World Football: Ranking the Top 20 Player Performances in 2012-13
We all know football is a team game. The sum of a team's parts is generally more than the individual pieces. A great team will beat a team of great players. We know the cliches, but they are true.
Sometimes, however, you have to just sit back and marvel at individual performances. Great players can often drag their side out of trouble with important goals or immaculate saves. Those types of players and the performances they put in can make a huge impact on a team's destiny.
So with that in mind, I tried to recall the best 20 individual performances I've seen across Europe in club competition this season. The beauty of a topic like this is its subjectivity, I changed my mind on numerous occasions, and I have no doubt that you will all have your own opinions. What makes a performance "great" is different for us.
I have judged my selections on those moments which make you sit up and take notice as a lover of the game—players who can excite you.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
But before my list, here are some honourable mentions:
Isco vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Joe Hart vs. Borrusia Dortmund
Leighton Baines vs. Newcastle United
Santi Cazorla vs. Tottenham
Stephan El Shaarawy vs. Catania
Frank Lampard vs. Everton
Wayne Rooney vs. Manchester City
Oscar vs. Juventus
Marco Reus vs. Borrusia Monchengladbach
Thomas Muller vs. Stuttgart
20. Theo Walcott vs. Newcastle United (29th December 2012)
Amid all the talk of Theo Walcott’s contract dilemma (finally that's over!), the forward has put in some scintillating showings this campaign. None more so than those against Newcastle, who were run ragged by Walcott. He bagged a hat-trick in an unbelievable 7-3 victory, showcasing his devastating finishing skills.
The England international has been operating in a centre forward's role in recent weeks, and with performances like this, it is easy to see why he has been longing to play in that position.
19. Arturo Vidal vs. Chelsea (20th November 2012)
As things have been getting better for Juventus, things have been getting better and better for Arturo Vidal. The Chilean midfielder is quietly maturing into one of the best midfielders in Europe. Andrea Pirlo has deservedly secured most of the Juve-centred plaudits in the past year, but Vidal has been just as impressive in his role.
In this particular game, an Oscar-inspired Chelsea found themselves two goals up. Vidal, who was hobbling around whilst both Chelsea goals were scored, could have gone off injured. But instead, he produced a warrior-like performance in the heart of the midfield, scoring Juve’s first goal in the game, which in turn inspired his side to claim a well-earned 2-2 draw.
18. Edin Dzeko vs. West Bromwich Albion (20th October 2012)
With Manchester City down to 10 men and 1-0 behind to high-flying West Brom, chances of comeback were looking slim. City’s Bosnian striker had other ideas, however. He scored twice late on to secure a 2-1 win with the odds stacked firmly against his team.
His second goal, in particular, was worth savoring, as his sublime first-time finish capped off a swift City counter-attack. It was a real champion's performance.
17. Marouane Fellaini vs. Manchester United (20th August 2012)
Traditionally, Everton do not start Premier League campaigns well. But with Manchester United first up under the Goodison floodlights, you sensed that a shock might be on the cards. Marouane Fellaini took the game to United, dominating make-shift centre-back Michael Carrick in the air and on the ground. I'm sure Carrick still has nightmares about that afro.
Everton should have been ahead beforehand, but it was fitting that the talismanic Belgian managed to bag the winner, setting himself and his team up for a promising season.
16. Luis Suarez vs. Norwich City (29th September 2012)
The Canaries must be absolutely sick of the sight of the enigmatic Liverpool forward. After scoring a hat-trick at Carrow Road on his last visit, Luis Suarez repeated the feat this season in a 5-2 win for Liverpool, the first league victory for new manager Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool really needed a spark to get their season going, Suarez provided it.
The work ethic and quality of Suarez's on-field skills were far too much for Norwich to handle, and after Liverpool’s recent 5-0 win in the reverse fixture at Anfield, they will be mightily relieved they don’t have to come up against Suarez again until next year.
15. Prieto and Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad (6th Jan 2013)
Two great performances in the same game make these two impossible to separate. This one was a classic. Madrid went down to 10 men early on after Antonio Adan was sent off. This gave Sociedad a chance and long-serving Sociedad man Xabi Prieto the opportunity to capitalize, as he put three goals past Adan's replacement Iker Casillas. Three at the Bernabeu? It doesn't get much better than that.
But not to defied, Madrid, somehow, managed to come out on top. Who else but their main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice to drag Los Blancos over the line. There is, perhaps, only one player who can steal the limelight from the Portuguese superstar.
14. Gareth Bale vs. Aston Villa (26th December 2012)
After the 8-0 mauling Chelsea dished out to Villa, Spurs were always going to go to Villa Park extremely confident of getting a result. They did just that, inspired by a Gareth Bale masterclass. After a frustrating and goalless first period for the London outfit, Bale turned on the style in the second half, as he took advantage of some weary Villa legs.
It was not quite as spectacular as his San Siro treble but certainly enough to make the rest of the Premier League stand up and take notice of Andre Villas-Boas and his improving Tottenham side. Bale continues to exhibit himself as a world-class player.
13. Lionel Messi vs. Spartak Moscow (19th September 2012)
With Barca 2-1 down and struggling in their opening Champions League clash, they needed a spark. So, as is so often the case, their talisman stepped up. It was a classic case of a top player dragging a struggling team over the line.
Messi netted twice in double-quick time, turning the game on its head, galvanising his side and deflating the opposition as he so often does. Barca were comfortable from then on, as they went on to win the match and top their Champions League group.
12. Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Dinamo Zagreb (6th November 2012)
A remarkable performance from the maverick Swede. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic banned from domestic action, PSG welcomed him back in the Champions League encounter against Dinamo Zagreb. Ibrahimovic showed what they had been missing.
Ibrahimovic showcased his all-round abilities, setting up all four goals for the Parisians in an emphatic 4-0 win.
For the multitude of signings made by PSG, Ibrahimovic has undoubtedly been their best. It is remarkable how indispensable he became for them in such a short space of time.
11. Santi Cazorla vs. Reading (17th December 2012)
In the midst of all the negativity at Arsenal, Santi Cazorla is certainly an overwhelming positive. The £16 million man put in his best performance of the season at Reading’s Madjeski Stadium, as he contributed three goals to Arsenal’s 5-2 win.
Cazorla wreaked havoc between the lines; his horizontal movement in front of the back four was too hot to handle for the newly promoted Royals. The hat-trick was just reward for an all-round outstanding individual performance.
10. Edinson Cavani vs. A.S Roma (6th January 2013)
After the departure of his fellow forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, there has been a lot of pressure on Edinson Cavani to deliver the goods for Napoli this campaign. The Uruguayan has duly obliged. His best performance of the season came just when it was needed. He scored a perfect hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header) in Napoli’s 4-1 trouncing of Roma.
The performance was duly significant, as it closed the gap on league leaders Juventus, who had already dropped points this weekend. It is no wonder that Cavani is one of Europe’s most sought after strikers.
9. Juan Mata vs. Tottenham (20th October 2012)
Chelsea’s Spanish playmaker was excellent in his maiden season at the club. But this campaign, he has been nothing short of sublime. In this encounter at White Hart Lane, Chelsea were 2-1 down to their London rivals Spurs—until Mata came to the fore.
He struck a quick-fire brace midway through the second half to set up a 4-2 win for the European Champions. It was a win which took Roberto Di Matteo's win to the top of the Premier League.
8. Robin Van Persie vs. Southampton (2nd September 2012)
New signings can often take some time to settle at their new clubs but not Van Persie. Despite the Dutchman scoring early on, United found themselves 2-1 down in this topsy-turvy encounter with newly promoted Saints. Robin van Persie had an effort saved from the penalty spot, but he was not to be denied his first defining moment as a United player.
He scored a poacher's finish to level things up three minutes from time, before a deft header deep into injury time sent the United fans into raptures. The Premier League’s top scorer hasn’t looked back since.
7. Falcao vs. Chelsea (31st August 2012)
On ITV’s coverage of this game, presenter Adrian Chiles referred to the Atletico Madrid No. 9 as a "great prospect." This only demonstrated how very little was known about the Colombian sharpshooter in England.
Just a prospect? Not quite.
Falcao showed that he is undoubtedly the finished article in the Super Cup Final with a blistering first-half treble, sinking the European Champions. His first goal was the pick of the bunch, a sweetly struck left-foot curler from the edge of the box. It has apparently made Mr. Abramovich sit up and take note.
6. Javier Hernandez vs. Aston Villa (10th November 2012)
After losing the title on goal difference in the last campaign, Alex Ferguson proclaimed that would never happen again. The signing of Robin Van Persie, obviously, looked to be in keeping with that sentiment.
But with the Dutchman's addition, it means that United now have four fantastic strikers on their books. If the two on the pitch aren’t firing, then there are two others who could do just as good a job in their place. This is exactly what happened the night United travelled to Aston Villa.
With United 2-0 down and toiling, the recently introduced Javier Hernandez turned the game on its head. He gave United hope at 2-1 with a neat finish through the keeper's legs, before leveling things up with a deflected effort at the back post.
From then on, as is often the case with United, you kind of knew what was coming. Three minutes from time, the live-wire Mexican stooped home from a Van Persie cross to snatch victory.
Typical United. Typical Chicarito.
5. Fraser Forster vs. Barcelona (7th November 2012)
There is just something special about Celtic in Europe, isn’t there? Having been desperately unlucky to lose to Barcelona at the Camp Nou, "The Bhoys" were in good spirits ahead of Barca’s visit to Parkhead. It was a night that will go down in Scottish football history, as Celtic turned over their illustrious opponents 2-1—the goals coming from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt.
But it was goalkeeper Fraser Forster who was the real hero, as he stood up to everything Barca had to throw at him, only being beaten very late on by Lionel Messi’s tap in. Such was the magnitude of his performance, Spanish newspaper Marca labelled him "La Gran Muralla"—Spanish for "The Great Wall."
4. Mario Gotze vs. Ajax (21st November 2012)
The performance of Borrusia Dortmund in the Champions League this season was, in many respects, summed up by this display in the Amsterdam arena. Despite having already qualified for the knock-out stages, the German outfit ran rings around the Dutch champions. The standout performer was Dortmund’s creator in chief, Mario Gotze.
The German wonder-kid was an absolute menace in the first period as Dortmund went in at halftime 3-0 up. He finished the game with two assists and a goal, jinking in from the left-hand side and firing beyond the Ajax keeper. If Gotze can keep producing displays of this ilk, then German champions could have a very good shot at repeating the feat in Europe.
It is through performances like this that Borrusia Dortmund and the likes of Mario Gotze, at last, are starting to get the acclaim they thoroughly deserve.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Ajax (3rd October 2012)
Ajax is one of those places that we often hear can be a tough place to get a result. But when Madrid rolled in to town in October, they were certainly not of that mindset.
Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, was devastating, scoring yet another hat-trick. Ajax, like many sides, it has to be said, just could not handle the movement, pace, power and clinical finishing that the Madrid man possesses. How do you stop a player who has so many weapons in his armoury? I certainly don't know.
Ronaldo's final goal was the pick of the bunch, as he raced on to a through ball before cheekily lifting the ball up and over a stranded Kenneth Vermeer. It was a sign of a player with supreme confidence right at the top of his game.
With La Liga all but out of the question for Madrid, Mourinho's focus will be very much on the Champions League. If Ronaldo can replicate these types of performances in European competition, then he could very well fire Madrid to glory.
2. Lionel Messi vs. Deportivo (20th October 2012)
At the start of the campaign, I think it’s fair to say that the Barcelona defence wasn’t particularly solid. The initial approach under Tito Villanova seemed to be “we’ll score more than you.” In no match this season was this more appropriate than in their away game with Deportivo La Coruna.
With the defence lacking in confidence, coupled with Javier Mascherano’s red card in the second half, it was down to Lionel Messi to come to their rescue. The Argentine laid on a goal for Cristian Tello within 10 minutes. He then netted twice before halftime, although Barca could not stem the flow of goals at the back.
But there was no need to worry for Barcelona supporters as Messi continued to mesmerise. Messi completed his hat-trick by smashing in what ultimately proved to be the winner. It was an absolutely crazy game that finished, 5-4, in favor of the Catalans.
1. Falcao vs. Deportivo (9th December 2012)
Poor old Deportivo.
If Falcao’s performance in the Super Cup Final didn’t cement his status as the best "proper No. 9"’ on the planet, then his five goals against Deportivo surely did. Players have scored five goals in a game before, not very often, but it has happened.
The contrast in the types of goals the Colombian scored is a testament to his all-round ability. It's for that reason that this is my pick for the standout performance of the season, so far.
His first was a neat finish from a tight angle. The second a 20-yard screamer on the half volley and the third from the penalty spot. His fourth of five was a brave header on the goal line, with the fifth and final goal coming after bamboozling his marker on the by-line before firing past the keeper at the near-post. It was a plethora of goal types for the worlds most complete striker.
It was certainly a fitting way to cap off what has been an immaculate year for Falcao.
If you would like to leave comments, feel free to post in the comments section or get in touch on Twitter @MattJFootball.