Picking a January World Football Best XI

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2013

Picking a January World Football Best XI

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    January is an interesting month in the world football calendar.

    The English Premier League has been going at it full steam over Christmas, but other leagues across Europe have been enjoying mid-season breaks and come back at differing times. This year too, there has also been the presence of the African Cup of Nations, taking some of these league's players away and putting them in the environment of the continent's most prestigious competition.

    So picking a best XI of the players who have shone in this month you have to consider some potential selections have played more football than others, and weigh that up in comparing who has enjoyed the more impressive January.

    At the end of it all though it is down largely to opinion, and the following selection (laid out in a 3-4-3 formation) will likely differ to yours by some degree or another. Have a read of this one and then feel free to offer your own suggestions and (vehemently, probably) disagree with the ones set out here.

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

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    Manchester City's 0-0 draw at Queens Park Rangers last Tuesday has, coupled with Manchester United's win over Southampton a day later, left the reigning champions seven points off the top of the Premier League.

    This will be frustrating for Man City considering how they have been nigh on perfect defensively in January, conceding not once in six games in all competitions.

    The defense has tightened up and is approaching the heights they often reached last season, while behind them Joe Hart has been in impeccable form in league play after an occasionally iffy autumn for the goalkeeper.

    Hart may not have as much to do as some of his peers between the sticks, but the importance of his reliability to City cannot be underestimated as he ensures they are solid if not always spectacular.

Defense: Christophe Jallet

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    Paris Saint-Germain are still on track to record that first Ligue 1 title in their newly financially flush era. It is still tight at the top with Lyon level on points at the top and not far behind.

    The capital club's results have not been spectacular, but they have still been putting all-important points on the board. Defensively they have been strong in January, not conceding once.

    The presence of Christophe Jallet at right back has been vital here. In the absence of Thiago Silva there have been changes in central defense, so to be able to maintain some consistency at the back has been big for the Parisians.

    PSG have drawn 0-0 with Ajaccio and beaten Bordeaux and Lillie 1-0 in January. They are getting the job done right now, and so long as role players like Jallet continue to perform they stand a good chance of continuing to do so.

Defense: Raphael Varane

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    Raphael Varane started Real Madrid's first three league games of 2013, wins over Real Sociedad and Valencia (and against Los Che once in the cup) with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna in between.

    The teenage defender performed well enough in deputizing for absent teammates. It was in his final game of the month, the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg against Barcelona, that he indicated he is close to being ready to doing more than just cover for others.

    Varane scored a vital late goal to keep Real level going into the second leg at the Nou Camp and stepped up to keep Barcelona out down the other end on several occasions.

    Bleacher Report's Will Tidey goes into greater depth on Varane here. What is sure is the Frenchman could not have hoped for a much better start to the year as he attempts to make his name in Spain.

Defense: David Alaba

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    There is likely not a better defense to be found in Europe right now than that of Bayern Munich. The Bavarian giants have conceded just seven goals all season in the Bundesliga, and have not been scored against yet in 2013.

    You could highlight any of their defenders or goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for praise. On this occasion though, left back David Alaba will get the recognition.

    Since being converted into a full back last year the 20-year-old has gone from strength to strength. Already he is regarded as being one of the world's best in his position.

    As months go, January was not the most testing for Bayern with fixtures against Stuttgart and Greuther Furth negotiated simply enough. Still, they were games that had to be won and Alaba played his part in recording two more cleansheets for the club.

    With Champions League games and the Bundesliga run-in fast approaching there will be tests to come for the young Austrian. There has been enough on show so far to suggest Alaba is going carry on this year as he left off in 2012.

Midfield: Alessio Cerci

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    Alessio Cerci has been in tremendous form as Torino have gone unbeaten in Serie A through January.

    In their last match against Inter the attacking midfielder was instrumental in Il Toro earning a valuable point in a 2-2 draw at the San Siro. He set up Riccardo Meggiorini's second goal and gave his opponents a torrid time throughout.

    This came off the back of goals of his own in Torino's wins over Pescara and Siena in the preceding two week.

    The Turin outfit are not yet safe from the drop, but with Cerci and others playing as well as this they may be leaving the bottom four or five behind soon enough.

Midfield: Jack Wilshere

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    It has been a hit and miss month for Arsenal, but there can be no faulting the impressive contributions of Jack Wilshere to the Gunners cause.

    Individually Wilshere's finest match of January might have been his game-winning display in the FA Cup replay against Swansea City. Besides this there have been plenty of other occasions when the midfielder has run the show for Arsene Wenger's team.

    The 21-year-old is still a work in progress, as evident by slightly quieter appearances against tougher opponents like Chelsea and particularly Manchester City. Yet even then Arsenal still looked at their best when Wilshere was involved.

    There has been notable performances from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud this month too, but you get the feeling they might not have been as effective without the support of Wilshere behind him.

Midfield: Michael Carrick

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    About the only time Michael Carrick genuinely did wrong in January was in Manchester United's final game of the month. The midfielder's back-pass towards David de Gea was too short and Southampton's Jay Rodriguez nipped in first to score.

    As Man United went on to win the game 2-1 that mistake can be excused. Then again, the 31-year-old's overall performances have been more than enough to warrant ignoring one slip-up.

    Carrick has been near-exemplary as Sir Alex Ferguson's men have stayed unbeaten so far in 2013. The heart of the Red Devils' midfield, he is often the one instigating their drives forward and ably supporting them when he can.

    In a season when United have been alarmingly erratic at the back, Carrick's willingness to take responsibility defensively has been helpful too. His presence alone is not enough to compensate for the organizational issues in the defense itself, but more and more he seems to be accounting for stifling the pressure they are put under.

    Carrick's importance in this regard was underlined by his absence in Man United's initial FA Cup Third Round game against West Ham United. Without him Joe Cole and other Hammers were given far too much freedom in midfield, a negligence that almost proved costly.

Midfield: Jakub Blaszczykowski

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    Borussia Dortmund's hopes of catching Bayern Munich and winning a third consecutive Bundesliga are looking slim with the Bavarian giants sitting 12 points ahead of them in first place.

    Dortmund are doing their best to keep chase and are hot on the heels of Bayer Leverkusen in second.

    One player doing his utmost to keep their title hopes alive is midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski. His double against Nurnberg set Dortmund on their way to a 3-0 victory last time out while he scored their final goal in a 5-0 romp away at Werder Bremen.

    The Poland international has enjoyed a great start to 2013, maintaining what has been an impressive campaign thus far.

Attack: Alain Traore

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    Burkina Faso have made it out of the first round of the African Cup of Nations for only the second time, the first since hosting the tournament in 1998.

    Their progression is down in large part to the goals of striker Alain Traore.

    One-nil down against Nigeria in their opening Group C match, Traore equalized in the dying minutes to earn Burkina Faso their first point. Things then got even better for the Stallions, when Traore scored twice more to open the scoring in their eventual 4-0 win over Ethiopia.

    Sadly, Traore was stretchered off early in his team's final group match against Zambia (a 0-0 draw). The 25-year-old will be missed for the quarterfinal against Togo, but the role he played in getting them there cannot be denied.

Attack: Lionel Messi

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    After an astonishing 2012, Lionel Messi has begun 2013 in the same spectacular fashion.

    The Argentinian scored nine goals for Barcelona in the month of January, helping them maintain their healthy lead at the top of La Liga as well as progress to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey.

    Four of Messi's goals game in last weekend's 5-1 thrashing of Osasuna. While he did not get on the scoresheet against Real Madrid in their first leg cup meeting on Wednesday night, Messi did assist Cesc Fabregas for the Spaniard's opener in the 1-1 draw.

    A best XI of any month could likely feature Messi. Although his presence here is somewhat predictable, the forward's continued brilliance merits it.

Attack: Adam Le Fondre

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    Like Messi, the form of Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie this season is worthy of recognition any month. With all due respect to those two, it is another Premier League forward whose January contributions are going to be recognized here.

    Adam Le Fondre has scored five Premier League goals for relegation battling Reading (as well as notching two more in the FA Cup Third Round). The frequency of these goals has been welcome for the Royals, but the timing of them all the more important.

    Le Fondre's first for the month was a penalty as Reading came back from two-nil down to beat West Bromwich Albion. He then went and grabbed two more to see off Newcastle United in a 2-1 win at St. James' Park. To complete a terrific month, Le Fondre scored another brace as his team came from behind to draw 2-2 with Chelsea.

    Brian McDermott's team now find themselves out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The sense of momentum right now around the Madejski Stadium will be giving their rivals at the bottom cause for concern. If Le Fondre keeps scoring like this they stand as good a chance as any of staying up.