We have now done videos on the seven best current goalkeepers, left-backs, centre-backs, right-backs and defensive midfielders.
Today we move onto the left wingers, and in one respect, this is where things can start to get a little tricky. There are plenty of players who like to alternate flanks and could therefore be considered either left or right wingers, and a similarly large number of players who operate both as strikers and wide players at different times.
We’ve tried to put each player in the position they have played most frequently this season, and it is an important point to note that Cristiano Ronaldo will not be in this video, but rather the centre-forward one. I won’t go into the specifics of any other players, but just to prevent outrage in the comments I thought I’d best address that one.
For those of you who haven’t watched the earlier parts of this series, please do, we also explain the criteria a little in the introductions to some of those videos. Right, here are our 7 best left wingers in world football:
7. Sadio Mane
I must admit, I thought it seemed like a lot of money when Liverpool spent £34 million to bring Sadio Mane to Anfield from Southampton. Three years on, he’s probably worth more than double that to Jurgen Klopp as an integral source of pace, guile and goals in the Liverpool side. At the age of 26, Mane just keeps on getting better. From 13 goals in his debut campaign at Anfield to 20 last season, he’s already matched that tally so far this term.
Those are extraordinary numbers for a wide player, albeit one who plays high up the pitch, and Mane has scored just one goal fewer than Mohamed Salah in both the league and in all competitions this season. On the downside, the Senegalese international does have surprisingly few assists, just one all season, which is the lowest of any player in this seven.
That’s a minor setback for a wide player who is so devastating in front of goal though, and Mane sees off the challenge of one or two genuinely top class players to make our top seven.
6. Leroy Sane
Picking who is the superior left winger between Sadio Mane and Leroy Sane isn’t an easy decision. I even stuck up a little poll on our Twitter page to gauge the mood on there, and the last time I checked it was split roughly down the middle. If we look at pure statistical analysis, which is never wise but we’ll do it anyway, then we can see firstly that Mane is virtually an ever-present when available, meanwhile Sane is often a victim of Pep Guardiola’s incredible squad depth and rotation. Mane has averaged a goal ever 155 minutes this season, and has 20 goals in all competitions, whilst Sane has averaged one every 180 minutes, with a total of 15. The biggest difference, statistically speaking, lies in the number of goals they have laid on for their teammates, where Sane has 13 compared to Mane’s 1.
You can prove anything with stats, or so they say, and to be honest, I suspect Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t swap Sadio Mane for Leroy Sane and nor would Pep Guardiola. Both players suit the teams they are in, and in an incredibly tight call, we lean towards Sane on the simple fact that I think he is a more gifted footballer.
Sane has that rare ability to glide past players, his inter-play is superb and he is just about untouchable on his day. On this seasons form alone, these two would be even higher, but on current ability I think sixth and seventh is fair. Lest we forget though, that Leroy Sane is just 23 years of age, and he has the potential to top this seven one day.
5. Philippe Coutinho
From a Liverpool star of the present to one of the past, in fifth place is Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho. It seemed like a case of ‘here we go again’ when Liverpool lost Coutinho to Barcelona in a deal some claimed could be worth as much as £142 million if all clauses were activated, with the Reds previously having had to rebuild following the sales of their best players. It didn’t work out that way though, as Liverpool used the Coutinho funds to strengthen their defence by bringing in Virgil van Dijk, and their front three continued to score goals for fun. Just because Liverpool got by without him doesn’t mean Coutinho isn’t a special player though.
The second or third most expensive footballer of all time depending on which reports you believe, Coutinho does have something Liverpool lack, and that is just that little bit of magic, cunning and creativity a little bit deeper that is so often required to crack a stubborn defence. Since signing for Barca, Coutinho has been tried out as part of a midfield three and as part of a front three, but he seems most at home and has played most frequently on the left flank.
We often describe Coutinho as a classical Brazilian playmaker, diminutive, skilful, inventive, occasionally explosive and capable of pulling off the remarkable. He has 10 goals and 5 assists this season, which is fewer combined contributions than Mane & Sane, but Coutinho has often played deeper than those two and there is far less of an onus on him to score goals in that Barcelona team.
4. Marco Reus
Despite suffering injury after injury over the last five years, Marco Reus has never ceased to be absolutely brilliant when fully fit. He has managed to stay fit for most of this season, and the result has been one of the finest campaigns of his career. In addition to his 19 goals and 7 assists in 32 games, Reus has also been the attacking linchpin in a Dortmund side which could still win the league.
Reus has gradually moved more and more central on the pitch recently, and one could make a case for him being considered for the attacking midfielders seven rather than this one. Despite having been heavily linked with clubs such as Liverpool and Barcelona, whilst the likes of Lewandowski, Hummels and Aubameyang all departed, Reus has remained loyal to Dortmund, where he now serves as club captain.
3. Gareth Bale
It’s always a controversial decision where to rank Gareth Bale in these kind of lists, inevitably there’ll be some angry Real Madrid fans claiming he is their worst player since Julien Faubert at one end, and then some equally angry passionate Welshman claiming he’s better than Pele and ought to be first.
On the one hand, Bale has been ravaged by injuries for the last three or four years and he’s failed to step up the plate as Real’s go-to match winner in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence this season. On the other hand, his record at Madrid, when one forgets about the unrealistic Messi and Ronaldo numbers, is fantastic, he has scored huge goals for Real such as his brace against Liverpool to win last seasons Champions League, and even this season he has bagged 14 goals in 38 games, which would be considered decent for most players in this seven.
Potentially, Bale is the second or even at a push the best left winger in the world, but equally, on form, he’s probably the eighth or ninth best. On balance, we think third place is the right call.
2. Eden Hazard
If Gareth Bale did leave Real Madrid in the summer, the man the club would most likely look to replace him with is Eden Hazard. Hazard is actually only one year younger than Bale, but whilst the Welshman seemingly peaked in his last season at Tottenham, Hazard is arguably at his best right now. Currently sat on 19, this could well be the first season in Hazard’s Chelsea career that he hits 20+ goals.
That is one side of his game that is sometimes called into question, especially when the likes of Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling hit such purple patches in front of goal, but in terms of sheer ability, there are few finer than Hazard. His ability on the ball is frightening, especially his close control when running at speed and the ease with which he beats players; and his recent strike against West Ham being a prime example of everything that’s great about Hazard.
The Belgian star has the most combined goals and assists in the Premier League this season with 28, ahead of the likes of Sergio Aguero on 26, Mohamed Salah on 25 and Raheem Sterling on 23. His attacking output is the only reason Chelsea are still in the hunt for a Champions League place, and he has contributed to roughly half their league goals this season.
0. Honourable Mentions
As always, here we have our honourable mentions between second and first place, and it wasn’t easy narrowing down those worthy of acknowledgment. I’ll start with the man who probably came closest to cracking our seven, and that was Tottenham star Son Heun-min, a brilliant footballer who has just gone from strength to strength with minimal fuss under Mauricio Pochettino.
Staying in the Premier League, we could mention Wilfried Zaha who has been brilliant for Crystal Palace for so long now and they would be in big trouble without him, along with Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United, the latter of whom was probably more highly regarded than Hazard not long ago, but has just had an absolute nightmare since signing a lucrative deal at Old Trafford.
In Serie A, we could mention the likes of Douglas Costa at Juventus, Lorenzo Insigne at Napoli and Ivan Perisic at Inter Milan, in the Bundesliga Franck Ribery has been one of the best left wingers in the world for so long but he is 36 now, meanwhile Julian Brandt who is 14 years his junior is also a fine footballer and worth of a mention.
Other honourable mentions go to the likes of Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria in Ligue 1, Yacine Brahimi in the Portuguese Primeira Liga and Marco Asensio at Real Madrid.
The undisputed best left winger in the world at least as long as one considers Cristiano Ronaldo a centre-forward now, which he predominantly is, there really shouldn’t be too many debates about Neymar’s place at the top of this seven. A sensation since the age of 15, a Santos star at 17 and a Brazilian international at 18. I can think of few players who have had as much pressure put on them at such a young age, and even fewer who have gone on to fulfill their potential and become one of the best players in the world.
Neymar scored 42 goals in his best season at Santos and 39 in his most prolific campaign with Barcelona, aged 20 and 22 respectively, and he is by far the most prolific player in this seven. He’s scored 48 goals in 53 games since making a world record breaking move to PSG in 2017, and although we wish he’d stuck around at Barcelona with Messi and Suarez for a little longer – and didn’t roll around on the floor all the time – those two things don’t detract from his talents as a player.
At the age of 27, Neymar is already Brazil’s third highest scorer of all time, soon to overtake Ronaldo and most likely one day Pele. Quick, skilful, two-footed, creative and deadly in front of goal, Neymar will make the world XI at the end of this series and rightly so.