SB Nation

Kim McCauley | September 25, 2014

The SB Nation XI

A world XI ... that could actually play together

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Best XIs are released by various publications and football governing bodies on a regular basis with little thought put into them. They're just a grouping of impressive names. We've set out to do something a bit different.

When selecting this team, we wanted to put one together that was balanced, and that could theoretically play well together. Often, players are lumped into simple defense, midfield and forward categories for best XI voting, the players with the most votes get thrown in and they look absolutely nothing like a real team. This could be a real team.

We started by deciding on the players who must be included no matter what. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were easy selections. The other agreed upon locks for the side were Philipp Lahm, Vincent Kompany and Arturo Vidal. From there, we set out to build aside around those players. The other picks were made to complement them, and the end result is a best XI that doesn't ignore players who don't play flashy roles.

  1. GKT.hibaut Courtois+

    The debate over a goalkeeper came down to Thibaut Courtois or Manuel Neuer, and Courtois was simply a better fit for this team. Neuer would be best for a team playing with a very high line and extremely attacking midfielders, but no sane manager would do such a thing with this group of players.

    While Courtois can't get off his line and make spectacular clearances like Neuer, he is probably the best in the world at cutting out aerial set pieces and crosses. He's also comparable to Neuer as a shot-stopper, and among the best in the world in that department.

    His backup at Chelsea, Petr Cech, is arguably a top-10 goalkeeper in the world. That the 22-year-old Courtois quickly unseated him at Chelsea is nothing short of astonishing. He's been one of the world's best with Atlético Madrid over the last three seasons, he's off to a brilliant start with Chelsea, and he's only going to get better as he gains more experience. It's not hyperbolic at all to say that Courtois could become one of the best goalkeepers that the world has ever seen.

  2. LBD.avid Alaba+
    Bayern Munich

    This is the first of two cases in which we will be ignoring the ridiculous world of Pep Guardiola, in which players are thrown into strange positions they're not suited for because he likes tinkering for absolutely no reason. Even though David Alaba has played quite a bit of central midfield in his career and is getting a chance to do it again this season, his best position is left back, and he's the best in the world in that role.

    There are better defensive left backs in the world than Alaba, but he's a better defender than all of the other elite attacking left backs. He's bigger, stronger, faster and a better tackler than similar players like Jordi Alba and Leighton Baines, and he's excellent in possession, which is probably why Pep is trying him out in the center.

    Much like Courtois, Alaba still has lots of room to grow, and might be considered one of the best in history at his position if he continues to progress at the rate he has over the last five years. He has no holes in his game, and he's consistently getting smarter and more versatile.

  3. CBThiago Silva+

    A handful of average games and a disastrous World Cup 3rd place match doesn't change the fact that Thiago Silva has consistently been one of the world's best central defenders for half a decade. It says quite a bit that Brazil were rock solid defensively until the World Cup semifinal, then conceded seven goals when he was suspended against Germany.

    Silva's move from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain hasn't done great things for his visibility to the greater public, but he's been an absolute rock at the back for PSG since joining, and has arguably been Brazil's best player since he became a nailed-on starter. He's kept his place with the Selecao through multiple managers, and he should be key for them again at the Copa America in 2015.

    While Silva might not be the best defender in the world in any one area, he's probably the only one that has no noticeable deficiencies. He's good enough in the air that no one notices he's only 6'0", he's very quick for being as well-built as he is, and he's extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet. He makes the perfect compliment for any style of defender, from some of the painfully slow but intelligent center backs he partnered in Milan to the extremely athletic and erratic David Luiz.

  4. CBV.incent Kompany+
    Man City

    Vincent Kompany had a minor down year in City's 2013-14 campaign, but if the World Cup and the start of the Premier League season are anything to go on, he's all the way back from what might have hindered him last season. The Manchester City captain is looking every bit the part of the leader of one of the world's best teams, and has been in the best form of his life over the last few weeks.

    When Kompany arrived in 2008, he was one of the lower profile signings in City's original spending spree. At £6m, the then-22-year-old was thought to be one of the world's best up and coming defenders and a very sensible signing for the future. He's panned out better than anyone could have reasonably hoped for and just as much to do with City becoming a legitimate power in world football as anyone else in the team, despite his less than flashy position.

    While Kompany, like Silva, has an extremely balanced game, he's also different enough that they should make a perfect partnership. He's a bit better in the air and more physical than his best XI mate, but not quite as quick in the turn or accomplished as a passer. And since neither has ever played with anyone nearly as good as the other, it would certainly be interesting to see how dominant they'd look next to each other.

  5. RBP.hilipp Lahm+
    Bayern Munich

    Joining David Alaba in the Completely Misused By Pep Guardiola Club, Lahm slots in as our starting right back. Even though he won't play the position much at all for Bayern this season -- he wasn't even there when Rafinha was out injured -- he is still a true right back and was played in that role during the knockout stage of the World Cup.

    Germany didn't look like serious World Cup contenders before Joachim Löw moved his best player into his best position. Die Mannschaft went on to lift the World Cup. This isn't a coincidence.

    As a midfielder, Lahm has some pretty clear weaknesses, but as a right back he has none. His ability to keep the ball is basically unparalleled, while his positioning and tackling are better than any attack-minded fullback in the world. His decision-making and ability to spot what attackers are going to do before they actually do it set him apart from the pack. We're happy to save him and Alaba from Guardiola's perversions.

  6. CMN.emanja Matic+

    Instead of partnering Vidal with a deep-lying playmaker and another box-to-box player like Juventus do, we've decided to pair him with a more defensive midfielder and an advanced playmaker. The man doing a bit more holding work than Vidal will be Nemanja Matic, who has blossomed into arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world over the last year.

    Sergio Busquets is a pretty specific single pivot player, while Javi Martinez has taken a step backwards due to injuries and Guardiola's tinkering. That hands the crown for best defensive double pivot player in the world to Matic, who's come out of relative obscurity to become a star.

    Once a throwaway piece in the David Luiz deal, Matic was a solid Chelsea prospect, but not one they thought enough of to keep around. He became the best defensive midfielder in Portugal during his time at Benfica, was brought back, and was arguably Chelsea's best player during the second half of last season. He's an incredible athletic ball-winner, and just a generally terrifying human being.

  7. CMA.rturo Vidal+

    Arturo Vidal might not be recognized as being in the same class as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but he is the world's most complete central midfielder. For that reason, he was a lock for our team. Vidal has played everywhere on the pitch, from attacking midfield back to central defense, in extremely attacking and defensive systems, and in teams that play with a back three and back four. He can be thrown into any team, in just about any position, and improve that team significantly.

    He started his career as a defensive midfielder, and as Bayer Leverkusen moved him farther up the pitch, he became a central defender for Chile. More recently, he's been a box-to-box midfielder for both Juventus and his national team, and the key player for both. For Juventus, his ability to both break up play and score goals allows Andrea Pirlo to sit back and create, while Chile use that ability to play an all-out attacking style.

    Surrounded by a destroyer and a more advanced playmaker, Vidal would have the freedom to do just about anything he wants in this team, and that would probably lead to him scoring a lot of goals.

  8. LFC.ristiano Ronaldo+
    Real Madrid

    While an injury and a group of death kept Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal from performing at their best during the World Cup, there's no doubt that Ronaldo has been the world's best club player for the last year. After resting that injury that he was playing with during the World Cup, Ronaldo has picked up where he left off at the end of last season by scoring 12 goals in his first eight games of the 2014-15 campaign.

    Even though injuries limited Ronaldo to just 47 appearances last year, he scored 51 goals, including an absolutely absurd 17 in the UEFA Champions League. With the way he's started this season, he looks well on his way to beating Messi to the Ballon d'Or, which would make it three times he's been named the world's best player to Messi's four.

    While Messi is certainly the best in the world at what he does -- he's more of a creative dribbler and playmaker than his rival at Madrid -- Ronaldo is the most well-balanced attacking player the world has ever seen. His ability to play any position, in any formation, and his athleticism have made him a legend.

  9. AMT.oni Kroos+
    Real Madrid

    Much like Alaba and Lahm, Toni Kroos has been pulled out of his best position recently. However, at Real Madrid, he's not playing as a holding midfielder because Carlo Ancelotti has strange ideas about how football works. Instead, he's doing it because owner Florentino Perez doesn't really care for midfielders and thinks he can sell all of his to buy attackers. This means that Ancelotti often has to play a three-man center with a trio of former No. 10s, one of which is Kroos.

    It's strange, since Perez has obviously seen what Kroos can do from an attacking midfield position. In the 2011-12 Champions League semifinal, Kroos was the man of the match for Bayern Munich in the second leg of their tie with Madrid, and was truly impossible for Los Merengues to get the ball off of.

    As an attacking midfielder, Kroos brings a bit of everything, which is probably why he's done a good job adapting to a deeper role. His defensive work rate from the position is well above average, he's not a bad goal-scorer, he can pick out a pass and he's better at keeping possession than just about anyone in the world. Whatever the game situation is, Kroos can be the type of player that his team needs.

  10. RFG.areth Bale+
    Real Madrid

    Along with Nemanja Matic and Thibaut Courtois, Gareth Bale was up against some formidable competition for his spot in this best XI, and was ultimately chosen because of how he would fit with the players around him. He's played more as a winger than Luis Suarez and puts in more defensive work than Neymar or Eden Hazard, and for that reason, he edges out those comparably talented players.

    Bale actually started his career as an attacking left back for Southampton, but he quickly became known more for his free kicks than his defending. After a rocky start to his career at Tottenham Hotspur, managers Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas recognized his talent, moved him into attacking roles, and gradually gave him more creative freedom. That led to his transfer to Real Madrid for a world record fee.

    In scoring 22 goals for Madrid and helping to deliver both the Copa del Rey and La Decima -- he scored the game-winning goal in both big finals -- Perez will be thrilled with his decision to throw down a seemingly absurd amount of money on the Welshman. He's on pace to score even more goals this season, having netted five times already, and his chemistry with another member of our forward trio should help out this theoretical team quite a bit.

  11. CFL.ionel Messi+

    He's one of the best two players in the world and of his generation. By the time Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are done, they'll have every European and La Liga scoring record between them and might be widely considered to be the two greatest players to ever play the game. Conveniently, one of them is at his best up top, while the other is best on the left wing, so one never has to be left out for the other to make a sensible best XI.

    In what many considered to be a slightly down year for Messi, he scored 41 goals in all competitions, finished as a runner-up in the World Cup and won the World Cup Golden Ball. He was given a much needed rest after the World Cup, and is looking healthier at the moment than he has over much of the last two seasons. It wouldn't be shocking to see Messi return to the kind of form where he scores more than a goal a game, even with Neymar and Suarez alongside him.

    This team should be sufficiently terrifying with Messi dropping deep as a false nine, vacating space for Ronaldo and Bale to run into. He's just as much of a playmaker as he is a goal-scorer, making him the perfect fit for modern variations of the 4-3-3 formation and an absolute nightmare for anyone to defend.


About the Author

The best thing about soccer is that there's always a game on somewhere in the world. Unless you like sleep. Then that's the worst thing about soccer.

My favorite game of all time is the second leg of the 2011 Copa Libertadores Round of 16 tie between Junior Atletico and Jaguares de Chiapas.

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