Picking a European Club Football Best XI
With the 2013-14 season looming for Europe’s best and brightest, players worldwide will be looking to make their mark ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
That being said, last season has already produced more than a few players who can more than likely be considered certain inclusions for the throwdown in Rio, with UEFA releasing their annual post-season XI earlier this year.
However, with a bit more time to reflect on the latest campaign, this lineup has been devised with the 2012-13 season mostly, but not exclusively, in mind.
Doing away with the 4-2-3-1 formation that’s grown to become flavour of the month on the continent, this XI is deployed in a 3-5-2 and made up of those currently plying their trade for a European club.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
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Nationality: Czech Republic
Although Chelsea conceded the third-lowest amount of goals in the Premier League last season, one can bet with some security that number would have been far higher were it not for the presence of Petr Cech.
The impressive defensive numbers garnered by the Blues last term aren’t necessarily indicative of a strong defence, but allowed the Czech international to shine as a result.
Of course, the likes of Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon and even Diego Lopez might be tipped as the more impressive goalkeepers, constantly linked with such honours as a result of their lowest conceding rates.
However, for Cech to boast his kind of numbers considering the defence in front of him can be considered inferior by some distance to those in front of the aforementioned stoppers is a huge achievement.
According to Squawka statistics, Cech averaged 1.75 saves per game last season compared to the numbers of just 1.34 and 1.29 racked up by Buffon and Neuer, respectively.
Not to mention the fact that Cech played in over 60 games across all club competitions last season, keeping an impressive 19 clean sheets in that space of time, maintaining his status as one of the world’s elite stoppers.
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Club: Bayern Munich
The first entrant of our three-man defence, Dante’s first season in Bayern Munich colours was a storming success, perhaps surpassing even Jupp Heynckes’ expectations of the Brazilian upon his purchase from Borussia Monchengladbach.
In fact, Dante’s impact at the Allianz Arena was so much that he was the most involved member of Bayern’s outfield, the only player apart from Manuel Neuer to play 29 or more full Bundesliga matches.
A rising trend in the modern defender, the 29-year-old isn’t shy of the more glamorous side of the game either, boasting a pass completion rate of 91%, one of the highest in the Bayern squad.
That being said, as was shown throughout the 2012-13 season, Dante is all too familiar with the more traditional aspects of being a centre-back and will rival Chelsea’s David Luiz for a starting place at the Brazilian World Cup next summer.
Centre-Back: Thiago Silva
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Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Having twice been nominated into the UEFA Team of the Year (2011, 2012), Thiago Silva is only too aware when it comes to the honour of end-of-season nominations.
At AC Milan, the Brazilian international captain shot to prominence as one of the finest and most consistent defenders in the world, a mantle the player’s managed to maintain since moving to Paris Saint-Germain last summer.
The rock at the heart of our three-man link at the back, Silva is anything but unopposed to launching runs forward and is evidently a top-class stopper of opposition play, a trait showing brilliantly during Brazil’s resounding Confederations Cup success.
At 28 years of age, the Rio-born centre-back is currently in the most prime portion of his athletic career, and his talents would certainly suggest it.
Centre-Back: Giorgio Chiellini
Chiellini (right) butting heads with Uruguay's Luis Suarez
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Used to playing in a three-man defence for both club and country, Giorgio Chiellini fits into our Best European XI thanks to his tactical fit, but his talent alone would make him a strong contender for any backline.
The 28-year-old played a massive role in a Juventus side that conceded just 24 goals in the 2012-13 Serie A campaign, and has been just as prominent for the Italian national team.
Left-sided by nature, Chiellini’s frame poses as a shroud for what can actually be deceptively quick pace at times, making for the ideal addition to the left side of our three-pronged defence.
Standing at 6’2”, the Old Lady staple’s strength in the air is surpassed only by his judgement and positioning and tackling.
Deep Lying Playmaker: Andrea Pirlo
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The second of two Italian national team members to find their way into the lineup, Andrea Pirlo’s more subdued position of recent seasons hasn’t limited the veteran in terms of attacking impact.
In fact, even at 33 years of age, the midfielder has arguably maintained or even enhanced the standards seen during his AC Milan tenure, much to the joy of Juventus fans.
The most withdrawn of our midfielders, Pirlo’s positioning allows him to still be used to some effect as a midfield anchor, although his strengths by no means lie in defensive qualities.
Last season, Squawka recorded Pirlo as Juve’s premier playmaker, crafting no less than 95 scoring chances for his side across 32 Serie A outings.
Admittedly, the narrow nature of this lineup leaves the defence particularly susceptible to penetration from the flanks, although Pirlo’s retracted state at least allows the backline to branch out that extra bit wider.
Centre Midfield: Andres Iniesta
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While the two clubs might not be in their most fruitful state right now, the increased success of both Barcelona and the Spanish national team over the last six years or so comes in direct conjunction with some of Andres Iniesta best playing years.
The 29-year-old Blaugrana stalwart has been elected to the UEFA Team of the Year on four occasions, solidifying himself as one of the best creative midfielders of his generation, a trajectory that may yet continue for some years yet.
Such impressive play continued for the majority of the last campaign in which Iniesta bagged three goals and made a magnificent 16 assists, the highest tally for any La Liga player.
With Pirlo providing a less extravagant role from behind, possession would undoubtedly not be hard to come across for a midfield boasting two of the best brains in football right now.
Centre Midfield: Mesut Ozil
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Club: Real Madrid
With Iniesta and Pirlo the less flashy of our midfield options, Mesut Ozil’s presence would add more legwork to what is otherwise a setup based largely on slow build-up play.
The German’s time at Real Madrid has seen him move past the standards previously set at Werder Bremen, accumulating more than 50 assists in the last three seasons.
Although Ozil is used to playing in more advanced positions, the wealth of attacking talent coming into our Best European XI means a more central role is the only option for the playmaker’s inclusion.
As aforementioned, Ozil would be expected to enjoy a great deal of possession with the likes of Iniesta and Pirlo alongside him, but would have his work cut out for him in terms of shouldering the majority of the running labour in attack.
Left Wing: Gareth Bale
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Club: Tottenham Hotspur
One of the most sought-after talents in world football right now, a manager would find it difficult not to make space for Gareth Bale in any dream roster after some exhilarating displays for Tottenham in recent years.
On nowhere but an upward trajectory, the Welshman has been feverishly linked with a move to Real Madrid in recent months, a pursuit The Independent’s Simon Johnson has reported will be halted for this summer at least.
The 2012-13 season was undoubtedly Bale’s finest so far as a Premier League player, a campaign in which the utility scored 26 goals and made 15 assists across all competitions.
The speedster lines up most often on the left flank but has the malleability to drift into the central channels with ease before posing a direct threat on goal himself.
That being said, Bale sticks out at a club such as Spurs, making it of much more interest to see whether the Cardiff-born winger would provide as much impact amongst a higher grade of player.
Right Wing: Cristiano Ronaldo
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Club: Real Madrid
Widely regarded as one of the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo simply can’t be left out of any dream lineup, no matter how he fits into its attack.
The former Ballon d’Or winner scored 55 goals and made 14 assists last season, a score count beaten by only one other in the world’s elite divisions.
According to Squawka, Ronaldo created 62 scoring chances for his side in the term, second only to Mesut Ozil in the Real Madrid ranks.
This season saw the Portuguese national team captain line up mainly on the left wing, but with a more naturally left-sided player in the squad, Ronaldo would be able to set up on his favoured right flank.
Centre Forward: Lionel Messi
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As has been pretty evident from his Barcelona career, to associate a specific position with Lionel Messi is difficult simply due to the Argentine’s proficiency in just about all attacking roles.
However, one position the 26-year-old has grown accustomed to is centre forward, a position which thrusts Messi into the spearhead of any attack but is withdrawn enough for the South American to assume his more provisional mantle for the benefit of his teammates.
Reigning FIFA Ballon d’Or victor and three-time winner of the award, Messi’s inclusion in a European club dream team is, at this point, obligatory.
As the supporting striker, the pint-sized poacher would assuredly weave a near-unlimited supply of ammunition to those around him, not to mention threatening the opposition goal himself, having netted 60 goals and made 18 assists across all competitions last term.
Striker: Edinson Cavani
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In all honesty, there’s a broad selection of strikers currently playing at European clubs who could have been elected to lead the attacking line of this team. However, Edinson Cavani’s consistency in terms of prolific play, as well as high numbers, mean he gets the nod as the striker benefiting from this wealth of creative marvels.
The Uruguayan international’s most recent chance to prove himself on the big stage came at the Confederations Cup, a tournament where the towering forward scored three goals and made one assist in four appearances.
Cavani’s large frame means that he’s more than capable of providing a sole spearhead in attack, just as he does at Napoli, with a similar strategy provided in this team.
The 2012-13 Serie A top goalscorer, Cavani netted a magnificent 29 goals in 34 games for the Naples outfit last season.
Continuing his superb scoring run in the city and has now managed to score 78 goals in 104 outings for his side, not too far away from a goal per game scoring ratio.
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While he hasn’t been on the European stage for long, Thibaut Courtois has taken no time in becoming one of the most impressive goalkeepers around, even though he’s yet to make a Premier League appearance for parent club, Chelsea.
Although the likes of Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas might have better team records, Courtois has shone on the individual scale and pulled off more than 70 saves last season, keeping 20 clean sheets in the process.
In contrast, the aforementioned trio of ‘keepers were all closer to just 40 saves in the season with less clean sheets, at that.
Another nominee as one of the world’s finest centre-backs at the moment, Mats Hummels has been an ever-present force in the past three seasons for Borussia Dortmund.
The German international doesn’t have much experience in playing amongst a three-man defence but his stature and attributes all suggest that he wouldn’t find it impossible to adjust.
Helping to lead the Black and Yellows to the Champions League final, last season wasn’t the most fruitful for the Borussia Dortmund star, but was an undoubted success on an individual basis.
A particularly versatile talent of the Spanish national team at the moment, Javi Martinez could easily come into our European XI’s midfield but poses as much of an option in defence having filled in at centre-back during his Athletic Bilbao days.
In his first season at the Allianz Arena, the 24-year-old won a European treble and is currently in the national frame of the reigning World and European cup title holders.
Only left out of our starting XI as a result of a dip in recent form, Xavi remains a powerful asset for any side he performs for, helping to lead Barcelona to another La Liga crown last season.
Now 33 years old, the Catalan veteran has simmered slightly in terms of extravagance but still has the same, almost omnipotent football brain, making him an invaluable and cool option from the bench.
Last summer, rumours were swirling that Thomas Muller might leave Bayern Munich for a better chance of first team football. A year later, the German international is a key staple in the European champions’ lineup, making 42 starts across all competitions for the side last season.
Muller is primarily a talent to be used out wide but can also mould to fill a more central responsibility, adding extra positional coverage on the 23-year-old’s behalf.
Like Muller, Franck Ribery played a substantial part in Bayern Munich’s treble-winning campaign last season, making 43 starts for the club across all competitions, scoring 11 goals and making 23 assists in the meantime.
The 30-year-old beats a raft of other European wing talents to a spot on the bench of our squad, but his specialism out wide means he’s included with a very specific purpose in mind.
The sole striking support to Napoli’s Cavani, two-time Polish Player of the Year, Robert Lewandowski, was unfortunate not to lead Borussia Dortmund to a Champions League triumph last season.
The gem in the 24-year-old’s season was assuredly a four-goal haul in the first leg of his side’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, an event that officially put Lewandowski in the global eye as a supremely rounded forward.