Since 2008-09 I have been compiling my Team of the Season at the end of every season. While my selection is certainly influenced by my limited knowledge and my personal preferences, I try not to build a team of my favourite players, but of the players who performed the best during that season. In order to establish which player performed the best in a given position, I look at quantity and quality of performance only.
So here’s my Team of the Season 2014/15. I define ‘2014/15’ as starting with the final whistle of the Champions League final 2014 and ending with the final whistle of the Champions League final 2015. The World Cup is excluded, because I already made a team for that.
The bench (with comments on some players)
De Gea, Courtois (very, very solid, but surprisingly conservative), Buffon; Azpilicueta, Alba, Evra; Boateng (narrowly missed the first eleven, top-class CB without apparent flaws), Otamendi, Ramos, T. Silva, Naldo, Chiellini; Carvajal (the best regular right back this season), Ivanovic, Juanfran; Busquets, Coquelin, Banega (always had the talent, finally uses it regularly); Pogba (already able to dominate in Serie A, less so in UCL), Verratti, Cazorla; Vidal (best box-to-box midfielder around), De Bruyne, Iniesta (sub-par first half of the season, strong second half, some excellent UCL knockout phase matches); Hazard, Alexis, Tevez; Benzema (wonderful modern striker, great link-up play), Agüero, Lewandowski; Suarez, T. Müller, Griezmann
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Best player: Lionel Messi
Best team: FC Bayern Munich (Barcelona may have won the lot, but Bayern had the highest peak, unlucky with injuries)
Best match: FC Barcelona – FC Bayern Munich 3-0
Remains one of the very few players in modern football, who seem to transcend the category „world class“ for their respective position. Other keepers, for example David De Gea, had more work to do than the German quasi-libero and probably had a bigger impact on their team. But the fact that he played in a dominant Bayern side shouldn’t speak against Neuer. When he was called upon, like in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, he proved his worth. Add to that his by now famous trademark interceptions and his outstanding overall contribution to his team’s play and you have the best goalkeeper in modern football. Well on his way to become an all-time great.
A typical Italian elite central defender. Sometimes he stands a bit in the shadow of his defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini, but this season I see him as the slightly stronger part of the Juventus central defence pairing. Bonucci is a great example of a modern world-class centre-back. He does the classic stuff, like defending crosses, 1vs1’s, and narrowing angles well, and is also capable of participating in his side’s link up play. Plus he had a very good Champions League final.
John Terry is not exactly my favourite kind of player or, as far as I can tell, person. Having said that, he had a very good season with Chelsea. He is not the most modern or exciting of defenders, but when played as part of a conservative side, he is capable of consistently reaching a very high level of performance. And that is just what happened this season. In the late autumn of his career he proved that very few players are able to do the basics of defending better than him.
Between 2009 and 2011 the whole world claimed that in a few years time, Piqué would be by far the best centre-back in world football. Between 2012 and 2014 that prediction seemed overly optimistic. In 2015 however, well, maybe he’s still not the very best centre-back, but he is back among the best. Interestingly enough, what made him so great this season was not so much his ultra-modern playing style that was often singled out five years ago (‘Piquenbauer’ anyone?), but the more orthodox side of his game. For example, his immense aerial strength was one of the main reasons why this season’s Barcelona were far less likely to concede from high balls being played into their area. He is still capable of the odd blunder, but they only happen far and few in between. At 28, the next years should be Piqué’s best as a central defender. If he keeps on playing like this, they will not be wasted.
He’s a bit of a Brazilian full-back cliché: attacking-wise he’s the most dangerous defender in today’s game, his defensive game, while certainly not bad, is less impressive. In a season where no left-back was convincing for the whole time and in all aspects, he makes the team because offensively he really is a force of nature. I’m yet to see a full-back as skillful as him and as good a dribbler. „He’s always capable of scoring a wonder goal“- how many fullbacks you can say that about?
Robben as a wing-back? Yes, if you haven’t watched a lot of Bayern this season, you might not know that he played in this position very convincingly for some of Bayern’s best games this season. Of course he is a natural winger, but at 31 years of age he has become so much of a team player that he obviously had no problem playing in this more defensive position. And it didn’t even hinder him as a goal threat! In fact the deeper position enabled him to gather speed and run at the opponent’s defenders. If you’ve ever watched him play, you know how that turned out. 17 goals in just 21 Bundesliga games is an excellent goal record for a centre-forward, let alone a winger with plenty of defensive duties. His season was cut short by injury, but ultimately there was no player around to challenge him for his place in this team. (Well, there is this Messi guy, but more on him later on…)
The best defensive midfielder of all time is a currently active player. His name is Sergio Busquets. So why Matic and not him? Basically because Busquets had a rather poor first half of the season, partly because of Barelona’s tactical line-up and partly because of his own, formerly unheard of, lack of form. Given this situation, Matic is the next best thing. He, too, is a defensive midfielder who is both capable of providing enough defensive cover for the back line and also acting as one of his team’s primary playmakers. While he ultimately lacks Busquets’ genius and is a lesser player overall, he also lacks some of Busquets’ flaws: he’s faster, stronger and more mobile than the Catalan. Matic’s first half of the season was great, a level he couldn’t quite reach during the second half. Matic is a player who does everything an elite defensive midfielder has to be able to do in 2015. With the notable exception of Barcelona, he would strengthen every team in the world.
Post World Cup fatigue might have finally shown itself in Kroos’ game during the last couple of weeks, but even then he maintained a very high level of performance and had an excellent debut season at Real Madrid all things considered. Pep Guardiola’s prodigal son may not produce a lot of moments for highlight reels, but he is the epitome of the modern midfield passing machine post-Xavi Hernandez. He and Modric kept Madrid ticking when they hit their peak early in the season and won 12 La Liga games in a row. I think he lacks a bit of mobility and/or genius to ultimately become an all-time great, but for now he is the number one in his position. However, if Thiago Alcantara manages to stay fit next season…
The best season yet of the best player ever. Some time during autumn 2014 Messi reached his pre-injury level again. Soon after that he surpassed it. Pre-injury Messi utterly dominated the last 25 meters, post-injury Messi utterly dominates the last 40 meters. No player after, let’s say, 1960 came close to doing so on a regular basis. Not Pelé and not Maradona. What Messi has lost in pace and explosiveness, and he hasn’t lost much, he has more than made up for in terms of playmaking ability and improved defensive contribution. He seems more mature and more complete as a player. Player of the season without a shadow of a doubt.
It was a close call between him and Eden Hazard. Both had an outstanding season. Neymar probably had it a bit easier because he wasn’t his team’s main man and therefore had fewer players marking him. On the other hand, Neymar also had an excellent Champions League run, Hazard less so. In the end, Neymar nicks it because he is just a bit more skillful and scored when it really mattered. When I first saw him, I thought he would be the next Robinho. I was wrong. If he’ll really be the next Pelé is still very much in doubt, but the last World Cup and this season have seen him become a world class player.
If Messi now dominates the last 40 meters, Ronaldo is down to 10 or maybe just 5 meters. Does that mean that Ronaldo has become a lesser player than he was some years ago, when he was more of a winger and less of a penalty box striker? Not necessarily so. Ronaldo is now past his 30th birthday and he has trimmed off all those parts of his game that aren’t directly about scoring goals. This is a logical step since scoring goals is, and has been for some time, his biggest strength. He still got that speed, that strength, that jump and that determination to reach every ball. These qualities make him an absolute nightmare for every defender having to face him in the box. If you still think of him as that flashy human triple-stepover, watch the compilation of all his goals this season. Most of them are one touch finishes. For me, the penalty-box-striker Ronaldo is actually the best version of this player we have seen yet. The comparisons with Messi are absurd, but that doesn’t mean that in his own way, and that basically means: as a goal threat, Ronaldo isn’t an all-time great.
As a little bonus, here is the team of the season not in terms of actual performance, but in terms of present potential. A player’s present potential is defined as how good he would be today if he is fit and somewhat in form. I distinguish present potential from the future potential of players like Martin Oedegaard or the past potential of players like Xavi Hernandez.