Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughEuropean Team of the year 2011/12 - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough European Team of the year 2011/12 - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

European Team of the year 2011/12

A selection of the best 11 players from the past 12 months.

Ter Stegen (Gladbach)
Hummels (DOR)           
Thiago Silva (ACM)
Alves (BAR)                                               
Chiellini (JUV)
Pirlo (JUV)        
Toure (MC)       
Xavi (BAR)
Messi (BAR)                               
Ronaldo (RM)
Van Persie (ARS)

While it seems perverse to have a German not called Neuer (who was my choice last year and this year has made the Champions League final) in goal, the 20 year old Marc-André ter Stegen has kept 15 clean sheets this year despite playing for Gladbach, a big reason why they’ve gone from relegation candidates to 4th place and have a better defensive record than Dortmund. According to WhoScored, he also has the most high claims, most accurate long balls and the third most saves from outside the box in the league. He’s a sweeper keeper with extraordinary technical ability, highlighted by the fact he had 71 touches, more than any other player, in Gladbach’s 3-1 win against European Cup finalists Bayern Munich.

In defence, it’s been a great year for Juventus’s back four. They only conceded 19 goals, fewer than any other team in any of the top divisions, in their unbeaten season. However, only Chiellini makes the grade here as Silva has been individually more impressive and more crucial to AC Milan than either of Juve’s centrebacks. For the second year in a row, Hummels partners him – he’s been part of the best centreback duo in the world again, and while Subotic hasn’t quite been as dominant as he was last season, Hummels has if anything been better, becoming Dortmund’s most accurate passer as well as tackler. His only rival in the division was Gladbach’s Dante.

Alves rounds off the “defence” because his attacking runs have helped make Messi more dangerous than ever this year, despite injury and tactical experimentation putting paid to Barcelona’s invincibility.

Xavi unsurprisingly retains his position as the world’s most feared passer of the ball, but the man he took the title from makes a surprise return at the age of 32. To put it in perspective, Ever Banega, Valencia’s 23 year old next big thing, has the same exact same combined averages for shots, key passes, tackles and interceptions per game as Pirlo, but Pirlo’s pass accuracy is significantly higher and has started almost twice as many games. He has more key passes a game than anyone else in the division and with 13 assists is the beating heart of the unbeaten champions. He has, amazingly, 3134 completed passes, more than anyone in Europe’s top 5 leagues (including Xavi) and 800 more than Lazio’s Cristian Ledesma, his nearest rival in Serie A. Basically he’s been everything people think Scholes has been for Man Utd, and more.

Joining them in midfield is the Premier League’s player of the season, Yaya Toure. Though lazy he can occasionally be, nobody has stepped up when it matters as much as Toure – he dominated Manchester United’s midfield in their key top of the table clash and then did the same the next week against Newcastle (scoring a brace in the process) to ensure City went into the last game of the season with one hand on the league trophy.

Van Persie pips Zlatan, on whom his team is at least as reliant, thanks to the quality and quantity of his strikes. Radamel Falcao maybe should be there (top scorer in UEFA Cup, including 2 in the final, top scorer who wasn’t Messi/Ronaldo in La Liga) but it’s been a season in which he has been routinely criticised, becoming a more isolated forward as his link-up and aerial play have been poor.

Cristiano Ronaldo, I would hope, speaks for himself. If not, 59 goals from 52 appearances, with 12 assists, plus his first La Liga title on top of that (scoring in the key final El Classico along the way), does the talking aptly. As brilliant a player as, say, Arjen Robben has been, Ronaldo’s feats this year once again seem to come from another era, that of Puskas or Eusebio.

You feel, though, as if this was his big chance to regain his throne as the world’s best player. Maybe a Champions League win would have done that. But in a year in which Barcelona (partially through injury and partially through tactical experimentation) have become more reliant on Lionel Messi than ever, the Argentine has again taken his game to the next level. Apart from an ineffective two weeks in which he struggled against Real Madrid in the league and Chelsea in the European Cup semi-final, Messi has been otherworldly again, with 77 goals and 21 assists from 56 games, dwarfing Ronaldo’s records. He’s also more crucial to his team: 44% of Barcelona’s league goals have been scored by Messi, compared with only 38% of Real Madrid’s having been scored by Ronaldo. He’s broken one of Gerd Muller’s records already, that of goals over a season, and unless Mario Gomez scores a hattrick in the Champions League final, he will equal Muller’s tally of top scoring in 4 separate European Cups.

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