The 2011/2012 was an interesting season in the top 5 leagues in Europe. Manchester City fending off competition from their decorated neighbours, Manchester United to claim the English title for the first time in as many years did not really come as a surprise considering the amount of investment that Sheikh Mansour had made in the club. Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho could not clinch ‘La Decima’ Madridistas all around the world craved for but the La Liga trophy win was as important. Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund retained the Geman Bundesliga title they won last season with some breath-taking performances whilst in France, modest Montpeiller won their first championship in their history and in Italy, Juventus went unbeaten the whole season as they clinched their 28th Scudetto title. Some players in these clubs will obviously form the backbone of my top performers. They’ll line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
MARC-ANDRE ter STEGEN (Goalkeeper, Borussia Moenchengladbach): To say ter Stegen was one of the revelations of the German Bundesliga will be an understatement. The 20 year old German had been the star player for the reserve side of ‘Gladbach’ last season. His integration with the senior side began in the latter part of last season when first choice goalkeeper, Logan Bailly continuously let his team down. Ter Stegen began this season as the first choice goalkeeper and played in all 34 Bundesliga games keeping 15 clean sheets in the process. A ball playing goalkeeper, ter Stegen’s abilities include excellent ball distribution, accurate passing and also has specialties in handling long range shots. He’s the main reason why ‘Gladbach conceded just 24 goals last season whilst champions, Borussia Dortmund conceded 25 goals. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was linked to Barcelona as he has similar technical abilities to Victor Valdes and would suit Barcelona’s playing style. The young German is also in the preliminary German squad and could well be on the plane to Euro 2012.
LUKASZ PISZCZEK: (Right Back, Borussia Dortmund): Dortmund became the first team to win the German Bundesliga back-to-back since Bayern Munich repeated that feat in 1996 and Lukasz Piszczek played no small role in that achievement. The 26 year old Pole worked tirelessly down the right side of the pitch as he chipped in with 7 goals and 4 assists and linked up well with fellow countryman, Jakub Blaszczykowsi. The right back joined Borussia Dortmund from Hertha Berlin and Real Madrid have already inquired of his availability. Whether the big wigs at Borussia Dortmund would let their prized asset depart for the Bernabeu remains a subject of interest.
MARCELO: (Left Back, Real Madrid): Probably the best left back in the world and one of the most improved Real Madrid players in the last two seasons, Marcelo Vieria da Silva Junior couldn’t have been introduced in a better way. Many have drawn comparisons with his compatriot, Roberto Carlos who also strapped his boots for Real Madrid for some 11 years. A feature of his play is his daredevil runs into the opposition’s half whilst his link up play with Cristiano Ronaldo contributed to the Portuguese star scoring goals by the truckload. The diminutive Brazilian was forever roaming the left side of Madrid’s flank dribbling his way through opposition defence, playing incisive passes as well as shooting. In all competitions, Marcelo played 44 games, scoring 3 goals and providing 9 assists.
MATS HUMMELS (Centre Back, Borussia Dortmund): The centre back is only 23 years old but seems to be playing above his age. Mats Hummels was on the books of Bayern Munich for some time before they rejected him in 2009….but Borussia Dortmund accepted him. That was probably the greatest mistake Bayern Munich have ever made and the records are there to show how the Bavarian giants felt the full repercussions. The 23 year old versatile German took the league by storm by marshalling his defence men. Hummels, who helped Dortmund to complete an impressive double was ever ready to join and/or initiate attacks and was always found lurking in and around the opponent penalty area. The 1.91m tall defender reads the game well, has tactical awareness and is never rash in his tackles. In fact, he only committed 20 fouls all season long and got 1 yellow card, an impressive statistic for a centre back.
VINCENT KOMPANY: (Centre Back, Manchester City): You can call him the manager of the ‘Manchester City Defence Company’. The Mancunians won their first league title in as many years under the captaincy of a certain Vincent Kompany. The Belgian was colossal in City’s title bid and his dedication, hard work and determination was crowned with the Premiership title on the last match day as City came back from a goal deficit to win the title at the death against a stubborn Queens Park Rangers. Kompany was voted the Premier League Player of the Season and included in the PFA team of the year. In 31 Premiership games, the imposing centre back scored three goals whilst continually churned out man of the match performances. One of the highlights of his season was when he rose highest to nod home a David Silva cross in the Manchester derby. That goal invariably, won the Premier League title for City.
ANDREA PIRLO: (Central Midfield, Juventus): Finding words to describe Andrea Pirlo will be a Herculean task, trust me. Only last season, AC Milan wrote him off as ‘past his prime’ but the Italian International will help Juve past the Rosonerri a year later. One of the best registas (deep lying playmaker) in the world, Andrea Pirlo is one of a kind and his key attribute? PASSING!! Stationed in the centre of the pitch, it was as if the midfield general possessed a ‘Byakugan’ that enabled him survey the pitch before unleashing his killer passes and he could always anticipate the movement of his players. According to whoscored.com, Andrea Pirlo made the most passes (3196 passes), most key passes (125), most forward passes (1097), most assists in the Italian Serie A (13 assists), most big chances created (25), most key passes from set pieces (57), most long balls (414) amongst others. In short, the midfielder topped the Serie A charts for as many as 17 different statistics. From the foregoing, it’s obvious how important he was as Juventus won its 28th Scudetto, or should I say 30?
ARTURO VIDAL: (Central Defensive Midfielder, Juventus): In the Juventus brain and brawn midfield combo, Pirlo was the brain, Arturo Vidal, the brawn. The former Leverkusen midfielder completed his rookie season in the Italian Serie A with his reputation from the German Bundesliga intact. Making almost 5.5 tackles per game culminating in 178 perfectly timed tackles, it shows how well the combative midfielder was able to wrestle the ball off his opponents. His ability to break down opposition attacks also went unnoticed. Vidal also took time off his defensive work to weigh in some goals as he contributed 7 league goals. In his previous season at Leverkusen, the defensive midfielder scored 10 goals.
EDEN HAZARD: (Right Attacking Midfielder, Lille): If you have not seen Eden play, then let me give you just a gist of what the 21 year old is like. He has the pace and trickery of Cristiano Ronaldo and the technique and movement of Lionel Messi. I can therefore safely conclude that he’s a conglomeration of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Voted the best player in the French Ligue 1 for the second consecutive season last term, the flying winger who can also play as an attacking midfielder was a precious pearl for Rudi Garcia. 20 goals and 16 assists tell only half the story. He was the most fouled player in Europe’s top 5 leagues, being fouled 145 times and also won the most penalties in Europe (6). Eden who has always been a hazard for opposing defenders won nothing in terms of silverware to show for his hard work but a move to Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City or Real Madrid is definitely on the cards. Hazard, who can play on both wings has three top clubs at his disposal to choose from; Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. His Lille days are definitely over and a new challenge on a bigger platform beckons.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (Left Attacking Midfielder, Real Madrid): The Portuguese ace has vastly improved under Jose Mourinho’s tutelage. Ronaldo scored a record 40 goals in the La Liga to clinch the Pichichi trophy from his nemesis, Lionel Messi last term. This season, Ronaldo scored a whopping 46 goals from the left wing position. Ronaldo has improved one aspect of his game; providing the opportunity for others to score as he also contributed 12 assists in the La Liga. 10 goals in 10 Champions League games took Madrid to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second consecutive season. 60 goals in 55 matches was his total haul for the 2011/2012 season but an amazing 112 goals in 101 La Liga games since he joined Real Madrid is food for thought as he rivals for the umpteenth time, Lionel Messi, for the 2011/2012 FIFA Ballon d’or. In the just ended season, Ronaldo surprised his detractors by upping his performance in big games, most notably, scoring the winner against Barcelona at the Camp Nou (his third goal in three visits to Catalunya) that ultimately won Madrid the La Liga title. A back heel goal against a ‘stubborn’ Rayo Vallecano side gave Madrid a much needed 1-0 win away from the Bernabeu whilst a hat-trick against cross town rivals, Athletico Madrid confirmed his big game mentality. Ronaldo scored against all 19 opponents in the Spanish La Liga, a record.
LIONEL MESSI (Second Striker, Barcelona): I’ll definitely run out of superlatives if I were to fully describe Lionel Messi’s 2011/2012 season. The Argentine international was undoubtedly the star performer of a Barcelona team that underperformed according to their high standards. Messi’s supporting cast failed him and injuries to key players such as Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa and Xavi Hernandez meant that the Lilliputian had to weather the storm all by himself. Messi was employed as a false nine last season and he was always found in midfield weaving through tons of defenders, making defence-splitting passes and renowned for his knack of scoring all types of goals. An unprecedented 72 goals in all competitions (he still has the chance to score more as the Copa Del Rey finals is to be played tomorrow) including 50 goals and 16 assists in the La Liga and 14 goals in the UEFA Champions League helped him bag top scorer accolades in both competitions. The highlight of his season was when he scored five goals against Bayer 04 Leverkusen in aUEFA Champions League game at the Camp Nou. Missing crucial penalties against Chelsea in the Champions league and then against Sevilla in the La Liga may have cost Barca both titles but that is not enough to bastardise his perfect season. With the Spanish Super Cup, Club World Cup and European Super Cup medals already safe in his closet, Messi could crown his season with the Copa del Rey trophy tomorrow against Athletico Bilbao.
KLAAS-JAN HUNTELAAR (Centre Forward, Schalke 04): Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is a Dutch striker also known as “The Hunter” but I prefer to call him “The Hunter with a class”. Klaas is a typical centre forward (number 9) who is adept with both feet, very powerful in the air and has excellent off the ball movement as well as positioning. Highly technical but bereft of pace, the Dutchman leads the channel without much fuss and is arguably the best penalty box striker in modern football. My favourite football player in the world, Huntelaar was the key to securing Champions League football for Schalke next season as his remarkable 29 goals in 32 Bundesliga games propelled Schalke to an enviable 3rd place as he comfortably took home the German Bundesliga top scorer award. All his 29 strikes came from within the penalty box, a feat fellow Dutch striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy will be proud of. 14 goals in 12 Europa League games as well as 5 goals in 3 DFB Pokal games meant that his statistics for the season stood at 48 goals in 47 games, a tally only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi across the top five leagues in Europe.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS IN EACH POSITION: Manuel Neuer (Goalkeeper, Bayern Munich), Sergio Ramos (Right Back, Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (Left Back, Bayern Munich), Giorgio Chiellini (Centre Back, Juventus), Thiago Silva (Centre Back, AC Milan); Toni Kroos (Centre Midfielder, Bayern Munich), Xabi Alonso (Centre Midfielder, Real Madrid); Juan Mata (Left Attacking Midfielder, Chelsea), Younes Belhanda (Central Attacking Midfielder, Montpeiller), David Silva (Right Attacking Midfielder, Man. City); Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid)
So there you have it…..which player will you include in your European team of the season?