Europe’s top five leagues are full of fascinating forwards right now.
Three of the leagues are in the grips of intense title races and the other two are being won at a canter, and the forwards are largely responsible for those thrills with their goalscoring and goal creating.
But which strikers have been performing to their best? We’ve had a look at all of the forwards across Europe’s top five leagues with a direct goal involvement (that’s goals and assists) of at least 15 and judged them on who is not only having an impressive individual season but also having a big impact in their league’s respective title situation.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo
Juventus, 35 years old
Minutes: 1,765 (20 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 22 (20 goals, 2 assists)
One of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football is not quite as deadly as he once was but is hitting his stride in Serie A and is currently on a 10-game scoring streak, the third such run of his career! Despite his impressive goal involvement per-minutes ratio he is only 10th because he has been unable to keep Juve atop Serie A, also a massive seven of his goals were penalties (and although they do need to be scored, they are also considerably easier to score).
9. Kylian Mbappé
Minutes: 1,334 (18 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 19 (15 goals, 4 assists)
PSG’s young phenom is so consistently good it’s genuinely easy to forget that he’s still only 21. Mbappé has thrived yet again playing alongside the equally excellent Angel Di Maria and Neymar (both of whom also have direct goal involvements of 19). Mbappé places above his team-mates, however, because he has the same output as Di Maria with a better minutes-per-involvement (70.2 vs. 95.9) and is more reliably fit and present than the hedonistic Neymar.
8. Sadio Mané
Minutes: 1,783 (22 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 17 (11 goals, 6 assists)
Sadio Mané has been having a great season. Whether or not it’s statistically better than his 2018/19 campaign isn’t really relevant to the fact that with him as one of the key forwards Liverpool have absolutely destroyed the Premier League. Mané‘s impact on his team’s performances and his ability to score key goals in key situations puts him eighth.
7. Mohamed Salah
Minutes: 1,886 (22 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 20 (14 goals, 6 assists)
Mohamed Salah is supposedly not having a great season but that’s a perspective clouded by his wildly absurd 2017/18 campaign. Sure, he’s not as good as that but he’s still one of the most complete and impactful forwards in European football. Often serving as an out-ball for a Liverpool side who play on the break as well as they do in possession, Salah‘s six assists and 11 big chances created belies the concept of him being a selfish player (though he could stand to pass more).
6. Ciro Immobile
Minutes: 1,922 (23 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 31 (25 goals, 6 assists)
In terms of pure output, no one can match Ciro Immobile so far this season. The Italian has a staggering 25 goals so far this season and – thanks to his assists – his direct goal involvement is a whopping 31. He’s almost single-handedly keeping Lazio in the title race, albeit nine of his goals have come from the penalty spot which is why he’s not in the top five.
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5. Roberto Firmino
Minutes: 2,072 (25 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 15 (8 goals, 7 assists)
Being an elite forward isn’t all about the stats and goal involvement. Roberto Firmino is right at the bottom of our criteria there with just 15 direct goal involvements and his ever-presence for Liverpool has wrecked his minutes-per-involvement metric. But Firmino’s effect on the Liverpool team is palpable, and given that they are currently stomping a mudhole in the Premier League and very much walking it dry too, that has to count for a lot.
The Reds‘ domination of English football is heavily reliant on Firmino’s ability to knit the entire attack together. That’s why he plays in every single game (and, to be fair, he’s scored a fair amount of big goals too). Kaka recently said he was the best in his position, insisting: “Firmino and [Luis] Suarez are the best strikers in the world.” And whilst the Milan legend would certainly be partial to his compatriot, you can see his point.
4. Robert Lewandowski
Bayern Munich, 31
Minutes: 1,862 (21 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 25 (22 goals, 3 assists)
One of the most consistent sharpshooters in the top five leagues, Robert Lewandowski is still at it even at 31 years of age. The Poland international is banging them in for Bayern Munich as the Bavarians lead the Bundesliga yet again. He’s not having it all his own way, but with a minutes-per-involvement rate of 74.5 how can you argue against such a dominant striker?
3. Timo Werner
RB Leipzig, 23
Minutes: 1,784 (21 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 26 (20 goals, 6 assists)
Timo Werner sits behind Lewandowski in the race for top scorer in the Bundesliga but the fact his goals have helped RB Leipzig climb to just one point behind Bayern is a testament to his brilliance. Werner’s ability to run the channels and score has made him one of the deadliest forwards in the Bundesliga and a surefire bet for a massive transfer come the summer.
2. Jadon Sancho
Borussia Dortmund, 19
Minutes: 1,540 (19 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 25 (12 goals, 13 assists)
Sometimes it’s not just about goals. Jadon Sancho has only scored 12 times this season. However, he’s also assisted a massive 13 times, more than anyone else in Europe’s top five leagues. 19-year-old Sancho is a devastating force in the final third, constantly finding new ways to hurt teams with either goals or assists. A massive summer move is surely on the cards, but in the meantime he has a rickety and inconsistent Dortmund just four points off the Bundesliga summit. Don’t be surprised to see his teammate Erling Braut Haaland climb towards this list during the second half of the season, either.
1. Leo Messi
Minutes: 1,530 (18 games)
Direct Goal Involvement: 25 (14 goals, 11 assists)
The best player in the world missed all of pre-season and the start of the campaign too, yet is still a cut above everyone else. His minutes-per-involvement metric of 61.2 (i.e. he scores or assists a goal on average every hour of football in La Liga) is the best of literally every player in Europe’s top five leagues with the exception of Haaland, who has only played four matches since joining Dortmund.
Messi is often a one-man army for Barcelona, especially during the latter stages of Ernesto Valverde‘s reign. Things are becoming more balanced under Quique Setién, but the team still looks to Messi for both goals and assists, yes, but also rhythm and control. The Argentine plays about three roles simultaneously and does so with an absurd degree of quality.
Messi‘s quality is such that even when struggling to score, as he currently is – having failed to net with his last 22 shots – he still dominates games through his dribbling (100 take-ons completed, third amongst all players from Europe’s top five leagues) and creativity (19 big chances created, third amongst all players from Europe’s top five leagues).
Neymar (19 goal involvements, 64.8 minutes-per-involvement) is obviously a sensational when fit, but has played too little football and it’s not clear how healthy he will be for the remainder of the season (he’s yet to play serious Spring minutes for PSG). His team-mate Angel di Maria (19 goal involvements, 95.9 minutes-per-involvement) misses out because of his weaker minutes-per-involvement number.
Sergio Aguero has an impressive 61.8 minutes-per-involvement (19 total) but he’s not even played 1,200 minutes. Karim Benzema has been superb for Real Madrid and only misses out because his minutes-per-involvement tally of 97.9 can’t quite stack up to most of the others on this list and Madrid’s strength this season has been their defence.