Top 50 Players in the World 2014: Part 2 – 40-31

The votes have been tallied so it’s time to reveal Back Page Football’s Top 50 Players in the World for 2014!

It’s time for the second part of the this year’s Top 50, and we feature two Liverpool players who were critical to their push for the Premier League title last season. There’s also a healthy mix of tough tackling defenders and sublimely graceful midfielders who could unlock the tightest of backlines.

View the longlist and voting process here.

Part 1

40 Daniel Sturridge ( No Change)

40_SturridgeFINALLiverpool and England

2014 began in blistering fashion for Daniel Sturridge. The previous year had been the first truly notable one of his career but it was to prove no fleeting moment.

The Liverpool striker found the net in his first seven games of the calendar year. Sturridge’s goalscoring run in all competitions came to an end away to Arsenal in the FA Cup.

The run in the league continued for one more game as he nabbed a vital brace against Swansea in a 4-3 victory at Anfield, ensuring he became only the second player in the history of the competition to score in eight games on the bounce alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

In particular, his wonderful lobbed goal against Everton in the 4-0 derby win at Anfield and his performance against Arsenal in their 5-1 destruction at Anfield linger in the memory.

The latter display helping to the Player of the Month award in February. Indeed it could be argued that, such was the quality of his performances and the precision of his finishes, he outshone the mercurial Luis Suarez for large periods of the year.

2014 is also the year that the 25-year-old finally made an impact with the national team. His first meaningful goals for England came in friendlies against Denmark and Peru, before he gave the nation a brief glimmer of hope with the equalizer against Italy in their opening game of the World Cup.

His start to 2014 is unfortunately in complete contrast to the end for the former Manchester City, Chelsea, and Bolton Wanderers striker. Sturridge has played just three games this season, scoring once on the opening day, as injuries have tarred what should’ve been a year to remember.

At the time of writing, despite his reoccurring injury problems. no English player has scored more Premier League goals (13) in 2014 than Daniel.

Liverpool have badly lacked his pace and movement this campaign. Too often have Sterling and Coutinho looked up only to see the prone Lambert or Balotelli, back to goal, staring back at them.

Much like his position in this list, Liverpool’s position could be significantly improved had he put his injury woes behind him.

Robbie Deighan

39 Blaise Matuidi ( New Entry)

39_Matuidi-01Paris St. Germain and France

After Paris Saint-Germain beat Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia 1-0 in the Champions League, midfielder Blaise Matuidi praised his side, but the truth in his words could have easily been about his own season.

“We’re playing better now. You can always do more, but there’s a lot to be positive about. This was a good Paris display and we just wanted to score more goals.”

Ever since his 2011 move from Saint-Etienne, the tireless runs of Matuidi have become a feature for the Parisians and when he is at 100% he has to be one of the first names on the team-sheet for Laurent Blanc.

2014 started with a bang for the 27-year-old as he scored the winning goal in PSG’s 2-1 win away in Corsica. PSG had started sluggishly after the winter break, but Matuidi wasn’t about to see his team slip in their first league game back.

To cap off another impressive season as PSG lifted Le Championnat, Matuidi was an integral part of Didier Deschamps World Cup squad. With his most memorable moment coming when he scored France’s second in their 5-2 win over Switzerland in Salvador.

That goal captured everything that makes Matuidi special: the trademark lung-busting run pushing his team forward and then his lethal left-foot finding the bottom corner. Unfortunately it is something we don’t see enough of, despite him being very capable.

Matuidi has found it difficult this season, coming off the back of this summer’s Brazil showpiece. Full fitness has been a rarity, but when he is on his game he has shown he is still one of Blanc’s most important players.

No one can question Matuidi’s effort, but any criticism would be over his ability to add goals to his fantastic probing runs. He has yet to score in this campaign, but hopefully his own words can push him forward into 2015.

Andrew Gibney

38 Raheem Sterling ( New Entry)

38_STERLING-01Liverpool and England

At just 20-years-old, Raheem Sterling has already broken away from the plethora of promising young English wingers, and become a starter for both Liverpool and England. 2014 saw him establish himself as one of the brightest 20 and under talents plying their trade in Europe; and the future only looks brighter.

Sterling has blossomed into a quick, incisive and smart player who can operate right across the front line. A fearless attacker, he personifies Brendan Rodgers recent switch to a more direct and counter attacking style.

Sterling has scored or assisted 15 goals so far this calendar year, an impressive haul, and one that helped lead Liverpool’s recent title push. Although not registering any goals at the World Cup this summer, he was one of England’s bright lights in what was a disappointing tournament; most notably his pass to Rooney in the lead up to England’s only goal against Italy.

He has since taken up an integral role in The Three Lions attack, with Roy Hodgson adjusting their shape to include the youngster.

Despite a year of massive improvement, there have been a few doubts; doubts that are completely understandable and expected of someone his age. Consistency and tiredness are at the forefront of his struggles, but, as recent weeks have shown, he looks to have pushed on.

As Liverpool struggle for form this season following the loss of Luis Suarez, Sterling will become increasingly important to them finding their feet, a fact their manager, Brendan Rodgers, recognises: “He has taken on extra responsibility, absolutely, and kicked on. I have reiterated to him his qualities and strengths, his pace, skill, his directness – that’s his game”.

Madrin Macgillivray

37 Xabi Alonso ( 46)

37_ALONSO_FINALBayern Munich and Spain

He only gets better as he gets older, Xabi Alonso. Now 33, he’s still breaking records and turning heads with exceptional performances under new manager Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.

Having signed a contract extension in January, it looked as if he was to go on and stay at the club. Playing regularly under Ancelotti, and still performing as Xabi Alonso does, he was in the spotlight.

Xabi Alonso ended his career at Real Madrid in an illustrious manner. 2014 has been the year that Real Madrid finally claimed La Decima. Despite Alonso not playing in the final, after picking up a third yellow card of the tournament in the semi finals against Bayern Munich, he was principal to Madrid’s Champions League campaign.

How Alonso ended his Real Madrid career, was not just as a winner, but one of his final actions on the pitch with his teammates, was jumping off the stands, sprinting down the field to celebrate Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute equaliser…in his suit and tie.

However, a miserable summer ensued as Spain plummeted out of the 2014 World Cup. Poor performances from the team, and with Alonso not having the greatest individual of times, he announced his international retirement a month after the tournament.

Two days later and Pep Guardiola finally came calling for Xabi Alonso. A pair destined to work together in football. And Pep’s affect was imminent. A month after signing, Alonso broke the record for most completed passes in a Bundesliga match, a total of 196. And then not long after that, he scored his first goal for Bayern Munich through a rather well worked free-kick.

Another year on, and despite the laws of nature, Xabi Alonso doesn’t seem to age. With a beard as full of life as his performances, the Spaniard continues to shine wherever he goes.

Gene Oliver

36 David Silva ( 43)

36_David Silva-01Manchester City and Spain

Being boring is an underrated trait in modern football. Whilst so many column inches are preoccupied with the scurrilous and salacious deeds of so many of football’s elite talents in a forgotten corner is the diminutive Spaniard, toiling away without so much as a complaint.

This may be David Silva’s curse – no less talented than contemporaries for both club and county he is, simply, less glamorous. No headlines. He is ‘just’ a footballer.

From a coach’s perspective he is the perfect footballer – a diligent worker, precise in his application that lives an off-field life parochial in comparison to some of his teammates. But for many fans the only reminder they have of the player’s brilliant is the 180 or so minutes he spends on the pitch every week.

Luckily for the Spaniard, those minutes provide some of the best football the Premier League has ever seen. Manchester City’s squad is abundant in ways in which the opposition can be hurt, yet it is telling that within so much power the pint-sized ‘Merlin’ is the crucial fulcrum – the is the lock-picker extraordinaire. 2014 has been a year of contrast.

A second Premier League medal in three years was added to a League Cup victory, while in Europe there was disappointment again as Manchester city were bested in the first knockout round. However the nadir came in June as an illustrious record in international competition came to a crashing end in Brazil.

In part to Silva’s persistence and effort he has managed to come through those twin disappointments with his reputation intact, and at 28 looks set to play an integral part of both club and country for years to come. Which is as it should be – magicians like him don’t come along too often.

Charles Pulling

35 Cesc Fabregas ( New Entry)

35_Fabregas-01Chelsea and Spain

It is not about how you start, but how you finish. If you were to give an example of a footballer whose year has replicated this phrase, it would be Cesc Fabregas.

Before his move to Chelsea Football Club, he had only one league goal in 2014 and was part of the Spain team that tumbled out of the group stages.

He didn’t even feature that much in the World Cup replacing David Silva for 12 minutes in the infamous 1-5 Netherlands defeat and he played 22 minutes of the game against Australia, with Spain already eliminated.

On the 12th of July 2014, Chelsea Football Club signed Cesc Fabregas for a fee within the region of £30 million. Taking his preferred number 4 shirt, he made his debut on the 18th of August, playing against Burnley. This game is what catapulted Cesc Fabregas’ 2014. He played for all 90 minutes and made two assists in a 3-1 victory.

After the match against Swansea, Cesc Fabregas broke a record. He is the only Premier League player in history to make an assist in six consecutive matches and as of the 5th of December, Fabregas has recorded 2.48 key passes per match and an average pass completion of 89% as per Squawka.

He has been the best midfielder in the Premier League so far this season and having recorded 10 assists in 14 games, Fabregas looks like he is the creative centre point behind Chelsea’s unstoppable attack.

His first for Chelsea was in a game against Schalke 04 and his second goal was a game-winner against Crystal Palace, where Chelsea constructed a 19 pass move. Fabregas also completed 123 passes that game more than anyone else on the pitch.

Playing in the centre of midfield, Fabregas seems to have found his mojo again. His excellent second half of this year has impressed many, being the best signing of 2014.

Ayo Anibaba

34 Diego Godin ( New Entry)

34_GODIN-01Atletico Madrid and Uruguay

Diego Godin entered the year as one of a band of pretenders who were outstaying their welcome around the top of La Liga and in Europe, but nearly 12 months later is leaving the year widely recognised as one of the best defenders in world football.

Whilst the forwards at Atleti took the plaudits, it was the consistency of Godin and his partner Miranda that made sure the goals grabbed by Diego Costa weren’t in vain.

The pair were the centre of the best defence in La Liga over the calendar year, allowing only 15 goals from January through to the end of the season and 12 goals so far in 2014/2015 (correct at time of writing).

In an era where the goals of Messrs Ronaldo and Messi have otherwise decided the destination of La Liga, it was the defensive tenacity of Godin that saw the trophy end up on the wrong side of the capital, for a year at least.

Ironically, it was Godin’s prowess at the other end of the pitch which decided the title in 2013/2014, with his headed goal at Barcelona on the last day of the season securing the title, as it held Barca to a 1-1 draw.

Godin nearly had a perfect week, as the following Saturday, if not for a goal deep into injury time from Sergio Ramos, Godin’s header would have handed Atleti the European title against their bitter rivals Real Madrid.

Godin’s World Cup only lasted four games as Suarez-gate Mk III engulfed the Uruguay squad, and with the selling off of the Atleti squad, the reigning champions have struggled to recreate their form from last season.

However, in the midst of it all, Godin has remained consistent, and is rightfully seeing out the year on the FIFPro XI shortlist and linked heavily with a move to another of Europe’s elite, meaning Premier League viewers could be seeing more of him soon.

William Brophy

33 Thiago Silva ( 27)

33_Thiago_Silva_UPDATE-01Paris St. Germain and Brazil

Leading from the front, Silva helped Paris St. Germain retain the French League title, was subsequently named in Ligue 1 Team of the Year 2013-14, and also went on to win the Coupe de la Ligue.

Under his leadership PSG again managed to reach the Quarter-finals of the Champions League only to be knocked-out on away goals rule.

Silva played a vital part in his team’s road to glory. At the start of the year he was rated as the best defender in the world by then Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand.

On numerous occasions he produced quality individual performances that at the end proved decisive especially in games against Bordeaux (Home), Monaco (Away), Bayer Leverkusen (Away) and Chelsea (Home).

At the end of the season, French magazine France Football named him the best defender in Ligue 1 which marked another impressive campaign for the PSG and then Brazil national football team captain.

To the surprise of many, 2014 FIFA World Cup capped Silva’s debut in the prestigious competition. His work rate in the tournament was nothing less than spectacular until he was suspended for the crucial semi-final game against Germany.

Brazil couldn’t cope without their Captain Fantastic and suffered their heaviest ever defeat in the World Cup finals. He did play the third/fourth place consolation match, but couldn’t make an impact perhaps because the moral of his team was already torn apart by the Germans.

Nonetheless his formidable performance and an important goal in the quarter-finals earned him a place in both the “Dream-Team” and “All-Star Team” of the tournament.

However, in September with Silva out injured, Neymar was made the new captain of Brazil national football team by manager Dunga. Brazil played eight games in 2014 with Silva playing as captain out of which they won five, drew two and lost one (against Netherlands in the World Cup).

Overall he did enough for a spot in Top 50 players for the year 2014.

Hamza Babar

32 Sergio Ramos ( New Entry)

32_Sergio_Ramos-01Real Madrid and Spain

Perhaps surprising that Sergio Ramos is only a New Entry here in at number 32, Ramos has well and truly cemented himself in football as one of the world’s best defenders.

Being nominated for the Ballon D’or in October is just one of Ramos’ many personal achievements this calendar year – but far more significant he will tell you, was the winning of the Champions League in May – with Ramos named fans’ man of the match for this game.

Ramos’ power header in the 93rd minute of that final in Lisbon initiated Real Madrid’s fightback as they went on to win the game 4-1 in a classic Champions League final against deadly rivals Atletico Madrid – and this was no fluke goal for Ramos.

Scoring nine goals in the calendar year of 2014, the Real Madrid man has netted more times than any other defender in Europe’s top leagues.

But it’s not all about his attacking threat. First and foremost Ramos is a defender, and here he has also excelled – averaging over two tackles and two interceptions per game in 2014, with no errors leading to a goal.

The only area for improvement for Ramos which springs to mind is discipline, and perhaps this is holding him back from being further up the top 50, having picked up 17 yellow cards and one red in 2014.

Overall though, his place is in the Top 50 well deserved. Even at the World Cup he did himself no great disservice despite playing in a rather shambolic Spain team, and for his club achievements alone, the Spanish international can look back on a landmark year for himself and Real Madrid with great pride.

Nathaniel Shaughnessy

31 Vincent Kompany ( 34)

31_KOMPANY-01Manchester City and Belgium

Manchester City claimed their second league title in three years back in May, with Vincent Kompany once again an integral part of a defence that conceded less goals than any other side bar Chelsea.

Indeed, the skipper was voted into the PFA Team of the Year for the third time based on his performances, though that wasn’t a decision that everybody necessarily agreed with.

He chipped in with four goals, including the opener in the final game of the season at home to West Ham United, and helped Manuel Pellegrini’s side claim the Capitol One Cup with a come from behind 3-1 win over Sunderland at Wembley back in March.

Kompany is much more than a presence on the field though, and exuding class off it as one of the club’s chief ambassadors and mouthpieces.

In 2012, the 28-year-old signed a six-year contract with City, the longest in their history, and at this stage it’s highly likely that he will see out most of his remaining career in Manchester.

2014 also saw Kompany take part in his first World Cup, leading Belgium to the quarter finals where they lost out by a single goal to eventual runners up Argentina.

His next task on the international stage will be to guide Belgium to the 2016 European Championships in France, though they haven’t had the best of starts and sit fourth in Group B with one and two draws to their name from three games.

Back in the day, Kompany was one of the hottest young prospects in Championship Manager while at Anderlecht and it’s fair to say that the creators of the game got this one spot on.

Neil Sherwin

Huge thanks to Barry Downes who has done all the artwork for the Top 50, you can check out more of his stuff here.

Keep an eye out for the third part of the Top 50, coming later this week!

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