Welcome to the second part of our World Soccer Draft – the squads! Today, we look at the starting XIs of the fifth and sixth drafters, Adams Sibley and Ogo Sylla. Each writer will provide his formation and a summary of why he believes his team is the best of the bunch.
Manager: Andre Villas-Boas
Picks (in order): Thiago Silva (#5), Samuel Eto’o (#12), Mesut Ozil (#21), Eden Hazard (#28), Carlos Tevez (#37), Santi Cazorla (#44), Maicon (#53), Pepe (#60), Leighton Baines (#69), Angel di Maria (#76), Manuel Neuer (#85), Ezequiel Lavezzi (#92), Kevin-Prince Boateng (#101), Yuto Nagatomo (#108)
Subs: di Maria, Lavezzi, Nagatomo
1) How did it go, overall? In other words, are you happy with your team, did you mess up any picks?
It went well! In general, I’m happy with the balance of my team – the draft definitely introduced a lot of surprises, with a strict time limit imposing a lot of pressure on my picks. What made the draft most difficult was seeing your top picks going and trying to keep your team balanced in retrospect. I’m very happy with my team, with one exception (which I’ll note below), and I think it should be the most potent of the eight if nothing else.
2) Were there any draft picks you prioritized that you didn’t end up getting?
Yes. Wesley Sneijder. Assuming that Messi, Xavi, and Ronaldo would go in the first three picks (I was right on that one!), I figured as fifth drafter I wouldn’t have any problem getting Sneijder, who I think is the heart of the Inter team – great passing range, competent dribbling, extraordinary vision, and an outside shot that constantly surprises. He tends to play a trequartista role, but really he contributes so much more than simply playing in the strikers. My plan was to build a 4-3-1-2 around him, but unfortunately for me, Fayyaz took him as the fourth overall pick. Drats! I consolidated my efforts around strengthening the next most critical area in my squad – the defensive line. There are several world class attacking midfielders out there, so I figured with Sneijder gone, I wouldn’t have trouble finding an adequate replacement. So my first pick ended up being the season’s best defender and a man you can certainly build a team around, as Milan proved this year – Thiago Silva.
3) Be honest. What’s the biggest weakness of your squad?
I do want to be totally honest here – my team lacks a true holding midfielder. I try to reconcile that with a 4-4-2 formation that spreads the responsibility between the midfield, and by starting Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has the physicality and work ethic to boss the pitch if asked to (something he did at Portsmouth). This required relegating di Maria to the bench, but it’s something I’m comfortable doing because I’m starting two dynamite wingers in Eden Hazard and Santi Cazorla. I’d like to rebut a criticism of my squad that Maicon didn’t have the best season of his career. To this I’ll say I am in agreement, and that there shouldn’t be a doubt that Alves has eclipsed him as the world’s best right back. Nonetheless, I contend that Maicon remains among the world’s elite right backs and based on his defensive and offensive abilities should still be considered the second best right back around.
4) What are the highlights of your squad?
I’ll start from the back and move forward.
In goal, I have Schalke’s Manuel Neuer starting. If Casillas and Valdes are the world’s best keepers (please don’t discredit the Barca custodian, he is that good!), then Neuer is heir to the throne. As well as being a great shot-stopper, he uses his body to great effect, much like Valdes in one-on-ones. This is something I believe someone like Lloris lacks – great with his hands, but standard with the rest of his body. Consistency is key here.
In central defense, as previously mentioned, I have 2010-11’s best central defender – Thiago Silva. Those with an English bias will point at Vidic as the world’s best center back, but the truth is Silva has the edge (no offense to Vidic, a wonderful defender). In Pepe, I have a real bruiser, which comes in handy against teams with small forwards. As opposed to the consistent ball-stopping abilities of Silva, Pepe strikes fear in his opponents, discouraging creative play – a true cynic’s choice! Nonetheless, he uses his pace and marking to fantastic effect. (He can also play between the defense and midfield, an added bonus.)
At full back, I have Maicon and Leighton Baines. As I’ve said, Maicon continues to be a fantastic choice in this spot, as his capable defending, strong crossing, and probing passes make for a well-rounded player. In Leighton Baines we have a player who is similarly confident in defense and attack, but who adds a bit of variety in that his focus is more on pinpoint crosses, something that garnered him 11 assists in the league – by far the highest tally for a defender in the EPL this season.
In midfield, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mesut Ozil run the show. The former was one of the stars of the season for the scudetto-winning rossoneri, providing creativity in the middle of the pitch as well as a strong body. Mesut Ozil was, in my opinion, Real Madrid’s player of the season, racking up countless assists, a few goals, and most importantly, a vast number of goal-scoring opportunities. Phil Schoen quoted a statistic that shows Ozil led La Liga in playing in his teammates for potential goals. Yes, that’s right! He led even Xavi, by some distance. Besides his fantastic passing technique, one reason Ozil is so valuable to this team in particular is his supreme selflessness. He could often be found assisting his teammates in front of goal for simple tap-ins instead of taking the shot himself, a tactic which undeniably contributed to the goal tally of forwards like Benzema, Higuain, and Ronaldo. Because my team has a multitude of proven goal scorers, a player like this is critical.
On the wings, Eden Hazard and Santi Cazorla dribble past their opponents to play the forwards in. Both players are fairly confident with both feet. Hazard, for instance, scored a ridiculous top-shelf shot from 35 yards against Marseille this season – but he’s listed as a righty on paper. The ambidexterity of our wingers provides a lot of versatility in attack, allowing them either to dribble down the wing for the cross, or to cut inside. Given the fantastic dribbling of both players, getting the ball into the box should be no problem.
At forward, perhaps the world’s best #9s will be scoring at any and every opportunity. Samu Eto’o and Carlos Tevez (okay, okay, he’s #32) are two players who don’t pussyfoot around like a lot of strikers, they know their responsibilities – first and foremost to score, and secondarily to lay balls off for their midfield. There is no one better in the world at ghosting the backline than Eto’o, who will be like a kid in a candy shop with this midfield playing through balls for him. Tevez is gritty in the box and possesses great strength for someone his size, holding the ball for long enough to turn a shot. Importantly, each of these players has a tremendous work rate on and off the ball, effectively acting as the first line of defense against the opposition. Because this team lacks a traditional holding midfielder, having players like these is critical to our model of winning the ball from all angles – both are comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball. Forget Villa. Forget Ibrahimovic. Forget Drogba. These two are the best of the best.
In management, I have Andre Villas-Boas, who incidentally was signed to Chelsea after the draft took place. Comparisons are drawn to Mourinho, but the two managers are actually quite different. Villas-Boas fits this team’s mentality perfectly – like Guardiola, he emphasizes attack, but also stresses the error-proof defense (something our starting XI provides exactly). If we were to draw a comparison with Mourinho, it would be that both managers were tactically shrewd from a very young age. Villas-Boas knows tactics by heart. Finally, if we’re truly throwing eleven players together on the pitch for the first time, with each player knowing his value as a world-class athlete, it’s important to have a man like Villas-Boas who keeps an intimate relationship with his squad and can thus inspire unity and brotherhood.
On the bench, we have three capable players who inject tremendous energy into any squad. Angel di Maria menaces opponents with smart dribbling, blistering breakaways, and an incredible ability to fool the ref with silly dives. Lavezzi, like Tevez, is a real bulldog who can beat his marker down the wing, while also passing and shooting with confidence. I had to humor myself by selecting a Japanese player in the draft, so I chose Inter’s rising left back Yuto Nagatomo, a man who marauds down the wing and is a solid defender pound-for-pound.
5) In 25 words, summarize why your World XI is the best around.
Everyone has a role. Our goalkeeper is an all-around stud, our center backs are absolute stalwarts, our fullbacks are consistent threats at both ends, our midfield oozes creativity, our wingers can beat just about any defender in the world, and our strikers could find the back of the net wearing a blindfold and galoshes. This is a pressure cooker system with the wingers pushing ever higher as the team gains momentum, effectively becoming a Bela Guttman 4-2-4. Villas-Boas ties it all together to create the most consistent and fear-inspiring squad in the world.
Manager: Fabio Capello
Picks (in order): Bastian Schweinsteiger (#6), Radamel Falcao (#11), Sergio Busquets (#22), Nemanja Vidic (#27), Philipp Lahm (#38), Victor Valdes (#43), Darijo Srna (#54), Cristian Zapata (#59), Gervinho (#70), Neymar (#75), Marvin Martin (#86), Luiz Gustavo (#91), Antonio di Natale (#102), Mamadou Sakho (#107)
Subs: di Natale, Sakho, Gustavo
I picked the 4-1-3-2 because it’s my favorite formation and allows one to play a two-striker system without the width [that’d lead to holes especially in midfield) of a classic 4-4-2. The presence of the midfield anchor pretty much assures that and thus makes the team less prone to the counter-attack. The narrow midfield also helps in pressing as a unit and is more conducive to a more passing-possession play. The formation, with the added security of the CDM, also allows for the presence of an extra technical player as opposed to having a workhorse in the team. Furthermore formation allows the team to revolve around the lone CM, who becomes the hub of the team. The CM thus operates conservatively] in a more deep-lying role and uses his passing range to setup the offense. At the same time he is still able to dart into open space in front of him to pick up loose balls in and around the opposition’s penalty area. Once again the role of the CDM is important in that it protects the space left behind the CM. Although the CM would go on occasional runs forward, the central positions in the final third are mostly occupied by the LCAM who cuts in to operate as the main playmaker. The LCAM movement inside also opens the flank for the LWB to attack that space & offer an extra option. In that scenario, once again the position of the CDM becomes crucial as he’d tuck deeper into the defense and for the LCB to cover the LB spot. The role of the RAM is to offer a bit of width and stretch the opposition defense to allow more space for the LCAM to cut inside & the LWB to exploit the left side of the pitch. As for the CF, he’s there to linkup the attack and run at the defense by dropping deeper. His role is strictly complimentary to the ST leading the line, whether that is in form of assists to the ST or picking up loose balls in the box to take a chance on goal himself.
Valdes (GK): he’s a very good sweeper keeper, which is crucial as it will be important to focus the possession play further up the pitch as opposed to in the team’s own half of the field. The team is vulnerable to wingers – especially down the LWB’s flank – so being able to read the game and help out the CBs with that will be critical. Furthermore, he’s a very good shot-stopper, and his game (when it comes to 1v1’s) has improved a lot in last few seasons. His concentration is also a very good asset, able to pull off great saves even after moments of relative inactivity. Finally his distribution (throwing the ball) is another one of his strongest point.
Srna (RB): very good going forward and always defensively very sound. His ability to attack the right flank is from the fact that he (much like Zambrotta) started out as – and in fact does so for Russia – a RAM. So in that respect he is very good going forward and has a good sense of playing on the counter-attack. His crossing and shooting ability are both excellent. His ability to launch a counter-attack through a raking cross-field longball to a teammate and setup strikers in the box via a cross make him a perfect candidate.
Vidic (RCB): I needed a physically imposing defender who would deal with all sorts of aerial threats. On the ground Vidic may be taken apart by more skillful attackers and even be prone to penalty-leading fouls, but his unrelenting and uncompromising approach to the game is exactly what makes him one of the best stoppers in the game. He is not shy about playing further out of his penalty area and comfortable pushing the offside line higher up, which is advantageous when pressing the opposition back and thus shrinking the space between defense & midfield.
Zapata (LCB): The more technically-gifted of the two. Also he distributes the ball very well from out the back, and thus becomes the more ball-playing CB option for us. Furthermore, Zapata reads the game very well and makes for an excellent sweeper behind Vidic. As a ball-winner, he tackles very well and expertly positions himself. He still stands at 6 ft 2 – practically as tall as Vidic (6 ft 2½) – and thus is fully comfortable dealing with aerial threats. Like most South Americans, he possesses a very good vertical leap, which only helps him be more of an aerial threat at both ends of the pitch (just like Vidic). Zapata’s best asset – and the main reason he was drafted – is his ability to shuttle wide in order to cover any holes left by fullbacks. Having vast experience operating as part of a three-man defense (for which such a talent is paramount), he becomes the perfect candidate for this in covering Lahm’s forward runs. Therefore with pace, power, distribution & ability to read the game at his disposal, Zapata becomes the best all-rounder to partner Vidic.
Lahm (LWB): although not a natural RB, Lahm has plenty experience (both for Bayern & Germany) as a LB. His marauding runs forward make him an excellent candidate for the LWB. He is able to cross with both his right and left, and thus preserves fluidity in attacking phases when he doesn’t have to cut in on his more familiar right foot to swing in a cross. However Lahm is particularly dangerous when allowed to cut in, as he possesses a very good dribbling and shooting technique.
Busquets (CDM): a wonderful reader of the game, Busquets knows exactly where to position himself in order to stifle opponents. His positioning allows him to take up the spaces that opponents could exploit and thus protects the team against possible counter-attacks. A willing tackler and runner, Busquets is not shy about getting stuck-in or balls played over his head. With a bit of height as well, he is able to deal with aerial balls coming into midfield. Beyond his positioning, his composure is not only crucial but his best asset. He never panics in possession. His distribution is good, playing the simple pass and safeguarding the fluidity of moves during any transition of the game. Finally, he is not shy about running forward with the ball when space is ahead of him, which only adds yet another dimension to his game.
Schweinsteiger (CM): the hub of the team and midfield metronome. Schweinsteiger has developed into once of the best CMs under Van Gaal. He is composed on the ball and has exceptional passing range. A great striker of the ball, the German is also a threat from long-range. He is a great set-piece taker as well and has developed into a bit of a free-kick specialist as of late. Schweinsteiger is a real engine however, something that is crucial in that he operates as the sole CM. He tackles well and works on both sides of the ball, able to both attack and defend with equal efficacy.
Gervinho (RAM): he is comfortable both out wide and coming inside. He is able to both run at defenders and possesses a great dribbling technique as well as he is able to run behind defenders and boasts of a real eye for goal. That versatility is what makes Gervinho a great candidate for this position. Furthermore he combines very well with his teammates and is not averse to putting in a defensive shift.
Martin (LCAM): not the new Zidane. In fact Martin is drawing more comparison to Platini with his ability to play his teammates in. Sure he does not possess the eye for goal as the legendary French no.10 did but his vision is certainly on par. He possesses great balance and is a truly two-footed player. He likes to operate deep as the old classic no.10’s did, monitoring the pitch ahead of him and his teammates moving into position before playing the killer pass.
Neymar (CF): the young Brazilian sensation is an excellent dribbler with superbly quick feet and a real eye for goal. He possesses all the flair and samba steps of most Brazilians, but most importantly also the end product to back it up. He is comfortable playing off the playing off the shoulder of defenders or in a deeper second-striker role. What he might lack in physicality, he makes up for in acrobatics, guile, and a clinical finish in front of goal.
Falcao (ST): the Columbian leads the line superbly, something crucial in giving the team a focal point in attack. An all-around attacker, Falcao possesses the power and good feet to be a danger anywhere in-and-around the penalty area. He is a lethal finisher in front of goal, able to score with both feet and his head. To that effect he takes advantage of being able to take advantage of combination play with Neymar and crosses from Srna and/or Lahm. Furthermore, his movement is very good and can thus get the best of Martin’s playmaking skills. Finally his poaching instincts make him a constant threat, always putting pressure on opposition defenses.
Sakho (CB): an excellent CB to come in when needed. Possesses wonderful athletic and acrobatic gifts, and a leader at the back. Sakho possesses a really strong character having evolved at PSG and given the armband as early as 18yrs old when Paul Le Guen coached the side. He is now [by default] vice-captain of the club under Makalele. He possesses great pace, he’s good in the tackle, and distributes the ball well. As such he can come in to either play as ball-winning CB or as a stopper.
Luiz Gustavo: his versatility is what I picked him for, able to play as a CM & LM and even as a LB or CB. His natural position is however as a CDM. I could have picked a more physically imposing midfielder, but the formation requires that the CDM has good distribution and focus more on his positioning and ability to read the game than simply being a hulking bruiser.
Di Natale: his goal-scoring record speaks for itself but it is his ability to combine and not only lead the line but drift out to the flanks that make him a great option coming off the bench. He is a great counter-attacker and is absolutely clinical from practically anywhere. Indeed whether it’s from outside the box, within the 6yrd area, on a corner-kick, free-kick or penalty, Di Natale can do it all. He is not the biggest of players, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in guile. He enjoys being the focal point of the attacking play and is rarely wasteful of ball played towards him. A captain who leads by example to boot, a clinical striker and poacher all conveniently rolled up in one.
Capello: the Italian would do great coaching this team as it holds all the tools necessary and those he often looks for and has traditionally built teams with. The team has two CBs that can dominate aerially, and one who is good distributing the ball from the back. Two fullbacks who track back well and are defensively sound, as well as good going forward and proficient in the counter-attacking phases of the game. A holding midfielder to sweep up in midfield a protect the back-four, something crucial of Capello’s teams. At Milan, this was Dessailly (who was his first signing for the club), Emerson at both Roma & Juventus. At Real Madrid, he had to suffer the board’s intervention when he had to part ways with Makalele. The team is also narrow and thus stays compact, something Capello likes of his team in the defensive phases of the game which allows to win the ball quickly and launch the counter-attack [the team performing both tasks as a unit]. Much to his liking, the team also possesses a CM in Schweinsteiger that can dictate the pace/rhythm of the game and set up both the attacking & counter-attacking moves while keeping possession. Neymar may not necessarily be a particularly favorite of Capello due to his small frame & lack of physicality, but his pace & ability to combine as well as score goals may be enough for the Italian to overlook his physical shortcomings.
Finally the team possesses what Capello loves best after a proper holding
midfielder, and that is a powerful and technically good ST to lead the line and
consistently score the goals.
Another strong round! Alright folks, that wraps up the fifth and sixth World XIs, but there are still two left to go! Tune in tomorrow when we look at the final squads, provided by Josh Brzinski and Stefan Meli. See you then! As always, follow us on Twitter @O87Minutes for updates on this week’s draft.