Guillem Balague: Team of the Year – Premier League & La Liga

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Of the 18 players picked for my Premier League/La Liga mixed team, no fewer than 13 of them come from the Premier League. “Quelle surprise,” as the French might say.

The reason is blisteringly simple. In the Premier League money is always going to attract the creme de la creme.

But perhaps more tellingly only one is actually English (Raheem Sterling) in what is a veritable United Nations of footballing excellence that sees players from Belgium (de Bruyne, Hazard), Spain (Silva, Alba, de Gea), France (Varane, Laporte, Kante), Germany (Sane), Croatia( Modric), The Netherlands (Van Dijk), Denmark (Eriksen), Brazil (Alisson), Argentina (Messi), Uruguay (Suarez), Egypt (Salah) and Gabon (Aubameyang).

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But if forced to pick my top five including one keeper, defender, midfielder and forward plus one for luck who would I go for?

Here are my five. Discuss. Seconds out, round one.

Goalkeeper – Alisson Becker – Liverpool (£1.82)

On current form almost certainly the best goalkeper in the world and unquestionably the main reason Liverpool’s name is in the hat for the last 16 of the Champions League after his last-gasp save against Napoli.

Jurgen Klopp said after the game: “If I knew Alisson was this good, I would have paid double. The save ‘Ali’ made, I have no words. It was a lifesaver. He did it. I never saw something similar.”

Former Roma goalkeeping coach Roberto Negrisolo says of him, “He is the number one of No.1s. He is the Messi of goalkeepers, because he has the same mentality as Messi. He is a goalkeeper who can define an era.”

Defender – Virgil Van Dijk – Liverpool (£3.39)

The most expensive defender in history (£75m), a price now regarded by many as a bargain.

This season no team in Europe have conceded fewer league goals than Liverpool, (six in 16, or .38 goals per game) something that sees them sit unbeaten at the top of the table, a point ahead of a rampant Manchester City side, and much of that is due to the uncompromising brilliance of the Dutch centre back.

In the 14 games with the Dutch captain in their back four last term, Liverpool conceded an average of 0.7 goals compared to the 1.2 they shipped in the 24 matches without him.

His greatest attributes are all about combining a colossus frame with superb defensive acumen, great skill with the ball on the ground and a huge seemingly unassailable presence in aerial battles.

Midfielder – David Silva – Manchester City (£3.24)

Pep Guardiola once said of Silva: “When I say I’m a lucky guy, it’s because I was with Xavi, Iniesta and now with Silva. All three are outstanding players.”

He now plays him in his favourite central midfield role:  “Pep Guardiola has put me in a position where my best qualities are most to the fore. There are subtle differences when you’re playing centrally, but that’s definitely the best place for me because I always love to have the ball.”

Silva has won just about everything in football apart from a club European trophy. Don’t bet against him breaking his duck in this year’s competition. It would be the perfect way for Merlin the magician from Gran Canaria to bring the curtain down on an illustrious career.

Forward – Leo Messi – Barcelona (£15.76)

In 2018 (up to November 28)  “the fifth best player in the world” made 44 league appearances for Barcelona when he scored 41 goals (three hat tricks), gave 19 assists in a record that brought 29 wins, 11 draws and just four defeats.

Last season his frequent use as the club’s perpetual “Get Out of Jail Free Card” meant that football’s Superman was frequently used to dig Barcelona  out of the ‘do-do’, something he did so effectively that the club went on to claim another La LIga title (his ninth) and another Copa del Rey (his sixth).

Now with the Christmas break looming this Barcelona side finds itself three points clear at the top of the table and with Messi’s beady gaze firmly focused on that Champions League trophy that he is so desperate to lift for the fifth time.

Not bad for the fifth best player in the world!

And my fifth choice is:

Defender – Aymeric Laporte – Manchester City (£3.24)

French coach Didier Deschamps must be the only man in the world that doesn’t think Aymeric Laporte is worth a call-up, never mind a starting place in the French national side.

One man who has no such reservations about playing him is his current coach Pep Guardiola and ironically one of the main reasons why Pep is so keen on playing him could well be because his lack of international games means he will always be fresher for his club.

The City boss is so keen on having a centre-back with a strong left foot and the purchase of Laporte for a club-record £57million gave him a bona fide central defender with that strength.

Add to that the fact he also has great quality on the ball which is essential for any central defender that wants to be part of Guardiola’s plans, is strong in the air and at just 24 is already being touted by some as arguably the best defender in the world.

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About Author

Guillem has written for major newspapers in Spain and England, featured as a pundit on Sky Sports and BBC, and co-wrote with Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, Brave New World: Inside Pochettino's Spurs. He has also written other award-winning books on Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi.

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