Barcelona dominates the 2015 World Best XI, the FC Yahoo version anyway
Spain – Sports
By Leander Schaerlaeckens
Dec 26, 2015
You will almost certainly disagree with it – absolutely disagree with it – but we have put together our first annual FC Yahoo World XI anyway. We tried to mix up our selections – truly, we did – but there was just no way around selecting five Barcelona players after their club won the treble an unprecedented second time in the 2014-15 season.
In fact, convincing arguments could have been made to include Barca’s Luis Suarez and Neymar as well, and perhaps even the underappreciated Ivan Rakitic. But then we didn’t allow ourselves to field more than three forwards, meaning we had to leave out some worthy names.
If we’d had our druthers, this team would probably have been set up in a 0-3-7. Because defending is for Communists and midfielding is for the indecisive. But we went with a 3-4-3 formation, in order to at least feign realism.
Happy Holidays. And thanks for reading this year.
And we look forward to your hate mail in the comments section.
David De Gea, Manchester United
“But what about Manuel Neuer?!” we hear you screaming through your wireless networks and dial-up connections. Yes, there’s little doubt that the German is in very select company among the world’s best goalkeepers, but as Bayern Munich goalkeeper, he just doesn’t have all that much to do. And just as an elite plumber who never gets called out to an emergency can’t distinguish himself, Neuer doesn’t get to flash his immense ability much.
De Gea was the best goalkeeper who actually had to do some goalkeeping. He was the Premier League’s Goalkeeper of the Year and, for the second year running, Manchester United’s Player of the Year. He was shortlisted for the Premier League Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. And after a late-summer move to Real Madrid collapsed, he was back to his points-saving self.
Gerard Pique, Barcelona
For all of Barcelona’s success over the past seven seasons and counting, there are actually few players who have been there for all of it. Pique has. He had only just returned from Manchester United in the summer of 2008 when Barca went on its dynastic run. And in the intervening years, he became its rock in central defense.
Still just 28, Mr. Shakira is one of the more complete central defenders in an era starved of them. And he delivered more of that in 2015, to say nothing of his career-high seven goals in 2014-15.
Javier Mascherano, Barcelona
It’s seldom flashy or pretty, but there are few central defenders who are as effective and efficient as Mascherano. Perhaps it’s because he – like Pique – was a holding midfielder originally, until he was converted at Barca, giving him the spatial awareness to anticipate where the play will go. How else to explain the dominance of a 5-foot-9 defender?
And dominate he did. Thanks in large part to his one-on-one defending, Barcelona conceded just 21 league goals over 38 games, eight fewer than any other team.
Dani Alves, Barcelona
For much of last summer, it looked like the foraging Brazilian wing back would be leaving Catalonia after he, like Pique arrived in 2008. But he finally got the big new contract he wanted, in spite of having just turned 32. So he continued being a menace when he advanced up the flank and a quietly competent defender when he didn’t.
He doesn’t toy with opposing wingers the way he once did, but thanks to his unshakable performances in the back, Alves did make La Liga’s Team of the Season for the first time.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
This is a tricky one, so bear with us. Hazard was the Premier League Player of the year and a big part of the reason Chelsea won the league. But in the second part of the year, as the new season began, his form totally collapsed.
Curiously, he appears to have been one of the drivers in the ouster of manager Jose Mourinho, even though the Belgian wizard thrived under the Portuguese. If Stamford Bridge were Westeros, they’d be referring to Hazard as “Kingslayer.” Still, we can’t overlook his scintillating form in the first half of the year. Or his six goals in eight games for Belgium, five of which came during Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Paul Pogba, Juventus
Any manager who spends a long time in charge of major clubs is bound to make some big mistakes in the transfer market. But perhaps none have loomed so large lately as Sir Alex Ferguson’s refusal to give Pogba the big contract he was demanding before he’d established himself in the first team. SAF’s fiscal caution was understandable, but after walking out of Old Trafford for free and signing with Juve, Pogba became one of Europe’s best central midfielders in pretty short order – at a time when United has struggled to properly staff those positions.
In 2015, Pogba led Juve to his third straight Serie A title and a dream run to the Champions League final. He was so good, in fact, that there was talk that United would try to bring him back for something close to a world record transfer fee.
Arturo Vidal, Juventus/Bayern Munich
Pogba’s midfield partner had a year for the ages. One of the game’s foremost box-to-box midfielders not only won a fourth Serie A title and got to the Champions League summit, but he also led Chile to its first ever Copa America title, on home soil no less. He was arrested for drunkenly crashing his Ferrari in the middle of that tournament – for which he was banned from driving for two years yet somehow not from soccer – but became a national hero nonetheless. He was the man of the match in the final against Argentina, which the Chileans won on penalties.
Then, last summer, he earned a massive transfer to Bayern, where he immediately made an impact as well.
Andres Iniesta, Barcelona
The Illusionist was never underappreciated at Barca, exactly. From 2010 through 2012, he was voted into the FIFA Ballon d’Or top four each year. And he scored a World Cup-winning goal once. Besides, without putting up the gaudy stats of some of his colleagues, he’s managed to win the Champions League four times, the World Cup once, the Euro twice, the Club World Cup thrice and La Liga seven times.
But with the Xavi era officially over at the Camp Nou, the onus is on Iniesta more than ever to create the chances that allow Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar to hog the headlines. And in the last year, he did that with as much aplomb as ever. To illustrate his dominance, fans of mortal enemies Real Madrid applauded him after masterminding a 4-0 away win at the Bernabeu, just the third recorded time a Catalan opponent got an ovation.
Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Did Lionel Messi things. Won the treble. Bagged no fewer than 51 goals for club and country, along with 26 assists, for the calendar year, in spite of a knee injury that cost him two months. Took Argentina to the final of a major tournament for a second straight summer. You know the drill.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldoed extra hard. Collected 55 goals and 17 assists for Portugal and Real. Blah blah blah.
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
On Sept. 22, Lewie came on as a substitute while Bayern was behind to Wolfsburg and proceeded to score five times in 8 minutes and 59 seconds, setting four Guinness World Records. Before the week was out, he’d scored five more goals with a brace in the league and a hat trick in the Champions League.
It was hardly a fluke. Bobby Five Goals has slowly evolved into one of the best pure strikers in the game. And in 2015, he was transcendent. He won the Bundesliga, coming second in the league in goals, and led Poland to Euro 2016, a campaign during which he scored an unmatched 13 goals and was named the best player in qualifying.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.