<
>

Who was Africa's best player in each of the world's biggest leagues in 2019?

play
Guardiola: Unrealistic to think Man City can catch Liverpool (1:15)

Pep Guardiola says Manchester City are out of the title race with Liverpool 14 points ahead of them. (1:15)

African footballers are ubiquitous in almost all of the world's biggest leagues, with the continent's players still one of the greatest contributions to global sport.

In 2019, some have been among the top performers in their respective divisions, setting the standard for African players abroad.

Here, ESPN's Ed Dove picks out the outstanding African talent in each of the world's biggest leagues over the last 12 months.

Premier League: Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

With Africa's top stars featuring in the Premier League, competition for this spot was particularly fierce.

However, despite the claims of Mohamed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Riyad Mahrez, it has to be Mane, following a magnificent year at the pinnacle of the game.

Coming fourth for the Ballon d'Or was testament enough to his achievements, even if some felt he ought to have finished higher in the ranking, and the Senegal international refined his finishing touch with 22 goals - sharing the Golden Boot along with Salah and Auba after the 2018/19 season.

His speed, work rate, finishing, and versatility in the final third have been key assets for Jurgen Klopp has he's constructed a mesmerising Liverpool side who appear destined for the title, having already won the Champions League earlier this year.

It was Mane, don't forget, who prompted the early opening in the final against Tottenham Hotspur when he won a penalty, although it was surely his single-handed evisceration of Bayern Munich which was his standout performance of the year.

In the Premier League, only Jamie Vardy has had a direct role in more goals than Mane's 30 this term, and he was also influential as Senegal reached the final of the Africa cup of Nations.

Serie A: Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

Admittedly, the 2019-20 season has been tough for both Napoli and Koulibaly, as they lost their way under Carlo Ancelotti, were undermined by internal conflict, and have fallen well off the pace in Serie A.

However, Koulibaly has continued to demonstrate why he's considered one of the finest centre-backs in world football, let alone in Serie A, with a series of commanding displays in the heart of the backline.

This season, he's in the division's top 10 for average tackles per match, and also made the ESPN 100 -- ranked as the second best centre-back in the world behind Virgil van Dijk -- having climbed from ninth place the season before.

The much-improved defender also helped Senegal reach the final, so expect him to be on the transfer radar of some of the world's biggest clubs in 2020.

Ligue 1: Nicolas Pepe (Lille, prior to his Arsenal move)

There were many contenders here, from new faces Victor Osimhen and Idrissa Gueye for their form during the second half of the year, to Andy Delort and Youcef Atal for their class throughout.

However, Pepe, for his impact during the first half of 2019, outclassed them all.

Admittedly, the wideman hasn't shown his quality -- at least beyond glimpses -- since moving to Arsenal for £72 million, but he was unplayable at times last term as LOSC Lille finished an unlikely second behind Paris Saint-Germain.

Until the season's end in May, he contributed 10 goals and six assists during a remarkable run of dominance on Les Dogues' right flank, securing Champions League qualification in the process.

La Liga: Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)

It's not been a vintage 12 months for African players in La Liga, as there are fewer genuine continental superstars at the division's biggest clubs.

Ghana's Partey remains an exception, and continues to be a key figure at one of the league's genuine giants.

He's featured 16 times already in the league this term, memorably netting a 90th-minute winner six minutes after coming off the bench against Eibar, while earning praise from Cesc Fabregas, no less, for his impeccable display in defeat against Barcelona.

Bundesliga: Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund)

One of the finest young defenders in the world game, Hakimi's two-year loan move to Dortmund is going as well as anyone could have expected, even if his 2018-19 season was curtailed by injury in the European spring.

He has proven himself to be one of Europe's most consistent full-backs on either flank, while he's able to marry an eye-catching offensive output with steady - and improving - defensive work.

"His speed is incredible," Dortmund captain Marco Reus told the Bundesliga website. "Achraf is a real weapon for us."

Hakimi helped BVB become genuine title contenders last term, while this season, he already has four goals in six Champions League games, as well as six assists in the Bundesliga - the fifth highest in the division.

Real Madrid will have some player on their hands when they welcome the CAF Young Player of the Year nominee back to the Bernabeu in six months' time.

Eredivisie: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax Amsterdam)

One of the key figures of Ajax's run in the Champions League last season, Ziyech has established himself as one of the most effective playmakers in the European game, and it's a surprise that he remains in the Eredivisie following such consistent brilliance.

He won a Dutch league and cup double last term, and has maintained his devastating form in the final third already this season.

After contributing 13 assists across the entirety of 2018-19, he already has 12 during the first half of the 2019-20 campaign, and that creative output - let alone his six goals - set him apart as the division's outstanding talent.

Major League Soccer: Latif Blessing (LAFC)

The one-time Ghana Premier League starlet demonstrated some of the less heralded elements of his game in abundance during 2019, and gets the nod here ahead of Kei Kamara, Jamiro Monteiro, and Romain Metanire.

Nicknamed 'Game Changer', he continues to win over Los Angeles FC fans with his committed and hard-working displays in the heart of the park, setting the tone for his team's tenacious approach and laying on numerous goalscoring chances for the likes of Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela.

Now operating in a deeper role than earlier in his career, Blessing nonetheless contributed six goals and three assists, while averaging 2.4 tackles per match over 2019.

His form wasn't enough to earn a Ghana recall, but he did help LAFC top the Western Conference as arguably the team's most underrated contributor.

Liga NOS: Moussa Marega (Porto)

Marega headed into the current season on the back of a tricky campaign, where his return of 11 goals represented half of his previous campaign's tally.

Nonetheless, the pacey, powerful striker demonstrated a broader element to his game by contributing a career-high seven assists - only seven players managed more - and already has four goals and three assists this term as Porto sit behind reigning champions Benfica in the standings.

Championship: Said Benrahma (Brentford)

Bitterly unfortunate to miss out on Algeria's victorious Africa Cup of Nations squad due to injury, Benrahma has been a joy to watch in the Championship over the past 12 months.

The 'Algerian Messi' has proved to be a tricky prospect for defences in the second tier with his footwork, invention, and guile.

Benrahma has also demonstrated a genuine end product beneath the dribbling and tricks, contributing 24 goals and assists combined last term, before adding another five assists and three goals in 2019-20 so far.

It surely won't be too long before Premier League backlines are attempting to contain the wing wizard.

Chinese Super League: Frank Acheampong (Tianjin Tida)

A baffling omission from Ghana's Afcon squad, Acheampong continues to demonstrate why he's one of the finest African players currently plying his trade outside Europe.

The ex-Anderlecht wideman proved to be such a threat from deep, that Tianjin Teda have used him much more offensively during 2019, and Acheampong has enjoyed the form of his life in the Chinese Super League.

Be it on the left flank, the right side, or through the middle, Acheampong relishes beating his opposite man and chipping in with a goal or an assist -- he managed nine of each this season -- meaning he had a hand in 41 percent of the Tianjin Tigers' goals.

Super Lig: Anthony Nwakaeme (Trabzonspor)

Nwakaeme is enjoying an Indian summer to his career - at 30 - where he now deserves to be considered as one of the most effective attackers in the Super Lig.

He ended last year with 20 goals and assists combined, and already has nine decisive contributions in 17 outings so far during an excellent start to the season for the Black Sea Storm.

They head into 2020 five points behind unlikely leaders Sivasspor, but if Nwakaeme can maintain this current form -- alongside Daniel Sturridge and Alexander Sorloth -- then Trabzonspor can begin dreaming of a first title since 1984.