Behind Closed d'Ors: Ranking the Best Players in the World Behind Closed Doors

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJuly 6, 2020

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 04: Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring the 4th team goal during the DFB Cup final match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at Olympiastadion on July 04, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Welcome to the first edition of the Behind Closed d'Ors—a ranking of the best players during lockdown football season. 

It's here that we select the very best in the business at strutting their stuff inside empty stadiums, shining a light on those who have entertained us during a difficult spell for the sport.

The selection process follows that of the actual Ballon d'Or quite closely: To qualify, you're going to need to play in a major league for a major club, have recognisable star power and, of course, be playing lights-out football over the course of May, June and July.


Honourable Mention: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal)

15. Marcos Llorente, Atletico Madrid

Atletico have looked a completely different team post-lockdown. They've scored the joint-most goals of any La Liga side (15) while remaining defensively solid, with Llorente the new X-factor in attack.

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Known as a defensive midfielder for most of his career, he's now been unleashed as a support striker who presses and runs the channels, and he's been crucial to three wins (Osasuna, Real Valladolid and Levante) and counting.

         

14. Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich

It's almost impossible to attack Bayern Munich down their left side, as the road-runner presence of Alphonso Davies is so difficult to beat. Even when you think you're in the clear, he speeds back and takes it off you.

The Canadian was active in the attacking game, too, striding forward to affect play, cross and even shoot—he managed two goals behind closed doors, as well as one assist.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich of FC Bayern Munchen celebrate the third goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Chelsea FC and FC Bayern Muenchen at Stamford Bridge on February 25, 2020
Visionhaus/Getty Images

      

13. Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich

We're just three players in and already we've reached our second Bayern Munich nominee. Fair warning: There's more to come.

They dominate this list, as they do opponents on the pitch, and one of the sources of their strength has been the methodical way in which Kimmich manages and controls the midfield. He never seems to have a bad game.

        

12. Paulo Dybala, Juventus

Dybala's scored in every Serie A game he's played in since the break. He's found form at a time when Juventus really needed him to and helped them soar clear at the top of the table.

He's been lethal with the ball at his feet, scoring two beauties from outside the box and had two neat finishes following shifty runs. The latter two goals remind of Lionel Messi's dribble/shoot technique!

     

11. Paul Pogba, Manchester United

Much has been made of Bruno Fernandes' incredible impact at Manchester United—something we'll get to in full later in this list—and what's perhaps fallen by the wayside as a result is how impressive Paul Pogba's been alongside him.

His cameo off the bench against Tottenham in the first game back reminded many just how much of a game-changer he can be, and he's been consistently excellent since then.

     

10. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus 

TURIN, ITALY - JULY 04: Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC celebrates a goal during the Serie A match between Juventus and Torino FC at Allianz Stadium on July 04, 2020 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)
Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

It was hardly the most convincing start from Ronaldo post-lockdown—his first two performances in the Coppa Italia were far from his expected level—but since Serie A began he's been crushing teams.

He has four goals in four games, perhaps par for the course for the Portuguese, but the nature of those strikes has turned heads. One was a 25-yard howitzer from outside the box—a genuine rarity from him nowadays—and another was a free-kick, his first from a dead ball in 43 attempts.

That slow start holds him outside the top five in our ranking, but the explosive recovery qualifies him for a top 10 spot.

      

9. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 04: Thomas Mueller of FC Bayern Muenchen lifts the DFB Cup winners trophy in celebration after the DFB Cup final match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at Olympiastadion on July 04, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

There have been plenty of reasons for Bayern fans to smile since Hansi Flick was appointed manager, with great football flowing and trophies following. A great contributor to that has been a series of individual upturns in form, chief of which has been Muller's.

He looks back to his old, best self. Operating in a free role either as the No. 10 or off the right, he's clocked up a ridiculous 21 assists in the league, with five coming post-lockdown. He's added a couple of goals in that span, too, taking his overall tally to eight.

Particularly when Thiago Alcantara plays, Bayern can settle into the groove of controlling, possession-based play. While that's good, it's clear the wild-card nature of Muller's movements and passes has been important in adding an element of unpredictability to their play.

He's matching up elite performances with strong production and looks as good as he did in 2013-14—the season he won the Champions League and World Cup!

       

8. Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen's German midfielder Kai Havertz celebrates scoring a penalty during the German first division Bundesliga football match Borussia Moenchengladbach v Bayer 04 Leverkusen on May 23, 2020 in Moenchengladbach, western Germany. (Photo by Ina FASSBEND
INA FASSBENDER/Getty Images

What could have been a scenario to take advantage of has turned into a bit of a nightmare for Leverkusen.

The Bundesliga was the first league to return, directing all eyes towards it, and everyone realised just how brilliant their young star Havertz was. With the Werkself ending up missing out on Champions League football next season, it'll be tough to keep him around now.

Havertz, typically a No. 10 and occasional winger, has played up front during lockdown and has showcased certain Roberto Firmino-esque qualities: An ability to drop in and link play, while still offering a threat dribbling forward and in behind. Add that to the bravery he showed when rising to score two headers against Werder Bremen in the first game back, and he's ticked all the boxes.

We're looking at a potential world-class No. 9 with the size, talent and all-round skill set to wreak havoc at the top level.

        

7. Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth  at Old Trafford on July 04, 2020 in Manchester, England. Football Stadiums arou
Pool/Getty Images

Over the course of the five matches Bruno has played post-lockdown, we've seen all of his best qualities shine through.

A record of four goals and two assists speaks to the danger of his attacking play, and he's been a threat from any distance, any location on the pitch.

Add that to the sight of him running the length of the pitch to shepherd a ball out of play in defence in the final minute of extra time against Norwich City in the FA Cup, and you've got a clear picture as to why he's already such an appreciated figure at Old Trafford.

He's the spark United needed, the one who's transformed their entire team.

      

6. David Alaba, Bayern Munich

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 04:  David Alaba of FC Bayern Muenchen poses with the trophy in celebration after the DFB Cup final match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at Olympiastadion on July 04, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Alexander
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Alaba has emerged as one of the most important—if not the most important—players in Hansi Flick's dominant Bayern Munich side. 

Now a full-time centre-back, he's emerged as the commander of the line (even with Jerome Boateng present). He's crucial during the build-up phase, surprisingly excellent in the air...and as we saw in the DFB Pokal final, he's even scoring free-kicks!

Die Roten have been a relentless winning machine post-lockdown, their record a perfect 11 wins from 11 games—and the foundation of that has been an uncompromising defence. Alaba is the glue that holds it together.

         

5. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

BILBAO, SPAIN - JULY 05: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid CF  celebrates victory at the end of the game during the Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid CF at San Mames Stadium on July 05, 2020 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport I
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Close followers of Real Madrid this season likely aren't surprised that it's their defence—not their attack—carrying them to a title, but if your image of Los Blancos is still one of fire-fuelled 4-3 victories, you'll be in for a shock.

They've conceded just two goals in seven games since Spanish football returned, posting an impressive five clean sheets. Central to that effort is Sergio Ramos, the captain, who is even outshining Raphael Varane in some games now, but his impact goes beyond defensive solidity.

He has five goals across June and July, all coming from the spot in five different games, with two of those in 1-0 wins. He's quickly becoming unstoppable from 12 yards; each of his last 22 penalties have gone in!

Few have such an obvious and integral impact at both ends of the pitch. Ramos has returned focused and determined, and hit top form.

          

4. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema celebrates his second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on June 18, 2020. (Photo by
JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

For so long, Benzema was the supporting act in Real Madrid's illustrious attacking corps. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale dominated the narrative and hoovered up the goals, while the Frenchman beavered away, creating chances and balancing an attack that could not possibly work without him.

Now, the landscape is different. Despite the presence of Eden Hazard, Benzema is the star who carries the attack.

Los Blancos have him to thank, largely, for what looks like a title charge that will end in success. He's supplied some pivotal performances and moments over the last few weeks, such as goals against Real Sociedad and Valencia, plus an incredible no-look, backheel assist against Espanyol.

The B/R Football Ranks podcast discussed Benzema's incredible form compared to other top strikers in June, suggesting no club in the world was getting as much from their No. 9 as Real Madrid were.

As is often the case, Benzema's statistical line—three goals and one assist—pales in comparison to some other forwards, but his impact goes well beyond basic numbers; he's the lifeblood of an attack set to win La Liga. 

           

3. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on July 2, 2020. (Photo by PETER POWELL
PETER POWELL/Getty Images

De Bruyne's performance against Liverpool last week was so good, so overwhelmingly dominant, it sparked a wider conversation about the player: Is he the single best player in the Premier League, and where does he rank among the world's best?

Based on the range of responses to that question, he's comfortably top five, if not top three, in the world—and therefore the Premier League's de facto best. That's the lens we're watching the Belgian through nowadays.

Since the restart, he's scored and created two against the Reds, netted a beautiful free-kick against Chelsea and scored and dictated against Newcastle United. He hasn't skipped a beat.

     

2. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

VILLAREAL, SPAIN - JULY 05: Lionel Messi of Barcelona in action during the Liga match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio de la Ceramica on July 5, 2020 in Villareal, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images)
Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images

Barca have been just as dysfunctional a unit in June and July as they were in February and March, and if it weren't for Messi's input, La Liga's title race might already be done.

His three goals and seven assists have dragged the Blaugrana through a difficult stretch, and in the process brought up his 700th career goal—a phenomenal achievement that was sealed in typical fashion: an impudent, chipped penalty against Atletico Madrid.

Messi's latest performance, against Villarreal was creative majesty in human form, setting up incredible goals for both Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez.

         

1. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 04: Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring the 4th team goal during the DFB Cup final match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at Olympiastadion on July 04, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Alexan
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Lewandowski's goalscoring record during lockdown is unbelievable; he's netted 12 in just 10 games, finding the target in all but one of his games and scoring three separate braces.

His final strike of the campaign (to date) was a particularly spectacular one, chipping the onrushing Lukas Hradecky with the most subtle and calm of touches, but the overall haul has been his typical mix of headers, sweet hits and poacher's finishes.

No player has more behind-closed-doors goals than him—though he has a clear games-played advantage on several others—making him a natural pick for first place in the Behind Closed d'Ors ranking.

       

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