Is Alexia Putellas the best soccer player in the world? The question came to me while watching a compilation of her highlights after yet another ridiculous individual performance in Barcelona's 4–0 win over Hoffenheim on Wednesday. Not being an expert in women's soccer, I realized I couldn't answer my question with as much certainty as I'd like. However, at some point during what must have been my third rewatch of the midfielder's highlight reel, probably right after one of her effortlessly lethal jinks that in the same motion becomes a defense-cleaving through ball, a different question came to mind that clarified the player's talent and its relation to the sport as a whole: Is it possible to be better at soccer than Alexia Putellas is right now?
You need only watch Putellas play to understand how quickly and inevitably these kinds of questions pop into your head. Or hell, even just look at her stats. In the Hoffenheim game, Alexia had 109 touches, six shots, six key passes, four of which qualified as big chances; she succeeded on six of 10 dribbles, and ended with two goals and one assist. For proof of how consistently she throws up such gaudy numbers, you can see the 36 goals and 26 assists she's amassed in 52 matches during 2021. But as wild as the numbers are, there's no substitute for seeing her in action:
Alexia's sphere of influence spans the entire pitch. At every phase of her team's possessions, she is dominant. She'll often drop down from her interior midfield position in Barça's 4-3-3 to stand just in front of the defense, and guide the team's possession from the very outset. A little higher up the pitch, as the ball progresses fully into the opponent's half, she is the perfect link between the midfield and the attack, using her affinity for one-twos and rhythm-changing switches of play and her elusive dribbling to form the cracks through which Barça will eventually sneak in a goal or five. Inside the final third, her magical left foot casts its most powerful spells; she shoots with power and accuracy, represented well by her free-kick goal against Hoffenheim, and her incisive passing is otherworldly. Her vision astounds. Her speed of thinking and execution is crazy. Her creativity is hilarious. Her movement off the ball is always exactly right, and often itself creates goals that she never even puts a toe to. I'm going to put another, longer video of her Hoffenheim highlights because I simply cannot get enough of them:
Midfielders, even the very best of them, tend to specialize in one or maybe two phases of play, either at the base of the game like Jorginho, at the linking point between midfield and attack like Luka Modric, or in the final actions near the penalty box like Bruno Fernandes. Putellas is such a rare talent because she is amazing at it all. In that way she's a little like Kevin De Bruyne, if KDB were somehow just as good as he actually is but also way better at scoring.
Maybe if I watched more Lyon or Arsenal or Chelsea I could be persuaded that Ada Hegerberg or Vivianne Miedama or Samantha Kerr were better players than Alexia. But it is literally hard to imagine how. When I watch Putellas play, and see just how good she is at such an unbelievable range of skills, it's difficult to even envision what a better player could possibly look like. And that, to me, seems like a pretty good definition of the best.