Three months of the football season have come and gone, with a host of players impressing on the European stage, both in their respective domestic divisions and in the Champions League.
There’s been surprises too – there is two points separating the top five teams in La Liga, a club other than Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund lead the Bundesliga, and Ajax have defied the odds again and continue to enthrall despite a summer of big-name outgoings.
But which players in particular have shone, as we prepare for the return of domestic football after the third international break of the season? Sportsmail takes a look…
Robert Lewandowski, the most in-form striker in European football, makes the top-10 list
Ciro Immobile – Lazio
The Italy international is the top scorer in Serie A after 12 matches, and by some distance too. Immobile has scored 14 times – that’s a goal every 67 minutes – and is five ahead of nearest rival Romelu Lukaku on 9 goals.
In fact, the last domestic match in which the 29-year-old didn’t score was September 25 against Inter Milan; since then, he has gone seven games scoring at least once.
No doubt the standout striker for the already-qualified Italy side ahead of next summer’s European Championships, a player who memorably struggled at Borussia Dortmund has found his second-coming in Rome, and his prowess in front of goal has guided Lazio to third in the table.
Ciro Immobile received a plaque for his 100th Lazio goal before Sunday’s game against Lecce
Erling Haaland – Red Bull Salzburg
The 19-year-old son of former Premier League player Alf Haaland has undoubtedly been the breakthrough star so far in 2019-20.
Despite playing in the Austrian Bundesliga, it was matchday one of the Champions League where he stole the show – scoring a deadly first-half hat-trick in RB Salzburg’s 6-2 thrashing of Genk – and becoming the third youngest player to score a hat-trick in Europe’s premier club competition.
The Norwegian international, who first made the headlines in May for scoring nine goals in the Under-20 World Cup against Honduras, also scored at Anfield last month in a 4-3 defeat against Liverpool, and he may well have a number of potential suitors come next summer or even January’s transfer window.
19-year-old Erling Haaland was on cloud nine after his first-half hat-trick on September 17
Fede Valverde – Real Madrid
Signed at the age of 18 from Uruguayan club Penarol, Fede Valverde has worked his way through the imposing setting of Real Madrid’s reserve Castilla side to cement a place in Zinedine Zidane’s midfield this season.
After making his first breakthrough at the back-end of last season, the hard-working, robust central midfielder has proven his worth to Zidane, and stayed at the club amid departures such as Dani Ceballos, Mateo Kovacic and Marcus Llorente.
Valverde scored his first La Liga goal at the weekend, sweeping in from outside the box against Eibar, and the now-Uruguay international looks the most likely candidate to break up the previously indomitable trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Fede Valverde scored his first goal of the season in Real Madrid’s 4-0 victory against Eibar
Keylor Navas – PSG
A ‘something-out-of-nothing’ transfer deadline day swoop, three-time Champions League winning goalkeeper Keylor Navas moved to Ligue 1 champions PSG on September 2, with Alphonse Areola moving in the other direction.
Despite the Costa Rican’s impressive achievements at the Bernabeu, last summer’s arrival of Thibaut Courtois meant Navas was usurped as the automatic number one. Low and behold, Madrid endured a torrid season, with the 32-year-old’s reliable influence from the back undoubtedly missed.
In Paris, Navas has picked up where he left of in 2017-18 – he’s kept nine clean sheets and only conceded five goals (all in Ligue 1), plus his penalty save in last week’s Champions League win against Club Brugge secured PSG’s safe passage to the knockout stages.
PSG are still hunting an elusive Champions League – can Keylor Navas make the difference?
Lionel Messi – Barcelona
Where would Barcelona be without their majestic skipper? His absence – due to a calf injury – was sorely felt at the beginning of the season, as the reigning La Liga champions slumped to shock defeats against Athletic Bilbao and Granada.
Since his return in mid-September, Ernesto Valverde – crucially for his own job security – has steadied the ship. Barca have won six of their last seven in the league, and Messi is unsurprisingly the focal point.
The Argentine, now 32, has scored nine goals in all competitions and his mesmeric hat-trick at the weekend against Celta Vigo proved that despite boasting names like Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in attack, with Messi, Barcelona are a completely different beast altogether.
Not that you needed any reminding of that.
Lionel Messi scored another hat-trick against Celta Vigo on Saturday – his 34th in La Liga
Nico Elvedi – Borussia Monchengladbach
The Swiss centre back has appeared in every one of Borussia Monchengladbach’s 11 Bundesliga games so far, playing a crucial part in their rise to first place in the German top-flight.
Gladbach are currently four points ahead of nearest rivals Red Bull Leipzig and Bayern Munich, having won seven of their last eight games.
Elvedi, who led the way in Bundesliga pass completion statistics last season, scored against Eintracht Frankfurt last month, and has been a rock at the heart of a defence which has conceded just 11 goals – the lowest of any team in the division.
Nico Elvedi has been integral to Borussia Monchengladbach’s top-of-the-table start to the year
Nicolo Zaniolo – Roma
After failing to breakthrough into the first-team at both Fiorentina and Inter Milan, Italian midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo has wowed onlookers so far this season at Roma.
Zaniolo has scored five goals in 16 appearances, having scored just six throughout the whole of last term, and his abundance of attributes as well as his versatility makes him a near-certainty for national team selection to Roberto Mancini’s squad.
The 20-year-old’s rapid progression was also highlighted by his inclusion in the 2019 Golden Boy shortlist, one of three Italian players to make the cut – Moise Kean and Gigi Donnarumma making up the trio.
Nicolo Zaniolo has been a standout performer so far this season, with five goals in 16 matches
Quincy Promes – Ajax
Despite the departures of star duo Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie De Jong from Amsterdam in the summer, the £14m acquisition of Dutch winger Quincy Promes has seemingly proved to be a masterstroke from Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar.
Promes, who flopped at Sevilla last season, has scored in three of Ajax’s four Champions’ League group games (including at Stamford Bridge in last week’s eight-goal thriller) and his eight goals in 13 Eredivisie games has aided the surge of Erik ten Hag’s team to a six-point lead at the top.
The 27-year-old has already been linked with moves to the Premier League such is his excellent form – particularly in the Champions League – and did not rule out a future move, saying ‘if I have a chance, maybe in the future.’ Watch this space.
Quincy Promes has thus far flourished at Ajax, after a difficult last campaign in Spain at Sevilla
Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich have played 15 games so far in the Bundesliga and the Champions League this season. Robert Lewandowski has scored in all 15 of them. Three months in, and the Pole’s goalscoring figures are already at stupendous levels.
23 in total, which includes a strike in the German Cup – the 31-year-old is by far and away the most in-form striker in Europe right now. And that’s come despite Bayern’s topsy-turvy start to the season, which resulted in Niko Kovac’s sacking following a 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on November 2.
Undeterred by the lack of certainty bubbling around the club, Lewandowski scored twice in a 4-0 thumping of former club Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, and his clinical eye in front of goal makes the work of Thomas Muller, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry all the more worthwhile. Speaking of which…
Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry have at times been unstoppable in attack for Bayern
Gnabry’s scored four goals on his return to north London against Tottenham on October 1
Serge Gnabry – Bayern Munich
The 24-year-old, who seemingly couldn’t make the grade in England at both Arsenal and at a loan spell with West Brom, can take the title of ‘standout performance of the season’ thus far.
His brutally efficient four-goal display in the second-half of Bayern’s 7-2 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur in London was a peak moment in Gnabry’s career, since his turnaround began at Werder Bremen three years ago.
Now a permanent fixture with both club and country, the explosive winger’s next goal will be to see if he can consistently perform throughout the entire course of a season, stretching all the way to the European Championships next summer.