Chelsea's Juan Mata & The 20 Best Attacking Midfielders In Europe Right Now - Part Two...
10. Marek Hamsik - Napoli
For a few years now the Czech Republic international has been linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs but Napoli have done well to hang on to the 26 year old. Now with Rafa Benitez spending big, he may be convinced he doesn’t need to leave to further his ambitions. Unlike most of the attacking midfielders on this list, Hamsik is strong and he uses that to his advantage. His timing is almost perfect and he picks out team-mates perfectly. Has drawn a lot of comparisons to Paul Scholes, as both his club and country like to let him dictate the play and pace of games. Needs to help out more at the back but with 13 goals and 18 assists last season, neither Napoli nor the Czech Republic are relying on his defensive skills too much.
9. Santi Cazorla - Arsenal
An ambidextrous player who joined the La Liga exodus last summer. Arsenal tried to sign Cazorla from Villarreal but Málaga beat them to it but a year later he was sold for half his worth as the club on the coast had to sell. Pellegrini described it as a ‘robbery’ and he wasn’t wrong. Cazorla is consistent and versatile enough to play as a winger, centrally or even as a holding midfielder. Although some will argue that his consistency was poor last season, it was his first season in England. At Málaga he was an expert at set pieces but at Arsenal he hasn’t convinced too much in that role yet. He is a definite game changer and with Özil and Cazorla, The Gunners will not lack creativity and flair. Last season he netted 16 goals and provided 14 assists. Wenger expects more and with the World Cup in his sights, Santi is determined to step up and show his worth.
8. David Silva - Manchester City
Jesus Navas better take note because no matter how good you are in the Premier League, those in Spain can ignore you. Silva is nicknamed ‘Merlin’ for his trickery with the ball and he can play in various positions. He can play out wide or a little further down; he also gives you the option to play him just behind the main strikers. He picks out his forwards with great precession. Was seen as being very slight when he joined City, he has worked on his upper body strength. Last season he scored nine and had 17 assists for both City and La Roja. With the World Cup coming up he wants to be a key player and so Man City and the Premier League should see some fantastic football from him.
7. Mesut Özil - Arsenal
This 24 year old has been dubbed the signing of the summer and it is very hard to disagree with that. Maybe not exactly what Arsenal needed but he will certainly make them a serious threat again. He can find space and players from the tightest angles. He seems to always have 5 seconds more with the ball than anyone else. He is quick and can whack a ball but he needs to work on his tackling and bulk up a little. Nicknamed the owl or ‘Nemo’ for obvious reasons, he may not have been too keen to leave Real Madrid but he is 100% committed to the cause now. Rumours of his social life have surfaced but also been quickly denied. Mourinho described him as the perfect No 10 and said there was a little bit of Zidane and Figo in him and it is fair to say that’s a pretty accurate assessment. Former Gunner Cesc Fabregas says he will be a hit and so fans are getting very excited to see his creativity firsthand. Last season he didn’t have the best of starts but finished it with 16 goals and 35 assists in all competitions, domestic and international.
6. Xavi - Barcelona
This one will be the shortest because if you don’t know Xavi, you have been living under a rock for the last ten years. Brilliant, creative, superb and the list goes on. Usually the playmaker tops every list but he is getting old now and picks up niggling injuries and so his playing time is limited. Some may argue that his replacement, many deem it to be Cesc, should be included in this list but he hasn’t nailed down a place yet at Barca and for that reason he has been excluded. Anyway back to Xavi, like Pirlo his best days are behind him but he is still decisive in games and we will deeply miss him when he retires.
5. Thomas Muller - Bayern Munich
This is the first of many Germans on the list and he deserves to be high up. Germany has a real golden generation of creativity on their hands and Brazil 2014 will be the perfect place to demonstrate it. Muller will be 24 in September and whilst his stats are fantastic he has often been accused of disappearing in big games. A statement which is a little harsh as he won the Golden Boot in the 2010 World Cup at just 20 along with ‘Best Young Player Award’. He scored: two goals against England and one against both Argentina and Uruguay. Not minnows by any definition. He has flair, technique and his passing is exquisite. When most polls are done he seems to be ignored which is a real shame. Won the treble last season and provided 26 goals and 17 assists for both club and country. Generally well liked for his down to earth nature, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. When Diego Maradona refused to sit with him in a 2010 press conference he shrugged it off. Maradona refused to partake as he said he didn’t know the player but when Muller scored in Argentina’s mauling from Germany in the knockout stage, the quiet German piped up, saying ‘As for Maradona, well this is special for me. I don't think that he thinks I am a ball boy anymore’
4. Juan Mata - Chelsea
For a while it looked like Mata was on the way out this summer with Atlético de Madrid the favourites to get him but the Madrid club couldn’t afford his fee and Chelsea didn’t want to entertain the idea of a loan deal. Chelsea claim that they never wanted to sell Mata but the Spanish media claim that Mourinho wants him out. Yet, Mourinho is known for his mind games and his relationship with the Spanish Press is well known. One thing everyone seems to forget is that the Special One was very harsh with Mesut Özil at the start of last season and just recently called him the best No 10. Maybe Mourinho is using tough love once again on the man the Chelsea dressing room call ‘Johnny Kills’. Technically superb, Mata brings Chelsea to another level with his close control and decision-making. He knows not only how to set up team-mates but also how to score himself. Mata could be just one of an exciting Chelsea attack. He needs to learn to track back more and needs to bulk up a bit as he can be bullied off the ball at times. Mourinho is the man to do that. Last season he scored 21 goals and 29 assists and the Blues will be hoping of more of the same
3. Gareth Bale - Real Madrid
A big season lies await for the former Spurs man. Expected to play on the left of midfield with Ronaldo moving and taking a more central forward role. The pressure is on the most expensive player in the world but so far it doesn’t seem to have fazed him in the least. He is exceptional going forward and made a mockery out of Inter Milan in the Champions League a few years back. Maicon probably still has nightmares about the Welsh wizard. He loves to hold on to the ball and doesn’t rush to move it on, something that will be good for him in Spain, as defenders don’t generally go crashing in and tend to back off attackers. His defensive side is weak but that won’t be a major issue at Real Madrid as they bought him for his goals and assists, not to defend. Last season he got an amazing 30 goals and 11 assists for both club and country and the Premier League will miss him. At Tottenham he was their set piece specialist but will we see that at Real Madrid as Ronaldo rules the roost but for how long? While White Hart Lane will miss him but they can always console themselves with the fact that Arsene Wenger passed up on him because he had Gael Clichy.
2. Franck Ribery - Bayern Munich
What can be said about the 30-year-old French man that hasn’t already been said? What a season last year and he has just been named ‘UEFA Best Player in Europe’. Still has his pace and loves to run with ball. His control is still as good as ever and although he isn’t the strongest of players, he still gives as good as he gets. He has had some issues with his temperament and as he gets older he will lose some of that pace. Guardiola will still want him around though and may try and push him inside and play him centrally. Will it work? Who knows but if it means more years of seeing Franck, well it’s worth a shot. Last season he scored 17 goals and 25 assists for Bayern and France.
1. Andres Iniesta - Barcelona
The 29 year old has won it all and won it all in style. He has flair, vision and he is seen as technically one of the best players in the world. He started out at his home club Albacate, whom he would later rescue from bankruptcy by buying over 7000 shares to become the majority shareholder. Barca were so impressed when they played against him in a youth tournament that they broke their rule of only signing boys over 14 and brought him to La Masia at the age of 12. Iniesta has often been accused of being too frail but he showed his mental strength back then when he resisted the urge to return home and stayed and fought for his place. That strength is one of the keys to his success because he was written off a lot and needed to be strong to prove himself. As he progressed through the ranks at Barca, he almost joined Glasgow Rangers on loan but the deal fell though and the rest is history. Can be seen dribbling and passing around and inside the box and links up perfectly with Messi who has been the main benefactor from his perfect vision and knowledge of where to supply the ball. Last season he started 55 games for both club and country and scored 7 goals and provided an amazing 22 assists. In one Champions League game last season he was registered as having passed the ball three times more than the average player. Messi gets the headlines but Iniesta is a genius that is happy to lead the quiet life.
And that is my list. I am sure there will be plenty of comments about whom I missed. Players like Erik Lamela, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago etc all came very close to being included but unfortunately there isn’t time to explain why they weren’t included. Arjen Robben is probably one name that will be pointed out as not being on the list and whilst the Dutchman is brilliant, he rarely makes more than 25 league games in a season due to injury and so that was the main reason for his exclusion.