Picking a Combined Barcelona and Real Madrid Best XI for 2013
With apologies to a plethora of footballing talent that didn’t make the cut, here is my choice of a starting XI if we were to combine the talents of the Real Madrid and Barcelona FC squads.
Goalkeeper: Victor Valdes
In goal, Iker Casillas' absence from La Liga this season makes it a straight fight between Victor Valdes and Diego Lopez. There’s a very good chance that Valdes will be Vincente Del Bosque’s first pick for the World Cup this year and there is no guarantee that Lopez will even make the squad, so who am I to argue with the Spain manager?
Right-Back: Dani Alves
At right-sided defender, this is a straight shootout between the attacking flair of Dani Alves and the defensive solidness of Alvaro Arbeloa. In truth, this is the weakest element of both sides and neither have been particularly outstanding this season, but the Brazilian earns the nod here.
Left-Back: Jordi Alba
At left-sided defender, this was a choice of one from three—Jordi Alba, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao. In the end, the attacking flair of Alba and Marcelo was more appealing. Although Alba has had quite a spell out of the first team with injury this season, I would still just give him the nod over Marcelo.
Central Defender: Pepe
Picking the first of my central defenders is easy. It’s Pepe. In fact the only reason I perhaps would not have picked him is that there could be a case made for him playing as the defensive midfield player. But as a central defender, he is without question one of the best in the world and has to be in.
Central Defender: Gerard Pique
In years to come Raphael Varane will be an automatic starter on many people’s team sheets. But not yet. Carles Puyol has been a great servant for both Barcelona and Spain but in truth his race looks to be run and Marc Bartra is a long way from being the finished article.
You would have thought that playing alongside Pepe, the natural choice would be his team-mate Sergio Ramos, except for the fact that he has had a truly forgettable year meaning the only real choice, to play next to the spiky Portuguese defender, is his international team mate, Gerard Pique.
Holding Midfielder: Xabi Alonso
Choosing the person to anchor the midfield was possibly the most difficult choice of all, although there were only really two contenders. Sergio Busquets has done the job brilliantly for club and country for a number of years, yet for as great a player as he undoubtedly is, he is far more replaceable in that position that his main challenger for the position, Xabi Alonso.
The difference the Basque player makes to the Madrid side when he plays is palpable, and even though this is not the position he plays for the national side he would be my automatic choice as anchorman.
Right Midfield: Cesc Fabregas
Into midfield now and this is where it really gets tricky. In a nutshell it’s a case of pick three from the following eight—Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Angel di Maria, Luka Modric, Isco, Asier Ilaramendi and Gareth Bale.
It would perhaps be easier to eliminate, in the first instance rather than pick. Xavi has been a great player, undoubtedly one of the greatest of all-time, but his performances this year would not suggest that he merits a place in this company.
Illaremnedi and Isco will go on to become truly great players, but they’re not quite ready for this particular list. Bale could also go on to become a Madrid legend , but he hasn’t had the easiest of starts and therefore he's out.
Di Maria is a wonderful player, if occasionally the exhibitor of a very low pain threshold. He received the nod over Mesut Ozil in the necessary Madrid clea0out that saw Bale come to Spain, but I still see him as a player for the big occasions, although not all occasions.
On the right-hand side of midfield therefore, not just for his midfield skills but also his ability to adapt to the false no. 9 role, my pick as no. 7 is Fabregas
Central Midfield: Andres Iniesta
In central midfield, try as I might, I find it impossible to envisage a Spanish team, be it real or fantasy, that doesn’t have at its very heart the little master. The little man for the huge occasion, my no. 8 is Iniesta.
Left Midfield: Luka Modric
And on the left side of midfield, perhaps not to the taste of everyone, I would have to find room for arguably Madrid’s player of the season so far, and someone who has gone on to earn the praise and respect of the same fans who initially called him the worst signing in the club’s history.
Forwards: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
On the face of it picking the last two members of the side should be a walk in the park. Why on earth wouldn’t you pick the best two players in the world—arguably the best two ever—for the two remaining positions?
But could Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo work together in the same side? Ronaldo looks to create his magic from sharp, lightning fast counters, exploiting the gaps with his dazzling pace and strength. With Messi it’s more a case of sheer pressure that allows him to weave his magic after the opposition have been made sea sick with the constant control and domination of his team mates.
Some people have ventured that neither Ronaldo nor Messi are 'natural strikers' when actually what they mean is that they not natural no. 9s. The briefest of looks at their 2013 goal figures show quite clearly that while they may not be leaders of the front line they are most definitively ’natural strikers’.
So it has to be Messi and no. 10 and Ronaldo at no. 9—certainly if you’re looking at picking the best players. The best team though?
Balague's Combined Barca and Madrid XI
You won't all agree with my choices, so please get involved in the debate by leaving your comments below.