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The 10 Most Improved Players In Europe's Big Leagues This Season

The 10 Most Improved Players In Europe's Big Leagues This Season

Thursday, 28 December, 2017 - 08:45
Ciro Immobile, Nabil Fekir and Simone Zaza have really turned it on this season. Photograph: Getty Images

10) Philipp Max, Augsburg

Not to be confused with Dortmund Borussia forward Maximilian Philipp, Augsburg left-back Philipp Max is enjoying an excellent season with the club. Signed as a replacement for Chelsea-bound Baba Rahman in 2015, the 24-year-old had not really secured his place in the first team until this season but he is realising his potential now.

The full-back is in our Bundesliga team of the season so far, having registered more assists (five) than any other player. His delivery from the left and ability to play as a wing-back will surely make him an interesting proposition for Joachim Löw, who is is need of a solid left-back. Max has only represented Germany at last summer’s Olympic Games but will hoping to make it to the World Cup next summer. Rating: 7.33, up 0.68 on last season.

9) Pione Sisto, Celta Vigo

On the subject of players realising their potential, this may well prove to be Pione Sisto’s true breakthrough campaign. He made a name for himself for his exploits in the Europa League with FC Midtjylland and he showed some promise in his debut season in La Liga last year, but he has nailed down a starting place at Vigo over the last few months.

He has started all 11 of their matches in La Liga so far and has had a direct hand in 10 goals – something only Rodrigo Moreno and Lionel Messi can match. His tally of seven assists can only be bettered in Europe by David Silva. The Republic of Ireland will have a job keeping the Denmark winger quiet come Saturday night in Copenhagen. Rating: 7.36, up 0.69 on last season.

8) Abdoulaye Doucouré, Watford

From a bit-part player to game-changer, Abdoulaye Doucouré’s renaissance at Watford shows what a change of manager can do for a player. Walter Mazzarri did not seem to trust the Frenchman but Marco Silva has played him for every single minute of Watford’s season so far – and his faith has been rewarded.

With four goals in the league, Doucouré is the club’s joint top scorer – along with new summer signing Richarlison – but it’s his dynamism in midfield that has been most impressive. His rangy stride allows him to beat a man as well as he breaks up possession - winning the ball more times in the midfield third than any other Premier League player (60) – while he controls the play for the Hornets with a huge team high of 65.8 passes per game. Rating: 7.19, up 0.72 on last season.

7) Lucas Ocampos, Marseille

Big things were expected from Lucas Ocampos when he moved from River Plate to Monaco for a Ligue 2 record fee of €11 million five years ago. He hasn’t lived up to those expectations – until now.

The Argentinian forward, now 23, is in the form of his career at Marseille, where he has been given a second chance having looked set to leave after loan spells at Genoa and Milan last season. In eight league appearances this season, he has scored four goals and laid on an assist from the left flank, averaging 2.8 shots and 2.3 dribbles per game, with a further goal and assist in his only Europa League start. Rating: 7.47, up 0.78 on last season.

6) Clinton N’Jie, Marseille

Staying in Marseille, Ocampos’ team-mate and at times positional rival Clinton N’Jie is putting a dismal spell at Tottenham behind him. The 24-year-old returned to Marseille on loan last season and scored four times in 22 league appearances, doing just enough to earn a permanent move.

He’s already beaten that goal tally in just eight outings this season, scoring five times and registering an assist from just 429 minutes of action. That equates to a goal every 86 minutes, a record beaten only by Falcao (a goal every 58 minutes) and Edinson Cavani (a goal every 71 minutes) in Ligue 1. Rating: 7.37, up 0.83 on last season.

5) Malcom, Bordeaux

Bordeaux winger Malcom has been one of the brightest young talents in Europe this season. The 20-year-old Brazilian, who arrived in Europe from Corinthians aged just 18, nailed down a place in the starting XI last season but has really thrived in this campaign.

With five goals and four assists from the right flank, he will be hoping to force his way into Tite’s World Cup squad. He was in the Brazil team that lost the Under-20 World Cup final to Serbia in 2015; if his current form continues, he may have a chance to make amends for that defeat next summer. Rating: 7.76, up 0.86 on last season.

4) Ciro Immobile, Lazio

Andrea Belotti scored 26 goals for Torino last season and was seen as the great Italian hope, leaving Ciro Immobile’s efforts somewhat overlooked. Immobile scored league 23 goals in his debut season for Lazio, which was one more than he scored on route to the Capacannoniere in 2013-14 while with Torino.

The tables have turned this season though. Immobile is not only the top scorer in Serie A but across Europe’s top five leagues, with a remarkable 14 goals from 11 appearances. Sweden will need to keep a close eye on him during their World Cup play-off this week. Rating: 8.12, up 0.86 on last season.

3) Simone Zaza, Valencia

West Ham fans, look away now. While your club is in the relegation zone and being managed by David Moyes, your former loanee Simone Zaza is lighting up La Liga. Having earned a permanent deal with Valencia after a decent loan spell with the club earlier this year, he has been in sensational form.

Zaza has been key to the club’s unbeaten start under new boss Marcelino, scoring nine goals to rank second to Lionel Messi in the La Liga scoring charts. That’s just two fewer than West Ham have managed in the Premier League this season. He has scored with a third of his shots, giving him the fifth best conversion rate (33.3%) among players with more than five goals in Europe’s big leagues. Rating: 7.52, up 0.89 on last season.

2) Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad

Mikel Oyarzabal is one of those four players with a better chance conversion rate than Zaza. The Real Sociedad winger struggled badly with his finishing last season, scoring just twice in 38 appearances, but he has turned that around in emphatic fashion.

The 20-year-old has scored six goals in eight league games this season and has hit 69% of his shots on target . If he can improve his support play – he has just one assist this season – Oyarzabal a real contender for Spain’s World Cup squad next summer. Rating: 7.58, up 0.94 on last season.

1) Nabil Fekir, Lyon

The runaway leader here, Nabil Fekir is one man who should be a certainty for a place in Russia next summer. The 24-year-old Frenchman has been nothing short of sensational for Lyon this season, earning our third highest rating in Europe behind Neymar and Lionel Messi.

Stepping up to help shoulder the goalscoring burden following the departure of Alexandre Lacazette, the new Lyon captain has scored 11 and registered four assists in Ligue 1 so far from his role behind lone striker Mariano. He is in the form of his life having spent much of last season getting back up to speed following a cruciate ligament injury and will surely be a hot property in the transfer windows to come. Rating: 8.50, up 1.41 on last season.

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