Over the weekend, following David Silva chipped in his latest goal for Manchester City, I found myself Tweeting whether he’s the most overlooked superstar in Premier League history.
After Monday’s unveiling of the FIFA Best XI at The Best awards ceremony, I started to wonder whether another Man City player deserves that title on a more short-term basis.
That was one issue with the XI, which was head-scratching at best. Yes, international play also plays into this, but 3.5 Real Madrid players on the team is an absolute joke (They were a mess, finished third in La Liga, and left the Champions League in the Round of 16 against Ajax).
And Eden Hazard over all Premier League attackers and the entire Bundesliga’s offensive force? He was great, but come on.
Here’s the team FIFA honored:
- Alisson Becker (BRA) – Liverpool
- Matthijs de Ligt (NED) – Ajax / Juventus
- Sergio Ramos (ESP) – Real Madrid
- Virgil Van Dijk (NED) – Liverpool
- Marcelo (BRA) – Real Madrid
- Luka Modric (CRO) – Real Madrid
- Frenkie de Jong (NED) – Ajax/Barcelona
- Eden Hazard (BEL) – Chelsea/ Real Madrid
- Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) – Juventus
- Kylian Mbappe (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain
- Lionel Messi (ARG) – Barcelona
Let’s go piece-by-piece and create an XI at the end.
The Trident plus One: Messi, Mbappe, Ronaldo, and Hazard
Maybe Man City and Liverpool fall victim to their own greatness, and the sheer challenge it is to find room for a fourth world class attacker in a Best XI which would be insane to ignore Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Cristiano Ronaldo for their on-field exploits.
But should we?
Let’s get two players out of the way immediately: Messi and Mbappe. Both were miles ahead of the competition as Nos. 1 and 2 last season. In comparable minutes, both outscored Ronaldo in league play by double-digit goals and Serie A
Both also had less productive tridents for most of last season (Neymar was out for most of PSG’s campaign, while Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho weren’t up to snuff alongside Messi and Suarez).
Anyway, that’s a bit of a digression.
Ronaldo’s good-enough season probably got him a career-achievement tiebreaker, and FIFA decided that Eden Hazard was an out-and-out midfielder in their team, so we’ll take some liberties in deciding whether he should’ve been a part of the team.
Should one of them, if not both, have been omitted? We’re here to say we’d like your chances of making the case. These are the league numbers for the four players we’re considering, leaving out Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for now.
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Of the four, only Lewandowski had better than a pedestrian group stage in Europe compared to top level peers. The big Polish striker scored eight times, more than the total goals and assists of the others (Hazard was injured for most of the group stage). But like his Bayern teammates, he was unable to score against Liverpool in the knockout rounds.
Sterling is the one we read as underrated for the season he had, with Leroy Sane off his game and Kevin De Bruyne injured for a lot of City’s season. If any City man deserves a shout at the XI, it’s him.
The numbers for Salah and Mane are about even with the group, and Liverpool fans will want to see the team be all-Liverpool given their strong PL season and UCL title, but in our books we want a little better representation. If you want one of them in the fray, we’re taking out Alisson and putting in Ederson.
Feel free to do that mentally when you read our XI, and we’ll be fine with it. Heck, maybe we’ll even do it.
The ‘Real’ problem
So we’ve covered one Real player in Hazard, who legit deserves a shout at the XI.
Sergio Ramos is great, Marcelo is probably the best left-sided non forward of his generation, and Luka Modric has the worst Ballon d’Or in history (N’Golo Kante was better that year, as were Messi and Ronaldo. Committee got cute).
But should even one Real Madrid player be on the FIFA Best XI for the season? I mean, maybe Marcelo if you want true left and right backs, but the team isn’t that with Marcelo and three center backs. But he played in just 23 league matches and Andrew Robertson (who may not make our list because of representation).
What is a true Best XI anyway? It’s supposed to be representative of the season, so Marcelo has to be out. Modric shouldn’t be in there either, but at least he played a ton if you need to appease Real supporters.
Ramos is an interesting one, especially because he was one of the best center backs in the world last season. But he wasn’t as good as De Ligt or Van Dijk. And if you’re going to a back three, which we might want to for our XI, then Aymeric Laporte was better on a better team. And Gerard Pique had a better season than Ramos, too, as Barca won its league and went further in the UCL.
Before we go any further, shout out to Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid. He’s incredible.
We’re keeping Alisson over Ederson, though that one is the one giving us the most pause. We’re removed Hazard for Kante to give our midfield a little beef.
The second most difficult decision was leaving out one of Salah, Hazard, and Sterling. There’s a UCL, UEL, and Premier League winner in there. And Sterling added two other domestic trophies.
We’re taking out Ronaldo in favor of Lewandowski, and admittedly the tiebreaker is because the latter has never won one, which is an absolutely travesty. Ronaldo also had his worst goals per game since he left Manchester United, and Serie A isn’t that far ahead of La Liga in goals-per-game.
What do you think?
De Ligt (NED/Ajax-Juventus)
Van Dijk (NED/Liverpool)
Laporte (FRA/Man City)
De Jong (NED/Ajax-Barcelona)
Sterling (ENG/Man City)