European Team of the Season, 2012/13

June 12, 2013

That time of the year again.

Minimal explanation needed, although the list places a strong emphasis upon performances in big matches: key domestic games, and European Cup knockout games.

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Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich

Neuer played behind an excellent defence, and in a side that retained possession brilliantly for the majority of the campaign. That certainly helped the German record some incredible statistics in 2012/13 – he conceded just 18 goals in 31 league appearances, and kept clean sheets twice against Juventus, the Italian champions, twice against Barcelona, the Spanish champions. Whenever called upon he made fine saves, while his distribution was consistently impressive too.

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Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich

Bayern’s skipper is equally comfortable on either flank, a surprisingly rare feature of a modern day full-back. Whereas other players in his position are all about stamina and pace, Lahm combines those attributes with excellent all-round technical ability – he recorded the fourth-best pass completion rate in the Bundesliga this season, and amazingly for a full-back, finished second in the Bundesliga assist table, behind Franck Ribery.

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Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus

You could put Chiellini’s centre-back colleague Andrea Barzagli in this side ahead of Chiellini. Barzagli played more matches, but Chiellini deserves the nod for his brilliant performance against Edinson Cavani in Juventus’ draw at Napoli. Making his return from injury, Chiellini headed in the opener, and then consistently got the better of Cavani, Serie A’s best striker, at the other end. It was an ultra-physical contest, and Cavani was so outfought that he resorted to a nasty elbow on Chiellini towards the end of the first half. Juventus stood strong as Napoli rallied late on – in the pivotal game of the Serie A season, Chiellini was magnificent.

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Dante, Bayern Munich

The Brazilian centre-back made a mistake in the European Cup final, conceding the penalty to allow Dortmund back into the game – but over the course of the season he proved to be, arguably, Europe’s best signing. He’s comfortable defending on the floor and in the air (in the Champions League he finished with an astonishing 84% success rate in aerial duels) and also brought the ball out of defence calmly and efficiently. Daniel van Buyten, Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber all had spells alongside him, but Dante was a constant force.

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Jordi Alba, Barcelona

Since the current Barcelona era started, the side often lacked a true attacking force from left-back. Alba, who featured in this side last year, was the obvious solution following his good spell at Valencia, and then his brilliant impact at Euro 2012, and he continued that form into this campaign. Like Lahm, he mixes great energy with a consistent end product, while his defending has improved and he’s better aerially than you’d expect for a player only 5′7 tall. Again Milan he was brilliant, told to play in a strict defensive role, almost as a third centre-back, for the majority of the game – but he still burst forward to seal the victory in stoppage time.

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Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich

Eyebrows were raised when Bayern paid €40m to activate Martinez’s release clause last summer, but he proved to be an inspirational signing. He’s yet another technically gifted Spanish midfielder, but Martinez is more of an all-rounder than many of his compatriots, which was most obvious in the astonishing 4-0 victory over Barcelona. Martinez disrupted Barcelona’s tiki-taka and stormed forward into attack – he was the key player in the season’s most historic result. He represents Bayern’s versatility – destructive when needed, creative when needed, understated when needed. He can do almost anything in midfield, deputise at the back, and scored his first Bayern goal with a bicycle kick.

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Arturo Vidal, Juventus

After a period where pure passers reigned in the centre of the pitch, the inclusion of both Martinez and Vidal in this side demonstrates that there’s been a shift towards more physical, combative players that are also capable of technical brilliance. Vidal could be the best all-rounder in European football – he’s an amazingly complete footballer impossible to miss because of his sheer energy, but has become even more efficient with his play in the final third, collecting eight assists and ten goals. And while many of those goals have been penalties, Vidal even makes spot-kicks look wonderful.

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Juan Mata, Chelsea

While Gareth Bale sacrificed his creative side to become a pure goalscorer (four assists but an amazing 21 goals), Mata’s performance was perfectly balanced – twelve assists, twelve goals. Mata’s positional sense is outstanding – see his drop into a deeper position to provide the pass for Demba Ba against Manchester United – he’s one of those rare creative players that appears to instinctively understand the tactical situation in a game, and position himself accordingly. He combines reliable ball retention with an amazing efficiency in the final third, orchestrating games from the midfield but popping up in the box to provide finishes too. He’s not just one of the best players in the Premier League at the moment, but possibly the best player in his position the division has ever seen.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Miles behind Barcelona in the league, eliminated in the Champions League semi-final again, and then embarrassingly defeated by rivals Atletico on home soil in the Copa del Rey, with Ronaldo sent off – it was hardly the Portuguese forward’s most memorable campaign. Yet his statistics continue to astound – this must be the most literal ‘goal a game’ season in history: 34 in 34 in La Liga, 7 in 7 in the Copa del Rey, 12 in 12 in the Champions League, 2 in 2 in the Supercopa. That’s 55 in 55 overall. Don’t forget how he inspired Real to a brilliant counter-attacking victory in the cup against Barcelona at the Nou Camp – his performances in big games were once questioned, but he’s now scored away at Barcelona six times in a row.

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Lionel Messi, Barcelona

On March 30th, Messi scored Barcelona’s second goal at Celta Vigo – it meant he’d scored in 19 consecutive league games, against every other opponent in the division, in succession. It’s such a ludicrous record that no-one had really ever contemplated this might happen, but Messi’s goalscoring has become so regular that it’s almost not a surprise. Messi’s genius, of course, is that he’s so much more than a goalscorer – he’s a great creator too, and a world-class passer, dribbler and finisher combined. Rare fitness problems caused him trouble in the Champions League knockout stage, but he remains the best player around.

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Robert Lewandowski, Dortmund

No trophies for the first time since he joined Dortmund, but another outstanding season. 24 goals in 31 games is the headline figure, but Lewandowski also improved his all-round game, dropping deep in matches when Dortmund were struggling to work the ball forward, dragging defenders out of position and allowing Mario Gotze and Marco Reus to sprint in behind. His display in the 4-1 win over Real Madrid was the individual performance of the campaign – he barely even had four chances, but instead converted quarter-chances in tight situations where he was surrounded by defenders, into game-changing monents.

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Substitutes:

Thibaut Courtois, Atletico

A second outstanding season on loan at Atletico – his performance in the Copa del Rey final victory was particularly special.

Daniel Carvajal, Leverkusen

Consistently brilliant attacking performances from right-back – he recorded seven assists in 34 games. Real Madrid have already re-signed him for next season.

Thiago Silva, PSG

A season disrupted by injuries – but when fit, Silva remains the best centre-back in the world, and is pretty handy at the other end, too.

Andrea Barzagli, Juventus

When Chiellini was absent through injury, Barzagli’s quality became even more obvious – he’s an extremely solid centre-back.

David Alaba, Bayern Munich

Featured more often as a central midfielder in 2011/12, but now is close to overthrowing Alba as Europe’s best left-back.

Sergio Busquets, Barcelona

Remains an extremely consistent player defensively and a reliable distributor of the ball – his importance has increased as Xavi Hernandez’s influence upon big games has declined.

Ilkay Gundogan, Dortmund

Stepped up to become one of Europe’s best all-round midfielders – his performances in the Champions League against Malaga and Real Madrid were particularly impressive.

Gareth Bale, Tottenham

His varied positioning was much more successful than in the previous season, and he provided a succession of unbelievable long-range strikes.

Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich

Pivotal in Bayern’s brilliant counter-attacking against Barcelona, and in the league provided 10 goals and 14 assists in just 24 starts.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG

Yet another league title, and 30 goals in his debut Ligue 1 season. A prolific penalty box poacher in the league, a cleverer, more varied link-up man in Europe.

Mario Mandzukic, Bayern

An inspired signing – his goalscoring record has been impressive, but his all-round contribution – his battling in the air, his pressing from the front, his determination to get back and make his side compact – is almost unprecedented.

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Honourable mentions:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon, David De Gea, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Federico Marchetti, Hugo Lloris.

Defenders: Inigo Martinez, Raphael Varane, Pablo Zabaleta, Mats Hummels, Jan Vertonghen, Leighton Baines, Hugo Campagnaro, Rio Ferdinand, Carlos Martinez

Central midfielders: Michael Carrick, Riccardo Montolivo, Blaise Matuidi, Joao Moutinho, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andrea Pirlo, Jeremy Toulalan, Sami Khedira, David Pizarro, Marouane Fellaini, Etienne Capoue.

Creative midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Mesut Ozil, Isco, Borja Valero, Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Santi Cazorla, Marek Hamsik, Mathieu Valbuena, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller.

Forwards: Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Alvaro Negredo, Michu, Luis Suarez, Roberto Soldado, Stefan Kiessling, Francesco Totti, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubamyang, Christian Benteke, Stephan El Shaarawy, Lima, Wilfried Bony.


European Team of the Season, 2012/13

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