European Team of the Season, 2013/14
The final post of a very enjoyable 2013/14 domestic campaign – the usual XI (and back-ups) of the season.
Thibaut Courtois, Atletico
It’s not often an on-loan player is the best in his role in Europe, but Courtois was sensational all season, even helping to eliminate his parent club on the way to the European Cup final. In an age where goalkeepers at big clubs are increasingly sweeping from their line and playing very proactively, Courtois (much like Atletico) bucked the trend. He was instead notable for his excellent reaction saves on his goalline and his command of the box when dealing with crosses. He barely made a mistake all season.
Philipp Lahm, Bayern
Pep Guardiola’s surprising decision to field Lahm as a holding midfielder means he didn’t play right-back as regularly as in previous campaigns, but it still seems his natural position, and his obvious role in this European XI. While he became more renowned for his short passing and positional discipline in the centre of the pitch, he remains an extremely useful outlet when playing in his traditional right-back role, forever bombing forward on the overlap and playing incisive, intelligent passes into attacking positions rather than crossing the ball blindly.
Mehdi Benatia, Roma
The defensive signing of the season. Benatia always looked promising at Udinese, often in a back three, but his true quality has become even more obvious since his move to Roma last summer. He’s simply a superb all-round centre-back – happy challenging in the air, comfortable moving out to the channels to close down opponents, and good at bringing the ball forward and starting attacks. His displays went a bit under the radar outside Italy, as Roma weren’t involved in European competition, but in Serie A he was extremely consistent.
Diego Godin, Atletico
Both he and Miranda were superb all season, but Godin gets the nod because of two factors. First, because he was a greater aerial presence at the back, arguably the most crucial feature of Atletico’s defensive play considering how deep they were usually positioned. Second, because he proved decisive at the other end too – his header at the Camp Nou effectively won La Liga, and his header in Lisbon very nearly won the European Cup.
David Alaba, Bayern
Like Lahm, he was sometimes fielded as a bizarre full-back-cum-central-midfielder by Pep Guardiola, and is entirely capable of playing both roles. A full-back with tremendous energy and stamina, but also great technical ability, ball retention skills and physical strength too. He’s also remarkably calm when challenging for the ball – he didn’t collect a single booking all season, an amazing record for a full-back.
Gabi is by far the least talented footballer in this starting XI, but in a sense he’s the player of the season. Not the actual player of the season, in terms of producing the best performances and the best moments, but the player of the season in terms of maximising his talent and leading his side. Some of his performances were incredibly strong – the way he overpowered Sergio Busquets in the European Cup quarter-final was particularly memorable. He was the symbol of Atletico, and the representation of Diego Simeone on the pitch – he won’t ever reproduce a campaign comparable to this one.
Arturo Vidal, Juventus
Visal is probably the best true all-rounder in world football. He’s capable of playing in every position and excels in almost every area of midfield play – scoring goals, playing incisive passes, getting around the pitch superbly, putting in thunderous tackles, challenging in the air, making unseen runs to support the centre-forwards. His penalty taking remains amongst the best around, too, and he was one of the few Juventus players who performed well in the Champions League too, despite their group stage elimination. Capable of playing for any club in the world.
In a team based around strength and physicality, Koke offered the most guile. He was capable of battling too, and got through his defensive work manfully, but his real quality was the manner he continually played dangerous through-balls in behind the opposition defence, usually for Diego Costa, and his ability to conduct the game from between the lines. There was a 15-minute spell in the Liga decider at the Camp Nou where he was magnificent, driving Atletico forward despite their loss of Costa and Arda Turan to injury, and this forced the pressure that resulted in their title-winning equaliser. 13 assists tells the story.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
17 goals in 11 Champions League matches is an absurd, unparalleled scoring record, while 31 goals in 30 Liga games is, amazingly, pretty much par for the course with Ronaldo. Sometimes he was unstoppable, with his hattrick away at Galatasaray a great example of his power and ruthlessness, while his two goals in Real’s astonishing 4-0 win at previous European Champions Bayern was a perfect display of counter-attacking.
Luis Suarez, Liverpool
His season ended in disappointment with question marks about his goalscoring record against top sides, but at times Suarez reached a level few players in Premier League history have matched. 31 in 33 matches was Suarez’s goalscoring record by the end of the campaign, and he was second in the league’s assist charts, too. In December he was simply ridiculous, scoring 10 goals and creating four more during a four-game period, the best spell enjoyed by any player in Europe this season.
Diego Costa, Atletico
His campaign ended in disappointment because of injury, but he did more than anyone else to make sure Atletico were in a position to challenge for two trophies. An absolute battering ram capable of running the channels and powering past centre-backs all match – his display in Atletico’s superb 1-0 win at the Bernabeu was evidence he’d become one of the best strikers in Europe. Had he played (the whole games) and scored in the title decider and European Cup final, he would be the player of the season.
Manuel Neuer, Bayern – didn’t star as much as Courtois, but then was involved far less
Juanfran, Atletico - aside from a nightmare in the final 15 minutes of the season, he was amazingly solid and made crucial overlapping runs, with his display at Stamford Bridge probably the best full-back performance of the campaign
Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid – solid at the back, decisive when going up for set-pieces, and always extremely composed on the ball
Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus - Juve have three top-class centre-backs, and it’s often difficult to choose between them, but Chiellini was probably the best this season
Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg - a never-ending stream of brilliant, whipped deliveries into the box
Yaya Toure, Manchester City - developed into a fine free-kick specialist, and scored some outrageous counter-attacking goals
Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla - dictated play and provide some wonderful through-balls. His performance in the Europa League final was superb, and against Real Madrid he produced the single best touch of a football Europe saw this season (3:20 below)
Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid – 22 assists. 22 assists! Sometimes played two positions simultaneously, was incredible in the 4-3 defeat to Barca (the two best individual displays of the season might have come in the same game) and was the best player in the European Cup final too
Marco Reus, Dortmund – his club might not have been as good as in 2012/13, but Reus was probably better in the absence of Mario Gotze
Lionel Messi, Barcelona - His worst campaign for years. And yet…36 goals in 36 games, plus 11 more assists. His display in the 4-3 victory at the Bernabeu in March was the individual performance of the season
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG – Ligue 1 top goalscorer for the second campaign running. This time by a margin of ten (!)goals
uEuropean Team of the Season, 2013/14