Top 15 Inside Forwards in European Football
The out-and-out winger is a dying breed and the conventional striker looks threatened too.
Modern football tactics often deploy two wide players who cut inside to influence the central area of the field. These players are lethal in and around the penalty area but take away from the traditional wide game we were once accustomed to.
The traditional striker is becoming an even rarer sight, as there are very few top quality target strikers left in the ranks of Europe's most successful clubs. Edin Dzeko and Mario Gomez represent a time bubble to how football used to be played.
An inside forward, starting in the left or right wing position and drifting inside, has become one of the most important roles in the game. These players often have the ability to elude their marker and thus find space.
If given the chance to influence the game, these players can make the difference.
"Inside forward" is a broad term and to be specific, this article covers the top 15 players, capable of playing in a wider role, who can score, create and heavily influence games.
Here is a list of the top 15 inside forwards currently playing in Europe.
This is the first of two very obvious selections.
At this point in time, Lionel Messi is pretty much a striker. His finishing has come on so well that he's being deployed as the most advanced forward in the team, relegating David Villa to operate from the left wing.
Ultimately, Lionel Messi established himself at the right wing position. His insane dribbling skills allow him to make the necessary space to influence a game and he's almost impossible to tackle.
The interesting thing about Messi is the fact that he works for his team. He tries hard off the ball to regain posession. Not only is this a rare and most admirable trait in a player so offensively talented as he is, but it also means he plays a bigger part in the game.
By dropping deep to collect the ball, Messi is never locked out of a game like some wingers can be. All play on a football pitch starts centrally and if the midfield isn't ticking, wingers can see almost no action.
Lionel Messi avoids this by putting in the extra yards and dropping deep. This also makes him borderline impossible to man mark and difficult to phase out of the game.
...and the second of two very obvious selections.
Cristiano Ronaldo, currently the worlds most expensive player, is also insanely talented.
In a similar vein to Lionel Messi, he is sometimes deployed as a striker due to his close range finishing and heading abilities. His cannon of a right foot means he's a threat from anywhere in the opposition half, and his dribbling talents make him difficult to contain.
He came to prominence at Manchester United and has been used at the right wing position for the majority of his career. He can use either foot, and as the video above shows, the damage he can cause from outside the box makes him a real issue for defenders coming in from the wide position.
Manchester City's little midfield magician David Silva has made quite the impact on the Premier League.
It is perplexing to think that he can't land a regular starting role in the Spanish national team even though he accredits himself very well when representing his country.
When Manchester City were trying to punch above their weight, splash the cash and move up the footballing ladder, it was the signing of David Silva that transformed them into a feared Premier League team.
From there, City have gone on to sign yet more world-class players, but it was David Silva who was the key turning point in the Citizen's fortunes.
Juan Manuel Mata
He's not quite been the saviour Chelsea needs at the moment, but given time it is clear that Juan Manuel Mata will be to Chelsea what David Silva is to Manchester City.
He started with a bang but his influence over the side has dropped in correlation to Chelsea's form.
The cracker he scored against Manchester United last weekend, though, proved he's very much still alive.
I expect Juan Manuel Mata to become one of the best wingers in the Premier League on a consistent basis and become more of a look-in for the Spanish national team soon too.
Dutch winger Arjen Robben is, fitness permitting, one of the most dangerous players in the world.
He demonstrated that on the world stage in 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, helping his Netherlands team into the final.
If you afford Robben any space whatsoever he will punish you. Coming in off the right hand side of the pitch, you have to make sure his left foot is nowhere near the ball if you want to stay in the game.
He has the ability to shoot both with power and finesse, combining deadly finishing and runs with pace and composure to match.
It's no surprise Bayern Munich have been tormenting Bundesliga defences for years, is it?
Arjen Robben is on one wing, Franck Ribery is on the other. The Frenchman has been known to blow hot and cold in the past but he's had a stormer of a season so far.
Bayern Munich remain near the summit of the table and that is in some part down to the 10 goals and eight assists Franck Ribery has contributed in the league.
He's a better natural wide player than Arjen Robben, but he often can't resist the temptation to cut in. His feet are so quick he's won countless penalties over the years.
There aren't many better examples of a modern inside forward than FC Porto's Hulk.
Check out this unbelievable compilation of his goals and tricks. He's got the predatory instincts of a striker but performs best when operating from the wing.
His left foot is an absolute hammer and his free kick-taking abilities make him even more dangerous. You don't want to chop him down and give away a free kick, but as the video shows, giving him space is fatal.
For a man nicknamed "Hulk" for his muscular frame, his speed is incredible too.
"We all knew that he was a quality player and that he was good enough for the team, but he's offering more than we ever imagined." Pep Guardiola, April 2010
Glowing praise for a young player who has surprised everyone. It seemed Pedro would come through the Barcelona ranks and take his leave once he failed to land a first team spot.
But Pedro took his chance and since then he hasn't looked back. He is slight and speedy with a footballing brain. This allows him to drift freely across the pitch and interchange his position with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
Pedro is a World Cup, La Liga and Copa del Ray winner at the age of 24.
Borussia Dortmund are the reigning Bundesliga champions, currently sitting top of the pile and set for another title race.
This is in no small part down to the outstanding play for Mario Gotze. He's still a teenager, yet he's turned out for Dortmund over 50 times and has 12 caps for the German national team at the time of writing.
The video illustrates his technical prowess when on the ball and his ability to go one-on-one with his man and beat him. Both his feet and his balance are outstanding and he is a threat anywhere within 30 yards of the opposition goal.
Borussia Dortmund will enjoy favourable results as long as they hold onto Gotze, but if he gets tempted to move on it will be an absolutely huge loss.
You just can't help but think he'd look good in a Real Madrid shirt!
When Cristiano Ronaldo swapped Manchester for Madrid, many posed the question of how the Red Devils would cope without their Portuguese superstar.
The answer? They just used their other Portuguese superstar!
The combination of both Wayne Rooney and Luis Nani stepping up to the plate made it look like Ronaldo was never missed and Manchester United have been on to win the Premier League title since he left.
Nani has grown better with each season and now represents a serious threat in and around the penalty box. He is capable of finishing with both feet and the Community Shield this season proved he's got the footballing intelligence to pick a striker's goal.
Potentially the hottest commodity for the summer of 2012, Eden Hazard is a standout performer for a decent Lille side.
Having won the the 2010-2011 Ligue 1 title, Lille might have thought they were in good shape. They've proceeded to lose Gervinho, Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sow since then and look set to lose another prized possession sooner rather than later.
The young Belgian winger will fetch at least £30 million in the summer.
Eden Hazard has contributed six goals and five assists whilst playing in the left wing role this season and is guaranteed to prove a quality acquisition for one big spending club soon.
The last thing you want is a bad injury hampering your settling in period at a new club, especially when you cost over £30 million.
The pressure on a big money transfer is huge and you need the opportunity to dispel that pressure as soon as possible.
Alexis Sanchez is now back in the Barcelona side and poses the threat he was expected to. He's got eight goals and one assist in nine starts from the wide forward position but does have an issue with holding onto the ball.
He's been dispossessed a total of 27 times so far this season and if any part of his game needs some attention, it's that. Regardless, he remains one of the biggest threats in the world coming in off the touch line.
Angel Di Maria
This season, Angel Di Maria has been simply stunning.
He has recorded four goals and nine assists whilst playing on the right wing for Real Madrid and looks to be fully settled in Spain.
Moving over from Benfica last season was tough and he didn't always play to his full potential. He now looks confident and assured on the ball and is capable of making things happen.
He's not limited to the wings either, as he can contribute efficiently through the middle channels on the pitch too. His shooting is decent and his crossing is accurate too, meaning he can revert to playing like a traditional winger if his team needs width.
David Villa is the fourth player from FC Barcelona in this list, signifying what unbelievable talent they have at their disposal.
Villa made a big money move from Valencia which raised a few eyebrows considering €40 million is not often spent on a player who is already 28 years of age.
He started slowly as a lone striker but has now settled into life with the Catalan giants as a wider forward, swapping positions with Lionel Messi.
He plays the same role for the Spanish national team when Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente is up front, coming in off the left with that devastating right foot. He made a huge impact at the 2010 World Cup and led Spain to victory, having scored five goals.
As if Germany didn't have enough young, talented players coming through the ranks already, Marco Reus has decided to turn on the style this season.
He is a major contributing reason as to why Borussia Monchengladbach are sitting in an unfamiliar top four position in the Bundesliga right now.
Unfortunately for Gladbach fans, he's on his way back to Borussia Dortmund this season for approximately €18 million—a cheap fee considering his quality, in all honesty.
Special Mention: Neymar
This article is about inside forwards doing the damage in the European leagues so this player doesn't fit into the category, but it almost feels criminal not to mention him when we're talking about this position on the football field.
Neymar is incredible. Despite controversy surrounding him, he's been able to maintain a near one goal per two games record for home town club Santos and, as yet, hasn't moved to one of the big teams sniffing around.
There seems to have been a few nearly moments with regards to him switching over to one of the two Spanish giants and it can only be a matter of time.
He seems like an ideal long-term successor to David Villa to me.
Three Who Should Be Up There
Mirko Vucinic—The Montenegrin forward is one of a number of players who made a high-profile move to Juventus this summer. Unfortunately his time at The Old Lady hasn't been too comfortable and we're yet to see the best of him.
Robinho—He never lived up to his potential and it's unfortunate when that happens to a player. He moved to Manchester City as the first big money acquisition of the new era but ultimately failed to live up to a huge price tag. His career has been rekindled at AC Milan but he's a good player, not a great player.
Ashley Young—At one stage he was compared to Lionel Messi and while most agree that was an outrageous statement from Martin O'Neill, his progress in the game seems to have stopped. A move to Manchester United should have sorted that out and while he started brightly his performances have tailed off. I still expect Young to snap out of it and fulfill his potential, although I expect him to be nowhere near Messi!
Three Who Will Be Up There
Gokhan Tore—Young Turkish winger Tore is a Chelsea reject. Well, Chelsea's back room staff should be kicking themselves right now as he has gone on to impress with Hamburg. He's got six assists so far this season from the wide role and excels at dribbling. The only aspect of his game he needs to work on severely is his finishing.
Bryan Ruiz—A bit more will be expected of Ruiz after his big-money move to Fulham last summer. He's been a slow starter for the Cottagers, but he is showing flashes of pure brilliance. He, like his teammate, will only get better with time.
Stevan Jovetic—This exciting young Montenegrin was all the rage two years ago but suffered a bad injury, halting his rapid progress. Well, he's back, he's had a haircut and he means business. He can play off the wing or in a central striking role and he's already a well-rounded player.
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