World Soccer Draft 2011: The Squads, Part I

Welcome to the second part of our World Soccer Draft – the squads! Today, we look at the starting XIs of the first two drafters to select, Wesley Pickard and Eric Betts. Each writer will provide his formation and a summary of why he believes his team is the best of the bunch.

Wesley Pickard

Formation: 4-3-3

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Picks (in order): Leo Messi (#1), Cesc Fabregas (#16), Gonzalo Higuain (#17), Thomas Muller (#32), Michael Essien (#33), Nuri Sahin (#48), Juan (#49), Bruno Alves (#64), Ashley Cole (#65), Branislav Ivanovic (#80), Julio Cesar (#81), Didier Drogba (#96), Mario Gotze (#97), Simon Kjaer (#112)

Subs: Juan, Drogba, Goetze

1) How did it go, overall? In other words, are you happy with your team, did you mess up any picks?

I’m happy overall with my team. A lot of the other drafters moaned when I picked Juan and Julio Cesar, but I’m confident that Cesar at least will rebound after a less than stellar year with Inter to be a great keeper next season, and Juan has been a constant member of the Brazilian national team. Plus I got a lot of value with Kjaer as a late pick. Even though you might not watch him all the time at Wolfsburg, he’s a fine player and would work very well in this side.

2) Were there any draft picks you prioritized that you didn’t end up getting?

Not really. How I did my rankings was by selecting the formation first (Barca 4-3-3) and then ranking players by roles on the team. The best players to play a Barca 4-3-3 are the players Barca have now. Of those, I got only Messi and Fabregas, but they’ll do just fine. I would have liked to have a bit stronger defense (and Luka Modric), but other than that, I’m cool with most my picks.

3) Be honest. What’s the biggest weakness of your squad?

I suppose its defense and keeper. My forwards are very strong (provided Higuain gets time with Madrid next season), and my midfield is stellar. In defense, I have two aging (OK, Ivanovic is 27, but…) Chelsea players as fullbacks who should have good seasons (let’s hope), and a great CB and two pretty good ones. I feel like it’d be fine, but Kjaer’s youth and relative inexperience on the grand stage might lead to flubbing easy situations.

4) What are the highlights of your squad?

Messi. Messi. Messi. I have the best player in the world on my squad, in a system he’s scored like a million goals in. The players around him are good enough so that he’d still get plenty of chances. He has a very capable manager in Pep who’s a proven winner. My team will score  goals, that I’m not worried about. Also, a midfield of two ridiculously creative players in Fabregas and Sahin plus a great ball-winner with no small shot on him in Essien equals midfield dominance in any but the most populated midfields. I set out to make a squad that could dominate like Barca does now. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.

5)  In 25 words, summarize why your World XI is the best around.

Well I sort of just did that, but, to be honest, I don’t think any other team has my team’s potent combination of creativity, goal scoring menace, and a system which promotes it so effectively. That and a defense, which, let’s be honest, is no pushover. Especially considering how well my team will retain the ball (the passing statistics for Sahin, Fab, and Essien are fantastic), I’m not too worried about it. Only time will tell with Cesar, but I think he’ll be fine this season. Oh, and let’s not forget I have a still very dominant Drogba and a sharp young midfielder in Goetze coming off the bench in late game situations. I know there are some strong teams out there, but on paper, my team should be the best World XI.

Eric Betts

Formation: 4-3-1-2

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Picks (in order): Xavi (#2), Dani Alves (#15), Alexis Sanchez (#18), Hulk (#31), David Villa (#34), Fabio Coentrao (#47), Mats Hummels (#50), Vincent Kompany (#63), Alex Song (#66), Arturo Vidal (#79), Ibrahim Afellay (#82), Ricardo Carvalho (#95), Hugo Lloris (#98), Giuseppi Rossi (#111)

Subs: Afellay, Carvalho, Rossi

1) How did it go, overall? In other words, are you happy with your team, did you mess up any picks?

I’m quite pleased with my team — when I realized I had the second pick and thus was going to get Xavi, I tried to build a team to take advantage of him, one that could attack from every angle if only they had the ball delivered to them. See below.

2) Were there any draft picks you prioritized that you didn’t end up getting?

I would have loved to get Samuel Eto’o to play where I have David Villa on the squad, but I never would have guessed he’d go quite as early as he did (Not a criticism, I just thought he’d at least survive the first two rounds.) Eto’o could function much as Villa does, but is a little more direct, a little more forceful. It would have been fun imagining what opposing centerbacks would do facing a line of he and Hulk. But since I got Villa as late as I did, I really can’t complain.

3) Be honest. What’s the biggest weakness of your squad?

Alex Song. I should have grabbed Busquets in the third round, but Sanchez fit into the system I was putting into place around Xavi, and since this was his big break out season I honestly had no idea where he would go. Judging by how far Ozil fell, I think I could have waited a little longer.

4) What are the highlights of your squad?

 I have the best outside back pairing of any squad, an attacking trident that fits my needs perfectly (see below), a central defensive duo that’s going to get better in the next year rather than worse, and the world’s best passer. As I said before, I’m quite pleased.

5)  In 25 words, summarize why your World XI is the best around.

Twenty-five words? Try 749.

Here’s a secret for you: I actually hate 4-3-1-2. It’s my least favorite formation. It’s the one Zonal Marking always points out because it doesn’t work. It lacks width, for one, and the offense is too easy to stifle because it tends to flow through the 1. Shutting him down, the conventional wisdom goes, shuts the whole offense down.

 This team is my attempt at reclaiming it, like I’m an Iron Chef cooking meatloaf or something with Spam. I wanted to build a team that would take those weaknesses and turn them on their head.

That starts with the front three. Villa and Hulk are both center forwards converted to inverted wingers by their current club team (Hulk a little longer ago, yes). We’re moving them back into the center, but not as typical center forwards. They’ll each have license to move to the flanks to pick up the ball out wide or to exploit the space left by opposing fullbacks bombing forward. Even with the lack of a traditional number nine, we shouldn’t have trouble scoring; Hulk netted 24 last year in the league; Villa,18.

The same will be true of Sanchez, a wide player converted to a central role last season. His strength when he was with Udinese was that he wasn’t a static Number 10 — he would drop deep or move out to the flanks to find space and receive the ball. He’ll do that here too. Defensive midfielders will have a choice – follow him out wide or pass the responsibility on to the next person. That gives us the option of overloading one side of the defense — imagine a left back trying to deal with Hulk, Sanchez and Alves all moving through their zone in quick succession. When help comes for him from the center, the defense will be opened up to Vidal’s late runs into the box or Villa cutting sideways across the last defender.

It’s an offense built on perpetual motion, at tugging the defense a little bit at a time this way and that until they’re stretched too thin to be effective. We’ll charge Xavi with finding those points where we can break through, with delivering the ball on the money to our players whether they’re cutting outside or inside or dropping deep or blowing by the last defender. On a team of superstars, his presence isn’t merely additive, it’s multiplicative. He makes everyone else around him better. And he prevents the 1 link in our formation from being a chokepoint. Opposing teams trying to shut down our playmakers will have to follow Xavi deep and Sanchez wide, leaving room in front of the defense for all-action Vidal to push up or Hulk to drop deep where he can unleash a shot from long range.

As with most 4-3-1-2’s, our fullbacks will be relied upon to provide width. Alves and Coentrao give me a better fullback pairing than any team on earth has right now, so I’m not worried about that area. When they move forward, Song has the height and strength to drop deep and serve as an auxiliary center back, while Vidal has the defensive chops to track midfield players attempting to get free in that zone. In center defense, Hummels and Kompany are a young pairing, but both have exceeded all expectations (and, arguably, what we thought was their potential) this season. The easiest way to sum up how good this pairing is? Both have been part of nearly every “Team of the season” for their respected leagues, and were two of ZM’s top four European defenders. (Thiago Silva and Vidic were the other two).

Song’s not a distributor in the way Busquets is for Barcelona, but that problem’s alleviated by having both Vidal, who’s good on the ball, and Xavi, who proved he could drop deeper than usual in the Champions League final and be no less effective, as part of the midfield three.

As far as substitutes are concerned, Afellay’s versatility makes him valuable here — he can play either outside if we decide we need to swap to a 4-2-1-3, inside in the Sanchez role, or further back in the midfield, where he often played for PSV before his move to Barcelona. Rossi is a center forward whose name this season nearly always comes with a “wonderful movement” tag attached to it, something that makes him the perfect front-line sub for this squad. And Carvalho can provide an old hand off the bench to steady the defense when necessary.

Great stuff, gentlemen. Alright folks, that wraps up the first two World XIs, but there are still six left to go! Tune in tomorrow when we look at squads 3 and 4, provided by Neal Malone and Fayyaz Mujtaba. See you then! As always, follow us on Twitter @O87Minutes for updates on this week’s draft.

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4 Responses to World Soccer Draft 2011: The Squads, Part I

  1. harrrry says:

    Great balance in Eric Bretts’ midfield.

    Wesley needs to check out the birth certificates of some of his players. “Juan is a young Brazilian”, he’s 32. “…aging Chelsea players as fullbacks”, Ivanovic is 27. “…the youth in the CB pairing” Bruno Alves is 29.

    • Wes Pickard says:

      Yeah, I should not have relied on what my often befuddled brain told me but rather what WIkipedia had to say. Nonetheless, thanks for the comment. Changes either should be made or will be made.

  2. Pingback: World Soccer Draft Order | The Other 87

  3. Pingback: World Soccer Draft Debate | The Other 87

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