European Football's Best XI Performances of the Weekend

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

European Football's Best XI Performances of the Weekend

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    There was no Bundesliga action this weekend, nor much goal action in the Premier League—Liverpool and Chelsea excluded.

    However, with a full complement of fixtures in some of Europe's other biggest leagues, there has been, as usual, a variety of fine individual performances.

    With Malaga stunning Real Madrid in Spain and Juventus waiting till the last 15 minutes to come good, it's only fair that their top performers feature.

    Read on to find out who makes this weekend's XI.

GK: Yohann Thuram, Troyes

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    In a weekend where not too many keepers stood out, Yohann Thuram was the pick of the bunch.

    His side, second-bottom Troyes, picked up what could prove a vital point, drawing 0-0 at Bordeaux.

    The home side created over 20 chances on goal, but none of the nine on target could find their way past Thuram on Friday night.

DEF: Diego Mainz, Granada

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    An overdue win at relegation rivals Osasuna will have been a welcome Christmas present for Granada fans.

    Defender Diego Mainz not only scored their equaliser, but was constantly involved at the back too.

    With six tackles, four interceptions and 21 clearances, it's fair to say he will have slept fairly well last night.

DEF: Martin Demichelis, Malaga

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    They may have conceded twice on their way to a 3-2 victory over Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, but Malaga's rearguard were still impressive.

    In captain Weligton and Martin Demichelis they have established a consistent centre half pairing.

    On this occasion it was the Argentine, Demichelis, who was particularly impressive as Malaga moved to within two points of Madrid.

DEF: Emilio Nsue, Mallorca

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    Mallorca had been without a win since the end of September following an impressive start to the La Liga season.

    That drought ended on Saturday in Seville, as they beat Real Betis 2-1, with right-back Emilio Nsue their best player.

    He managed to contribute both going forward and defending, and with his teammates, will look to build on this win in 2013.

MID: Stewart Downing, Liverpool

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    Often criticised in a Liverpool shirt, Stewart Downing put in a performance against Fulham reminiscent of his Middlesbrough and Aston Villa days.

    Brendan Rodgers' side are hardly known for their goal return at the moment, but Downing was at the heart of the action as they put four past Fulham.

    He scored one and made one as Liverpool put last weekend's defeat to Villa firmly in the past.

MID: Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona

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    With no Tito Vilanova, Jordi Roura took control of Barcelona this weekend, with the same, inevitable, result.

    A resolute defensive performance from Real Valladolid was never likely to last 90 minutes, and it was captain Xavi who ended the shutout.

    He then assisted Messi's 91st goal of the calendar year, as well as completing 94 percent of his 126 passes (statistics via Whoscored.com).

MID: Gareth Barry, Man City

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    Rarely one to save City's blushes, that is exactly the role Gareth Barry played this weekend.

    After putting in a solid display in central midfield, with the game heading for a drab draw, the England international headed home in stoppage time.

    Reading felt hard done-by, claiming Barry had climbed over Nicky Shorey, but the goal stood and Man City picked up three points.

MID: Daniele De Rossi, Roma

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    The eye-catching game in Serie A this weekend saw Roma host AC Milan. The home side stormed into a 4-0 lead, before Milan added two late consolation goals.

    At the heart of Roma's performance was midfield general Daniele De Rossi.

    The Italian international made four key tackles, four key interceptions and made one key pass—his through ball created the third goal (statistics via Whoscored.com)

FWD: Roque Santa Cruz, Malaga

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    He's often played second fiddle to Javier Saviola this season, but on Saturday Roque Santa Cruz was the hero.

    The Paraguayan emerged from the bench to score twice as Malaga recorded a 3-2 win over Real Madrid at La Rosaleda.

    It was Manuel Pellegrini's first win over his former club, and ensures the Andalusians end a troubled year on a high.

FWD: Alessandro Matri, Juventus

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    Another player to appear off the bench to earn his side maximum points was Juventus' Alessandro Matri.

    With Cagliari winning 1-0, Antonio Conte turned to Matri in a bid to rescue a point with time running out.

    Matri's 75th-minute goal earned the point, then in stoppage time his second goal won it. Juve even had time to add a third.

FWD: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

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    Chelsea ruthlessly took Aston Villa apart 8-0, and any number of their players could feel they deserve to be included in this side.

    The Brazilian trio of David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar all featured heavily—the latter two off the bench against an already beaten Villa, though.

    For the sake of this team it's Eden Hazard who takes his place in the front three—he scored one and was impressive throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Honourable Mentions

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    Just falling short of a place in the XI, these players make up the bench:

    Asmir Begovic made a vital save at the death as Stoke City kept a clean sheet and earned a point at Tottenham's White Hart Lane.

    Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard—like Downing—were both impressive in Liverpool's win over Fulham. Swansea's Chico was also impressive against Manchester United.

    Juraj Kucka had a storming game in central midfield for Genoa against Inter Milan, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored another brace for PSG.