The Sport Is Everything European Team of the Year, consisting of the best footballers in Europe, has been selected. It is without doubt a must-read for all football fans.
The 2012/2013 football season has been nothing short of a whirlwind. From the rise of German football to the ‘demise’ of Barcelona, this has been a season to remember.
Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich finally returned to the summit of their respective leagues, while Juventus continued their winning ways.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke records in France as he led Paris Saint Germain back to the glory days, while Inter Milan continued their decline in spectacular fashion.
Ajax coach Frank De Boer led his team to a third title in as many years, despite a lad named Bony scoring at will for Vitesse Arnhem.
Benfica lost an eventual title decider to great rivals Porto in stoppage time, before losing the Europa League Final to Chelsea. In stoppage time. In the same week. Ouch.
It was a superb footballing year, which will culminate in Saturday’s all-German Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.
In the build up to European football’s grandstand finish, here are the eleven players that have been superb this season in their respective leagues, and/or in Europe.
GK: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
Bayern Munich are on course for an unprecedented treble and Manuel Neuer has been at the centre of their success. Bayern conceded just 18 goals all season in the Bundesliga, scoring a whopping 98 in the process. Neuer spearheaded one of the meanest defences in Europe and is fully deserving of his No.1 spot.
The defence consists of a standard four across the back.
LB: David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
The 20-year-old Austrian has been a revelation this season for the German champions and has drawn comparisons with Bayern legend Bixente Lizarazu. His versatility is one of his greatest assets, with the youngster capable of playing in midfield also.
CB: Dante (Bayern Munich)
“Another Bayern Munich player?” Indeed. The acquisition of the Brazilian from Borussia Monchengladbach for under €5 million must go down as one of the bargains of the year. Dante seamlessly made the transition from Gladbach to Bayern and slotted into the Bayern back-four effortlessly. Dante will surely be first-choice centre back in Big Phil Scolari’s Confederations Cup squad in the summer.
CB: Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
“Another player from the Bundesliga?” Indeed. Mats Hummels is equally as important to Borussia Dortmund as
every person who has ever been associated with the club Jurgen Klopp (there, I said it.). Hummels personifies Dortmund’s meteoric rise to the upper echelons of European football and the attack-minded centre back has drawn comparisons with the great Franz Beckenbauer. Hummels is not only a superb defender, but also produces marauding runs forward, further endearing him to those watching. Contracted until 2017, the 24-year-old is at the top of every team’s wishlist, and deservingly so. His absence in the heart of the defence against Malaga in the Champions League quarter-final was easily exploited by the Spaniards, further underlining Hummel’s importance to the Dortmund rearguard.
RB: Philipp Lahm (C) (Bayern Munich)
“Again with the Bundesliga!” Without doubt, the greatest full-back in the world for quite some time. Lahm epitomises all that is good about German football. The Bayern Munich and Germany captain will go down in history as one of Germany’s greatest ever players and has been in scintillating form for the Bavarians. Simply put, there is no full-back in the world that plays consistently at the same level as Philipp Lahm.
The midfield was always going to be the trickiest part of the team. As the formation was an attacking 4-3-3, certain players that had performed brilliantly throughout the season (Ribery, Mata, Fabregas, etc) had to be left out in order to compliment the team as a whole. We decided to choose a team that would have a realistic chance of success, rather than a ‘we’ll-score-more-goals-than-you-and-have-no-shape-whatsoever’ side.
Here are our three across the centre:
CM: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Andres Iniesta has been absolutely outstanding this season for Barcelona, magical in so many ways. Certain critics began to voice their concerns when the diminutive midfielder with magical feet went through a ‘rough’ patch. However, Iniesta fought back with a hugely impressive return of 15 assists, the most in La Liga. These assists (and Messi’s goals) have helped to bring the La Liga title back to the Camp Nou.
CM: Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
Undoubtedly the most controversial call when it came to selecting our European XI. However, Vidal’s importance for Juventus this season cannot be underestimated. The quintessential box-to-box midfielder, Vidal’s stock has risen considerably in the last two seasons. Vidal is the holding midfield player that would make this hypothetical European XI a success. His relentless energy and exceptional determination has allowed the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio to come into their own. Voted Player of the Year by fans on their official website, Arturo Vidal is a key cog in the Juventus title-wining machine.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund)
There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe how highly I rate Ilkay Gundogan. At just 22-years-old, Gundogan has firmly established himself as a regular in both the German national team (only 7 caps thus far but will be in every squad for years to come) and his club side. Dortmund’s meteoric rise to the top was something I mentioned earlier, and Gundogan has been a key part of that upward curve. Gundogan pulls the string in the Dortmund midfield and is the starting point for every attack, often feeding the ball to the likes of Gotze, Kuba and Reus. Gundogan and Vidal would form a frightening partnership and one that would allow Iniesta and our three frontmen to worry about matters further up the field. Linked with a move to Manchester United.
The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robin Van Persie, Stefan Kießling, Radamel Falcao, even Wilfried Bony, have all had tremendous seasons. However, they have not made the team. Again, it comes down to who we think would create the most devastating three-pronged attack and thus benefit our team, e.g. self-titled King Zlatan misses out because himself and Messi have proven they cannot work together.
LWF: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Despite a supposed Blaugrana ‘decline’, Lionel Messi continued his outstanding performances and re-asserted himself as the No.1 footballer in the world. Eight Champions League goals and 46 (not a typo) La Liga goals have seen the lovable Argentinian reach new levels in 2013. Consider yourself blessed that you are witnessing undoubtedly the greatest talent in footballing history.
CF: Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)
Robert Lewandowski has been one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe this season, with his four-goal haul against Madrid giving him the edge over the likes of Falcao and RVP. Pipped to the coveted Bundesliga Cannon by Stefan Kießling’s final-day goal, Lewandowski’s return of 24 league goals was still a tremendous haul. His tally of 10 Champions League goals (with one game left to play) puts the Polish predator ahead of Ibrahimovic. A move away from the Westfalenstadion appears imminent with a number of Europe’s elite joining the queue of potential suitors.
RWF: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Cristiano Ronaldo is a freak of nature. He is the complete athlete and continues to score ridiculous amounts of goals each year. He is the current Champions League top scorer with 12 goals, and has hit the back-of-the-net in La Liga on 34 occasions. He also added a further 10 assists in Spain, proving he is capable of creating goals too. This year Ronaldo has put to bed the myth that he doesn’t turn up in the big games, scoring important goals against both Barcelona and Manchester United. The debate between himself and Messi as to who is the greatest footballer in the world threatens to drag on for years to come, and we are loving every minute of it.
Sport Is Everything. Richard Barrett.