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Salah, Mbappe And The European Team Of The Season So Far

Posted by on December 25, 2021 0

With the ‘Big Five’ leagues having reached their midway points, GOAL picks out the top performers from the 2021-22 campaign to date…

GK: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)

Thibaut Courtois has had a flawless first half of the season, playing a starring role in Real Madrid’s dominance of La Liga.

Unlike all of his main rivals for our No.1 shirt, the Belgium international hasn’t made a single error leading to a goal in 2021-22, which is hugely impressive, given he’s been kept far busier than goalkeepers such as Edouard Mendy, Ederson and Alisson.

Indeed, Courtois has already made a whopping 71 saves and boasts a save percentage of 78.41. 

In short, the 29-year-old, who has kept 11 clean sheets in 25 games played, is very much back to his brilliant best.

RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

Trent Alexander-Arnold had his issues earlier this year, meaning his inclusion in England’s Euro 2020 squad was in doubt even before he was ruled out by injury.

This season, though, the Liverpool right-back is arguably performing as well as he’s ever done.

Alexander-Arnold has created more chances (58) and racked up more assists (10) than any other defender in Europe, while he’s also scored two stunning goals: a sublime free-kick at West Ham, and a thunderbolt from outside the area against Newcastle.

As former Manchester United ace Gary Neville recently pointed out, it’s like Liverpool have Steven Gerrard, Kevin De Bruyne or David Beckham at right-back!

CB: Ruben Dias (Manchester City)

The undisputed leader of the meanest defence in world football right now, Manchester City’s Ruben Dias continues to make everything look so remarkably easy.

The Portuguese just doesn’t make mistakes. He hasn’t made a single error leading to even a shot on his own goal this season, while his distribution is nearly always immaculate. 

Indeed, Dias ranks fifth among centre-backs for successful passes (1527) across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues, while his overall pass success rate is 93.11 per cent. 

A near-constant in a City team that is regularly rotated, the 24-year-old was voted Premier League Player of the Season in 2020-21. With City top of the table again, having conceded just nine goals in 18 games, don’t be surprised if Dias prevails again in 2022.

CB: Nico Schlotterbeck (Freiburg)

No side has conceded fewer goals in the Bundesliga this season than Frieburg (16) and Nico Schlotterbeck has been key in that regard.

After a hugely successful loan spell at Union Berlin last season, the versatile centre-back, who can also play in midfield, helped Germany win the Under-21 European Championship during the summer before being named in the senior squad in September by new boss Hansi Flick.

The left-footer has continued to go from strength to strength, proving a rock at the back for third-placed Freiburg while contributing two goals at the other end of the field.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old is already being linked with a future move to Bayern Munich.

LB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)

It may have taken Joao Cancelo some time to settle at Manchester City but the Portuguese is now proving himself one of the world’s most talented – and versatile – defenders.

The 27-year-old is such a gifted footballer that he’s capable of playing on either side of the defence and he’s now well and truly solved his club’s long-standing problem at left-back.

In truth, Cancelo often operates more like an auxiliary midfielder and it’s easy to understand why Pep Guardiola wants him involved as much as possible.

The former Juventus man already has seven assists to his name this season, including one outrageous outside-of-the-boot pass for Raheem Sterling’s strike against Everton, while he’s also netted three times, underlining that he’s now added goals to his already fantastic game.

CM: Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)

Monaco are well aware that they have a gem on their hands in Aurelien Tchouameni. 

Reacting to constant transfer speculation surrounding the 21-year-old, sporting director Paul Mitchell recently told Tuttosport, “Everything is expensive in Monte Carlo, so let’s say that Tchouameni is as expensive as the Grand Casino.”

Monaco are unlikely to be short of big bids for a dynamic talent compared to Steven Gerrard. 

No midfielder has made more interceptions this season than Tchouameni (80), while he also ranks second among his peers for possession won (214) and third for tackles made (68).

Hardly surprising, then, that nearly all of the Premier League’s biggest clubs are said to be interested in the France international.

CM: Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)

Inter coach Simone Inzaghi is desperate for Marcelo Brozovic to sign a contract extension, and it’s easy to understand why. 

A player once criticised for a perceived lack of consistency and discipline is now being lauded as the best midfielder in Serie A because of his incredible work-rate and excellent distribution. 

Indeed, no midfielder has made more successful passes in all competitions this season than the Croatia international (1681), who also covers an outrageous amount of ground in each and every single game.

Inter simply wouldn’t be winter champions without Brozovic, the key cog in their engine room, and if the Nerazzurri don’t tie him down to a new deal soon, expect the likes of Antonio Conte at Tottenham to come calling in January.

RW: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

It is one of football’s great mysteries that Mohamed Salah remains underrated. 

A great goalscorer who’s also a scorer of great goals, the Liverpool winger has arguably taken his game to an even higher level this season and yet he was only ranked seventh in the recent Ballon d’Or vote and he didn’t even make the FIFPro World XI shortlist.

Such snubs certainly haven’t affected the man himself, though. The 29-year-old, who produced stunning solo strikes against Manchester City and Watford, is now up to 22 goals for the 2021-22 campaign, while he’s also chipped in with nine assists. 

Some people might not recognise Salah’s brilliance but he was a shoo-in for our right-wing berth.

CF: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

It’s remarkable to think that there was a time when respected pundits wondered whether Karim Benzema was really good enough for Real Madrid. 

The accusation was that the French forward simply didn’t score enough goals, even though it was clear that he was sacrificing himself for the team – or Cristiano Ronaldo to be more accurate.

Since the Portuguese’s departure in 2018, though, Benzema’s strike rate has improved dramatically and he’s now finally getting the credit he deserves.

He’s just turned 34 yet Benzema is still operating at the peak of his powers, a supremely talented, all-round attacker who has scored 20 goals in all competitions this season, and created a further eight for his team-mates.

CF: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Another man making a mockery of the idea that forwards start to decline in their 30s.

At 33 years of age, Robert Lewandowski is not only playing better than ever; he’s arguably the best player in the world right now. 

The Polish striker has scored a staggering 30 goals in all competitions this season, which is a big reason why Bayern Munich are nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table and safely through to the Champions League last 16 after winning all six of their group games.

Criminally, Lewandowski remains without a Ballon d’Or to his name but if he maintains his current form, and there’s no reason other than injury to think that he won’t, that should change in 2022.

LW: Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

It is incredible to think that Paris Saint-Germain could lose Kylian Mbappe for nothing next summer. The jet-heeled 23-year-old, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is a one-man forward line. 

Mbappe has already been involved in 27 goals in all competitions this term, scoring 15 himself and setting up a further 12 for a team that boasts a 13-point lead at the summit of the Ligue 1 standings.

Unsurprisingly, the France international has begun to form a productive understanding with summer arrival Lionel Messi, which is only making PSG fans feel worse about the possibility of Mbappe joining Real Madrid on a free transfer in six months’ time.

Honourable Mentions

Chelsea star Edouard Mendy was narrowly pipped to the No.1 jersey by Courtois, while Aaron Ramsdale also warrants a mention for the heroics he’s performing at Arsenal. 

Thiago Silva continues to defy the ravages of time at Stamford Bridge, where Antonio Rudiger is proving himself one of the best ball-playing centre-backs in the world.

Elsewhere, William Saliba has been a revelation at Marseille this season, David Alaba is more than justifying his lofty pay packet at Real Madrid, Bremerhas been brilliant for Torino, Jules Kounde is excelling at Sevilla, and Kalidou Koulibaly‘s importance to Napoli has been highlighted by the fact that they’ve lost three of their past four Serie A games without the injured Senegalese.

In midfield, Toni KroosCasemiro and Luka Modric are still rolling back the years at the Santiago Bernabeu, Rodri has well and truly taken over Fernandinho’s mantle at Manchester City and Teji Savanier is arguably in the form of his life for Montpellier. 

Further forward, Inter’s Hakan Calhanoglu, a free transfer from city rivals AC Milan, must be regarded as one of the signings of the season, team-mate Nicola Barella continues to improve at a rapid rate, Dimitri Payet is showing at Marseille that he remains one of the most creative footballers in the game, while Vinicius Junior has emerged as a world-class talent at Real Madrid.

Up front, Fiorentina hotshot Dusan Vlahovic looks like the game’s next great No.9, Diogo Jota has broken up Liverpool’s famed front three, Thomas Muller is only adding to his already stellar legacy at Bayern Munich and Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring freely once again at Manchester United.


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