50 Players to Watch in Europe's Top Football Leagues This Season

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalAugust 9, 2011

50 Players to Watch in Europe's Top Football Leagues This Season

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    The new football season is already upon us in Germany, and with excitement mounting for the first round of matches in England, France, Spain and Italy, it's time to take a look at 50 players to watch in Europe's top leagues for the 2011-12 campaign.

    I haven't ranked the players here, just assembled a group based on talent, potential and entertainment value. Some are proven household names, others may be less familiar, but all 50 are well placed to play a defining role as domestic and European matters are settled next May.

    They'll be some I've missed, so please feel free to add your suggestions below.

1. Mario Balotelli

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester City

    If there's one thing we've learned about Mario Balotelli, it's that he's unlikely to stay out of the headlines for long.

    Manchester City's hot-headed striker could be brilliant this season. He could also be dreadful, and put up for sale within a month. Finding out will be fun.

2. Mario Gomez

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    Division: Bundesliga

    Club: Bayern Munich

    German internationl striker Mario Gomez couldn't stop scoring last season.

    He put away 28 in the Bundesliga and eight in the Champions League. If he's firing, you can't rule Bayern out in Europe.

3. Alexis Sanchez

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    Alexis Sanchez was the man everybody wanted to sign this summer.

    The Chilean winger was voted La Gazetta dello Sport's Serie A Player of the Year last season for his performances with Udinese, and should prove a bold addition to Pep Guardiola's already formidable Barcelona side.

4. Fabio Coentrao

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Real Madrid

    Jose Mourinho paid €30 million euros for Portuguese wing-back Fabio Coentrao this summer, with the suggestion surely that he will go straight into Real's starting XI.

    Judging by the reaction to his recent performance against LA Galaxy, Coentrao will prove a popular acquisition at the Bernabeu.

5. Jack Wilshere

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Arsenal

    Arsenal's pint-sized central midfielder has been a revelation over the past two seasons.

    Jack Wilshere has proved himself equally adept at controlling games in the Premier League and the Champions League, and represents one of the best young players in world football.

6. Sergio Aguero

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester City

    Sergio Aguero was profilic at Atletico Madrid, and could prove the most telling signing of the new Premier League season.

    Some say the 23-year-old is already a stronger player than his want-away teammate Carlos Tevez, and the striker clearly has the tools necessary to thrive in England.

7. Javier Pastore

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    Division: Ligue 1

    Club: Paris Saint-Germain

    PSG are attempting to buy the French title. Huge investment has seen them wade into the transfer market like never before, and their biggest expense this summer has been Javier Pastore.

    Much is expected of the 22-year-old Argentine, who'll be at the centre of a lot of attention surrounding his new club this season.

8. Florent Malouda

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Chelsea

    When Florent Malouda is on song, Chelsea are a seriously potent attacking force. The Frenchman will be key to the fortunes of new manager Andre Villas-Boas this season.

9. Wesley Sneijder

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Inter Milan

    Regardless of where Wesley Sneijder is playing his football next season, he'll be a key player in a team challenging on all fronts.

    The Dutch midfielder is in the prime of his career and unquestionably one of the best midfielders in the world right now.

10. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Real Madrid

    Okay, it's an obvious one, but when you consider Cristiano Ronaldo scored a record-breaking 40 goals (some say 41) in the Spanish league last season, he's clearly a man to keep an eye on.

    Judging by the preseason hat-trick he scored against Guadalajara recently, Ronaldo will hit the ground running in La Liga.

11. Gareth Bale

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Tottenham

    Gareth Bale sent his star into the stratosphere with two brilliant performances against Inter Milan last season.

    Tottenham have managed to keep hold of their Welsh flyer for now, but if he replicates that kind of form consistently in the Premier League they'll have their work cut out in January.

12. Thomas Müller

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    Division: Bundesliga

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Thomas Müller picked up the Golden Boot and Best Young Player award at the 2010 World Cup, and the German international carried his form into the Bundesliga last season.

    Quick and direct, he'll be key to Bayern's hopes domestically and in Europe.

13. Moussa Sow

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    Division: Ligue 1

    Club: Lille

    Moussa Sow proved one of the most inspired signings of the season in France last year.

    The Senegal international joined Lille from Rennes and set about scoring 25 Ligue 1 goals, including a hat-trick in the game that sealed their title success.

14. Gervinho

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Arsenal

    Gervinho was Moussa Sow's striker partner for Lille last season, but the Ivory Coast international is now in the colours of Arsenal.

    Get ready for the Didier Drogba comparisons if he starts putting the goals away.

15. Wayne Rooney

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester United

    There was never any doubting Wayne Rooney's talent, but his temperament was called into question after a dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup.

    Rooney returned to form with Manchester United in the second half of the season and is by all accounts in tip-top shape for the new campaign.

    There's a hunger in him that seems to suggest this could be a big season.

16. Xavi

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    One half of the best central midfield partnership in world football, Xavi is at the peak of his powers.

    At 31, he stil has the legs to put in the miles, and with them come a footballing brain that few can match.

17. Thiago Silva

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: AC Milan

    Brazilian international Thiago Silva has matured into arguably one the best defenders on the planet.

    His partnership with veteran Alessandro Nesta helped Milan win the title last season and should be just as strong this time around.

18. Luis Suarez

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Liverpool

    Luis Suarez made a fine start to his Liverpool career last season.

    Judging by his form in the Copa America, Kenny Dalglish could have the kind of player at his disposal who could turn also-rans into potential champions.

19. Nuri Sahin

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Real Madrid

    Turkish international midfielder Nuri Sahin played a key role in Borussia Dortmund's march to the Bundesliga title last season.

    Real Madrid took notice and Sahin will be lining up alongside the likes of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo this time around.

20. Manuel Neuer

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    Division: Bundesliga

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Manuel Neuer was Germany's first-choice goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup and subsequently returned home to display fine form for Schalke.

    Manchester United were said to be interested in signing him, but it was Bayern who won the race.

21. Edinson Cavani

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Napoli

    Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani scored 25 goals in Serie A last season, including hat-tricks against Juventus and Sampdoria.

    His goals helped earn Napoli a spot in the group stages of this season's Champions league, where he'll be a serious threat.

22. Fernando Torres

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Chelsea

    Chelsea paid Liverpool £50 million for Fernando Torres, expecting his goals to fire them to the Premier League title. So far it hasn't quite worked out that way.

    Torres appears to be suffering a crisis of confidence and there are serious doubts over whether he'll return to the kind of form he produced for Atletico Madrid and Liverpool.

    This could be a make-or-break season for him.

23. Franck Ribery

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    Division: Bundesliga

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Franck Ribery was good in patches last season, but a combination of injury and lack of form saw him fail to consistently produce what we know he's capable of.

    He'll feel he has a point to prove this season.

24. Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Malaga

    With money to burn after their takeover by Sheikh Al Thani, Malaga have been tipped by some to threaten the ascendancy of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain this season.

    Veteran Ruud van Nistelrooy arrived on a free transfer, and at 35, this could be the last season we see the prolific Dutchman banging them in.

25. Javier Hernandez

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester United

    Javier Hernandez was a revelation at Manchester United last season.

    Sir Alex Ferguson thought he'd take time to bed in after arriving from Mexico, but by the end of his first campaign he'd overtaken Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in the pecking order and formed a devastating partnership with Wayne Rooney.

    Judging by his form over the summer we can expect more of the same from Chicharito.

26. Antonio Di Natale

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Udinese

    Serie A top scorer the last two season in a row, Antonio Di Natale will be prowling the Champions League this season after helping Udinese qualifiy.

    At 33 he won't be around forever, so catch him while you can.

27. Rafael Van Der Vaart

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Tottenham

    Rafael van der Vaart was signed late on transfer deadline day last summer, and it proved to be an inspired move by Tottenham.

    The Dutchman took the Premier League by storm and made himself a cult hero at White Hart Lane in a matter of weeks.

28. Arturo Vidal

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Juventus

    Arturo Vidal's performances for Bayer Leverkusen last season helped secure him a big money move to Juventus this season.

    The hard working Chilean international midfielder should be well suited to life in Italy.

29. Andres Iniesta

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    Runner-up in the 2010 Ballon d'Or, Andres Iniesta is the other half of the best midfield duo in world football.

    While his partner Xavi is approaching the twilight of his career, 27-year-old Iniesta should be arriving at his peak this season, which is a worrying thought for Barcelona's rivals in Spain and Europe.

30. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Arsenal

    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has just one full season in the senior ranks to lean on, but he clearly showed enough potential to tempt Arsenal into paying Southampton £12 million for his services.

    Experts say he's strong, direct and an excellent passer. Let's hope Arsene Wenger gives the teenager a chance to impress in his first season.

31. David Silva

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester City

    Spanish international David Silva will be a key figure for Manchester City this season.

    At his best he's among the most effective creative players in the Premier League and capable of dictating a game in the final third.

32. Kevin Gameiro

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    Division: Ligue 1

    Club: Paris Saint-Germain

    Kevin Gameiro is another of PSG's raft of signings this summer.

    The 24-year-old striker scored 22 goals in Ligue 1 last season for Lorient, and was also wanted by Valencia in Spain.

    PSG got their man, however, and will be looking to him to help fire them to the title.

33. Miroslav Klose

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Lazio

    Miroslav Klose has been a profilic goalscorer for both Bayern Munich and the German national team during his career.

    At 33, he's taken on a new challenge and will be leading the line at Lazio this season. Don't be surprised if he bags a hatful.

34. Samuel Eto'o

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Inter Milan

    Samuel Eto'o enjoyed his most profilic campaign to date last season for Inter.

    The striker scored 37 goals in all competitions and produced some of the best performances of his career.

35. Samir Nasri

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Arsenal

    When you consider Samir Nasri's contribution to Arsenal last season it's no wonder the club are fighting desperately to keep him.

    The French attacking midfielder brings a touch of magic to the Gunners and will hopefully build on an attention-grabbing campaign last time out.

36. Arjen Robben

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    Division: Bundesliga

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Arjen Robben was hit hard by injury problems last season, but the flying Dutchman should be back firing on all cylinders this time around.

    At his best, Robben is among the most effective and devastating wide players in world football.

37. Giuseppe Rossi

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Villarreal

    Giuseppe Rossi has been a wanted man this summer.

    The Italian international striker scored 18 times in La Liga last season, adding another 11 in the Europa League. He remains at Villarreal for now and they'll be desperate to keep him.

38. Mesut Özil

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Real Madrid

    German playermaker Mesut Ozil enjoyed a fine start to life in La Liga with Real Madrid.

    Jose Mourinho clearly likes what he sees in the young midfielder and will be hoping for even greater influence from the 22-year-old this season.

39. Andy Carroll

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Liverpool

    Liverpool striker Andy Carroll did enough in his first few months at the club to suggest he'll be a force this season.

    An imposing presence in the air, Carroll should benefit from the accurate deliveries of new signing Stewart Downing.

    Expect him to score 15 or more goals in the Premier League.

40. Marvin Martin

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    Division: Ligue 1

    Club: Sochaux

    A popular choice in experts' Ligue 1 Team of the Season for 2011-12, Marvin Martin is an attacking midfielder who goes by the nickname "little Xavi."

    The 23-year-old is seemingly destined for bigger things, so keep an eye on him.

41. Nani

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester United

    Portuguese winger Nani was hugely influential for Manchester United last season, with his direct running and penetration from the flanks.

    The 24-year-old has improved with every season at Old Trafford, and judging by the way he attacked the Community Shield on Sunday will be a serious handful for opponents once again this time around.

42. Gerard Pique

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    With Carles Puyol in the twilight of his career, ever increasing responsibility falls on the shoulders of Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.

    Still just 24, Pique is already one of the most complete defenders in the game. If he continues in similar vein he could become a Barca legend like his partner Puyol.

43. Angel Di Maria

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Real Madrid

    Argentine winger Angel di Maria made an impressive start to his Real Madrid career last season, after taking on the responsibility of being Jose Mourinho's first signing.

    The 23-year-old winger provided a good supply line and Mourinho will be hoping for more of the same this season.

44. Ashley Cole

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Chelsea

    Putting his tabloid persona to one side, there's no doubting Ashley Cole is among the most talented and adventurous full-backs in world football.

    At his best, he gives Chelsea a thrust going forward that makes even the strongest opposition vulnerable.

45. Daniel Alves

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    If Ashley Cole is in contention for the left-back spot in a World XI, then the man on the opposite flank has to be Dani Alves.

    Alves gives Barcelona another dimension on the right, surging forward at every opportunity and still managing to cover his duties in defense.

46. Robin Van Persie

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Arsenal

    Robin van Persie scored 18 Premier League goals for Arsenal last season in just 25 appearances.

    With continued speculation surrounding Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, the weight of attacking responsibility will fall on his shoulders this season.

    If the Dutchman stays fit, this could be his best campaign yet.

47. Kevin-Prince Boateng

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: AC Milan

    Midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng seemed a curious loan signing for AC Milan, but the Ghana international proved a shrewd addition and earned himself a full contract after helping Milan to the Serie A title.

    Still just 24, Boateng will be looking to build on an impressive debut campaign at the San Siro.

48. David De Gea

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    Division: Premier League

    Club: Manchester United

    Manchester United have taken something of a gamble on David de Gea. The young Spanish goalkeeper is being tasked with replacing Edwin van der Sar at United and is already under pressure after a mistake in Sunday's Community Shield.

    There's no doubting his talent, but his mental strength will be seriously tested during his debut season in England.

49. Alessandro Matri

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    Division: Serie A

    Club: Juventus

    Alessandro Matri's goals for Cagliari in the first half of last season earned him a loan move to Juventus.

    The Italian international took up where he left off, scoring nine times in 16 Serie A appearances to take his campaign total to 20, and convince Juve to give him a permanent deal.

50. Lionel Messi

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    Division: La Liga

    Club: Barcelona

    The undisputed best player on the planet, Lionel Messi will be tasked with doing it all over again this season.

    Having spearheaded Barcelona's march to the La Liga title and Champions League glory last season, the diminutive genius will be integral to their hopes of back-back successes this time around.