Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and La Liga's Non-Spanish Starting XI

Michael CernaCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2012

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and La Liga's Non-Spanish Starting XI

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    La Liga fields and has produced some of the best talent in the world.

    When looking at my previous teams in the Spanish Regional Starting XI series, readers were able to see how much depth there is in Spain—especially at midfield.

    My reasoning behind this series was to show fans who do not typically follow La Liga that some of the world's best talent plays or started in Spain.

    However, Ariff Zulkifli made me realize something. If I am going to celebrate La Liga and it players, it would be an injustice to leave out its best non-Spanish players.

    So I decided to make this one final addition to the series.

    What follows is the best starting XI of Spain's foreign players.

    Note: I did not include foreign nationals who play for the Spanish national team—such as Thiago Alcantara.

    Also, I limited it to three players from any one club. I did not want to let Los Galacticos benefit from preferring non-Spanish players.

Keeper: Diego Alves, 26 (Valencia)

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    Alves is the first of many South Americans on this list.

    The heir apparent to Julio Cesar, Diego will likely be Brazil's number one when they host the World Cup in 2014.

    Alves finally got his move to Valencia last summer and we are now able to see what he can do with a decent defensive line in front of him—and Valencia's is not even that great.

    Those of you who watched Valencia's home leg against Chelsea know just how great he has been.

    Alves has excellent positional awareness and reflexes (see here). He is also a great penalty stopper. Lionel Messi knows this all too well.

    Honorable Mention: Carlos Kameni, 28 (Malaga)

Right-Back: Dani Alves, 27 (Barcelona)

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    Dani was one of Pep Guardiola's first signings as manager of Barcelona.

    He came to Barcelona from Sevilla in 2008 for £23 million, making him the most expensive defender in the world after another £7 million of performance-based incentives are added.

    Alves is considered by many to be the best right-back in football.

    A lethal attacking fullback, he forms a unique understanding with Lionel Messi.

    Criticized for not being a great defender, Pep often uses him as a fourth midfielder, moving him further up the pitch to utilize his great pace and passing ability.

    Alves can also provide goals like this one for the club.

    Honorable Mention: Luis Perea, 33 (Atletico Madrid)

Center-Back: Pepe, 29 (Real Madrid)

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    Perhaps more famous for controversy than for his defending, recent Clasicos have shown that Pepe has not quite changed his ways.

    A ferocious defender, he is also known to lose his cool and react rather... unfavorably, at times.

    While those videos show the worst of Pepe's aggression, it can also be a valuable tool on the pitch.

    He is strong, surprisingly quick and has the best reading of the game of all his Real Madrid compatriots.

    Pepe would be more respected and recognized as a world-class defender if not for his short temper.

    Understandable? Absolutely. Fair? You decide.

    Honorable Mentions: Javier Mascherano, 27 (Barcelona) & Ricardo Carvalho, 33 (Real Madrid)

Center-Back: Adil Rami, 26 (Valencia)

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    Adil Rami was the first of what will soon be three great Lille players to be sold by the French club.

    After being linked to clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona, Rami finally made his way to Valencia last winter.

    Since arriving at Valencia after completing a loan at his former club, he has been a rock at the back.

    He is strong, tall and a solid tackler.

    Having such a big, solid defender anchoring the defense would give Pep more freedom to move forward and target the opposition's best player.

    Honorable Mentions: Cristian Zapata, 25 (Villarreal) & Fernando Amorebieta, 26 (Athletic Bilbao)

Left-Back: Éric Abidal, 33 (Barcelona)

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    This pick was either going to be Abidal or Marcelo, but with Real Madrid fielding three players elsewhere, Abidal took the spot.

    He has been the most consistent defensive player for Barcelona all season. His loss will be very big for the club going forward.

    No one could ever question the Frenchman's heart.

    Not only is Abidal known to give his all on the pitch, last season's recovery in time to lift the Champions League trophy was a sign of just how dedicated and strong-willed he is.

    It is very unfortunate that we will not be able to watch him play on the pitch for the foreseeable future, but that is of little importance.

    Football aside, Bleacher Report and its fans wish Eric Abidal a full and speedy recovery so that he can spend time with family and friends. Football can and will wait.

    Honorable Mentions: Marcelo, 23 (Real Madrid) & Filipe Luis, 26 (Atletico Madrid)

Defensive Midfielder: Jérémy Toulalan, 28 (Málaga)

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    This Frenchman made a name for himself in Lyon before joining Malaga this past summer.

    Toulalan was nominated for the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award before losing out to then-teammate Karim Benzema in 2008.

    The Frenchman was courted and later won over by Abdullah al Thani, meant to be the leader of the Qatari billionaire's new club project.

    Toulalan has quickly become a fan favorite at the Andalusian side and has already scored three goals, marking a career high.

    I would put him in this spot even if Real Madrid and Barcelona's players were eligible.

    Honorable Mentions: Nuri Şahin, 23 (Real Madrid) & Mehmet Topal, 26 (Valencia)

Midfielder: Arda Turan, 25 (Atlético Madrid)

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    As great as Falcao has been for Atletico Madrid, Turan has been just as great and valuable a signing.

    When Atletico bought him from Galatasaray for €12 million last August, it made him the most expensive Turkish football transfer of all time.

    Turan is a spectacular passer, showing great vision and body control on the run.

    He also has tremendous footwork that allows him to create space and pull defenders toward him.

    I hope fans who do not closely follow Atletico or La Liga decide to do so after Atletico's Europa League run.

    Those fans are definitely missing out on one of the most technically gifted and enjoyable midfielders in Europe.

    Honorable Mentions: Diego, 27 (Atletico Madrid) & Tino Costa, 27 (Valencia)

Midfield: Mesut Özil, 23 (Real Madrid)

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    Speaking of technically gifted midfielders, this third-generation Turkish-German is already recognized as one of the best midfielders in the world.

    Özil's inability to perform in the biggest league games since arriving at Madrid caused many to question his status as an elite player.

    Thankfully for him, he has silenced all doubters this season, most notably in the last two Clasicos.

    Özil is finally starting to become a leader on the pitch and continues to develop as a world-class passer and playmaker.

    B/R's own Charlie Melman even sees Özil as a potential future Ballon d'Or winner.

    As this young star begins to reach his potential, that could very well happen in the near future.

    Honorable Mentions: Julio Baptista, 30 (Malaga) & Ivan Rakitić, 24 (Sevilla)

Left Winger: Cristiano Ronaldo, 26 (Real Madrid)

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    Ronaldo currently leads the race for his second straight Golden Shoe.

    That ensures that either he or Lionel Messi will give La Liga its fourth consecutive winner of the award.

    In terms of weaknesses, Ronaldo has none.

    His build makes him the perfect footballer. He is quick, strong, full of endurance and is one of the world's best dribblers.

    CR7 has a strong shot and is a superb free kick and penalty taker. He is also great in the air.

    He is often criticized (mostly by those who are not fans) for not showing up in big games.

    That unfair and inaccurate critique is now getting silenced, as he has outscored Messi over the last two Clasicos.

    He will always have fans who refuse to support or like him, but no one can objectively watch Ronaldo and deny the talent.

    Honorable Mentions: Angel di Maria, 24 (Real Madrid) & Jonas, 27 (Valencia)

Center Forward: Falcao, 26 (Atletico Madrid)

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    The Colombian was given some large shoes to fill when he came to the Vicente Calderon last summer.

    Atletico Madrid made Falcao the most expensive transfer in club history when they signed him from Poro for €40 million.

    Not only was he expected to come in and almost singlehandedly carry the offensive workload from day one, he would also need to help Atletico fans get over losing one of their all-time favorite players, Sergio Agüero.

    So far, he has done a very fine job.

    This season, Falcao already has 16 goals, four short of Agüero's personal best of last season.

    With 22 goals in all competitions, Falcao has immediately become one of Spain's very best forwards and gives Atletico fans a lot to be hopeful about going forward.

    Honorable Mentions: Karim Benzema, (Real Madrid) & Salomon Rondon, 22 (Malaga)

Right Winger: Lionel Messi, 24 (Barcelona)

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    The reigning FIFA Ballon d'Or winner—and a Spanish citizen himself—Lionel Messi is already one of the most celebrated and decorated players of all time.

    And he is still only 24 years old.

    Some put him in the conversation of greatest players ever. Others argue that he needs to win the one trophy that has eluded him first—the World Cup.

    Regardless of where he ranks at this point in history, he is considered by most to be the best player of his generation.

    With so many changes occurring across generations—with equipment, rules, competitions, level and amount of competition—being the best of his generation is good enough for me.

    Honorable Mentions: Alexis Sanchez, 23 (Barcelona) & Diego Perotti, 23 (Sevilla)

Coach: José Mourinho, 49 (Real Madrid)

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    The Special One. Of course Mourinho would lead this group.

    He has built his legacy by leading expensive clubs full of internationals to European and league glory.

    With Pep Guardiola amongst the great coaches leading Spain's other regions, this club will need a manager with at least the experience and knowledge of Guardiola.

    Mourinho can definitely match that and can perhaps finally best Guardiola in Spain.

Formation: 4-3-3

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              Diego Alves

     Alves–Pepe–Rami–Abidal

      Turan—Toulalan—Ozil

    Messi—Falcao—Ronaldo

    The consensus on my other articles was that each team had different strengths over the rest.

    For example, Catalunya had the best midfield, according to most readers.

    This club also has a clear advantage—its attack.

    While each of the other regional teams had world-class attacks, they did not have Messi, Falcao and Ronaldo up front.

    This attack would have to be in the discussion as the greatest in the history of football.

Conclusion

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    Well that does it. Thanks again to Ariff Zulkifli for asking and encouraging me to write this addition to the Spanish Regional Starting XI series.

    I thought the four clubs were even before, but having this attack might put the foreigners into the top spot.

    What do you think? See the other sides here:

    Basque Country

    Catalunya

    Castile & Madrid

    The "Best of the Rest"

    I hope you enjoy this extra addition to the series.

    Thanks for reading!