Ranking the 20 Greatest Left-Footed Players in the Game Right Now

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2014

Ranking the 20 Greatest Left-Footed Players in the Game Right Now

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    Lefties. They might be a bit, well, different, but football teams need them to provide a sense of balance and symmetry to their teams.

    In these days of inverted wingers and full-backs bombing forward, left-footed players aren't just required to stand out on the wing and make the pitch bigger, they are a key element in switching up attacks and ensuring that they arrive from differing angles.

    But who are the best left-footed performers right now?

    Here we count down a list of the top 20, and remember, we're going on form here and not necessarily a player's past achievements in the game.

20. Leighton Baines

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    Everton's raiding left-back Leighton Baines has scored four goals this season, two free-kicks on the same afternoon in a match at West Ham and penalties at Stoke and in the recent FA Cup win over Swansea.

    Having rejected interest from Manchester United to sign a new contract with the Blues (via The Guardian), Baines is increasingly likely to be England's first-choice on the left side of defence come the World Cup in the summer, and he'll offer both a goal and assist threat in Brazil.

19. Thibaut Courtois

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    Admittedly he needs to use his hands a lot more than either foot, but Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois deserves some recognition here and gets his place on the list on merit.

    On-loan at the Spanish title-challengers from Chelsea, Courtois' impressive form ensures that he is set to be Belgium's No. 1 at the forthcoming World Cup and might even find himself playing at Stamford Bridge next season in place of his fellow left-footer Petr Cech.

18. Hulk

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    Blessed with a rocket launcher where his left foot should be, Zenit St. Petersburg's Hulk is set to be one of the stars of the World Cup in the summer.

    He's picked up 32 caps for Brazil since his debut in 2009 and won four Portuguese league titles with Porto before his move to Russia. Plenty are now waiting to see if Hulk makes a move to one of European football's major league in the summer.

    Perhaps he is lacking consistency, but there are certainly few more spectacular players around when he's on form.

17. Mesut Ozil

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    Although not enjoying the greatest of form with Arsenal at the moment, German international Mesut Ozil has nonetheless helped spark the Gunners' impressive season ever since his multi-million pound move from Real Madrid in the summer.

    Blessed with terrific balance and the ability to spot a pass when one doesn't seem on, Ozil is a terrific player when things are going his way, and the midfielder will still hold hopes of inspiring Arsenal to Premier League glory this season.

16. James Rodriguez

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    One of the wave of expensive new arrivals at mega-rich Monaco in the summer, Colombia's James Rodriguez is an exciting talent, and one who still has so much more to give the game at the age of just 22.

    His goal return of just five strikes in Ligue 1 this season could certainly be improved upon, but as his brace in the recent 2-0 win at Bastia showed, he certainly possesses plenty of ability in front of goal.

    Likely to be a key man for Colombia in Brazil in the summer, Rodriguez has an awful lot to do live up to the hype that followed him during his early days at Porto, but it'll be fun watching him try.

15. Alvaro Negredo

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    Alvaro Negredo is enjoying a first season in English football that looks like it's about to yield a trophy or two, and Manchester City's fans have certainly taken him to their hearts ever since his move from Sevilla.

    The man they've christened "The Beast" might be goalless in his last five following a run of 11 strikes in his previous 12 games, but he still adds so much to the City side and has certainly proven himself to be more effective than Edin Dzeko.

    With Sergio Aguero close to returning from injury too, a return to his impressive partnership with the Argentinian is imminent.

14. Juan Mata

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    Now five games into his Manchester United career, Juan Mata is the man that the Red Devils have banked on to reverse their disappointing fortunes of late.

    Plenty of Chelsea fans were sad to the Spanish international leave Stamford Bridge, but neutral Premier League watchers must just be happy to see that such a gifted performer is now being allowed back onto the pitch after being marginalised under Jose Mourinho.

    Two assists in his first two United games are a good start.

13. Angel di Maria

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    Despite the omnipresence of Cristiano Ronaldo and the impact made by Gareth Bale since his huge transfer in the summer, Angel di Maria has still managed to make 29 appearances for Real Madrid this season, scoring six goals.

    The Argentinian is quick, dynamic and someone whom defences can't afford to take their eyes off, especially when he is called upon to make impact appearances off the Real bench.

    Perhaps in the summer we'll see him move on to a club where he can affect games from the start more often, but Real boss Carlo Ancelotti will still see him as a key member of his squad.

12. Xherdan Shaqiri

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    Bayern Munich's Swiss international pocket dynamo Xherdan Shaqiri is yet another player on our list who will be seeking to impress at the World Cup in the summer, with many tipping the Swiss to surprise at the tournament.

    Formerly of FC Basel, Shaqiri has scored five goals in 19 appearances this season, including two in his last match appearance against Freiburg, where he picked up an injury that ruled him out of the Champions League tie at Arsenal last week.

11. Kevin Strootman

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    Enjoying a fine first season at Roma, Kevin Strootman has total of six goals so far this season, more than he managed in all but one of his campaigns in the Netherlands at Eredivisie clubs Sparta Rotterdam, FC Utrecht and PSV Eindhoven.

    Making a mockery of the notion that Serie A is a tough division to adapt to, the midfield powerhouse is developing into one of the most complete players in his position anywhere in Europe. Having only recently turned 24 this month, Strootman only looks to be getting better.

10. Marcelo

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    Real Madrid's reliable left-back has seen his game adapt and improve during eight unbelievable seasons at the Bernabeu.

    Even more remarkable, he's still only 25, but having improved defensively over the last few campaigns as well as maintaining his quality and adaptability going forward, Marcelo has become a mainstay of his team regardless of which manager he's playing under.

    Five assists this season also point to his growing importance at Madrid.

9. Jordi Alba

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    The metronomic raiding down the left flanks of Barcelona and Spain has become a feature of both sides' attacking and defensive play, with Jordi Alba as the man responsible.

    Injury and suspension have hampered his form this season, but he returned to put in a fine performance in Barca's recent Champions League victory at Manchester City, a display that the 24-year-old will set as the standard for his personal and his team's performances for the remainder of the campaign.

8. David Silva

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    Manchester City's matador David Silva will have an increasingly important role to play as his team go for domestic glory over the remainder of the season, with his constant creativity and probing a key feature of Manuel Pellegrini's plans.

    As we saw with Alvaro Negredo, the return to fitness of Sergio Aguero will aid Silva over the rest of the campaign, as he looks to get close to the staggering total of 21 assists he made in the 2011/12 season. He's currently on 10.

7. Antoine Griezmann

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    This is a high ranking for Real Sociedad's exciting young Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, but that is based solely on his form.

    He starred and scored in Sociedad's 3-1 victory over Barcelona last weekend, with his tally of 15 La Liga goals this season only bettered by Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo.

    A return to France's national team might be in the offing both before and during the World Cup (he was suspended up until the end of last year for a breach of discipline), whilst a move to a Champions League club could beckon in the summer.

6. David Alaba

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    His missed penalty at the Emirates Stadium doesn't change the fact that Austria's David Alaba is still a fine player, and one who has emerged in recent seasons as one of the best examples of a modern full-back.

    Still just 21, Alaba has managed five goals this season to go alongside the nine he scored in the last campaign, and he only looks like improving under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola in the undoubtedly success-laden years to come.

5. Robin van Persie

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    Manchester United's Champions League misery at Olympiacos will have upset Robin van Persie even more than plenty of the other defeats that his club have endured this season. The Dutchman had been coming back into form in Greece but missed a golden chance to score an away goal late in the game.

    Four goals in his previous five games before that had been a pretty successful return from injury, and David Moyes will be banking on the 30-year-old to score the goals which ensure that his first season at Old Trafford at least earns a semblance of respectability.

4. Arjen Robben

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    Pretty much everyone who has watched the development of Arjen Robben as a footballer over the past decade knows exactly what he's going to do when he picks up the ball on the right flank for Bayern Munich. He's going to cut inside onto his left foot and try to bend a shot into the corner.

    It's all well and good knowing what he's going to do, but stopping him is a different matter.

    Thirteen goals in 26 games this season are an improvement on his numbers from last term, and as Bayern go for glory, he'll be a key man.

3. Daniel Sturridge

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    No forward in England is in finer form than Daniel Sturridge right now, with the Liverpool man becoming just the second player in Premier League history to score in eight successive matches with his double strike in last Sunday's 4-3 win over Swansea at Anfield.

    As one of the dual spearheads of the Reds side alongside Luis Suarez, Sturridge is leading the fight as Brendan Rodgers' entertaining team make one of the most unlikely title challenges in recent years. Sturridge's 18 goals are right at the forefront of it.

2. Gareth Bale

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    The stunning strike in the 3-0 win over Elche at the weekend was just the latest impact made by Gareth Bale during his first season at Real Madrid, with the Welshman now clocking up 10 La Liga goals in 17 appearances in the division.

    He may never truly live up to the exorbitant price tag that Real paid Tottenham for him in the summer, but that shouldn't detract from the staggering improvement and influence he has gained as a footballer over recent years.

    Champions League success will be the next target for Bale, and he's got the quality to help achieve it.

1. Lionel Messi

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    Lionel Messi remains the top left-footed dog after returning from injury to score seven goals in his last five games, including a penalty in the Champions League win over Manchester City.

    Despite his injury problems, he's still managed 21 goals in 22 appearances this season, frightening form ahead his expected domination for Argentina in a South American World Cup in the summer.

    So much has been said and written about Messi over his career that there isn't really enough space to do him justice here, but as the current king of the left-footed players―literally following in the footballing footsteps of Diego Maradona―he still has so much to achieve and so much more time in which to do so.

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