David Silva (Manchester City and Spain) ***
It took some time for David Silva to display his Valencia form for Manchester City, but this season he has marked himself out as one of the best midfielders in the world. Constantly inventive and elusive he has been the focal point for City’s attacks as he pulls the strings from midfield. The artistry of his passing has been cause for celebration in the blue half of Manchester and he must maintain this form if City are to capture the Premier League title.
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona and Spain) ***
While his role at Barca is not yet fully defined, few signings have made a greater impact this season than Fabregas. Demonstrating a near telepathic understanding with Lionel Messi, the former Arsenal skipper has been in prolific goalscoring form as he ghosts into advanced positions. Clearly, injuries to Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez have provided him with more playing time than might have been anticipated but it would take a brave coach to omit him on current form.
Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich and Germany) **
Uli Hoeness admitted earlier this season that he had doubted whether wunderkind Kroos would ever live up to his obvious potential. Going by this season he need not have worried as the young German midfielder has proven outstanding in the Bundesliga with an eye for a pass and the technical accomplishment to deliver it. As part of a pulsating generation of German talent the Bayern schemer has the world at his feet.
Mario Goetze (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) *
Arguably the most exciting talent in Europe today, Goetze has that innate ability to pull of the impossible that marks out so many of the very best players. With his intelligence on the ball and willingness to dribble he is a master at taking defenders out of the game. Furthermore he is prepared to take on passes that few others could manage and completes them with ease. The arrival of Marco Reus in the summer would suggest this might be Goetze’s last season in Dortmund.
Miralem Pjanic (Roma and Bosnia and Herzegovina) *
Roma made a number of clever signings this summer, but the outfield player who has most quickly adapted to life in the capital has been Pjanic. With the role of Francesco Totti diminished, Roma have needed a player to pull the strings in the final third and Pjanic has more than stepped up to the task. Already with half a dozen assists this campaign he has the ability to craft the openings that Roma’s golden boy previously provided. Roma now need a striker who can put them away.
Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan and Ghana) *
Just 18 months ago, Boateng was relegated with Portsmouth, now he is the hub of the midfield for the Italian champions. Rarely in recent years has a player made such a startling transition in such a short space of time. Of course Boateng always showed promise, but now he is making the most of his talent, as evidenced by a sublime Champions League goal against Barcelona. Fortunately for Milan Boateng’s “retirement” from international football means that he won’t be travelling to the African Cup of Nations.
Christian Eriksen (Ajax and Denmark) *
The Ajax production line keeps churning out prodigious talents, and Christian Erikson is no exception. The youngster has drawn natural comparisons with former Danish superstar Michael Laudrup and it is easy to see why his playmaking style and dribbling ability make the two similar. This season he has continued his development and it might not be long before he makes the step up to one of Europe’s top clubs.
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal and Spain) *
Following his last minute transfer to Arsenal Arteta has already demonstrated the poise and composure that were his trademark at Everton. The Spaniard may never have been deemed good enough to play internationally but he always looked capable of playing at a higher level and has not disappointed in North London. As with Xavi and Xabi Alonso, Arteta has proven himself a master at determining the tempo for his team with only Yaya Toure completing more passes this season among Premier League midfielders.
Andre Ayew (Marseille and Ghana) *
The newly crowned African player of the year has lit up Ligue 1 this season with an eye for goal and a willingness to take a shot. A markedly different player from his illustrious father, Abedi Pele, the youngster doesn’t possess the exceptional dribbling ability or desire to dictate a game, but his athleticism and shooting does compensate. His three goals in five Champions League games were vital in taking Marseille through to the knock-out phase.
Pablo Aimar (Benfica and Argentina) *
When Aimar burst on to the scene ten years ago he was naturally included in the burgeoning ranks of the “new Maradonas”. He has not of course lived up to that level of hype, but his time in Portugal has been an unmitigated success. With the role of the old-school playmaker rapidly dying out, throwbacks like Aimar remain a treasure to behold with the way that they can dictate the pace of the game and provide the killer pass. Benfica’s form in both the Champions League and the Portuguese Superliga owes much to the tiny Argentine, but it is the spectator who gets the most from his genius.
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain) *
Injuries have limited the role that Barca’s little maestro has played this season. At his best he remains a supreme talent with exquisite touch and unmatched vision who makes even the most remarkable pieces of skill look easy. The criticisms that remain of him are his lack of penetration in the final third and a goalscoring record unfit for a player of his class. If he added those to his game he’d have every right to be spoken of as a future all-time great.
Rafael Van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur and Holland) *
Sorely lacking in fitness, work ethic and tactical discipline, it would be easy to focus on the negatives about Rafael Van Der Vaart. Fortunately for the Dutchman his ability in front of goal and skill on the ball have more than compensated for his defensive deficiencies, making him a fan favourite at White Hart Lane. On his arrival many Spurs fans were concerned the club might be a stepping stone back to a European giant, Van der Vaart’s contributions are helping to lift the North London club into that bracket.
Frank Lampard (Chelsea and England) *
Despite most of the focus on Frank Lampard this season centring on his omission from the Chelsea team, he has continued to demonstrate his worth when he has played. Admittedly the calibre of his passing has perhaps not measured up to his normal standards, but he remains the game’s premier goalscoring midfielder and is already well on the way to reaching double figures in the league for a record ninth season in a row. He will need to feature more regularly if he is to be assured of a place in England’s Euro 2012 squad.
Javier Pastore (Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina) *
So far this season, as with last, inconsistency has been the bane of Pastore’s game. At his best he is capable of providing defence splitting passes like few others and looks every bit the world class playmaker many think he can become. Sadly for PSG fans, that has not been the case every week. In particular after an excellent start in Paris, his form dipped so severely that France Football were moved to consider the “Mystery of Pastore”. As one of the game’s most elegant young stars all must hope that he finally establishes the consistency his game so sorely lacks.