Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Jr and the 21 best players in European club football for 2022-23 - ranked

Europe Best Players GFX
There have been plenty of top performers from all around the continent over the course of the past season - but who ranks above all others?

Which players have had the biggest impact in Europe this season? Has it been Vinicius Jr and his 40 goal contributions in all competitions? Has it been Kylian Mbappe, a winger who has dragged PSG to the Ligue 1 title? Or does Ronald Araujo deserve recognition for anchoring Barcelona's European-best defence?

There have been plenty of standouts across Europe, with talent abound at traditional powers and plucky upstarts. Certainly, the likes of Napoli, Arsenal, and, to an extent, Barcelona, have been buoyed by some top players. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Pedri and Victor Osimhen have all been vital for some of the continent's best teams.

So, as the season comes to a close for good, GOAL looks at the 21 best performers from around Europe in 2022-23...

  1. Kim Min-jae (Napoli)

    #21 Kim Min-jae (Napoli)

    A lot of the focus this season has been on Napoli's attack, and for good reason: the duo of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have been devastating in the final third. But Kim Min-jae has been Napoli's most important player otherwise, and certainly the best value-for-money defender in Europe this year.

    The Serie A winners paid Fenerbahce just €18 million (£15.7m/$19.4m) for his services last summer, and he's been worth every penny. Terrific in the air and excellent on the ball, the South Korean has made the loss of Kalidou Koulibaly seem like a positive.

  2. Pedri (Barcelona)

    #20 Pedri (Barcelona)

    Barcelona duo Gavi and Pedri are often grouped together as two similar players, but they couldn't be any more different. Gavi is all scrap, while Pedri is the epitome of finesse, and the latter's improvement in central midfield has been crucial for the Blaugrana this year.

    Pedri is still a wonderful dribbler and precise passer, but he's also started to become a more consistent attacking threat, with six goals to his name. It's a shame that the Spanish magician missed 12 games with an injury - if he'd been fit all season, Barca could have won La Liga by 20 points.

  3. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

    #19 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

    In many ways, Karim Benzema has been a victim of his own success. The French striker was so good last season, that this year was always going to be underwhelming in some sense. In effect, he couldn't really improve on his Ballon d'Or-winning campaign.

    That's not for want of trying, though. Benzema has struggled with injuries, but the world-class talent is still very much there. He has bagged 29 goals in 41 games, while turning in a few vintage performances.

    He netted a brace against Liverpool in the Champions League, scored a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-final, and scored seven in four games in a stretch in early April. Whether he can be relied on to play a full season anymore remains to be seen, but Benzema can still be a top-quality performer.

  4. Nathan Ake (Man City)

    #18 Nathan Ake (Man City)

    Manchester City were never really out of the title race, but Ake is one of the reasons they dragged themselves back into it. One of Pep Guardiola's masterstrokes this season was moving Ake into a modified left-back role, effectively using the Dutchman as a third centre-back when City defend.

    It shored up a backline that had struggled for a few months, and also gave City a lockdown one-on-one defender against some of the league's best attacking players. Ake was a £40m ($53m) signing nearly three years ago. This year, he has finally shown why City spent big.

  5. Antoine Greizmann (Atletico Madrid)
    Web Atlético de Madrid

    #17 Antoine Greizmann (Atletico Madrid)

    From struggling before the World Cup, Griezmann has become the trendy pick for La Liga Player of the Season. There were calls for Diego Simeone to be sacked as recently as January, but Griezmann's fine form since then has saved his job and propelled Atletico Madrid into a battle for second place behind Barcelona.

    Certainly, he's benefitted from the departure of Joao Felix and a switch to the kind of attacking midfield role he plays for the French national team. But he's also, quite simply, been in exquisite form in his own right.

  6. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)

    #16 Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)

    It may have ended in heartbreak, but Bellingham's season was one to remember. The English midfielder wasn't exactly an unknown quantity coming into this campaign, but in 2022-23, his third full year as a Dortmund regular, he became world-class.

    Bellingham was vital in both the Bundesliga and Champions League and finished the season with 20 goal contributions in all competitions — not a bad mark for a teenager. And the scary thing is, there's surely more to come from a player who will only develop. Real Madrid, it seems, have got a good one.

  7. Ilkay Gundogan (Man City)

    #15 Ilkay Gundogan (Man City)

    There's something about late-season Gundogan. The Germany midfielder loves the big moments, something he established long before his title-winning heroics for Man City on the last day of the 2021-22 season.

    And he was immense down the stretch for City again this year. Gundogan functioned perfectly as the roaming midfielder in City's well-orchestrated trio, tallying five goal contributions in his last five as City hunted down Arsenal to win a third-straight league title.

    With his contract up in June, the future is up in the air. City have reportedly made a new offer to the player, but there are no concrete indications that he will sign. If he does leave, it will be on the back of one of his best seasons yet.

  8. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
    (C)Getty Images

    #14 Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

    Mikel Arteta pieced together a truly excellent Arsenal side this year. Everything was fine-tuned, each player serving as a cog in a perfectly precise machine that turned the Premier League's youngest side into an attacking behemoth. And Saka was both a protagonist and beneficiary. The potential has been there for a long time, and Saka was excellent for the first half of last season.

    This term, though, he found much-needed consistency and developed an even more potent understanding with Martin Odegaard. The result? His best season yet, and plenty of promise for the many more that await him in north London.

  9. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli)

    #13 Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli)

    'Kvaradona', more than anything, is a terrific story. Here was a player, almost entirely unknown, flying under the radar of Europe's elite, who became the driving creative force behind the continent's most dynamic attacking side.

    At six feet tall with gangly legs and skinny arms, he looks more like a hard-working midfielder than elite winger. But that body type is deceiving. Kvaratskhelia made waves in Serie A early on, and his dismantling of Liverpool in the Champions League announced him on a European stage. And now, he's gone from cult hero to world-class, with many years of improvement soon to come.

  10. Martin Odegaard (Arsenal)

    #12 Martin Odegaard (Arsenal)

    Despite being just 24, it feels like Odegaard has been around for ages. But this year was only his second full season in England's top flight, and third in a 'Big Five' league. And it was his best yet.

    Odegaard has been the fulcrum of this Arsenal side for nearly two full years now, functioning as the right sided No.8 in Arteta's intricate system. Odegaard is an orchestrator, an expert at playing the pass before the assist — mostly because he sees the spaces in the box opening when they're still occupied.

    This year, though, Odegaard decided to start shooting. He's bagged 15 goals as a result, one of the most prolific seasons in Premier League history for a central midfielder. If that continues, there will be plenty of silverware to come.

  11. Rodri (Man City)

    #11 Rodri (Man City)

    Pep loves his pivots, and Rodri is the next in a line of terrific talents. But he's more than just a classic No.6. Indeed, the Spain international is the key to Man City's system, the defensive lynchpin that allows everything to function.

    Deceptively quick, steady on the ball, and surprisingly creative, Rodri has the skills of No.8 in a No.6's body. And in this City side, he supports everything, making Europe's best team tick on a weekly basis. Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish may get the headlines, but Rodri is arguably City's most important player.

  12. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

    #10 Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

    Everyone seemed to be linked with a Barcelona exit last summer, and Ter Stegen was a surprise inclusion in the constant swirl of the rumour mill. But he showed exactly why he deserves to be at Camp Nou this year.

    Ter Stegen has been excellent all year, and set a new La Liga record for clean sheets, serving as the final barrier in Europe's best defensive side. And it's not like he never has anything to do, either. Ter Stegen led La Liga in save percentage by some distance, and re-established himself as one of Europe's best goalkeepers after a couple of poor seasons.

    Every title-winning team needs a top-class goalkeeper. Barca have theirs.

  13. Lionel Messi (PSG)

    #9 Lionel Messi (PSG)

    Messi's club season is hard to quantify. After all, he lifted the World Cup less than six months ago, the defining achievement of this latter period of Messi's career; the moment that the best ever officially completed football.

    But there was some stuff to be played domestically, too, and Messi wasn't bad there, either. The Argentine had plenty of off-field controversies, not least a suspension for taking an unsanctioned flight to Saudi Arabia at a crucial juncture of the Parisians' season, but his class was still present throughout.

    He will end the season with over 30 direct goal contributions in Ligue 1, a number on par with Kylian Mbappe. Messi won't be playing at Parc des Princes next year, but he certainly made a mark in his final campaign.

  14. Robert Lewandowksi (Barcelona)
    Getty Images

    #8 Robert Lewandowksi (Barcelona)

    Lewandowski was always going to score goals - the question was merely how many. He started his Barca career with a bang, pacing La Liga in goals for the first half of the season, and helping the Blaugrana build what turned out to be an insurmountable lead at the top of the table.

    There have, admittedly, been some growing pains. Lewandowski hasn't entirely gelled with Ousmane Dembele yet and doesn't have a perfect understanding with Raphinha, either. A suspension in early 2023 stalled his campaign, and he never really hit the same heights of the first few months of the season. Still, Barca needed goals, and Lewandowski brought them in bunches.

  15. Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

    #7 Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

    Osimhen refined his game in 2022-23, becoming a finely tuned No.9 at just 23-years-old. There isn't much nonsense to Osimhen's game these days. The Napoli No.9 is ferociously direct, deadly in the box, and immense in the air. His understanding with Kvaratskhelia has been instrumental in Napoli's domestic success, with the two forming a deadly duo that has torn up Serie A.

    But Osimhen is more than capable of going alone, too, and terrifies opposing defences down the right channel. The striker has been linked with a Premier League move for nearly two years now, and it appears this summer, the window after his best season yet, that could finally happen. England beware.

  16. Ronald Araujo (Barcelona)
    Getty Images

    #6 Ronald Araujo (Barcelona)

    For Araujo, the tools have always been there. He's always been terrific in the air and an immense one-on-one defender. But he'd never been fit consistently enough to piece everything together. This season, though, he's become the undisputed leader of Barcelona's European-leading defence.

    Perhaps his crowning achievement, though, has been his consistent marking of Real Madrid's Vinicius Jr. Whenever the Blaugrana line up against Los Blancos, Xavi has shifted Araujo to right-back, and charged him with keeping the Brazilian quiet. And it worked — the mark of a world-class defender.

  17. Harry Kane (Tottenham)

    #5 Harry Kane (Tottenham)

    Kane enjoyed arguably his best season yet in north London, a fact that has somehow been lost in the circus that is Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The England captain bagged 30 Premier League goals and served as the only positive in a miserable season for Spurs.

    But now, Kane must finally confront the choice he's been putting off for 12 months. With his contract due to expire in June 2024, and no pathway to immediate team success at managerless Tottenham, this is presumably the club's last chance to cash in — and the striker's most obvious opportunity to seek a move he's alluded to on a few occasions.

    Regardless of where he plays next year, odds are he will bang the goals in again.

  18. Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

    #4 Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

    Paris Saint-Germain endured a miserable second half to the season. They crashed out of the Champions League to a Bayern Munich side in turmoil, almost threw away Ligue 1, and were marred by a series of off-field issues. But Mbappe was the constant amidst a season of struggle.

    Although he was clearly bothered by a hamstring injury for a few weeks, the winger was PSG's undoubted talisman, scoring 28 league goals, and added seven in Europe for good measure. And, crucially, he assured PSG fans that he will stay for at least another year, a welcome piece of good news for a club that has faced a deluge of negativity for months.

  19. Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)

    #3 Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)

    Is there a better one-on-one player in Europe? Vinicius Jr has always been a world-class dribbler and undisputed showman, but this year, he fine-tuned his game, becoming a more regular goalscorer and provider of assists.

    Massive performances in the Champions League — such as his showing in the first legs against both Man City and Liverpool — showed that he can be a big-game player, too. Somehow, terrifyingly for anyone outside of Santiago Bernabeu, he's still 22. The best is yet to come.

  20. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

    #2 Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

    Where does De Bruyne rank among attacking midfielders in the history of English football? It's hard to think of many better than him, especially in recent years. Very few players in the Premier League era have been blessed with his quality of right foot, and ability to read the game.

    This year figured to be a tricky one for the Belgian. Although the same Guardiola principles were in place, he had to adapt to a new system with new personnel. But he made the transition seamlessly, forming a deadly partnership with Haaland that has Man City on the brink of a treble.

  21. Erling Haaland (Man City)
    (C)Getty Images

    #1 Erling Haaland (Man City)

    Was it ever going to be anyone else? Man City didn't need to sign Haaland to win the Premier League. The freakishly good Norwegian was brought in to take Pep Guardiola's side to Champions League glory, and he might yet do that.

    Until then, his 36 Premier League strikes, demolition of Arsenal in a crucial fixture in the title race, and five-goal showing against RB Leipzig stand as evidence that this is a truly special striker — one lightyears ahead of the rest of Europe.