GOAL 50 2018 - ENGLISH

Cristiano Ronaldo may have narrowly failed in his bid to win the Goal 50 for the third year in a row but the prolific Portuguese superstar succeeded in leading Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League title, in May.

The 33-year-old finished as the tournament's top scorer with 15 goals, which included possibly the greatest strike in European Cup history in the quarter-final against Juventus.

He then lit up the World Cup with a hat-trick against Spain before stunning the football world by joining Juventus for €100m before Russia 2018 had even concluded.

After joining Liverpool from Roma in the summer of 2017, Mohamed Salah enjoyed an incredible debut season at Anfield, breaking the Premier League record for goals across a single campaign by netting 32 times.

Despite seeing his hopes of Champions League glory dashed by an injury sustained after a controversial tangle with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, the winger still ended the tournament with 10 goals to his name.

Salah also struck twice at the World Cup in spite of his shoulder problem and off-field issues with the Egyptian Football Association.

The game's newest superstar, Kylian Mbappe followed in the illustrious steps of Pele by scoring in the World Cup final as a teenager.

The jet-heeled forward netted four times in total during France's triumphant Russia 2018 campaign, eliminating Argentina with a devastating double along the way.

Mbappe racked up 21 goals during a successful debut season at Paris Saint-Germain that concluded with him completing a €180m move to the Parc des Princes.

The World Cup proved a trying experience for Lionel Messi, with the Argentine suffering a last-16 exit, but the Barcelona No.10 was at his brilliant best during his club's domestic double last season

Messi scored more goals (45) in all competitions than any other player in 2017-18, netting 34 times in La Liga alone to win the European Golden Shoe, while no player in Spain racked up as many assists (12) as the 31-year-old.

It was apt that Kevin De Bruyne created the winning goal at Southampton on the final day of the Premier League season that saw Manchester City become the first side in English football history to accumulate 100 points.

It was the 21st assist of a remarkable club campaign from the Belgian, who went on to inspire his country to a third-placed finish at the World Cup, picking up a man of the match award against Brazil along the way.

Last season could hardly have gone any better for Raphael Varane, who became only the fourth man in history to win the Champions League and World Cup in the same year – and at just 25.

The classy centre-half was his usual immaculate self during Real Madrid's third consecutive European Cup win, while he played every single minute of France's triumphant Russia 2018 campaign, even netting a crucial goal against Uruguay in the quarter-finals.

There was to be no third consecutive Golden Boot in the Premier League for Harry Kane due to Mohamed Salah's heroics at Liverpool but the Tottenham star still enjoyed the most prolific season of his club career to date, netting 41 times in 48 appearances in all competitions.

The 25-year-old then claimed the World Cup’s Golden Boot, with six goals in six games, as England reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

Sergio Ramos may feel otherwise but it's easy to understand why Antoine Griezmann now believes he belongs in the same company as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The Frenchman, who hit 29 goals in all competitions last season, scored in every single knockout round during Atletico Madrid's Europa League triumph, including a decisive double in the final, while he struck four times for France on their path to World Cup glory in Russia.

The best left-back in the world for the past five years, Marcelo was arguably Real Madrid's most consistent performer during last season's Champions League success.

The 30-year-old Brazil international not only defended diligently throughout, he also scored in every knockout round up until the final - against PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich - before then setting up both of Gareth Bale's goals in the showpiece with Liverpool.

N'Golo Kante may be playing further forward at Chelsea this term, showcasing his long under-rated attacking attributes, but his Goal 50 inclusion owes everything to his defensive exploits over the past year.

The indefatigable Frenchman made more interceptions than anyone else in Europe (122) last season, helping Chelsea win the FA Cup in the process, before confirming his status as the game's greatest defensive midfielder during France's triumphant World Cup campaign.

Chelsea had their problems last season but wing wizard Eden Hazard certainly wasn't one of them.

Indeed, only two players in Europe created more chances than the Blues' brilliant Belgian (131), who also racked up 17 goals in all competitions - including the winner in the FA Cup final - before winning the Silver Ball for his scintillating showings at the World Cup (three goals, two assists).

Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba may have endured a difficult 2017-18 campaign under Jose Mourinho, even suffering the ignominy of being dropped for the Champions League clash with Sevilla, but the Frenchman proved his class in Russia.

Deployed in a position that perfectly suited his many attributes by Didier Deschamps, Pogba excelled during his country's World Cup win, even netting in the final against Croatia.

One of the few Germany players to return from World Cup 2018 with their reputations intact, Toni Kroos not only passed the ball beautifully, as always, he also produced his country's one highlight in Russia: the last-minute free-kick winner against Sweden.

The metronomic midfielder was also his typically brilliant self as Real Madrid made it three Champions League wins in a row, creating three goals along the way.

The leader of the best defence in the world, Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin was the subject of a bid from Manchester United during the summer but ultimately decided to remain in Spain.

Diego Simeone is now desperately hoping that the Uruguay international, who was immense at Russia 2018, will sign a contract extension, given the 32-year-old was the foundation on which Atleti's Europa League triumph was founded.

Barcelona fans feared losing Samuel Umtiti at the end of the 2017-18 season but the club eventually tied the centre-half down to a new contract in June, increasing his buy-out clause to €500m in the process.

It was a wise move, with the Frenchman having attracted numerous suitors with a string of dominant displays during his club's double success before then proving integral to his country's World Cup win, even netting the only goal in the semi-final defeat of Belgium.

Fellow Paris Saint-Germain forwards Kylian Mbappe and Neymar may attract more attention for their pace and dribbling skills, but Edinson Cavani was the Ligue 1 champions’ top-scorer last season with 40 goals in just 46 outings in all competitions.

The striker also fired Uruguay into the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a brilliant double against Portugal and they could have gone further had he not missed the game against France through injury.

It's been a memorable year for Sadio Mane, who first surpassed Demba Ba as the most prolific Senegalese player in Premier League history before then becoming the first player from his country to net in the Champions League final.

The 26-year-old may not have got his hands on any silverware but he nonetheless established himself as one of the game's elite wingers by forming a deadly attacking triumvirate with Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

Gareth Bale has had his injury issues at Real Madrid but another reason why the Welshman saw less and less game time under Zinedine Zidane was Isco, and his dancing feet.

The twinkle-toed attacking midfielder, who had his buy-out clause increased to €700m during the 2017-18 campaign, had a hand in 19 goals (nine scored, 10 assisted) in all competitions last term as los Blancos retained their Champions League title.

Love him or loathe him, it's impossible not to respect Sergio Ramos and his medal haul.

The abrasive defender may have last season become the most red-carded player in Liga history, as well as courting controversy with his Champions League final tangle with Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah, but the 32-year-old still ended up leading Real Madrid to a third consecutive European Cup.

After starring for Liverpool during the first half of last season, with 12 goals in 20 appearances in all competitions, Philippe Coutinho belatedly secured his dream move to Barcelona in January of this year for an initial £105m.

The gifted attacking midfielder unsurprisingly settled quickly at Camp Nou, contributing 10 goals to a double triumph, including one in the Copa del Rey final, before proving one of Brazil's few success stories at Russia 2018.

The creative hub of Mauricio Pochettino's talented Tottenham team, Christian Eriksen contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in all competitions as Spurs once again over-achieved last season, finishing third in the Premier League and reaching the last 16 of the Champions League.

The clever attacking midfielder also carried Denmark to the 2018 World Cup, scoring a fantastic hat-trick in the second leg of their play-off with Republic of Ireland.

After spending the entirety of his first season at the Stadio Olimpico as Wojciech Szczesny's understudy, Alisson proved why he had still managed to hold on to the Brazil No.1 jersey with a succession of sensational performances in 2017-18.

Only Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre ter Stegen bettered his 22 clean sheets, as the 26-year-old repeatedly came to Roma’s rescue during their surprise run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, with his heroics ultimately earning him a record-breaking £67m move to Liverpool.

Neymar may have become football's 'Public Enemy No.1' with his histrionics at the World Cup but there was still plenty to admire during the Brazilian's first season at Paris Saint-Germain.

Before the forward's club campaign was cruelly cut short by injury, the €222m signing from Barcelona scored 28 goals and provided 16 assists in just 30 games in all competitions, as PSG claimed all four domestic trophies.

Now 32 years of age yet Mario Mandzukic remains a big-game player, as he repeatedly proved over the past year.

As well as netting a first-half double in Juventus' brave but ultimately unsuccessful fightback against Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League at the Santiago Bernabeu, the striker then scored three knockout-stage goals for Croatia at the World Cup, including the winner in the semi-final triumph over England.

David de Gea may have endured a torrid World Cup with Spain but he remains the most consistently brilliant goalkeeper in England, making the Premier League's Team of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.

The spectacular shot-stopper, who is still only 28, also claimed the division's Golden Glove award for accumulating 22 clean sheets last term, as Manchester United finished as runners-up.

Jan Oblak's current Atletico Madrid contract does not expire until 2021 but a number of his team-mates have publicly expressed their hope that the Slovenia international is handed a contract extension as soon as possible.

Their desperation is understandable, given a €100m buy-out clause looks precariously low for a 25-year-old who racked up more clean sheets (29) than any other goalkeeper in all competitions last season.

Ivan Rakitic only scored four goals last season – the lowest return of his Barcelona career to date – but he enjoyed his most influential campaign since 2014-15, providing more protection for the defence while still serving as a creative force.

He proved just as important during Croatia's run to the World Cup final, converting two match-deciding penalties in the shoot-out wins over Denmark and Russia.

For the first two seasons of his Liverpool career, many pundits doubted whether the hard-working Roberto Firmino would ever be prolific enough to spearhead a side with ambitions of winning major trophies.

Silverware eluded the Reds last term but the Brazilian added goals to his outstanding all-round game, racking up 27 in 54 appearances as the Merseysiders made it all the way to the Champions League final.

One of the finest talents ever to play in England, David Silva was at his brilliant best during Manchester City's march to Premier League glory last season, creating 11 goals and netting nine himself.

The Spaniard's sensational form was made all the more remarkable for the fact that his son was born prematurely in January and spent the first five months of his life fighting for survival.

Sergio Aguero's Premier League campaign may have been prematurely ended by a knee injury but the Argentine had already played a massive role in their title triumph, with 21 goals in just 25 appearances, as well as becoming the club's all-time record goalscorer with his Champions League strike against Napoli in November.

The striker also netted in the EFL Cup final defeat of Arsenal and even struck twice at the World Cup despite the Albiceleste’s disastrous tournament.

Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale lost his status as an automatic starter under Zinedine Zidane last season but the Welshman once again proved that while form is temporary, class is permanent.

After recovering from fitness issues, the winger finished the season with a flourish, scoring in four consecutive Liga games before then coming off the bench to win the Champions League for los Blancos with two goals in the final against Liverpool. This included a truly astonishing bicycle kick strike.

The World Cup was a disaster for Robert Lewandowski's Poland, while the Bayern Munich forward's hopes of a summer switch to Real Madrid were probably affected by his poor performances against los Blancos in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Still, the striker enjoyed another stellar season, finishing top scorer in the Bundesliga with an incredible 29 goals in just 30 outings.

Just like Inter, Ivan Perisic suffered a dramatic mid-season dip in form but he recovered to help his Italian employers qualify for the Champions League for the first time in six years, with 11 Serie A goals.

The winger then excelled at the World Cup, scoring three goals - including in the semi-final and final - as Croatia finished as runners-up.

James Rodriguez has had his injury issues over the past 12 months, particularly during Colombia’s World Cup campaign, but, when fully fit, he showed why Bayern Munich were willing to pay €13m just to take him on loan from Real Madrid.

The classy Colombian playmaker contributed 11 assists and seven goals as the Bavarians successfully defended their Bundesliga title.

Chelsea may have endured a turbulent second season under Antonio Conte but the Blues still managed to win the FA Cup, with Thibaut Courtois keeping a clean sheet in the final win over Manchester United.

The Belgium international, who has since moved to Real Madrid, underlined his class at the World Cup, claiming the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper after helping his country finish third.

Paulo Dybala had his fair share of lows this year, from his red card against Real Madrid in the Champions League to being left on the bench for the majority of Argentina's World Cup campaign.

However, the 26-year-old nonetheless enjoyed the most prolific season of his career, with 26 goals in all competitions as Juventus claimed another domestic double.

Luis Suarez may have struggled in the Champions League last season but the Uruguay international played a pivotal role in Barcelona's double triumph.

The forward plundered 31 goals in all competitions, scoring 11 times in eight Liga games at one point, as well as bagging a double in the 5-0 demolition of Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final.

Germany boss Joachim Low would come to regret his shock decision to leave the temperamental but extravagantly talented Leroy Sane out of his World Cup squad, as the defending champions ended up sorely missing the winger's pace and dribbling skills in Russia.

Sane had been one of Man City's best players in their dominant Premier League campaign, with a whopping 15 assists and 10 goals.

The most surprising thing about the summer transfer window was Lazio managing to hold on to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the most in-demand midfielder on the market.

Valued at over €100m, the tall but skilful Serbia international - who represented his country at World Cup 2018 - was directly involved in 22 goals in all competitions last season, scoring 14 himself and creating eight others.

Perhaps the best example of ‘the Pep Guardiola effect’ at Manchester City, Raheem Sterling has developed into one of the most exciting and effective attackers in world football over the past 12 months, one now being linked with the likes of Real Madrid.

The England international scored a career-high 23 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions last season as City romped to the Premier League title.

Joshua Kimmich's World Cup campaign with Germany may not have gone according to plan but there was arguably no more effective full-back in Europe last season.

Indeed, the Bayern Munich ace racked up more assists in all competitions than any other defender (15) across the continent's 'Big Five' leagues, while he also struck six goals, including one apiece in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

Gianluigi Buffon brought his 17-year Juventus career to an end by helping the Turin outfit win a seventh successive Scudetto, with 11 clean sheets.

The goalkeeping icon's bid to win a first Champions League appeared to end in acrimony, with Buffon sent off in the dying seconds of a dramatic quarter-final with Real Madrid, but the 40-year-old decided against retiring during the summer and will instead have another crack at the European Cup with new club Paris Saint-Germain.

Napoli fans were underwhelmed by the lack of high-profile arrivals at the San Paolo during the summer but they did take great comfort from the fact that the club managed to hold on to Kalidou Koulibaly.

An unnamed Premier League club made a €100m summer bid for the Senegal centre-half, who was a rock at the back for the Partenopei last season, as well as contributing five goals, including the memorable winner at Juventus in April.

Edin Dzeko just seems to get better with age and has been in incredible form over the past two years.

After hitting a career-high 39 goals in all competitions in 2016-17, the 32-year-old led Roma to the semi-finals of last season's Champions League, scoring eight times in just 12 appearances and hitting the net in five consecutive knockout matches in the process.

Manchester United stumped up an initial £75m to sign Romelu Lukaku from Everton last year and the powerful centre-forward repaid his new club with 27 goals and nine assists in his first season at Old Trafford.

The 25-year-old then picked up the Bronze Boot at the World Cup, after striking four times during Belgium's third-placed finish in Russia.

Hirving Lozano's first year in European football couldn't have gone much better, with the winger firing PSV to the Eredivisie title with 17 goals in 29 outings.

After following that with a string of scintillating showings for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup – which featured a superb solo strike against Germany – 'Chucky' is now being tracked by the likes of Barcelona.

Last season was only two months old when Lazio decided to extend Ciro Immobile's contract and it was easy to understand why.

The Italy international had kicked off the campaign with a double in the shock Supercoppa Italiana win over Juventus and went on to net 41 times in all competitions, earning a share of Serie A's Capocannoniere award in the process, with 29 goals in just 33 appearances.

Ever since re-joining Marseille from Newcastle, the tuxedo-loving Florian Thauvin has made a mockery of those who wrote him off after his disappointing spell on Tyneside.

Indeed, the 25-year-old winger netted 26 goals and racked up 17 assists during his club's run to the Europa League final, thus earning himself a place in France's World Cup-winning squad.

Andres Iniesta brought the curtain down on his trophy-laden Barcelona career in fittingly fantastic fashion, helping the club win a domestic double in his last season at Camp Nou.

Always a man for the big occasion, the living legend produced a virtuoso performance in the Copa del Rey final win over Sevilla and is now wowing fans in Japan with Vissel Kobe.