Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich and France) ***
Bayern Munich’s blistering start to the season owed so much to the contributions of Ribery. When fit the Frenchman has always been a class act and this season was no exception as he delivered a series of assists in addition to multiple goals of his own. His combination of trickery on the ball, quality of crossing and accuracy of shooting means that defenders rarely stand a chance. If he and Arjen Robben maintain full fitness throughout the second half of the season then Bayern will be contenders on all fronts.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur and Wales) **
Now that the insufferable hype surrounding Gareth Bale has died down he is again showing why his fellow professionals voted him the best player in England last season. When in the mood the Welshman is simply unplayable with his combination of pace and power providing a constant threat. There are many players who are quick though who lack the end product to make it count. Fortunately Bale doesn’t fall into that camp with a tremendous left-foot ensuring a healthy supply of goals and assists. It’s now only a matter of time before the hype builds again.
Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid and Argentina) **
Nobody has provided more assists in Europe’s top 5 leagues than Di Maria this season. That surely underlines the importance that the Argentine has on Mourinho’s team. Admittedly in Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain he has three of the deadliest front men in world football to aim for, but that should not take away from the former Benfica player’s contribution. He must ensure that he delivers in the biggest games of all if Madrid are to finally overhaul Barcelona.
Eden Hazard (Lille and Belgium) *
The young Belgian has been touted as one of the hottest prospects in the game for some time now, and over the last 18 months he has demonstrated the form that he was obviously capable of. A scintillating dribbler, always capable of achieving the unexpected, the Belgian currently appears to be committed to staying at Lille but there are bound to be big money offers this season. Despite his excellent form Lille could not make it through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League but it is a certainty that he will have plenty of time to impress on that stage again.
Juan Mata (Chelsea and Spain) *
There has been little to cheer about so far this season for Chelsea fans, but one cause of celebration has been the start that Juan Mata has made at the club. The Spaniard has been one of the few Chelsea men to demonstrate any imagination in his play as the team have frequently toiled without their normal certainty of purpose. As Andre Villas-Boas seeks to overhaul his squad, he already has one player at least to base his new look team upon.
Dries Mertens (PSV Eindhoven and Belgium) *
PSV’s excellent start to the season could largely be credited to the influence of Mertens. Having joined in the summer from Utrecht along with Kevin Strootman, the Belgian could barely stop scoring in the opening weeks of the year. The winger had never previously shown such potency in front of goal, but PSV fans weren’t complaining as he rapidly ascended the goalscoring charts. While he has suffered a lull in recent weeks a resumption of that form would test PSV’s resolve to keep their most prized possession.
Nani (Manchester United and Portugal) *
Last season saw Nani make the step up from fringe player to lynchpin in the United team. This season has seen a continuation of that form. There are few sides with the depth of wide players that Manchester United enjoy in Valencia, Giggs, Young and Park, but Nani has proved himself essential with the goals and assists he provides. Frequently frustrating in his pass and shot selection, many now expect the Portuguese winger to develop further into one of the world’s best players.
Santi Cazorla (Malaga and Spain) *
Villarreal’s dire start to the season only underlined the importance of the departed Santi Cazorla. After leaving the “Yellow Submarine” the diminutive midfielder has settled well at Malaga and maintained the standards which made him such a hit at El Madrigal. An excellent set piece taker and generally clever and inventive on the ball he is exactly the sort of signing that Malaga should look for if they are to challenge the traditional Spanish super-powers.
Nene (Paris-Saint Germain and Brazil) *
For all the money spent at Paris-Saint Germain this summer, arguably their best player so far this season has been a man already at the club. Nene impressed all last season with his contribution from midfield, as he chipped in with numerous goals. This season he has repeated the feat as the club from the capital mount a credible title challenge. With the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and the seeming desire of the PSG hierarchy to attract star names, Nene may be one of the casualties at the Parc des Princes. If he were to be allowed to leave it would be a huge mistake.
Juan Arango (Borussia Moenchengladbach and Venezuela) *
Marco Reus has, rightly, received much of the credit for Gladbach’s form this season in attack .The role of Arango in creating the chances though should not go without mention. For down the left-flank this season the Venezuelan has been outstanding in fashioning chances and beating defenders, without gaining the appropriate plaudits. With Reus departing in the summer, the role of Gladbach’s left winger will become even more vital.
Cedric Barbosa (Evian and France) *
Far from a household name, Cedric Barbosa is approaching the end of his career but has picked this season to deliver his best performances yet. At the half-way point in the season he is rated by France Football as the best outfield player in the league in their game by game ratings on the back of his six goals and six assists. Durability has proved an issue this time out, as the midfielder has not completed a single game in the league this year. Evian will be praying that he does not fade as the season wears on.
Jonathan Biabiany (Parma and France) *
On loan Biabiany has certainly set about showing owners Sampdoria what he is capable of this season. The youngster never really had sufficient opportunities during his time at Inter, but his current time at Parma has underlined his class. An exceptionally capable dribbler, the Frenchman has been Parma’s best player so far during his spell at the club. Will he now get an opportunity in Genoa or will he be on the move yet again?
Arda Turan (Atletico Madrid and Turkey) *
Very few Turkish players have been a hit abroad, despite the many talents the country has produced in recent years. One man who looks set to succeed outside of his homeland is magical winger Turan. At Galatasaray it was obvious that he was a gifted player, but Spain was always likely to be a harder test. So far at least he looks set to pass that test and his nascent partnership with Radamel Falcao may well bring rich rewards to Atleti.
Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille and France) *
Plagued by a lack of consistency, diminutive midfielder Valbuena occasionally looks like a world beater. That he does so all too infrequently is what holds him back from becoming a superstar. At 27 years old he is already a late bloomer, having come to prominence during the back end of the 2009-10 season, but must start to show the maturity his years command if he is to become a top class international.
Alessio Cerci (Fiorentina and Italy) *
Had Roberto Mancini had his way, Cerci would have been lining up for Manchester City this season rather than Fiorentina. As it was, the clubs could not agree a fee, but there is much to admire in the Viola’s left winger. Tricky and creative, he is often a joy to watch but he has regularly been criticised by fans for a lack of consistency. The Roman native enjoys no great affinity with the supporters in Florence and as such it would be no great surprise to see him move again in the summer.