike. In other words, the Austria international has the intuition of a defender, the vertical running power of a midfielder and a strikers finish (let alone leadership and determination which any player would want.) Its hard to pick out a similarly tactically adaptable player at the highest level over the past 30 years. No matter if he starts the game in the heart of defence, on the left wing or as a playmaker in midfield, Alaba performs his duties with great quality and intelligence.

High point of 2021:What better way is there to make yourself a hero to Real Madrid fans than by scoring against Barcelona on yourClasicodebut? Alaba turned in a superb display in another sign that he has settled into life in Spain after signing as a free agent, having left Bayern Munich.

Scouting report:From the talented but occasional liability we saw in his younger days with Stuttgart and Roma, the Germany international has established himself as a reliable, proactive centre-back -- whether playing on the left of Chelseas back three or the centre in Germanys back four. A reliable passer of the ball, Rudiger is still a defender who thrives on the physical side of the game: Hes extremely powerful and comes out on top from an impressive 75% of his defensive duels.

High point of 2021:Having featured sparingly under Frank Lampard, Rudigers transformation under Thomas Tuchel has been extraordinary. His improvement was shown by a dominant display in Septembers 3-0 win at Tottenham, where he scored Chelseas third goal with a fine finish.

Club / country:Manchester United(moved from Real Madrid in August) / France

Scouting report:Although the France international hasnt had the best year for Real Madrid or Man United, its hard to find clear downsides in his game. Hes arguably among the quickest centre-backs in the game, is excellent in the air and good enough on the ball to play out efficiently from the back. Varane has the ideal physique for a centre-back -- tall and athletic, yet mobile over short spaces -- and has developed the nous to make decisive interceptions in the box.

High point of 2021:He left a comfortable Madrid life to challenge himself in England and began with a game-winning assist on debut, but arguably Varanes most memorable moment was before Uniteds season opener against Leeds; his on-pitch presentation turned Old Trafford into a frenzy and helped spark a 5-1 victory.

Scouting report:While he regularly played left-back or even wing-back in his early days, in his later years the Italy veteran has become most noted for his diligent and resolute defending. In Chiellinis mind no challenge is ever lost (he wins nearly three quarters of his defensive challenges), and his desire to defend through blocks, tackles or by throwing himself in front of the ball at any cost is a dying art. One of the toughest opponents a forward can face, either physically or verbally; Chiellini will be at you all night.

High point of 2021:Italys captain and leader produced one of Euro 2020s iconic images when he pulled back Bukayo Saka by his shirt as the England substitute threatened to break away late in the final. The move showed Chiellinis ruthlessness and intelligence and why he is still a nightmare for attackers.

Club / country:Paris Saint-Germain / Brazil

Scouting report:Equally adept at playing in defensive midfield, Marquinhos main forte is his control of the ball and understanding of the game. He tends to drops deep to direct the play from behind and to start attacking with a pass into midfield. While the Brazilian usually prefers to deal with danger by making early interceptions, hes also capable of outmuscling his opponent in a competitive duel. He brings structure and leadership to the defence.

High point of 2021:The defender scored Brazils Copa America opener againstVenezuelaas part of an emphatic display in a 3-0 victory.Selecaocoach Tite wants attacks to start from the back, and Marquinhos is at the heart of that, having also developed into one of the teams leaders.

Club / country:Manchester City / Portugal

Scouting report:The way Dias went from a promising centre-back in the Portuguese league to become the backbone of the Premier League title winning team is almost unprecedented. His measured, calm style resembles a seasoned defender in his peak years (usually between 28-32). He reads the game so well to make interceptions, and is a vocal commander of his teammates. Hes also quick over