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Top 10 left-wingers in football right now – Male

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16 mins read
Top 10 left-wingers in football right now

Wingers in the modern game are the providers, the show ponies, the speed merchants, and the difference makers. In this article, we celebrate the best male left-wingers in the world right now using some advanced data metrics sprinkled with a little opinion.

With the game becoming more intricate, territorial, and data-centric, and the 4-4-2 becoming more and more redundant in modern football, a myriad of formations and positional tweaks mean wide men now are a different specimen to the classic crossers and providers of the 1990s.

The modern-day wingers have a lot on their plate considering the tasks given to them on both ends of the pitch, making it one of the most difficult and vital positions in the sport. These days, they’re goalscorers, pressers, raumdeuters and much more.

While the overall criteria for judging wingers remain the same as before, nowadays, they are evaluated based on their goal-scoring abilities and contribution to the team’s overall build-up play in addition to their dribbling and delivering abilities.

Choosing the best left-wingers

First things first, I’ve tried to walk the divide between ‘left-sided wingers’ and ‘forwards’ very cautiously, since my first objective was to limit this list to genuine wingers. That means the likes of Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo don’t make this list.

I’ve used metrics like goals scored, assists, non-penalty expected goals (npxGoals), expected goal involvement (xGi), goals-penalty kicks (Goals-PK), shot-creating actions per ninety minutes (SCA/90’), goal creating actions per ninety minutes (GCA/90’), and key passes/90’ to quantify each player’s contributions, but that doesn’t mean whoever has the best stats is the outright winner. I’ve also considered the importance of each player to his team’s cause, overall contribution to his team’s game, and level of competition in the team’s respective leagues.

xG is the probability that a shot will result in a goal based on the characteristics of the shot and the events leading up to it. Every shot is compared to thousands of shots with similar characteristics to determine the probability that this shot will result in a goal. That probability is the expected goal total. An xG of 0 is a certain miss, while an xG of 1 is a certain goal. An xG of 0.32 would indicate that if identical shots were attempted 100 times, 32 would be expected to result in a goal. Now, each penalty kick is worth 0.76 xG since all penalty kicks share the same characteristics. Thus, non-penalty expected goals (npxG) is total expected goals minus total penalty expected goals each player scores in any given period.

Expected Goal Involvement (xGi) is the cumulation of the expected goals and expected assists a player accumulates in a given period. For instance, if Riyad Mahrez takes three shots in a match which sums up to 0.41 expected goals (xG), while his creativity and passing lead to 0.21 expected assists (xA), his overall xGi for that match would sum up to 0.68. The “Goals-Penalty Kicks” index allows us to gauge a player’s efficiency in front of the goal with respect to their npxG. The bigger the gap, the better their productivity.

Shot Creating Actions (SCA) and Goal Creating Actions (GCA) mean at least two offensive actions leading to a shot or goal. This includes live-ball passes, dead-ball passes, successful dribbles, shots which lead to another shot and fouls won. In simple terms, it means how involved a player is in their team’s overall offensive build-up play. And finally, key passes per 90’ gives us the exact number of decisive and probing passes played throughout a 90-minute game; these could vary from playing the final ball in the lead up to a goal or the pass that broke the lines and created an opportunity.

Note: All stats come from FBref.com, Sofascore.com and Statsbomb, and are correct as of the publishing date.

So, without any further ado, let’s dive into it and take a look at the top 10 male left-wingers in world football right now.

Honourable mentions

#20 Yannick Carrasco

#19 Wilfried Zaha

#18 Rafael Leão

#17 Marcus Rashford

#16 Lucas Ocampos

#15 Mikel Oyarzabal

#14 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

#13 Ansu Fati

#12 Gabriel Martinelli

#11 Luis Díaz

Top 10 left-wingers in football – The Main List

#10 Cody Gakpo

Age: 22 years old

Nationality: Dutch

Club: PSV Eindhoven

The young 22-year-old Dutchman has shown rapid improvements in his game over the last two seasons. Since making his senior debut during the 18/19 season, Gakpo has gone on to cement his place as one of the first names on the PSV Eindhoven team sheet. He has been involved in 50 goals (24 goals + 26 assists) in 87 Eredivisie matches. Moreover, this season, in particular, he has taken his game up a notch by scoring 15 goals and providing 14 assists in 32 appearances across all competitions, turning the heads of some of Europe’s most elite clubs in the process.

Usually deployed as a left-winger, Gakpo often cuts inside on his favourite right foot to move into a more central position, using his pace and dribbling skills to take on his defenders until he finds space to get his shot away or set up one of his teammates. He is a strong dribbler, possesses accurate crossing ability, and has great vision, finding space and teammates in low-block systems or pinging accurate deliveries over the top. Gakpo also likes to shoot from distance as well as drop deep to link play. However, his defensive contribution has been questioned in the past as he rarely tracks back or drops deep to create an overload for his team and block spaces.

In 61 appearances for PSV Eindhoven since the start of the 2020/21 season, Gakpo has scored 25 goals and provided 17 assists. He has been prolific with his contributions and has outscored his expected Goal involvement (xGi) index rather impressively (+11.1). He has been a force to be reckoned with creatively and has created 24 big chances and 2.1 key passes per 90’. As highlighted earlier, Gakpo is an excellent dribbler, attempting 4.97 dribbles per 90’, while for shot creating actions (SCA) and goal creating actions (GCA), he ranks among some of Europe’s best with 5.41 SCA per 90’ and 0.56 GCA per 90’. Thus, it could be as early as next season that we see him plying his trade for one of Europe’s biggest teams.

#9 Jack Grealish

Age: 26 years old

Nationality: English

Club: Manchester City FC

The Englishman has had a tough start to life in Manchester after deciding to leave his boyhood club Aston Villa at the age of 25. Grealish joined Villa at the age of 6 and made his club debut in May 2014 following a loan move to Notts County. After spending seven senior seasons with the club, he joined Manchester City in a deal worth £100 million, making him the most expensive English footballer ever. However, just four goals across all competitions is nowhere near good enough for a City player, especially given the price tag Grealish came with.

A ball magnet and someone defenders can’t keep up with due to his feints, flicks, and feverish change of pace: Grealish is an excellent dribbler of the ball and a playmaking forward who likes to cut inside on his stronger right foot. The 26-year-old has extreme close-control composure and a wide array of passes up his sleeve. He isn’t blessed with a burst of pace like the other wingers, but his technical abilities, back-to-goal play and vision usually make up for his speed deficiencies. However, defensive duties are something the Englishman doesn’t like to do much, which is one of the few things that can be held against him.

In 65 appearances since the start of the 2019/20 season, the 26-year-old has been directly involved in 27 goals for his teams across all competitions. He has performed on par with his xGi, and despite the lack of output, his creative numbers have been rather impressive, with him having created 24 big chances and played 2.92 key passes per 90’. He also performs 3.25 dribbles per 90’, while his shot creating and goal creating actions are elite with 5.54 SCA per 90’ and 0.62 GCA per 90’. Thus, although he hasn’t had the output to back up his case, Grealish is slowly but surely adapting to life at Man City, and it could be as early as next season that we start seeing the best version of him.

#8 Lorenzo Insigne

Age: 30 years old

Nationality: Italian

Club: SSC Napoli

A Napoli stalwart for all these years, the 30-year-old winger has already signed a pre-contract that will see him leave Naples for Major League Soccer club Toronto FC in the summer. A product of the Napoli youth academy, the Italian made his senior debut for the club in 2010 and has gone on to make 332 league appearances in total, scoring 94 goals and providing 74 assists in the process. Moreover, in Italy’s latest Euro 2020 triumph, the flamboyant winger was key to their success and made waves with some of his individual brilliance.

The diminutive winger has an excellent turn of pace, constantly driving his team forward with his pace and dribbling skills. Playing down the left flank, Insigne likes to cut inside on his favourite right foot, does layoffs, and also shoots from distance. Apart from his menacing runs and efficient shooting, he is an excellent passer of the ball due to his elite technical abilities, and thus his repertoire is full of small one-two link-up plays to pinging long deliveries upfront for the other outlets. Besides his playmaking ability, Insigne is a hard-working, tactically intelligent and versatile forward capable of playing anywhere across the forward line. He is also known for his defensive contributions and is a leader on the pitch, donning the captain’s armband for Gli Azzurri.

In 84 matches across all competitions since the start of 2019/20 season, Insigne has gone on to score 32 goals and set up another 21 to take his overall goal contributions tally to 53. However, it is important to note that 17 of those 32 goals have been spot-kicks with a 80.9% conversion rate (17/21), which is more than decent for any forward. Moreover, he is one of three players on this list who have been underperforming on their xGi (-0.54), which has led to him being ranked where he is. With respect to other key metrics, Insigne is faring quite well with 20 big chances created and 2.29 key passes per 90’, while his 3.19 dribbles per 90’ and 4.57 SCA per 90’ along with 0.56 GCA per 90’ keep him in good stead compared to the other forwards.

#7 Raheem Sterling

Age: 27 years old

Nationality: English

Club: Manchester City FC

Sterling’s lack of playing time under Pep Guardiola last season made a lot of people think that his days at the Etihad could be numbered. However, he answered his critics emphatically by guiding the England men’s national team to their first major final in 55 years at the Euros last summer as he ended the tournament as England’s best player alongside Bukayo Saka. He carried that form into this season and currently has 16 goals and 6 assists to his name.

Now, is Raheem Sterling one of the most underrated players of recent times? Well…definitely. Still only 27 years old and at the peak of his powers, Sterling is known for his pace, low centre of gravity and dribbling skills. A versatile player known for his ability to adapt and play across the forward line as a winger, a forward or a creative outlet, he can retain possession in tight spaces or create space for his teammates with his sudden turn of pace. Moreover, despite his diminutive stature, Sterling possesses considerable upper-body strength, which aids him in withstanding heavy challenges and retaining possession. The England international also possesses a decent strike and is capable of taking direct free-kicks, although he is behind the likes of Kevin De Bruyne in the pecking order at Man City.

In 95 appearances across all competitions, the England international has scored 31 goals and provided 17 assists in what is considered to be his worst productive years in terms of output. That’s Raheem Sterling for you. He has outperformed his xGi index (+4.2) while creating 19 big chances and playing 1.45 key passes per 90’. Sterling has also attempted 4.56 dribbles per 90’ while having a respectable shot creating actions and goal creating actions tally with 3.41 SCA per 90’ and 0.47 GCA per 90’. Thus, there are only a handful of forwards in the modern game who produce such performances and outputs in their worst cycle, reminding us what Sterling is capable of when back to his best.

#6 Vinícius Júnior

Age: 21 years old

Nationality: Brazilian

Club: Real Madrid CF

The young 21-year-old flamboyant winger is doing everything that was expected of Eden Hazard in a Real Madrid shirt. While the Belgian can’t seem to shake off his ever-growing list of injuries, Vinícius Júnior is pulling off performance after performance, that too on such a consistent basis. He has added elements to his game for which he was always criticised and brought maturity to his game that looks way beyond his years. Besides, he has been electric down the left flank for Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season, using his directness and inherent Samba skills to change games for Los Blancos like no one else is able to at the moment.

Despite his slender build, Vinícius possesses incredible power and physical strength, while his explosive acceleration and excellent pace, along with his agility, balance both on and off the ball, technical ability, dribbling skills, flair and close control at speed allow him to demoralise and terrorise opposition defenders consistently. Regarded as one of the brightest young talents in world football at the moment, Vinícius is dynamic, intelligent, hard-working and nimble with a low centre of gravity, while also possessing great vision, passing and overall match awareness.

In 99 appearances for Los Blancos across all competitions, Vinícius has scored 27 goals and provided another 20 assists as he keeps growing each day at a frightening pace. The 21-year-old also attempts 6.72 dribbles per 90’, which is quite remarkable, while he is also responsible for 4.26 SCA per 90’ and 0.7 GCA per 90’. His game has gone on to another level this season with 37 goal contributions already, and based on his 2020/21 performances, he won’t even be in the reckoning: that’s how good he has been this season, and that is why I have him ranked sixth as of now.

#5 Neymar Júnior

Age: 30 years old

Nationality: Brazilian

Club: Paris Saint-Germain FC

Neymar is the only player on this list—and one of only a handful in world football—who can be described as a true phenomenon or unplayable on his days. In recent years, however, those days are coming few and far between. Neymar stays injured 30–40% of the time, while his performances against some of Europe’s elites have been sub-par in recent times, hence why the magician ranks only fifth on my list.

A far more complete playmaker than most wingers on this list, Neymar is always happy to drop deep and affect his team’s build-up play, which goes some way to explain his less-than-impressive underlying stats. A notable exponent of the rainbow flick, Neymar’s traits are but not limited to his creativity, passing, vision, dribbling, feints, touch and technique. A prolific goalscorer in his own right, he is capable of scoring with both feet and is an accurate set-piece taker. However, he still receives flak for his lack of defensive contribution, while his habit of giving away unnecessary fouls won’t be going away any time soon, given he’s 30 now.

Despite all of this, in 58 appearances for PSG, Neymar has managed to score 29 goals and provide 16 assists, taking his overall goal involvements tally to 45 for the season. He has also contributed 6 SCA per 90’ and 0.77 GCA per 90’.

Why is he ranked fifth, then? Because just like his South American teammate Lionel Messi, Neymar has been found wanting in matches which actually matter, while his end product against significantly weaker oppositions in Ligue 1 makes his stats look that much more impressive.

#4 Leroy Sané

Age: 26 years old

Nationality: German

Club: FC Bayern Munich

After breaking through the ranks at Schalke, Leroy Sané secured his move to Manchester City during the summer of 2016 for a reported £37 million fee, with performance-related add-ons taking the figure close to £46.5m. While his first and his final seasons with City were marred by nasal congestion that required surgery and an ACL injury that made him sit out almost the entire season, for the time when he was fit, Sané was arguably one of City’s most influential players, especially during their record-shattering 2017/18 “Centurion” season.

Following the injury-marred 18/19 campaign and some friction between Pep Guardiola and himself, Sané made the long-awaited switch to the Allianz Arena as Bayern Munich snapped him up on an initial five-year deal for a reported £54.5 million fee. However, he struggled to adapt to life at Bayern as Hansi Flick mostly used him down the right flank, where he isn’t comfortable at all since he hardly uses his weaker foot (right). As a left-winger, playing against high blocks, Sané relishes the space it offers him, making frequent runs in behind and between the lines, while against a low-block system, Sané tends to hug the touchline, dragging the full-backs along with him, and then either cuts inside to take a shot, or makes whipped crosses for the on-rushing runners. He is a master of manipulating space and one of the very best in 1v1 situations.

In 87 appearances for the Bavarians across all competitions, Sané has scored 24 goals and provided 24 assists, outperforming his xGi index (+11.3) handsomely. The Germany international has also created 29 big chances while producing 4.24 SCA per 90’ and 0.74 GCA per 90’ respectively. What makes this more impressive is the fact that nearly one-third of his appearances have come off the bench, highlighting his deadliness in front of the goal.

#3 Sadio Mané

Age: 30 years old

Nationality: Senegalese

Club: Liverpool FC

On the collective front, the Senegalese forward is on course to enjoy his best season in professional football, as he lifted the AFCON trophy earlier this year and Liverpool’s charge for an unprecedented quadruple continues. However, his performances this term compared to his exploits of past seasons haven’t been awe-inspiring or jaw-dropping by any stretch of the imagination. Mané has looked one-dimensional on many occasions and has lacked composure in front of goals, something he is renowned for. What I mean is, in 49 appearances this season, he has scored 22 goals and provided 3 assists, but at the expense of missing 26 big chances; that alone is quite staggering.

A complete forward who can operate across all three positions up front, Mané is adept at shooting with both feet as well as his head. However, it is the intensity and physicality in his game that stands above the rest. Make no mistakes, despite his mini-slump, Mané is a prolific goalscorer whose main traits are his finishing, speed, technique and trickery in possession as well as his decision-making and tactical awareness, creativity, agility, balance and control. Besides, there’s one aspect to his game that I really like, and that is his ability to perform on the big stage, in the biggest of games, something that only the elite players possess.

In 97 appearances for Liverpool across all competitions, Mané has managed to score 38 goals and provide an additional 11 assists. However, he is slightly underperforming on his xGi (-2.1), which underlines his lack of cutting edge across the two seasons. He also boasts the lowest (0.38) GCA per 90’ on this list, and his creative numbers have also taken a hit as he is registering just 1.44 key passes per 90’ and 26 big chances created, which is only sixth best on this list, thus justifying this third-place ranking.

#2 Son Heung-min

Age: 29 years old

Nationality: South Korean

Club: Tottenham Hotspur FC

While I’m having to write this begrudgingly, given I’m an Arsenal fan, there’s no way I’m going to turn a blind eye towards the fact that Son Heung-min has been simply sensational over the two last seasons and, in my opinion, the best left-winger in the Premier League since 2020/21. Known as someone with a shy personality, Son can be best described as a smiling assassin. His stats in the Premier League in the last five seasons read as follows:

  • 2016/17: 20 goal contributions,
  • 2017/18: 18 goal contributions,
  • 2018/19: 18 goal contributions,
  • 2019/20: 21 goal contributions, and
  • 2020/21: 27 goal contributions.

That’s consistency for you.

Known for his two-footedness, explosive pace, positional awareness, movement, close control and finishing, Son can play anywhere across the frontline: as a centre-forward, a second-striker, or in the wings. He is a selfless player who works hard for his team, as seen evident with the defensive duties he carries out each game, while also being a creative outlet apart from his goal-scoring ability. However, this season, the 29-year-old has taken his game to a whole new level. With Harry Kane fluffing his lines more often than not, it has been Son who has been bailing out Spurs almost every other week.

In 92 appearances across the two seasons, Son has scored 43 goals and provided 22 assists, massively outperforming his xGi (+18.7), which shows his lethality in front of goal. Moreover, he has been an effective creative outlet for Spurs, creating 27 big chances, 3.56 SCA per 90’, and 0.43 GCA per 90’. Considering it is usually just Son and Kane as the creative outlets, both the actual and the underlying stats of the former become that much more impressive.

In an ideal world, this should be enough to consider Son or any other player the best in this position, but the guy who’s leading this list is not human, or that is what the numbers would have you believe.

#1 Kylian Mbappé

Age: 23 years old

Nationality: French

Club: Paris Saint-Germain FC

Kylian Mbappé’s game has gone from strength to strength with every passing season. He was instrumental in France winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup, remembered notably for his scintillating performance against Argentina in the Round of 16. He also lifted the 2021 UEFA Nations League. However, in recent months, speculation regarding his sensational move to Real Madrid has started to gather some momentum, as the Frenchman feels he is ready to be the main man of a team rather than having to share the limelight with players like Neymar and Lionel Messi at PSG.

The way Mbappé led France to their second World Cup title in 2018 as a teenager also led to many people comparing him to the great Pélé and his exploits in 1958. A versatile forward who can operate on either wing due to his two-footedness, Mbappé can cut inside from the left onto this stronger right foot, while also being able to create chances and provide assists for his teammates from the right due to his excellent vision. A highly skilful player, Mbappé is known for his exquisite dribbling abilities, explosive pace and acceleration, agility and quick feet as well as creativity when in possession of the ball. In addition to his technical skills, Mbappé has excellent close ball control when dribbling at speed and great movement both on and off the ball, along with tactical intelligence and ability to beat defensive lines effortlessly, which stand out as some of his best attributes.

In 92 appearances across all competitions, Mbappé has scored 78 goals and provided 33 assists, taking his total goal contributions tally to 111. His technical superiority is further highlighted by the massive gap in his actual goal involvement and expected goal involvement (+31.9). The 23-year-old has also created 42 big chances and produced 4.43 SCA per 90’ and 1.01 GCA per 90’. While people might point to the fact that just like Neymar and Messi, Mbappé has also been stat-padding in the French league, what separates him from the other two is this: in 18 Champions League appearances across these two seasons, he has scored 14 goals and provided 7 assists, including key contributions against the bigger teams, something the other two did not manage to accomplish.

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