Ranking the 20 Best No. 10s in World Football Right Now
Who are the 20 best No. 10s in world football right now?
In part anticipation of the new season and in part reminiscence of the FIFA World Cup 2014, we've taken a look at the best players to occupy one of the most influential and integral parts of the pitch.
Be sure to check our definition of a No. 10—modern football managers have made it tricky to define them in black and white—and add any you think we've forgotten in the comments below!
The rankings are based on form of the last 12 months.
How We Defined a No. 10
Modern football is complicated, and there's no simple manner in which to determine who is a No. 10 and who is not any longer. Sometimes players are stuck out on different positions that don't maximise their magnificent talents; sometimes players are given the No. 10 shirt (Lionel Messi) and never truly play there.
As such, we've defined our No. 10s as players who either occupy the No. 10 space on the pitch from the start, enter and manipulate it frequently or drift into it from a wide area on autopilot. We've discounted players who are clear shuttlers/ball-carriers in a 4-3-3 (Blaise Matuidi, Angel Di Maria etc.).
This means someone such as Luka Modric, who generally (or preferably) starts and stays a little deeper is not considered, but a Cesc Fabregas or an Isco is.
It's no exact science, but with inaccurate team sheets and tinkering managers, we've done our best.
Juan Mata: Out of position and lost form, not played by Jose Mourinho at all when he was at Chelsea.
Shinji Kagawa: Out of position. A shadow of his former self.
Keisuke Honda: Poor form.
Kaka: Average form.
Wesley Sneijder: Poor form.
Santi Cazorla: Disqualified due to large amount of time spent in wider areas.
Ross Barkley: Young and promising, but that's it for now.
Remy Cabella: Fell just short.
Dusan Tadic: Will his creative instincts translate to Premier League level?
Borja Valero: Considered more of a flat central midfielder in this case.
Kevin De Bruyne: First half of season (Chelsea) and poor FIFA World Cup 2014 slowed him down.
20. Oscar, Chelsea
Oscar had a rough second half of the 2013-14 Premier League season, creating little and losing his fitness fairly quickly in games.
There were still some plus points to his game—his triggering midfield rotations are key to Chelsea's tactics—but he needs a long rest if he's to come back and shine again.
19. Ricky Alvarez, Internazionale
To quite literally everyone's surprise, Ricky Alvarez turned up for the 2013-14 campaign and played a superb season that came completely out of the blue.
He'd previously been struggling with the basics of passing to his own teammates and keeping the ball inside the white lines, but something clicked into place during the summer of 2013 and he came back a predator and a creator.
He has a FIFA World Cup runners-up medal now.
18. Marek Hamsik, Napoli
On balance, Marek Hamsik had a bit of a down year at Napoli last season, as the flow of play switched between managers.
Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne all appeared more important than the Slovakian at times, though the midfield maestro was still able to lead his side to a Coppa Italia victory.
17. Isco, Real Madrid
Isco struggled for form last season due to the fact that he was in and out of the side so much. He didn't play the biggest games as Carlo Ancelotti's preferred midfield triumvirate was set and, as a result, missed the Spain squad for the FIFA World Cup 2014.
But when he gets his chance to play he's a genius, jinking between challenges, showing absurd agility and squeezing shots and passes through the tightest spaces.
16. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Borussia Dortmund
Henrikh Mkhitaryan endured a disappointing debut season with Borussia Dortmund, costing a club-record €27.5 million but failing to effectively replace Mario Gotze.
But Jurgen Klopp won't be too worried, as his man is 25, learned the Bundesliga ropes last season and is primed to play far better this season.
It was his copious misses in front of goal that soured the season; everything else was fine.
15. Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
By the end of the season, Philippe Coutinho had been moved back a little into a flatter central midfield role, but he started the campaign as a true No. 10.
It often felt like the only reason he didn't grab 15 assists in the first five games was due to his teammates' profligacy, with the opener against Stoke City in particular representing a masterclass in slicing passing.
14. Adam Lallana, Liverpool (Southampton)
Adam Lallana is at his best when played through the centre, not from the flanks, and Mauricio Pochettino seized every opportunity to extract the best from his captain at Southampton.
His deft touch rivals any in world football and his vision is quite remarkable. He dragged the Saints toe-to-toe against some of the best teams in the game last season and smashed the weaker ones to pieces single-handedly.
13. Ander Herrera, Manchester United (Athletic Bilbao)
Ander Herrera enjoyed an influential season under Ernesto Valverde at Athletic Bilbao, putting in the most consistent set of shifts in his short career so far.
Whether he was occupying the No. 10 space or drifting into it, plenty of Los Leones' play flowed through him as his side marched to fourth place in La Liga.
12. Roberto Firmino, Hoffenheim
Roberto Firmino, following in the footsteps of Carlos Eduardo, has become the latest Brazilian sensation to ensconce the Rhein-Neckar Arena.
He can play as a No. 10, wide either side or as a striker, but always performs best in the hole, twisting and turning his way into the penalty area and causing havoc for defenders.
11. Dario Conca, Fluminense
Dario Conca moved to East Asia, stacked his trophy cabinet to the brim and after securing an Asian Champions League—the pinnacle in that part of the world—then moved back to former club Fluminense.
Over the last 12 months, he's been an irresistible machine, and he's playing superbly back in the Brasileiro Serie A.
10. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham Hotspur
Tim Sherwood's use of Christian Eriksen was deplorable; sticking such a talented playmaker out on the left is a criminal misuse of his talents.
The Dane ended up impacting most games last season from set pieces, but would often venture inside and wrap his foot around a curling shot, deft dink or lifted cross.
Mauricio Pochettino won't make the same mistakes.
9. James Rodriguez, Real Madrid (AS Monaco)
James Rodriguez used the FIFA World Cup 2014 to new levels of personal gain, scoring six goals, stealing the show from Lionel Messi and landing a big move to Real Madrid as a result.
It's important to note that he didn't play like that every week in Monaco, although if some of Ligue 1's teams weren't so incredibly defensive, he may well have had the chance.
8. Toni Kroos, Real Madrid (Bayern Munich)
Toni Kroos started from much deeper positions for Bayern Munich this season, with Pep Guardiola choosing to sit him in a 4-3-3 and let him break forward rather than place him as a No. 10 like Jupp Heynckes.
At the FIFA World Cup 2014, Germany's play dramatically improved after Kroos switched to the No. 10 role for the quarter-final against France, and from that point on he remained the furthest central midfielder forward in order to influence play.
7. Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Mesut Ozil was expected to be contesting for the No. 1 spot on this list when he joined Arsenal last season, but instead the main storyline surrounding him is just how polarising a player he is.
Some lambaste him for any and every rogue touch, while others applaud him even when he's not on top, top form. How well Ozil played last season will never be agreed upon between 100 separate people, and the same goes for his FIFA World Cup showings too.
6. Mario Gotze, Bayern Munich
In no way was it a perfect season for Mario Gotze, but scoring the winning goal in a FIFA World Cup final does tend to make you forget about the rest of the year.
His expensive move to Bayern Munich was heavily scrutinised and slowed up initially by the hamstring injury sustained while still at Borussia Dortmund, but once ingrained he played absolutely everywhere, dipping into every pocket and working every marker for space.
5. Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea (Barcelona)
Cesc Fabregas had a standout season for Barcelona in 2013-14, taking advantage of Gerardo Martino's more vertical style of play to pick up eight goals and 13 assists in the league, per WhoScored.com.
It's arguable La Blaugrana looked more organised and better run with Xavi in instead, but Cesc was the man who looked most likely to set Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi off on a goalscoring run.
Will he play a similar breaking role for Chelsea or drop back a little deeper?
4. Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona (Sevilla)
Ivan Rakitic's astonishing record of 12 goals and 10 assists in league play last season, per WhoScored.com, earned him hundreds of admiring glances and Barcelona won the race to sign him this summer.
His dual-footed approach to the game means he's rarely caught in a position he can't recover from, and frequently pings out accurate through balls—much to the delight of Carlos Bacca.
3. Miralem Pjanic, Roma
Miralem Pjanic is coming off a truly monstrous season for AS Roma, pulling the strings in the midfield and setting up chance after chance for his colleagues.
He managed a remarkable four key passes per game at the FIFA World Cup 2014 for Bosnia and Herzegovina, per WhoScored.com, and even though his side didn't play up to their ability, he shone on an individual level.
2. David Silva, Manchester City
There may be no better exponent of the clever reverse-pass than David Silva, who regularly drags defenders across his vision with his eyes then springs a runner in the opposite direction.
He'll either play an inside-left role and breach the No. 10 space or sit in there and pull the strings; either way, he has the vision, agility and goalscoring nous to excel.
1. Andres Iniesta, Barcelona
Barcelona may have dropped off a little in recent years, but Andres Iniesta surging into that No. 10 space and confusing defences? There's no player quite like him still.
He plays a combination of positions for club and country but nearly always ends up in that zone, pulling markers away and using his agility to spin into space.
He's the don, still, of world football.