Nunez, Timber, Vieira: Best XI of players outside Europe’s top five leagues

Liverpool closing in on Darwin Nunez deal

It’s all too easy to keep our footballing eyes within the lens of Europe’s top five leagues, and forget that any other football outside of that exists.

Away from the continent, there are top class players plying their trade with huge teams in pursuit of silverware that many people within Europe don’t know much about. Even within Europe, there are leagues and divisions where players are excelling, while flying under the radar.

Be it Brazilian stars coming in from South America, familiar faces finding their feet once again over in Turkey, or the usual crop of mega talents emerging at Ajax, looking beyond the traditional top five leagues makes for a lot of fun.

You don’t actually have to do that much searching to find some of the top talents outside of that top five, with a good chunk of them already still within Europe. Clubs have to move quick to secure the services of these exciting talents, though, with queues often forming quickly, made up of English, German and Spanish sides all wanting in on the excitement.

GIVEMESPORT has put together the best XI of players outside of those top five leagues, and it’s a strong one.

Goalkeeper – Ugurcan Cakir (Trabzonspor)

Having been linked with a move to the Premier League in previous seasons, Cakir has stayed put in Turkey and won the country’s top prize, proving instrumental as Trabzonspor were lifted the 2021/22 Super Lig. At 26, he’s coming into the peak of his powers and is finding new levels of confidence and ability.

Turkish goalkeeper Cakir is one of the best players outside Europe's top five leagues
PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO – NOVEMBER 16: Ugurcan Cakir of Turkey warming up prior to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Montenegro and Turkey at Gradski Stadion on November 16, 2021 in Podgorica, Montenegro. (Photo by Filip Filipovic/Getty Images)

Right-back – Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax)

Mazraoui won’t be outside of Europe’s top five for much longer, with the Moroccan expected to be joining Bayern Munich ahead of the 2022/23 season. In an age where full-backs are among the most important players on the pitch, Mazraoui has proven one of the most influential, with his creative contributions in a dominant Ajax side.

Mazraoui is one of the best player's outside of Europe's top five leagues
DORTMUND, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 03: Noussair Mazraoui of Ajax controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Borussia Dortmund and AFC Ajax at Signal Iduna Park on November 03, 2021 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Centre back – Jurrien Timber (Ajax)

The fact that Timber – typically a right-back – has been shifted over to centre back and still been able to star for Ajax is testament to just how good he is. At just 20 years old, he reads the game exceptionally well and always looks composed in possession. Height might not be on his side, but that hasn’t stopped Europe’s top sides from keeping tabs on him.

Timber is being eyed by top European sides
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – MAY 11: Jurrien Timber of Ajax celebrates their side’s victory of the Dutch Eredivisie after the Dutch Eredivisie match between Ajax and sc Heerenveen at Johan Cruijff Arena on May 11, 2022 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Centre back – Lisandro Martinez (Ajax)

An experienced head in Erik ten Hag’s glorious Ajax team, Martinez is quietly building a portfolio as an incredibly reliable, well-rounded central defender. Capable of stepping out into midfield with the ball and holding the ship in a more advanced role, Ajax will struggle to keep hold of him in the near future.

Martinez has been one of the most impressive defenders outside Europe's top five
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – DECEMBER 09: Lisandro Martinez of Ajax in action during the UEFA Champions League Group D stage match between Ajax Amsterdam and Atalanta BC at Johan Cruijff Arena on December 09, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Sporting stadiums around Netherlands remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Left-back – Sergio Gomez (Anderlecht)

Gomez already has quite the CV, but after coming up through the ranks at Barcelona, transferring to Borussia Dortmund and playing in La Liga on loan, he’s found a permanent home in Belgium. The 21-year-old has been a machine for Anderlecht, racking up 17 league goal contributions in his debut season. Plenty of big club experience, lots of talent and even more ambition.

Gomez has found a home in Belgium
HUESCA, SPAIN – APRIL 09: Sergio Gomez of SD Huesca challenges for the ball against Youssouf Kone of Elche CF during the La Liga Santader match between SD Huesca and Elche CF at Estadio El Alcoraz on April 09, 2021 in Huesca, Spain. Sporting stadiums around Spain remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Centre midfield – Mohamed Camara (Red Bull Salzburg)

Defensive midfielders who can pass the ball and press well are all the range these days, and Red Bull Salzburg certainly know how to find them. Camara ticks all of those boxes and, at just 22, is excelling in the Austrian Bundesliga. Don’t be surprised to see him make a big move to RB Leipzig soon enough.

Camara is one of Europe's most exciting midfield talents
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – SEPTEMBER 29: Mohamed Camara of FC Red Bull Salzburg in action during the UEFA Champions League group G match between FC Red Bull Salzburg and Lille OSC at Stadion Salzburg on September 29, 2021 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images)

Centre midfield – Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)

The young Dutchman has been freakishly good for Ajax in what has been yet another stellar season. Capable of playing just about any role in the midfield, Gravenberch has found his stride starting deeper but bringing the ball out in Ten Hag’s expansive setup, which is an indication of just how high his ceiling is.

Gravenberch is a versatile midfielder
LISBON, PORTUGAL – FEBRUARY 23: Ryan Gravenberch of AFC Ajax in action during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match between SL Benfica and AFC Ajax at Estadio da Luz on February 23, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Centre midfield – Fabio Vieira (Porto)

Vieira’s performances this season have been nothing short of spectacular, and his numbers back it up. For the statistics fans, you’ll be delighted to hear that the 21-year-old has delivered six goals and 14 assists from just 27 Primeira Liga games, proving the creative lynchpin for Porto as they won the Portuguese title.

Fabio Vieira is one of the most creative players outside Europe's top five
PORTO, PORTUGAL – FEBRUARY 17: Fabio Vieira of FC Porto in action during the UEFA Europa League Knockout Round Play-Offs Leg One match between FC Porto and SS Lazio at Estadio do Dragao on February 17, 2022 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Right wing – Antony (Ajax)

We’ve tried to not just make this an Ajax XI – we really have – but Antony is yet another player that is too good to ignore. Marvelling from the wide areas all season long, the Brazilian is the name on the lips of every top side right now, dazzling spectators with his absurd dribbling ability and knack for a goal. This guy is too much fun and destined for a big move.

Antony is being pursued by Europe's biggest sides
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – OCTOBER 19: Antony of AFC Ajax in action during the UEFA Champions League group C match between AFC Ajax and Borussia Dortmund at Amsterdam Arena on October 19, 2021 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Striker – Darwin Nunez (Benfica)

You simply cannot ignore those goals. 26 goals from 28 league games for Benfica, coupled with four assists, has seen Nunez claim one of the most obscene firing rates in Europe this season. A tall player with a true poacher’s instinct, he’s the type of striker that won’t give defenders a split second to switch off in the penalty box. Nightmare forward.

Darwin Nunez has been immense for Benfica
LISBON, PORTUGAL – SEPTEMBER 29: Darwin Nunez of SL Benfica celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between SL Benfica and FC Barcelona at Estadio da Luz on September 29, 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Left wing – Karim Adeyemi (Red Bull Salzburg)

Okay, so we might have cheated a little bit here, considering Adeyemi is more of an out-and-out centre forward. We simply had to get him in the team, though, because a front three like this means unrelenting amounts of goals. Adeyemi will join Borussia Dortmund for the 2022/23 season, so we had to sneak him in to celebrate his accomplishments outside Europe’s top five before it was too late.

Adeyemi will join Borussia Dortmund next season
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – FEBRUARY 16: Karim Adeyemi of FC Red Bull Salzburg looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match between FC Red Bull Salzburg and FC Bayern München at Football Arena Salzburg on February 16, 2022 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

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