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Footy Player Rankings: Does Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar deserve top spot?

Taking into account the form of each player over the past month of action, theScore has sifted through the top five leagues to rank the 20 best footballers in European competition.

20. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

By all accounts, Pep Guardiola has improved Raheem Sterling. The English international is arriving in the penalty box with more frequency, he’s losing possession fewer times, and he’s completing more dribbles. He’s one of Manchester City’s most important outlets. Although his finishing still needs work, Sterling has already set a career high in goals. A hamstring injury has temporarily sidelined the 23-year-old, and if it weren’t for City’s phenomenal depth, his presence would’ve been greatly missed. – Anthony Lopopolo

19. Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan)

Alessio Romagnoli has come of age over the last couple of months, forming a dynamic centre-back partnership with Leonardo Bonucci to shore up AC Milan’s back line. Some of Serie A’s best teams have struggled to find a way past Romagnoli, whose last-ditch tackles and timely clearances have helped the Rossoneri to six clean sheets in a row. The 23-year-old also scored the winning penalty to send Milan to a second Coppa Italia final in three years, showing his poise in high-pressure situations. – AL

18. Allan (Napoli)

Napoli’s midfield would simply not be able to function without Allan. A workhorse with fantastic footwork, the Brazilian does all the things that the scoreboard doesn’t pick up. He can navigate through tight quarters, beat his man in 1-on-1 situations, and win second balls. Marek Hamsik may score the goals, but Allan is Napoli’s midfield terrier. – AL

17. Florian Thauvin (Marseille)

With 15 goals and 10 assists in 27 league matches, reborn winger Florian Thauvin has won headlines for the right reasons. His spell at Newcastle United was an unmitigated disaster, but like Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, a move away from the Premier League proved to be a blessing. Thauvin is one of just three players in the top five leagues to have reached double digits in goals and assists, strengthening his case for a spot in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad. – AL

16. Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus)

Gonzalo Higuain may have missed a couple of golden opportunities in the Champions League, but there’s no denying he’s back in form. The burly Argentine striker is once again the focal point of Juventus’ attack, and his contributions were especially important in the absence of the injured Paulo Dybala. Higuain now faces a race of his own to be fit for the second leg of Juventus’ last-16 tie against Tottenham, but at least his confidence is back. – AL

15. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)

The master of no-look passess and goals, Roberto Firmino has defied critics who saw him as a rudderless striker. He leads Liverpool’s Gegenpressing, contributes in all areas of the pitch, and links up well with his teammates. Now that he’s added a regular dose of goals to his regimen, Firmino has become the prototype for the modern No. 9. – AL

14. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

This is the best season of Ciro Immobile’s career. He’s struck 32 goals in all competitions so far while leading the line for Lazio. With Immobile often playing off another striker, it’s become difficult for defenders to track his movements. He would be higher on this list if it weren’t for the fact that he’s scored just three league goals against top-six opposition, but the sheer volume of his output deserves recognition. – AL

13. Nabil Fekir (Lyon)

Sure to be the hottest property once the summer transfer window opens, Nabil Fekir has forged a strong reputation as a match-winner with the ability to score from any part of the pitch. Fekir is tricky to stop once he’s on the move, and the statistics back that up. The 24-year-old is one of the most heavily fouled starters in the top five European leagues, and as a fantastic dribbler, it’s not hard to understand why. He gives defenders no option but to use illegal means to stop him. – AL

12. Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)

February will be remembered as the month Neymar’s season ended, but it shouldn’t take away from what’s been a fantastic debut campaign in Ligue 1. He’s becoming a truly complete player at Paris Saint-Germain. Registering around 100 touches each match, he’s shown a willingness to collect the ball from deeper positions and dictate play from the left flank. His performance against Real Madrid was disappointing, but Neymar has proved he has what it takes to run matches. – AL

11. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

There’s a simple recipe to Chelsea’s success: Give the ball Eden Hazard and hope he does something special. More often than not, he does. Hazard is constantly finding space between the lines, and even in losses, he’s always pulling his weight. Even in the shocking 4-1 defeat to Watford, Hazard scored from about 25 yards to give the Blues some consolation. – AL

10. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

One must wonder where Chelsea would be today if it had held onto midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne? The Blues’ loss continues to be City’s gain week in and week out, with his trio of assists against the Foxes and his influence in the first leg of Champions League action with FC Basel serving as the perfect examples of just how dominant the Belgian maestro really can be. – Armen Bedakian

9. Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG needs a hero right about now, and Edinson Cavani has all the tools to be just that. The French outfit faces the increasingly-likely threat of an early elimination from the Champions League knockout stages, having lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the first leg of their round-of-16 bout. Cavani has been in fine form of late, notching five goals in February – and that form will be needed. – AB

8. Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Barcelona has been quite busy this month, and Luis Suarez has done quite an admirable job ensuring that the Catalan outfit remains at the top of La Liga, and in Champions League contention. The Uruguayan striker notched five goals and recorded four assists, including a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Girona, and though he hasn’t outscored one of his teammates in particular, he sits second in Spain’s top scoring charts. – AB

7. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Cristiano Ronaldo is back, though true believers of the Portuguese icon’s world dominance will say he never truly left. Indeed, it was an impressive month of output for the Real Madrid star, who notched yet another hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Real Sociedad, scored a brace against PSG in a 3-1 win in Champions League action, then added three more in back-to-back La Liga tilts. Ronaldo’s impressive scoring return has him firing up the rankings. – AB

6. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Six goals and two assists tell the simple story of Sergio Aguero’s February, but it would be an injustice for the Argentine striker not to put those efforts into proper perspective. For, it was Aguero who delivered four goals in a 5-1 thumping of Leicester City, and it was his 89th-minute effort that proved the dagger into the throat of Arsenal in the League Cup final. That goal, as well as his many, many contributions to the attack, secured Pep Guardiola his first trophy in England. – AB

5. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

You could be forgiven for judging Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski solely on how often he finds the back of the net, because those numbers are impressive, as usual. Through the second month of the year, the Polish ace found five goals, including a game-winner against Wolfsburg and a pair against Besiktas in a 5-0 Champions League drubbing. – AB

4. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)

Antoine Griezmann became the first player in the 21st century to score back-to-back hat-tricks for Atletico Madrid – an achievement that drew a mass ovation from the Wanda Metropolitano. The Frenchman has completely re-energised Atletico’s attack, which fired nothing but blanks in the first few months of the season. Diego Simeone’s bench is even shorter now that Nico Gaitan and Yannick Carrasco are off to China, so it’s up Griezmann to maintain the tempo. – AL

3. Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Harry Kane bailed out Tottenham on a regular basis in February, scoring late goals against Newport County and Rochdale to save his club from FA Cup embarrassments. He also popped up with the winner in the north London derby, and settled a scrappy match against Crystal Palace in the closing stages. Kane has developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time, but he’s not just a poacher. He’s linking up play and threading passes to teammates as he continues his evolution into a more well-rounded footballer. – AL

2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

La Liga’s leading scorer Lionel Messi had a quiet February, scoring just three times over the span of eight matches for Barcelona, though his four assists in that time are worthy of noting. Indeed, the diminutive Argentine will look for more in March, though he has little to worry about regarding his overall successes this season as the Blaugrana still have a five-point gap atop La Liga’s table. – AB

1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Mohamed Salah’s first full season of Premier League football is no fluke. With decisive goals against Tottenham, Southampton, Porto, and West Ham over the past month, the Egyptian international continued to discredit criticism that he isn’t a good enough finisher. Everything he does looks so seamless – he deposits the ball into the corners of the goal with pinpoint precision – but it’s his overall movement on the pitch that leaves defenders for dead. – AL

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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