It’s often said the most difficult task in football is to score goals, which is why those who do so are hailed as the true superstars of the sport.
Forward lines have evolved in the modern era with out-and-out numbers nines no longer the sole source of goals, with the popularity of inverted wide-forwards and false nines – alongside more rounded demands on forwards – having made assessing the best attackers increasingly complex.
We’ve attempted to rank the best forward talent in world football right now, choosing a fantastic five of names all capable of changing the course of a game in an instant.
Here are five of the best attackers in world football.
5. Lionel Messi
For much of the past two decades Lionel Messi ranked at number one on this list and, for some, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner should remain at the top of the tree.
Messi’s argument that he is still the world’s finest footballer gained weight during the World Cup last winter, as the Argentine genius inspired his nation to a third world title in Qatar. Messi was magnificent during the tournament to win the Golden Ball award, scoring seven times – including twice in the final win over France – and providing three assists to end his wait for football’s ultimate honour.
— Ligue 1 English (@Ligue1_ENG) April 16, 2023
The 35-year-old has also been arguably Ligue 1’s most influential footballer this season and statistically the most decisive, leading France’s top division for goal involvements (30). Considering he shares a dressing room with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, let alone a league, that’s no small feat.
Messi might no longer be capable of the off-the-ball intensity often required in the modern game, but in possession there remains no one better. Able to produce moments others cannot, his performances on the world stage last winter mean a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or could arrive in 2023.
4. Vinicius Junior
Vinicius Junior continues to get better and better in the famous all-white colours of Real Madrid, with manager Carlo Ancelotti having hailed the winger as ‘the best player in the world’ earlier this season.
For the second successive season, the 22-year-old has reached 20+ goals and 20+ assists in all competitions for the Spanish side, who are chasing consecutive Champions League titles on the back of the Brazilian’s brilliance.
Vinicius has tormented some of world football’s leading full-backs across the past two campaigns and boasts an explosive acceleration and change of direction that is almost impossible to stop.
▪️ 22 goals, 20 assists
▪️ 22 goals, 20 assists
Vinicius Junior goes back-to-back for 20+ goals and assists ✨ pic.twitter.com/x5xOyoPdol
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 29, 2023
Liverpool and Chelsea have both struggled to contain Vinicius in recent meetings and he will be viewed as the key to Real Madrid’s chances when the European champions take on Manchester City in a mouthwatering semi-final later this month.
Pep Guardiola’s fluid defensive structure has been behind City’s charge towards a potential treble, but it will soon face its sternest examination to date in Vinicius.
3. Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema continues to climb the list of La Liga’s leading scorers and is now fourth all-time after scoring a first-half hat-trick against Almeria last weekend.
Benzema’s treble was his third hat-trick since the start of April with the Frenchman finding form ahead of the run-in. Last season was the best of Benzema’s career as he scored 44 goals in all competitions, a return which inspired Real Madrid to La Liga and Champions League success and earned the forward the Ballon d’Or.
Fitness issues have interrupted his season this time around, but Benzema is back fit and firing as he chases down Robert Lewandowski in the race for the Pichichi Trophy as La Liga’s leading scorer.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) May 2, 2023
The definition of a big-game player, Benzema has scored four goals in four knockout round games in this season’s Champions League and will be the danger for Manchester City in the semi-finals next month.
City know better than most just how capable Benzema is on this stage, after the forward scored three times over two legs during last season’s classic semi-final tie between the sides.
2. Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe is breaking records at a rapid rate this season.
Mbappe is now Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time record goalscorer after passing Edinson Cavani’s record earlier this season and is closing in on a fifth consecutive top-scorer award in Ligue 1.
No player in the 21st century has scored more goals in France’s top division than Mbappe, whose list of career achievements is mind-boggling given he is still just 24.
Mbappe has scored 30+ goals in five straight seasons for PSG and 206 in 255 games for the club, while his performances for France at the World Cup underlined his status as one of the game’s most decisive talents.
— Ligue 1 English (@Ligue1_ENG) February 20, 2023
Mbappe scored eight goals to win the tournament’s Golden Boot and became just the second player – after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966 – to score a hat-trick in the final, despite France’s penalty shootout defeat to Argentina.
Just five players have ever scored more World Cup goals than Mbappe.
1. Erling Haaland
Erling Haaland is building a strong case to be crowned winner of the Ballon d’Or in 2023.
The Norwegian has obliterated goalscoring records during an unforgettable first season at Manchester City, one which has seen Haaland become the first player since 1931 to score 50 goals in all competitions for an English club.
Erling Haaland is the first player to score 50+ goals across all competitions in a single English top-flight season since 1931…
NINETY-TWO YEARS AGO. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/eynATE8aMt
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 30, 2023
Haaland has claimed the Premier League’s single season goal record during a stunning season, one which has seen the 22-year-old provide a frightening focal point for arguably Europe’s best club side.
There’s a sense of anticipation around the Etihad whenever Haaland sets off in pursuit of a threaded pass, powering past Premier League defenders with that lightening long-legged stride.
He has scored 50 goals in just 44 appearances for City this season and has shown he can transform a game in an instant with a ruthless touch around the area, never more evident than his five-goal performance against RB Leipzig in the Champions League’s last 16.
Pep Guardiola insisted this week that Haaland can get even better. That’s a scary thought for opposition sides.