The era of the languid Juan Roman Riquelme type playmaker may be no more but every team still needs a creative force in their midfield in the modern game.
Whether a team’s playmaker operates in the traditional No.10 role just behind a striker or slightly deeper in central midfield their responsibilities remain the same; create chances for their teammates through a defence-splitting through pass, an inch-perfect cross or wicked delivery from a set-piece.
But who are the best attacking playmakers in Europe right now? Squawka has attempted the impossible by ranking the top ten.
10. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Cesc Fabregas’ career appeared to be in decline in the first half of last season as Antonio Conte sidelined him for a more solid midfield partnership of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. But while the Spaniard played a bit-part role for the Blues during their title win, he still made a big impact, racking up 11 Premier League assists despite playing just 1,357 minutes.
After averaging an assist every 123 minutes in the league last season, Fabregas has seemingly played his way back into Conte’s plans this term, starting in six of their seven league matches in a tweaked 3-5-1-1 formation that has freed him up alongside Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko. While yet to provide an assist, he is fourth for chances created (20) in the division in 2017-18.
9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)
It took Henrikh Mkhitaryan a while to adapt to Premier League football with his flashes of quality in an indifferent maiden campaign at Manchester United generally coming in the Europa League. However, this season the Armenian schemer has seemingly been given a more important role by Jose Mourinho in a central position and he has thrived, just as he did in his final year at Borussia Dortmund.
Mkhitaryan equalled Ruel Fox’s 23-year record for the most assists in the opening three Premier League fixtures by supplying five and although he hasn’t added to that in United’s subsequent five games, he currently ranks third for chances created in the Premier League with 22 in total.
8. Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig)
Last season was Emil Forsberg’s first in a major European league, not that you would’ve known considering how easily he adapted to playing at a higher level. Although he only played in 30 league matches, Forsberg managed a sensational return of 20 assists from 94 chances created, which was higher than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Traditionally regarded as a wide midfield player, Forsberg has tended to drift in from the left flank into a No.10 role since the middle of last season and his link-up play with Timo Werner has been crucial to Leipzig’s miraculous success. Not only is Forsberg a danger from open play, he’s also exceptional from set-pieces.
7. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Regarded as one of the most naturally gifted creative midfielder’s of his generation, Mesut Ozil perennially ranks towards the top of the chance creation table regardless of apparent slumps in form. The 2014 World Cup winner hasn’t been at his best this season, failing to provide a single assist from five Premier League matches although he has still created 15 chances, which is the highest at his club.
Although he has a frustrating tendency to drift in and out of games, Ozil is always a threat when he is on the ball owing to his ability to create something out of nothing for his team. While his number of assists dropped from 19 in 2015-16 to nine last season, Ozil still ranks top for assists (42) since moving to the Premier League which is a sign of his enduring quality.
6. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
Snapped up from Juventus’ closest title challengers Roma last summer, Miralem Pjanic was tasked with replacing Paul Pogba in midfield and he succeeded remarkably easily given how influential his predecessor had been. The Bosnian is arguably one of the most intelligent footballers in Europe right now, possessing an innate ability to pick the right option when in possession.
Rarely does he lose the ball (he has recorded an incredible 94% pass accuracy rate this season) with the vast majority of those passes (65.1%) going forward. Not only does Pjanic set the tempo for Juventus, he is also their most reliable provider of assists too, managing 14 in Serie A since joining the club, with five of those coming this season alone.
5. Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
Napoli’s most-loved player since Diego Maradona? Marek Hamsik certainly has won over the affections of the club’s passionate supporters through his outstanding performances on the pitch and loyalty off it during his decade-long stint at San Paolo.
Maurizio Sarri’s side is renowned for the free-flowing nature of their football and Hamsik is often right in the thick of it, completing on average 78.38 passes per game in Serie A this season. Hamsik fractionally trails his teammates Lorenzo Insigne (91) and Jose Callejon (89) for chances created with 86 since the start of last season, but he ranks second across Europe’s top five leagues for passes in the final third (1,539) in that time.
Not only that, he reached double figures for both goals (12) and assists (10) in Serie A last term.
4. David Silva (Manchester City)
Regarded by many Manchester City fans as the club’s greatest ever player, ‘Merlin’ as David Silva is affectionately known on the blue side of Manchester continues to weave his magic in the Premier League seven years after joining the Citizens.
Occupying a left-sided central midfield position in City’s 4-3-3 system, Silva has that priceless knack of managing to find that extra yard of space in the final third, giving him the time to lift his head and pick the perfect pass to one of his attacking players.
Silva has racked up 70 Premier League assists since moving to City from Valencia in 2010 with six of those coming in the opening eight games this season. A true master of his art.
3. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
An unheralded genius and the brain of this Tottenham side as described by none other than his own manager Mauricio Pochettino in the second half of last season. Christian Eriksen might be the least heralded of Spurs’ attacking front three but as Harry Kane and Dele Alli’s struggles without him for England show, he is the one that makes Spurs tick in the final third.
This calendar year he has been absolutely sensational for both club and country, starring as Spurs achieved their highest Premier League finish and almost single-handedly dragging Denmark into the World Cup play-offs. Since the start of last season, Eriksen has registered 17 assists and created 131 chances – a total only bettered by Dimitri Payet (140) in Europe’s top five leagues.
2. Isco (Real Madrid)
Everybody was aware of Isco’s supreme quality due to his performances for Malaga in their Champions League quarter-final season, yet his failure to break into the Real Madrid side on a consistent basis seemed to stall his progress. Under Zinedine Zidane – one of the world’s greatest ever attacking midfielders – Isco has blossomed, becoming one of Real’s most important players.
Zidane even tweaked his tactics in order to hand Isco a central role at the tip of a midfield diamond which highlights just how highly he rates the Spaniard’s talents. He managed nine assists (and 10 goals) from his 30 LaLiga appearances last term and has already created 18 chances this season.
1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola took the decision to hand Kevin De Bruyne a slightly withdrawn midfield role this season in an effort to get him more involved in the team’s build-up play in the middle of the pitch. It didn’t appear to be working in the first three games as De Bruyne failed to score or provide a Premier League assist, but since then the tactical switch has reaped rewards with the Belgian flourishing.
Converting De Bruyne from a No.10 to a No.6 has been a masterstroke from Guardiola as it means he is more involved completing more passes this season compared to last (58.38 per game compared to 49.22). That hasn’t had a detrimental impact on De Bruyne’s ability to fashion chances, though, as only Neymar (34) has created more chances than De Bruyne (26) this season.