DAN: The Adidas bench has seven players and then an additional five players, older veterans, on the reserve squad. Nike is loaded with offensive talent, both up front and in the attacking midfield.
For the backup keeper, we already seemed to agree on Hugo Lloris, so he'll snag the first bench slot. The other six won't be that easy.
We will likely only take one extra defender, coming from a formidable list of Patrice Evra, Gerard Pique, David Luiz and Thiago Silva. At this point in his career, I might throw Pique (who should be starting over Puyol, injuries for both aside) on the reserves and take Evra. We have Ramos starting out wide, so taking another center-back seems redundant.
The midfield options are numerous, even considering we can take four midfielders and one striker to fill out our seven-man bench. We know Will may quit his job if we don't select Pirlo. We also have Sneijder, Ribery, Mata, Ramires, Walcott, Boateng, Malouda, Donovan and Dempsey to fit in. Not to mention, I still think the versatility of someone like Marouane Fellaini could come in handy. I don't know if he fits in this roster, though.
I'm making the call to include Michael Essien on the reserves. Five years ago, he may have been the best player on either roster. I also think Ronaldinho should get a celebratory nod on the warm-up squad.
Up front, you guys can start that fight.
MIKE: Marouane Fellaini is such a great player. In fact, I'd argue that he was one of the prime reasons Everton held Manchester United to that 4-4 draw recently, and thus one of the main reasons United (probably) won't win the title this season. For that fact alone, I'd love to give him a spot (sorry, Will).
But he's just not at that level, yet.
What about Clint Dempsey? This is really hard for me. Being silly, sentimental me, I like to think we're kindred spirits (we were born at roughly the same time and both grew up playing soccer in the deeeeeeep south), but as great as he's been this season, I'm leaning towards "not yet." (I know, I know. The response to that is, "When?")
Lloris is fine as our bench goalie. At the back, I'll take Pique. In the midfield, give me Pirlo, Mata, Sneijder (kinda leaning on reputation) and Ribery.
And up top, I'll also wait for someone else to start the argument.
DAN: I agree on Fellaini, but I don't on Dempsey. The guy is already in his 30s. He's had arguably the best offensive season in the entire EPL, considering who he had playing with him this season compared to the chaps up in Manchester. Heck, even Robin van Persie had more help than Dempsey.
That said, we could run with three midfielders and two strikers, which may not help his cause. Either way, I would take Dempsey over Ribery. Nike has enough unlikeable players on its roster already.
MIKE: Dempsey is 29, but I know what you're saying. Now is his time.
I'm not going to fight his inclusion on the team. As an American, he's one of my favorite players. Still, I'm not quite sure he's at the level of some of these guys. But after the way he's played this season, he wouldn't be out of place.
CHRIS: I would take either Piqué or Silva as our extra defender. I don't think you can go wrong with either.
In midfield, I can't see leaving off Juan Mata or Pirlo. Ribery is a far better player than Dempsey no matter how good it might feel to argue against including yet another horrid human being in the Bayern player.
Fellaini is a fine player, but I'd rather see us take someone like Muniain or Valencia. Valencia probably deserves it more. He gets my last vote.
I'll start the forward fight. If we only get one, I stump for Ibra. A big game needs big egos, and they don't come any bigger.
WILL: I think Pique probably makes the most sense as defensive cover. You won't be surprised to learn Pirlo makes my bench selection. I'd go with Mata and Ribery above Dempsey on talent, but you can't question Dempsey's goal scoring this season, for a fairly toothless Fulham. So maybe all three make it. Ibrahimovic is, as you Americans might say, a "no-brainer." That leaves my bench looking like this: Lloris, Pique, Pirlo, Mata, Dempsey, Ribery, Ibrahimovic.
Valencia had a shout at the start of the season, but he's faded for me. Muniain is going to be a great player, but he's not quite there for me yet. He'll get a big move soon enough though, and we'll see a lot more of him.
DAN: If this team scores first, there will be no sitting back and holding a lead, as we have zero defensive midfielders on the bench.
I also think we are about to set a roster without Wesley Sneijder. Is that possible? Is my Clint Dempsey jingoistic infatuation clouding sound soccer judgement?
And will no one stump for Landon Donovan?
For the forwards, Ibra is the obvious choice, but that means Drogba is relegated to the reserves and Higuain is relegated to watching the match on TV with the rest of us.
CHRIS: Sneijder hasn't had a great year. He's a better player than Dempsey, but if we're going on form, then Dempsey should go ahead of him.
And there's no argument to be made for Donovan in this team. He isn't good enough. Dempsey isn't really either in general, but it's hard to argue with his production. Although Yak scored a lot this season also and no one tried too hard to put him in this game.
DAN: I think you are looking too closely at just this year. Yes, we want players on form, but we put Puyol on the back line and he may not even be healthy for Euros after surgery. Just two years ago, Sneijder was a finalist for World Player of the Year and helped lead his Dutch side to the World Cup finals. That has to be worth something.
CHRIS: Yes you have. Take away this season and Dempsey isn't close to getting in this team.
TONY: Glad common sense has prevailed regarding Dempsey. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan, but come on.
I think a foursome of Ramires, Pirlo, Mata and Valencia has pretty much all bases covered, in my opinion. Pirlo sitting deep keeping the ball can be as effective as having a destroyer type screening the defence in its own way.
As for the extra forward, the correct answer is Ibra.
DAN: Tony, you are suggesting we take both Chelsea wings over Sneijder or Ribery? I think it might have to be an either/or with Ramires and Mata. I'd almost lean neither before both, and I'm almost in love with Mata as a complete player.
CHRIS: I'd back Ribery over Ramires and take Mata also. I like Ramires, but I don't think I'd take him over either of the other two.
TONY: My reasoning is that Mata can excel both out wide on the left or fully in behind the striker, while Ramires is a hard-running box-to-box man who can fill most other roles in midfield, something that is a great asset for a substitute. Clearly, Ribery is a better footballer than Ramires, but he is far less adaptable and Mata can take his role on the left.
As for Sneijder, between Pirlo and Mata, we have him covered too. It was very difficult to leave out Sneijder, and I'm sure I will be outvoted on him anyway.
Dan: I think I'm outvoted on Sneijder. The Nike Reserve squad is going to be full of people I just want to hug.
This is hard because there are no wrong answers, making every possible answer feel wrong in some way.
We know this: Lloris is the backup keeper, and it looks like Pique is the only defender on the bench. Ibra is the lone option up front.
Mike likes Pirlo, Mata, Ribery and Sneijder.
Chris likes Pirlo, Mata, Ribery and Valencia.
Will likes Pirlo, Pirlo, Pirlo and Pirlo. And Mata, Ribery and Dempsey.
Tony likes Pirlo, Mata, Ramires and Valencia.
Dan likes Pirlo, Mata, Sneijder and Dempsey.
It looks like Pirlo, Mata and Ribery are on the bench. I'm fine with Ribery replacing Dempsey, putting the best living American field player on the reserves. Now to chose the last bench spot between Sneijder, Valencia and Ramires. Unless we want to revisit adding another forward (I'm kidding...).
WILL: On this season, Ramires. On the last five seasons, Sneijder.
DAN: Will and Tony do make sense. If we are looking for a player off the bench, it should be someone with pace who can spell a player we expect might be substituted. If Iniesta were to come off the field, we have Pirlo on the bench. If Sneijder fills the same role, I've come to terms with including Ramires instead.
That gives Nike a bench of Lloris, Pique, Pirlo, Mata, Ribery, Ramires and Ibrahimovic. Lots of pace, lots of offense...defense optional.
It gives us a reserve list of Dempsey, Sneijder, Essien, Drogba and, yes, Ronaldinho.
Nike and Adidas—two rather formidable squads. Now to figure out which team would win!