The 2021-22 club campaign has come to an end, so GOAL has put together an all-star line-up from the ‘Big Five’ leagues…
Elsewhere, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain have all been celebrating league titles, while Eintracht Frankfurt and Roma took home the lesser continental trophies.
But who were the top individual performers of the 2021-22 campaign?
Courtois claimed after Saturday’s Champions League final that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, particularly in England.
Well, not anymore!
The Belgium goalkeeper was outstanding in Paris, making an incredible nine saves as he almost single-handedly won the European Cup for Real Madrid with one of the great goalkeeping performances in a final.
And it’s also important to stress here: the former Chelsea man wasn’t just outstanding at the Stade de France – he has been brilliant for well over a year, playing a key role in Los Blancos’ Liga triumph, too.
Not just a tremendous attacking full-back, Liverpool’s hometown hero is one of the most creative players in world football full stop.
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold racked up a staggering 18 assists in all competitions across the 2021-22 campaign – only Thomas Muller and Kylian Mbappe managed more.
Alexander-Arnold is obviously going to cop some flak for Vinicius Junior’s winner in Saturday’s Champions League final, but there is absolutely no denying that his defensive game has come on leaps and bounds over the past season.
There is simply no better right-back in the world right now.
There was considerable doubt over whether Van Dijk would return the same player after the knee injury which wrecked his 2020-21 campaign.
However, after an understandably sluggish start to the season, the Netherlands international got back to his brilliant best, playing a pivotal role in Liverpool coming desperately close to pulling off a historic quadruple.
He just makes it all so easy that when Michael Owen says he can’t think of a better centre-back from the past 40 years, we struggle to disagree…
Let’s face it: we knew right away that Alaba represented a great bit of business by Real Madrid.
Without even getting into his pay packet, picking up one of the most talented and versatile defenders in the world on a free transfer was always going to be a smart move.
Alaba, though, placed extra pressure on himself by taking over Sergio Ramos’ No.4 jersey, but he has risen to the challenge.
As well as performing excellently at the heart of the Blancos backline, he also opened his account with a goal in the Clasico clash with Barcelona last October, and achieved something even more extraordinary by making a chair famous…
Andy Robertson is arguably the most complete left-back in the world; Joao Cancelo definitely the most versatile.
However, Theo Hernandez gets our vote for helping AC Milan win a first Scudetto in 11 years.
The former Real Madrid man notched nine assists and scored five times in all competitions, including a coast-to-coast effort against Atalanta on the penultimate weekend of the Serie A season that evoked memories of George Weah’s ‘Goal of the Century’.
For a long time, it seemed as if Manchester City might struggle to replace Fernandinho. And then Rodri came along, and slowly but surely established himself as the best defensive midfielder in the game today.
No player in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues won possession more times than the Spain international (399), while he also completed more passes than any other midfielder (3,382).
Utterly integral, then, to Pep Guardiola’s side, and their Premier League title triumph.
Trent Alexander-Arnold says that Salah is a “victim of his own success”, and he’s got a point. The Egyptian’s rare dry spells always seem to draw far more attention than they should.
The fact is that nobody got more goals or assists in the Premier League in 2021-22 than Salah, while he repeatedly took the breath away with sensational solo strikes, most notably against Manchester City at Anfield.
His revenge mission against Madrid in Paris didn’t go according to plan – primarily because of Thibaut Courtois – but Salah was once again outstanding this season.
Champions League glory may have once again eluded De Bruyne, but the brilliant Belgian once again made the Premier League look like his own private playground.
His four-goal haul in a 5-1 rout of Wolves earlier this month was simply breath-taking, while it was just so fitting that it was De Bruyne who provided the cross for the Ilkay Gundogan goal that won the title for Manchester City.
With 14 assists, and 19 goals, De Bruyne has once again proved himself the best attacking midfielder in the game today.
Now the whole footballing world knows why Leao is regarded as the finest talent to ever come out of Sporting C.P’.s famed youth academy. He was simply sensational for Milan this season.
It wasn’t just that he contributed 11 goals and 10 assists to their Scudetto-winning campaign, he repeatedly stepped up when his team-mates needed him most, most notably on the final day of the season when he produced a hat-trick of assists in the decisive victory at Sassuolo.
He was the obvious choice for Serie A Player of the Season, and it’s fair to say that those comparisons with a young Thierry Henry are no longer looking quite so fanciful.
Lewandowski is 33 years of age and yet nearly every top team in Europe is considering trying to sign him this summer. Why? Because the prolific Pole remains at the peak of his powers.
Indeed, the Bayern Munich No.9 bagged 50 goals this season in all competitions – the second-best tally of his entire career.
Don’t bet against the forward winning a third consecutive European Golden Shoe next season – no matter where he ends up.
Thierry Henry says they may as well stop the count for the Ballon d’Or vote now, and we tend to agree.
There is simply no way that Karim Benzema will not be crowned the world’s best player later this year, after a stellar campaign from the Frenchman.
The Lyon academy product had never previously scored more than 32 goals across a single season. He struck 44 times in 2021-22 as Madrid won La Liga and the Champions League.
What’s more, he never failed to deliver when the pressure was on against the game’s top teams, scoring back-to-back hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea at one point.
Quite simply, the perfect team player.