Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina) ***
Still beyond any question the best player in the world. Messi remains incredibly consistent, while able to produce moments of genius on demand. In December’s Clasico Real Madrid seemed to have control of the game until the little Argentine picked the ball up in midfield and surged past a host of defenders to set Alexis Sanchez free. It is that ability to turn any game along with performing in almost every game that makes him a class apart.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal) ***
Last year Ronaldo managed to break the 40 goal barrier in La Liga and he already has that target in his sights for this season as he maintains his incredible run of form. For all the criticism that he receives few can deny that the Portuguese forward ranks among the very best players we have seen in recent years. If he is to receive the universal acclaim that his numbers probably deserve he must eventually deliver against his apparent nemesis, Barcelona.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United and England) ***
Rooney’s blistering start to the season saw him score nine league goals in just five games as he drove Manchester United to the top of the league. A spell playing in central midfield coincided with a barren spell in front of goal, but he appears to have returned to his old ways in recent weeks. Rumours of a possible exit currently abound, but the England star remains Manchester United’s most prized possession and there are surely few clubs out there who could afford the fee or wages.
Marco Reus (Borussia Moenchengladbach and Germany) ***
At the start of the season there were few outside of Germany who were aware of the prodigious talent of Marco Reus. Certainly he impressed last campaign, but given the traditional focus on England, Italy and Spain the performances of the youngster were largely unnoticed. This year’s run of spectacular form has already secured a summer transfer to home town club Borussia Dortmund and may yet catapult Reus into the Germany side for Euro 2012. The rest of the world are now sitting up and taking note of the German wunderkind.
Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina and Montenegro) **
Long regarded as one of the most promising young players in the world, Jovetic had previously flattered to deceive. This season though he has already surpassed the total number of goals he had previously scored in Serie A. The big-haired Montenegrin may now be too hot a property for Fiorentina to hold on to. They will not be short of takers if Jovetic does decide to move on.
Raul (Schalke and Spain) *
Perhaps unfairly, there were those who doubted whether Raul would ever be able to operate at his best away from his beloved Bernabeu. Since joining Schalke though he has recaptured the form that made him one of Europe’s top players. Last season’s Champions League form masked the disappointing domestic performances of the club, but this season Raul’s partnership with Huntelaar has ensured the Gelsenkirchen club are far more competitive. Vicente Del Bosque has failed to rule out a return to theSpanish national team so could we yet see one last hurrah?
Hulk (Porto and Brazil) *
After last season’s incredible success it might have been hard for some Porto players to motivate themselves this season, especially after the departures of Andre-Villas Boas and Radamel Falcao. One man who certainly hasn’t displayed such problems has been Hulk. The Brazilian was exceptional last year and has been integral in Porto’s attempts this season to retain their title. Given his continued excellence it is surely now just a matter of time before he makes the step to one of Europe’s true giants.
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea and England) *
Earlier this season Roberto Mancini bemoaned the decision of a previous administration to allow Daniel Sturridge to go to Chelsea. When the manager of the world’s richest club covets a player, it is clear he must be doing something right. Certainly this season Sturridge has been tremendous as he has learnt to play away from his normal central role. With pace, an excellent shot and a great attitude this is a young player who can go all the way.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool and Uruguay) *
Putting the furore that surrounded his contretemps with Patice Evra to one side, the signing of Suarez has been a master-stroke for Liverpool. With Andy Carroll making an underwhelming start to his time at Anfield and Steven Gerrard out for so long with injury the onus has been on the Uruguayan to deliver. His overall play has been excellent but Liverpool fans must hope that he can replicate his goalscoring exploits for the national team when playing at a club level.
Andriy Voronin (Dynamo Moscow and Ukraine) *
As much as it might astonish Liverpool fans, Voronin has been rather good this season. The former Anfield flop seems far more at home in Moscow (just as he did in Berlin) and has proven himself an accomplished performer during his time in Russia. As the league attempts to realign itself with the rest of Europe, the Ukrainian has hit a rich vein of form and demonstrated quite what he is capable of.
Maxi Moralez (Atalanta and Argentina) *
Despite his short stature, Moralez has made a major impact in Serie A. In particular, his combination with compatriot German Denis has been the source of so much of Atalanta’s good play this campaign. Constantly lively and inventive, he is always looking to play the killer pass and regularly succeeds. It’s unlikely that he can force his way into the Argentina national side in the near future given their abundance of riches, but it certainly seems that his play is well suited to Italy, after enduring a previous nightmare in Russia.