The nominees for the EA Sports FIFA 22 Team of the Year have been announced as some of the biggest names in men’s football vie for a place in the final XI.
A total of 80 of the best players across Europe’s top leagues over the past 12 months are in the running for inclusion, with fans voting to decide which of the stars on the long-list make the cut. Those who make it into the XI will also have their performances and achievements celebrated by being given special TOTY player items in-game, including boosted stats to reflect their status.
This time last year, the big news surrounding the FIFA 21 TOTY vote was the shocking omission of Lionel Messi, who missed out on a place in the Ultimate XI for the first time despite scoring 27 goals and providing 19 assists in 48 appearances for Barcelona and Argentina in 2020.
The first batch of nominees revealed for FIFA 22 were the attackers, before a host of top midfielders across the continent were announced on Saturday and then defenders and goalkeepers followed on Sunday.
The online vote opens on Monday and the Ultimate XI will be revealed on Jan. 20.
A sweeper-keeper of the highest order, Ederson finished on the winning side in 33 league games for City in 2021, which means he tasted victory in league ties more often than any other player across all of the top five European leagues. The Brazil international also kept more clean sheets (23 in 41 games) than any other goalkeeper in the big five, as well as ending the Copa America 2021 tournament with a better save percentage (91%) than any of his South American contemporaries.
No goalkeeper amassed more Premier League minutes than Martinez in 2021 with the Villa stopper commanding his area for 3690 minutes, level-pegging with Ederson of Man City. However, Martinez did make more saves, successfully keeping 147 goal-bound shots at bay. The 29-year-old Argentina international also saved four of the six penalties he faced at the 2021 Copa America as the Albiceleste claimed their first major international honour for 28 years.
Mendy has already garnered a reputation for keeping things tight at the back for Chelsea, with 27 clean sheets in 51 games in all competitions for the Blues last year – more than any other Premier League goalkeeper. Of the 16 keepers to face more than 100 shots in the English top flight, Mendy has the best save percentage (74.4%) after swatting away 88 shots from the 117 on-target attempts made at his goal.
Still only 22-years-old, Donnarumma has already managed to reach 223 league appearances at the top level of European football, which is more than any player – goalkeeper or otherwise – born in 1999 or later. Ahead of his summer free transfer to PSG from Milan, Donnarumma played a starring role for Italy at Euro 2020 and was ultimately named Player of the Tournament by UEFA – the first ever goalkeeper to win the award since its formal introduction in 1996.
Maignan was one of only six goalkeepers to keep 15 or more clean sheets in Europe’s big five leagues in 2021 and of those six, he was the youngest. The 26-year-old stopper can also claim to possess the best overall save percentage of any goalkeeper in Europe’s biggest league competitions to have made at least 20 appearances last year (78.5%).
One of the best, most dependable goalkeepers in the world for many years, Oblak has a well-earned reputation for keeping the opposition at bay. Nobody played more games in LaLiga in 2021 than the Atletico stopper, who started all 42 of his side’s games in the competition. He also won his fifth Trofeo Zamora (the LaLiga award for goalkeepers who have conceded the fewest goals in a season), equalling a record co-owned by Victor Valdes and Antoni Ramallets.
Courtois made 41 appearances in LaLiga for Real in 2021, just one less than Oblak, and saved 77.5% of the shots (103 saves from 129 shots) he faced in that period – the highest save percentage amassed by any goalkeeper in the Spanish top flight. The Belgium No.1 also kept 18 clean sheets for Los Blancos in the league, which is his best tally in a single calendar year since moving to the Bernabeu in 2018.
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate who deserves the No.1 right-back spot in the FC 100.
Despite nominally being fielded as a defender, Cancelo was involved in 16 goals for City in 2021, with five goals and 11 assists – a dramatic increase on his 2020 stats which saw the Portuguese full-back score only once and provide just two assists. Demonstrating the nature of Pep Guardiola’s elaborate possession-based philosophy, the 27-year-old also made more passes than any other full-back (2,403) across Europe’s top five leagues, as well as accumulating more touches of the ball in all competitions (5,094) than any other Premier League player.
A stalwart of the City defensive line, Guardiola’s side won 87% of the games in which Walker featured throughout 2021, with that figure falling to 76% when the England defender was not involved. Walker also scored two goals and laid on one assist last year, also keeping 16 clean sheets in the space of his 41 club appearances at the other end of the pitch.
Famed for his crossing and set-piece prowess, Alexander-Arnold assisted 13 goals in the Premier League during 2021, which is more than any other player in any other position. The Liverpool right-back made more interceptions (56) than any of his teammates in that same time, as well as creating an impressive 108 chances in the Premier League – a figure only eclipsed by Bundesliga duo Filip Kostic (123) and Thomas Muller (110).
Capable of playing in any position down the right flank, Hakimi is generally used as a flying wing-back and thus has license to raid forward, scoring six goals and clocking up eight assists for PSG in 2021. The 23-year-old Morocco international was on the winning side in 30 league games over the year, with Ruben Dias of Man City the only defender in Europe’s big five leagues to win more games (32) in total.
Having spent the majority of his career as a winger, Navas has found a new niche at right-back as the 36-year-old continues to produce the goods while serving as seasoned captain of his hometown club. Old habits die hard though and Navas still managed to fire 45 successful crosses into the box from open play in 2021, which is more than any other defender in Europe’s big five leagues and second only to Eintracht Frankfurt wideman Filip Kostic (81) overall.
Trippier has since returned to the Premier League with Newcastle but spent 2021 with Atletico Madrid as part of Diego Simeone’s title-winning side. Charging up and down the right wing, the England international full-back made a total of 92 crosses in LaLiga over the calendar year, with Yannick Carrasco (125) the only Atletico player to complete more.
A rock solid addition to the defence, Dias made 58 appearances for City in 2021 and kept a total of 22 clean sheets, including an amazing run of 13 in a row when paired alongside John Stones. Dias finished on the winning side in league matches more often than any other defender in Europe’s top five divisions (32 times from 39 played) and also won more aerial duels (64), headed clearances (50) and blocked more shots (26) than any other City player.
Chelsea’s longest-serving current player, Azpilicueta made 51 appearances for the club in 2021 and was instrumental in 20 clean sheets during that period, also making 101 tackles and 53 interceptions. The 32-year-old Spanish defender also became only the second non-British player to captain an English side to glory in the Champions League when Chelsea beat Man City in the final at Wembley, joining Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United in 1999) in the record books.
A reassuring presence at the back, Chelsea conceded an average of 0.5 goals per 90 minutes with Rudiger in the team in 2021, as opposed to 1.3 goals per 90 without him. The Germany international is a complete modern defender and won more aerial duels (78) and headed clearances (46), while also completing more passes (2,354), than any other Blues player in the Premier League over the course of the year.
Having risen to prominence with Atalanta, Romero signed for Spurs in August and promptly became the club’s only player to average more than two successful tackles (2.7) per 90 minutes in the Premier League. The 23-year-old centre-back also boasted the best passing accuracy (97%) among Argentina‘s Copa America winning squad, after completing 33 of the 34 passes he attempted during the tournament.
Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain)
While keeping 16 clean sheets in 44 games for PSG, Marquinhos was also a constant goal threat during 2021 and scored more headed goals (4) in Ligue 1 than any other player last year. The Brazilian also became only the third player ever to score in both the quarterfinals and semifinals of consecutive Champions League seasons, joining Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann.
The vastly experienced Dortmund defender racked up a 72% tackle success rate in the Bundesliga in 2021, which among all players to attempt 60 or more tackles was only bettered by Konstantinos Mavropanos of Stuttgart (73%).
Chiellini may have turned 37 in August but the Italy international is still integral for both the Azzurri and Juventus. The centre-back was the oldest defender to play at least 25+ games in Serie A in 2021, the year in which he also became the oldest outfield player to captain a side in the final of a European Championship (36 years and 331 days) in Italy’s successful Euro 2020 campaign.
The twin pillar alongside Chiellini for club and country, Bonucci was also instrumental in defence for Italy as Roberto Mancini’s side emerged victorious at Euro 2020. Bonucci wasn’t dribbled past once by an opposition player during the entire tournament, making him the only defender who played at least 500 minutes never to have been beaten by an attacker.
A cultured centre-back, Kjaer made more clearances (139) than any other Milan player in all competitions in 2021 as well as ending the year with the highest passing accuracy (89%) of any Rossoneri player to have played 10 games or more in Serie A. On the international front, the 32-year-old was the only Denmark player to rack up 10 or more interceptions and tackles at Euro 2020, while also contesting the most aerial duels (38).
Skriniar made 49 appearances for Inter in 2021 and kept clean sheets in just under half (20) while also scoring three headed goals from the four headed shots on target he attempted in Serie A. Indeed, the Slovakia centre-back scored four league goals for the Nerazzurri overall which represents his best haul in one single calendar year to date.
Since making his LaLiga debut in August, no other Real Madrid defender had made more ball carries (308) and progressive ball carries (174) than Alaba by the end of the year. In October, the Austria international also became only the fifth Los Blancos player in history to score against Barcelona on his maiden appearance in an El Clasico derby, following in the footsteps of Ronaldo Nazario (2003), Ruud van Nistelrooy (2006), Rafael Varane and Jese Rodriguez (both 2013).
A composed ball-player, Kounde is the one defender in LaLiga to have both made (2,741) and completed (2,449) more passes than any other during 2021. In an overall sense, only Sergio Busquets of Barcelona filed higher passing stats (3,175 made and 2,857 completed) and he is a midfielder. In the year Kounde made his international debut with France, he was also incredibly consistent for Sevilla, with no defender playing more LaLiga games (39) than the 23-year-old.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
After clawing himself back from the brink at United, Shaw has gone onto become one of the club’s more consistent performers from his familiar berth at left-back. The 26-year-old created 82 chances for United in 2021, with only teammate Bruno Fernandes (95) and Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool (108) providing more across the entire Premier League. The defender also scored after just one minute and 57 seconds in the Euro 2020 final, the quickest goal ever scored in a European Championship final – though alas that didn’t prevent England from eventually losing out on penalties to Italy at Wembley.
Lille’s Mozambique international left-back was responsible for five secondary assists in Ligue 1 in 2021, which is more than any other defender in the French top flight. Reinildo also made 93 tackles in league games during the calendar year, with only Anthony Caci of Strasbourg (100) getting stuck in on a more regular basis.
Another roving left-back, Gunter drummed up 81 chances for Freiburg in the Bundesliga over the course of 2021, more than any other defender. Excluding players from promoted and relegated teams, Gunter was the only outfield player in all of the big five European leagues not to miss a single minute of league action.
A left-back in perpetual motion, Davies attempted more dribbles than any other defender in Europe’s big five leagues in 2021, having embarked upon 186 forays down the touchline. He also completed 116 of those 186 attempted dribbles, giving him a higher success rate (62%) than any other player to rack up 80 dribbles or more in the Bundesliga. Regularly spotted overlapping his forwards at breakneck speed, the Canada international also racked up more driving sprints into the opposition box (13) than any non-striker in the German top flight.
Hernandez completed the most dribbles of any defender in Serie A in 2021 with his total of 64 outshining the next player on the list by 14. The 24-year-old left-back was responsible for carrying the ball 5,299 metres upfield during Italian top flight games, which is far further than any other player in the league.
Barcelona’s third-longest serving player behind Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, Alba ended 2021 as the highest assist-making defender from a LaLiga club, having provided 13 across all competitions. The veteran full-back also created 12 chances in six appearances for Spain at Euro 2020, which is more than any La Roja player and more than any other defender at the entire tournament.
As an attacking wing-back who excels at committing defenders in wide positions, Spinazzola had more take-ons per 90 minutes (4) and more completed dribbles per 90 minutes (2.8) than any other player in Serie A in 2021. He also created 1.9 chances per 90 minutes in open play for Italy at Euro 2020 – the second best return of any defender behind Spain’s Alba (2.0) despite Spinazzola having his tournament cut short in the quarterfinals by a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Julien Laurens believes N’Golo Kante’s performances in the Champions League warrant his spot at the top.
Barella continued in decent form for club and country in 2021, with the 24-year-old becoming the third-youngest midfielder in Europe’s big five leagues to register 10 or more assists last year. The Inter schemer also scored three goals in 17 games for Italy, including one goal in six games at Euro 2020, where he played his part in the Azzurri’s grand triumph.
Calm, composed and mature beyond his years, the 18-year-old Bellingham played more minutes in the Bundesliga (2,445) than any other teenager in the competition last year while also scoring six goals and reaching double figures (10) for assists. Against Austria in June, 27 days before his 18th birthday, Bellingham became the first 17-year-old to play a full 90 minutes for England in 140 years, since Thurston Roston against Scotland in 1881.
Providing some much-needed steel amid the silk at the Bernabeu, Casemiro both made more tackles (105) and won more tackles (59) than any other midfielder in LaLiga in 2021. An eight-year veteran and one of Los Blancos’ longest-serving current players, the Brazil international also weighed in with more ball recoveries (277) than any other outfield player in the whole of the Spanish top flight.
City fans revere De Bruyne as a gifted playmaker capable of turning a game in an instant with a defence-splitting pass from almost any position or angle on the pitch. The Belgium international is certainly a class leader when it comes to creating chances, having mustered an average of 3.7 per 90 minutes in the Premier League across 2021. No other player in the competition comes close.
After scoring just nine goals for Porto in the two previous years combined, Colombia midfielder Diaz burst into life in 2021 by scoring 17 times in all competitions for the Portuguese club and even sharing the Copa America 2021 golden boot with Lionel Messi (four goals)
A versatile defensive midfielder who has been deployed by manager Jurgen Klopp in just about every position between the goalkeeper and the strikers, Fabinho made more interceptions per 90 minutes (1.7) than any other Liverpool player in all competitions last year. He also won 58 aerial duels in 2021, with only three of Liverpool’s centre-backs – Virgil van Dijk (72), Joel Matip (85) and Nat Phillips (93) – managing to top the Brazilian’s impressive airborne tally.
After finding his feet at the Estadio Benito Villamarin, Fekir is getting back to his best and has once again been delighting and exciting fans with his distinct brand of direct, driving dribbles. The 2018 World Cup winner completed 88 of the 132 dribbles he commenced upon in 2021, with his 66.7% success rate the second highest in Europe’s big five leagues (of players to have attempted more than 100 dribbles). He also managed to end the local derby against Sevilla in March with a flawless 100% dribble completion rate, completing all 10 of the mazy meanderings he embarked upon.
Fernandes scored 19 goals and provided 17 assists in 2021 as he maintained the extraordinarily productive start to his Manchester United career. The former Sporting CP string-puller was directly involved in 21 goals for United in the Premier League in 2021 (13 goals, eight assists), which was more than any other midfielder in the competition. It should be noted that, despite being widely regarded as a set-piece expert, all eight of Fernandes’ assists came from open play.
Phil Foden (Manchester City, England)
Cementing his standing as a mercurial young midfield talent, Foden was directly involved in more Premier League goals (19) than any other player aged 21 or younger last year. With 12 goals in the league, the 21-year-old City star fleshed out his total with a further six goals in other competitions to give him a total of 18 for Pep Guardiola’s side in 2021.
Goretzka made just 35 appearances for Bayern in 2021 but still managed to contribute six goals and five assists to the cause in the Bundesliga, with Joshua Kimmich the only central midfielder to be directly involved in more goals (14). An interesting quirk saw five of those six goals scored by Goretzka put Bayern into the lead in games, with no other midfielder in the German top division scoring more goals that sent their side ahead.
Jorginho scored 10 Premier League goals in 2021, representing his best league goal-scoring total in a calendar year. There are no prizes for guessing that all 10 of the lithe Italy international’s goals came from the penalty spot following one of his trademark ice-cold „hop/skip/jump“ run-ups.
Rightly prized for his relentless industry in the middle of the pitch, Kante averaged 1.8 interceptions per 90 minutes of football in all competitions for Chelsea in 2021, which is easily the highest amount achieved by anyone who played over 2,000 minutes for the club in that period. The France international even equalled the Blues’ club record by making more ball recoveries in a Champions League match when he wrestled back possession 13 times against Atletico Madrid in March – the most since Kante made 13 recoveries against Barcelona three years earlier.
Another extremely versatile talent, Kimmich specialises in creative buildup play exemplified by his provision of 46 secondary chances (the pass before the created chance) and 10 second assists (the pass before the assist) in the Bundesliga in 2021 – both more than any other player in the division. He also sprayed 1,087 completed passes around the field and created 30 chances for Germany on all fronts over the course of the year, which both go down as team-high marks.
Kostic drummed up an astonishing 21 assists in just 42 appearances for Leverkusen in all competitions last year, with the 328 crosses he attempted from open play leading the way in all of Europe’s big five leagues – no other player reached 300. With 19 of his assists coming in the Bundesliga, Kostic ranks second in the overall league standings behind only Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich (24).
An important attacking outlet for Atleti, Llorente logged involvements in 17 league goals (seven goals and 10 assists) in 2021, a tally only surpassed by strikers Luis Suarez (23) and Angel Correa (19). Indeed, Levante winger Jorge de Frutos was the only Spanish player to rustle up more assists (11) than Llorente in LaLiga in that same period.
One of the breakout stars of Euro 2020 with winners Italy thanks to a series of virtuoso performances and crucial goals, grafter Locatelli was also the only midfielder to complete more than 2,000 passes, make more than 40 interceptions and grind out 50 or more clearances in Serie A in 2021.
The elder statesman of Real’s midfield, Modric became the oldest outfield player to represent the club in the Champions League when he faced Shakhtar Donetsk in November aged 36 years and 55 days. The Croatia captain still excels on the big stage, and completed 789 of the 873 passes he attempted in European competition last year, beaten only by teammate and (slightly) junior midfield cohort Toni Kroos.
Mirroring England stablemate Foden’s record for Manchester City, Mount produced 12 goals and seven assists in the Premier League for Chelsea in 2021 – at least eight more goal involvements than any other Blues player. Mount also created 80 chances in the league over the year, with the next-highest Chelsea player on the list being right-back Reece James with 56.
He may be among the more seasoned members of Bayern’s squad these days, but ever since such data was first collected in 2006-07, no player has provided more league assists in a single calendar year than Muller did in 2021. The Bayern stalwart totalled an amazing 24 Bundesliga assists last year, also scoring 14 goals in 50 games for the club along the way.
Olmo is not afraid of a little hard work and recovered possession for RB Leipzig an average of 1.4 times every 90 minutes in 2021, the best rate of any player in the Bundesliga to have played over 1,000 minutes. Olmo laid on five assists in the league in 2021, with Christopher Nkunku (11) the only RB Leipzig player to better his total. Though it must be said that the former featured in only 21 of the club’s 38 league outings because of an injury that ruled him out from mid-September to Christmas.
An intrinsically important piece of the Lyon puzzle, Paqueta was directly involved in 22 league goals for the French side in 2021 with 14 goals and eight assists to his name – a higher output than any other Brazilian playing in any of Europe’s top five leagues. What’s more, the 14 goals that Paqueta scored for Lyon in Ligue 1 last year make him the club’s highest scoring midfielder since the turn of the 21st century.
Pedri (Barcelona, Spain)
Pedri clocked up a dizzying total of 1,068 minutes of competitive international football over a hectic summer that saw him play for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games in Japan. This all came after a breakthrough season at Barca that saw the teenage midfielder make 52 appearances for the first team, becoming the second-youngest player to make 50 competitive appearances for the club (behind Bojan Krkic) in the process. Already a vital player for his team, Barcelona won over 71% of their LaLiga games in 2021 when Pedri started (15 of 21) compared to just 45% when he did not start (nine of 20).
Rice has been central to West Ham’s ascendancy in the first half of the 2021-22 season, continuing the fine form he carried over from last campaign and into the European Championship. The 22-year-old carried the ball further upfield (2,148 metres) and completed more passes (2,012) for the Hammers in the Premier League in 2021 alone, more than any other player at the club.
After hitting a golden patch of form earlier in the year, Son went on to hit the 30-goal involvement mark (17 goals and 13 assists) for Spurs in 2021, the fifth consecutive year that the South Korean has achieved that particular feat. The 13 assists he laid on (mostly for Harry Kane) are the most he has ever registered in a single year since moving to White Hart Lane from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015.
Verratti is certainly a combative soul who regularly ends up in the referee’s book, but for all his disciplinary foibles, the midfielder is also a high-traffic creative hub for club and country. The PSG man averaged 119 touches per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 in 2021 (more than any other player) while also completing 83% of his attempted dribbles – again a league high among all players attempting 50 or more dribbles during the year. He also created 14 chances for his Italy teammates at Euro 2020, which is more than any other player at the tournament.
A true wunderkind, Wirtz became the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever goal scorer in June 2020 before swiftly going on to become the first 17-year-old to score five goals in the German top flight in February 2021. In the months that followed, Wirtz also became the youngest Bundesliga player to reach the 10-goal mark (aged 18 years and 145 days) and the youngest to reach 50 appearances (18 years and 226 days).
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate who deserves to be voted the best forward in the FC 100.
Benzema scored 38 goals in 2021 – the best return of his career over a calendar year – and played a direct role in over half of his team’s league goals with 41 involvements in the 80 Los Blancos scored in LaLiga last year. Reinstated to the France national team, the veteran striker also scored four goals in as many games at Euro 2020, going on to end the year with nine goals in 13 games for Les Bleus – more than any other player in that period.
One of Italy’s breakthrough performers at Euro 2020, scoring two goals in the knockout phase en route to lifting the trophy, Chiesa also celebrated becoming the youngest Italian player in all of Europe’s big five leagues to both score and assist at least five goals in 2021. The Juventus man scored eight goals and provided six assists in Serie A alone, with a grand total of 15 goals and seven assists in all competitions.
Not a name as immediately familiar as some of the other strikers on the shortlist, David has been a sensation for Lille, scoring 27 goals in just 41 starts for the Ligue 1 champions over the course of 2021. In December, at 21, the Canada international became the highest-scoring CONCACAF player in the history of the French top flight when he scored his 24th goal for Lille, surpassing the 23 goals Julio Dely Valdes of Panama scored for Paris Saint-Germain during 1995-97.
A relatively low-key start to life as the Premier League’s most expensive footballer should not overshadow the numbers that Grealish has put up in 2021, including the 56 chances he’s created for his teammates from open play (roughly 2.5 every 90 minutes). Only Kevin De Bruyne has a higher average (2.7 per 90). Grealish was also fouled on average 3.5 times per 90 minutes in the Premier League last year, which is more than any other player in the league to have been on the field for 500 minutes or more.
The numbers say it all: Haaland scored his 50th Bundesliga goal in November, making the Dortmund striker both the youngest (21 years and 129 days) and fastest (50 games) to reach a half-century in Germany‘s top flight. However, the year didn’t go entirely to plan for the Norwegian, who missed out on Euro 2020 and World Cup qualification before seeing Dortmund eliminated from the Champions League group stage as the year spluttered to an underwhelming, injury-strewn end.
No Italian scored more goals in Europe’s big five leagues in 2021 than Immobile, who netted 27 times for Lazio last year. He was also one of only three Serie A players to amass 30 or more goal involvements (26 goals and four assists) in 2021 as well as registering more involvements with the Italian national side (five goals and three assists) in the same calendar year than any of his compatriots.
A pint-sized bundle of energy on his day, Insigne loves to get involved in buildup play and as a result played a direct hand in more attempted shots (247) than any other player across all of Europe’s big fives leagues in 2021 – that’s 163 shots for himself and 84 chances carved out for his teammates. He also got more shots away (19) than any other player at Euro 2020, as well as having more touches of the ball in the opposition box (32) than anyone else at the tournament.
Despite hardly being a vintage year for the Spurs striker by his own high standards, Kane scored 18 goals in the Premier League in 2021, with Mohamed Salah of Liverpool the only player to score more (24). Kane also maintained an impressive goals-per-game ratio for England over the course of the year, netting 16 in 16 games (four of which came on the run to the Euro 2020 final) which is more goals than any player has ever scored for the Three Lions in a single calendar year.
Arguably the greatest out-and-out striker of the modern age, Lewandowski once again proved his chops by scoring more league goals (43) than any other player in Europe’s big five divisions in 2021, setting a new single-season Bundesliga record as he went. He may have been cruelly deprived of a likely Ballon d’Or win last January due to the 2020 award being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps the prolific Poland captain can find some comfort in knowing that he averaged more than a goal a game (1.3 a game, to be precise) in the year that followed.
While his return to Chelsea may have hit the buffers recently when his comments in an interview led to him being dropped, Lukaku has still enjoyed a prolific 2021. The striker scored 22 goals in 44 games overall, while reaching double figures for Belgium in a calendar year for the third time. Split between stints at Serie A title-winners Inter Milan and Chelsea, Lukaku had a direct hand in 27 league goals (18 goals and nine assists) in the space of just 36 appearances, underlining his influence.
As well as scoring 23 goals in 51 games with Inter, Martinez can also boast having won more games in Serie A (30) than any other outfield player in the Italian top flight in 2021. The Nerazzurri striker was also in devastating form for his country, scoring six goals for Argentina in the year of their Copa America win and only being outscored on the national team by Messi.
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
A truly prodigious attacking talent, Mbappe became the youngest player ever to score a century of goals in Ligue 1 in March 2021. Then just nine months later, the PSG forward also became the youngest player ever to score 100 goals for a single club courtesy of his match-winning brace in a 2-0 victory over Monaco. Mbappe was also directly involved in 14 goals in the Champions League with PSG (10 goals and four assists) in 2021, which is more than any other player in the competition.
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
While you might argue that 2021 wasn’t a vintage year for Messi. The Argentina captain still managed to end the year as Barcelona’s top goal scorer in all competitions (scoring 13 more goals than anybody else) despite leaving the club to sign for PSG midway through the year. Messi finally secured the first major international honour of his career with victory at the 2021 Copa America (where he topped the charts for both goals and assists), and his performances were still good enough for him to win a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or at the end of the year.
Now well into his second spell with Villarreal, Moreno scored 31 goals in all competitions in 2021 – 11 more than any other Spanish player in all of Europe’s big five leagues. Indeed, of all the players plugging away in the continent’s major divisions, the 29-year-old striker was ranked the ninth-highest goal scorer in all competitions last year, and even played his way to a first ever Ballon d’Or nomination as a result after helping the Yellow Submarine win the Europa League.
It may not surprise you to learn that of all the players to play at least 1,000 minutes in Ligue 1 in 2021, Neymar attempted the most dribbles, averaging 9.7 per 90 minutes. Reduced to just 33 appearances for PSG over the course of the year, Neymar still chipped in with a fairly healthy 11 goals and eight assists.
In scoring 16 goals in 46 games for La Real, Oyarzabal marked the fourth successive year in which the 24-year-old has scored 10 or more league goals for the club. He also was among Spain’s more effervescent performers at Euro 2020, scoring his nation’s fifth and final goal against Croatia in a pulsating 5-3 win.
Payet has become a talismanic figure since returning to Marseille, with the French side winning 43.2% of the Ligue 1 games the attacking midfielder has featured in during 2021 as opposed to just 25% of those he’s missed. The former West Ham favourite is also the only player in Ligue 1 to hit triple figures for the number of chances created, having teed up his teammates for exactly 100 attempts last year.
Such is his phenomenal strike rate, Ronaldo still managed to finish 2021 as Juventus’ highest goal scorer, with 20 goals in all competitions, despite leaving to rejoin Manchester United in August. The Portugal captain scored 34 goals in 51 club games last year; the year in which he became the highest-scoring player in the history of men’s international football by breaking a record previously held for 15 years by Iran legend Ali Daei, and in which he registered his 800th senior career goal for club and country.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)
One of the most consistent goal scorers in world football, Salah scored 24 Premier League goals in 41 games for Liverpool in 2021, six more than any other player in the division. He was also involved in a total of 35 league goals for the Reds thanks to his 11 assists, with that combined tally 11 higher than the next competitor on the list. Just to cap it off, between Aug. 28 and Dec. 16 the Egypt international either scored or assisted in 15 consecutive Premier League appearances, equaling a record set by Jamie Vardy during Leicester City‘s 2015-16 title-winning season.
Let go by Barcelona in the summer of 2020, Suarez responded by proving his worth all over again at Atleti in 2021, winning his fifth LaLiga title in his first season at the Metropolitano. The evergreen Uruguay international, who turns 35 later this month, was directly involved in 24 goals for Diego Simeone’s side across all competitions last year (21 goals and three assists), which was four more than any of his teammates.
Tadic assisted 29 league goals for Ajax in the Eredivisie in 2021, which is more than any other player in the top 10 European leagues. As well as scoring 17 goals in 54 games, the nimble Serbia international created 150 chances in the Dutch top division in that time frame, which is a whopping 61 more than any other player in the competition.
Averaging a goal every 113 minutes for Fiorentina, 21-year-old Vlahovic was the second-highest scorer (behind Lewandowski) in Europe’s big five leagues in 2021, pitching in with 33 goals. The young Serbian also became only the third player in Serie A history to score 30 or more league goals in a calendar year, and the first since Antonio Angelillo passed the milestone for Inter back in 1958.