Sports writer James Law assesses the news of Chris Coleman's appointment as Sunderland boss and whether he can save them from relegationWritten by James Law on 5th December 2017
Redbrick Sport’s Alternative Team of The Year
Redbrick Sport's writers offer an alternative Team of the Year, compromised of various names across Europe who were left out of the official PFA team.
Alex Alton's TOTY:
Although there are obvious choices that one could opt for over Buffon such as David De Gea, Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois, I have opted to stick with the Italian veteran for this position. To say that he is still up there with the best of the best at his age (39) is some testament to his sheer ability and professionalism. Perhaps there is a sentimental value to this one, with it being Buffon’s last full season in football, yet I still believe he merits the selection at goalkeeper.
For right back, instead of Dani Alves, I’ve gone for Dani Carvajal. A few years ago Carvajal was sold by Madrid to Leverkusen and very few would have expected his rise since then. In 2017 he has been simply magnificent for Real Madrid, producing several stellar performances. He really looks to be coming into his own at Madrid now. For the centre back choices, I have opted to leave Bonucci in there, because he had an incredibly impressive start to 2017. Although now not shining too much at AC Milan, he deserves in the side purely for his all-round ability which is unrivalled by another centre half in the world. For my other centre half choice, I have chosen to discard Ramos from the selection on the basis of his hot-headedness, and what I perceive to be a lack of actual defensive nous at times. Instead, I’ve opted for a rather unorthodox choice – Cesar Azpilicueta. There are two reasons for this. One is that without him in the side, Chelsea would not have been able to employ such an effective 3 at the back formation. Also, his leadership and ball playing ability are unprecedented and his link up with new signing Alvaro Morata has yielded 5 assists already this season. At left back, I am going to keep Marcelo in his place. The reason for this is that in terms of quality and performance he is essentially unrivalled in his position. I think if Brazil are to succeed in the 2018 World Cup, Marcelo will be one of the chief architects.
Luka Modric remains in my team in midfield. Like a fine wine, Modric only gets better with age. At the age of 32, Modric had a fantastic year, along with helping Croatia to quality for World Cup 2018. In terms of overall midfield play (defensive ability, passing, attacking and awareness), I don’t think there is a better player out there than Modric. Iniesta and Toni Kroos are ousted from the side, though, in favour of one surprise choice; Marek Hamsik. The Slovakian playmaker has long been a lynchpin of the Napoli side. Now, he captains one of the most stylish teams in Europe, alongside pass master Jorginho in midfield. He epitomises the creative yet clinical style that Napoli employ, scoring 12 goals last season from central midfield. My other choice is one from the Premier League, Mr Kevin De Bruyne. In current form, De Bruyne is undoubtedly the best midfielder in the world. This season, he has performed sublimely, and will surely lead Manchester City to the title. His form over the whole of 2017 is markedly impressive though, so he deserves the spot here.
One player that should remain in everyone else’s selection is without doubt Lionel Messi. The Argentinian talisman had yet another great year, and has had an electric start to this season. Having watched Messi score a hat-trick in person (a 5-0 win against Espanyol) he confirmed my idea that he is still, and will be for quite a while the best player in the world. There is not a player like him in world football, and on that basis he deserves the selection. Cristiano Ronaldo does not take his place in my team of 2017, though. This is simply for the reason that he has made an abysmal start to the 2017-18 season, registering a 1.8% conversion rate this season. To put this into comparison, Luis Suarez has registered around 28% conversion rate in his time at Barcelona. The Uruguayan is my choice for striker, having contributed so much as a striker at Barcelona in his time there. Not only is he the most clinical striker in the world, he is such a hard worker for the side, making him the complete forward.
In addition to this, he regularly swaps position with Messi in that Barca side which shows his ability to play in other positions too. The final player who takes his place in my side is perhaps a slightly off the wall choice, but I genuinely think he merits a place in the side. Kylian Mbappe - the future of football. Mbappe was the best player in the Champions League last season at the age of 18! This earned him an apparent £150 million move to his “boyhood club” PSG, where he has taken like a duck to water. For a player to be that good at his age deserves worldwide recognition, and it is only a matter of time until he wins the Ballon D’Or.
Sam Robinson's TOTY:
At 39 years of age, it is quite miraculous that Buffon remains one of the world’s top goalkeepers. That said, his inclusion in this side is reminiscent of Ryan Giggs’s 2009 PFA Player of the Year award – something of a sympathy award where a lifetime achievement recognition may have sufficed. At 24, Athletico’s Jan Oblak is fast becoming Europe’s hottest goalkeeping prospect, with astonishing reflex saves (Youtube his triple-save against Bayer Leverkusen) and a mature head to match.
It is difficult to argue a case against the Brazilian. Beginning the year with at Champions League finalists Juventus and ending it at the seemingly unstoppable PSG, Alves has an illustrious CV and has perhaps had the most notable year of his career in terms of personal performances. Although the three-time Champions League winner was unable to add a fourth title, his consistency across the year with two of Europe’s elite validates his presence in this team. Ramos is far and away the most accomplished defender in the world and the FIFPro voting reflected that. Captain of both Real and the Spanish national team, Ramos had his highest scoring season in 2016/17 and lead Real to the first back-to-back European titles in the Champions League era. Despite still being frustratingly unreliable in terms of personal discipline, Ramos’ 2017 has perhaps cemented his claim to being the greatest centre-back of his time.
Bonucci’s disastrous start to life at AC Milan has led to his omission from this XI. Next in line, Giorgio Chiellini, will also miss out despite his undeniable consistency – his recent international retirement after Italy’s capitulation and failure to qualify for the World Cup has slightly soured his year. Step in the ever-reliable Diego Godin, the spearhead of one of the best defensive sides in Europe in 2017. His inclusion is testament to Diego Simeone’s work at the club, as a team with relatively little (in comparison with their Madrid rivals) have pioneered a defensive strategy that led them to a Champions League semi-final.
Formerly deployed at full-back, Conte converted the Spaniard to centre-back with incredible success at the start of last season. Already one of the finest defenders in the Premier League, Azpilicueta has progressed to become one of the finest in Europe’s top five leagues. At the time of writing, he had played every single Premier League minute under Conte, and has even managed to develop his offensive game – with 5 assists and 1 goal so far this season. Not the most technically gifted defender, his endurance and reliability were crucial to Chelsea’s 16/17 victorious Premier League campaign and cement his place in this XI. The obvious omission of Marcelo is difficult to justify. By far the best left-back in the world right now, Marcelo is quite possibly the most complete full-back of the last decade. Unfortunately for him, my XI utilises wing-backs – Marcelo is yet to be tested in such a position. One man who has, and has had the year of his life as a consequence, is Alex Sandro. Playing on the opposite flank to Alves, the pair tore apart opposition defences last season – as well as being part of the most complete back line in Europe. His astute defensive performances mean that he just about edges Marcelo – with Marcelo’s hapless showing in the recent 3-1 loss to Spurs at Wembley very firmly in mind.
Iniesta has been a mainstay in world’s best teams for as long as anybody can remember. However, after an injury-hit 16/17 season and limited game time, his inclusion in the FIFPro team created the most debate. Kanté, having won the Premier League with Leicester and then Chelsea, appears to have a level of fitness and tenacity that far exceeds any of his peers. Given his rise to fame over the past two years, it seems inexcusable that Iniesta should have a stake in the world’s best team ahead of Kanté. While his passing ability leaves something to be desired, the Frenchman is without doubt the most commanding and all-present midfielder in the world. His Premier League Player of the Year award serves as proof of his irreplaceable significance in this side. A superb year for both club and country, Isco has used 2017 to firmly establish his starting place at Real Madrid. Would provide the grace and guile to compliment Kanté's raw tenacity. Just look up any of the wonder goals he has scored so far this year and there should be no argument.
2017’s MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar), PSG’s front line is currently tearing Ligue 1 apart. For just about any team the prospect of facing them is borderline terrifying – even Bayern were destroyed 3-0. With one more Champions League game in hand, PSG have managed to obliterate the record for group stage goals – surpassing Dortmund’s 21 set in 2016. With 28 goals in 26 competitive games so far this season, the trio look set to continue destroying defenders’ careers for a while yet. The Champions League is theirs to lose.
Leanne Prescott's TOTY:
Thibaut Courtois would represent a far more inventive choice for the role, especially given it’s supposed to be an alternative team of the year, but there’s one man who stands higher than the rest for me and that’s Gianluigi Buffon. No words can reflect the magnitude of the Italian’s class, with everyone crushed to see him not involved in the World Cup as he embarks on his last year of football. At 39 years of age, Buffon still pulls off some monumental saves and deserves recognition for what has been an unparalleled career in between the sticks.
For all his hot headedness, Sergio Ramos remains my choice at centre-back. Albeit rash in the challenge, he has delivered crucial goals for Real Madrid time and time again, pulling them out of trouble like a captain should. He’s a hugely dynamic character and even if you hate his theatrics, you can’t deny the man’s quality. Alongside him, I’ve got for Leonardo Bonucci. The veterans had an impressive start to the year, albeit now struggling for AC Milan, portraying a strong figurehead at the back to give invaluable protection to his goalkeeper. At right back, I’ve gone for Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United man has experienced quite the turnaround having previously not been able to get a shoe in on the wing. Now, reinvigorated in his new role, Valencia has become one of the most reliable members of Jose Mourinho’s team - showing strength and diligence at the back while bombing forward to provide width in the final third. A similar case could be made Cesar Azpilicueta who completes my back four. The Chelsea defender shows consistent quality on the ball for his side, contributing with a number of timely assists.
There’s no real surprise that Kevin De Bruyne features in my TOTY. His qualities have shone through for Manchester City so far this season, with the Belgian representing one of the very best in the business in his position. The weekend saw involved in his 50th Premier League goal (16 goals, 34 assists) in 76 games - the quickest by any midfielder in the history of the division. Should City find themselves top of the table come the end of the season, there’s no doubt that De Bruyne would have played a huge part. Marco Asensio represents one of the hottest prospects in world football right now, meriting an inclusion in the lineup. Scoring some cracking goals already in his career, he has all the tools to become a serious player for club and country. Lastly, Pjanic completes the midfield three having created 22 chances for his team already this season - a record that’ll see him beat his tally of 60 last year. Scoring 2 goals in the process, the midfielder has a lovely balance to his game, tracking back well to contribute to the defensive side of his game while portraying an attacking nous in the final third.
I’ve opted for Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to lead the line having impressed during his time in Spain with Barcelona. Deadly in front of goal, the Uruguayan seems to have put an end to his on-the-field antics to cause havoc alongside Lionel Messi in La Liga. The interchanging between the two talismanic players make Barcelona so hard to defend again and it’s hard to think of a player with a stronger ruthlessness than the former-Liverpool man. Meanwhile, Messi represents the best player in the world. He’s a man that can do things like no other and it’s no wonder Barcelona pulled out all the stops to get him to sign a new deal with the club. His importance, not just in terms of goals but all-round play, is phenomenal and I feel lucky to be able to watch such a master of the game. To round things off in attack - Mohamed Salah. Probably the most controversial choice I’ve made so far, but hey, it's my team. The Egyptian has made an outstanding start to life at Liverpool, scoring 15 goals already this season to beat prior records set by Robbie Fowler, Luis Suarez Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres. His movement and flair alongside Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino has been a joy to watch and at the rate he’s going, he could well end up on 30 goals for the season. Not bad for a ‘Chelsea reject’...
Evan Yabsley's TOTY:
Goalkeeper is one of the most competitive positions in the 2017 Team of the Year, with players such as Neuer, De Gea and the Italian veteran Gianluigi Buffon all having outstanding years. However one player who stands out for me is Atletico’s Jan Oblak. The Slovenian had a remarkable third season as part of Diego Simeone’s defensive unit, conceding just 14 goals in 27 appearances, and keeping 15 clean sheets, cementing his status as one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
At right back, I have opted for the ultimate modern day full-back, Dani Alves. Despite critics doubting his defensive abilities, especially as he enter the latter stages of what have been a tremendous career, there is no surprise that Dani Alves would be my first choice at right back. 2017 saw Alves win the Serie A and Coppa Italia as part of Juventus’ strong defensive line up, and is playing his part in storming Ligue 1 with PSG. At centre back I have gone with two lesser valued players. Another star of Simeone’s defensive masterpiece, Diego Godin has once again had a superb year at the heart of the Atletico defence.
His traditional style and professionalism has helped he keep 23 clean sheets in 40 games for club and country, meaning he has well and truly earnt his spot in the team. My second choice is potentially the biggest shock selection of the side; Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian enjoyed a fantastic season with Tottenham, coming second in the world’s most competitive league. This season has seen some new issues arise at Spurs, namely the unfamiliarity of playing their home games under the arch of Wembley, however Alderweireld has continued to prove himself as one of the world’s best centre-backs. Left back can only go to one man, Real Madrid’s Marcelo. The one player in the team who is truly unrivalled in his position. The LaLiga and Champions league winner provides excellent support going forward for club and country, whilst still covering defensive duties, a perfect example of how to perform at full-back.
The first player of this midfield 3, and the second Real Madrid player is Luka Modric. The UEFA Champions league midfielder of the season has had another exemplary year pulling the strings in the Real Madrid midfield, as well as captaining Croatia to qualifying for Russia 2018. Despite his age of 32, I believe he will continue to be one of the highest rated midfielders in world football for a number of years to come. Despite both having outstanding midfield calibres, I have decided not to include Toni Kroos or Andreas Iniesta. Instead, I have opted for Bayern’s Arturo Vidal.
Despite his aggressive nature, Vidal is every manager’s dream box to box midfielder. His all-round ability means he can pass, defend, score goals and contribute defensively. A true credit to any side. The final midfielder of the three is who I believe is currently the world’s best midfielder, debatably one of the best players in the world, Kevin De Bruyne. Another Chelsea failure who has gone on to succeed elsewhere, De Bruyne’s current form is going unmatched in the Premier League, and has flourished in 2017 under Guardiola. The man appears to have no weak foot, has unrivalled vision, footwork that would make Maradona proud and seemingly has to ability to score from anywhere within 35 yards. A true professional who will remain the perfect example of an attacking midfielder for many years.
The first player of this front three was the easiest choice, Lionel Messi. For me, the best player the world has ever seen. He’s had an incredible start to the 2017/2018 campaign for Barcelona, as well as scoring an iconic hat-trick for Argentina to secure their place in the 2018 world cup. His pace, ball control, flair and desire are truly admirable, and on this basis, he deserves his selection. I have decided to stick with Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite his poor conversion rate and slow start to the 2017/2018 campaign, I think he has to remain in the side.
There is never a dull moment when Ronaldo is on the pitch, and he has the rare ability to create an opportunity from nothing, whether that be scoring from 40 yards or taking on five players before finding the net. His work rate and sheer talent means he has to stay in the side. I’ve not gone with the world’s most expensive player, Neymar. For me, the Brazilian poster boy is everything that is wrong with modern day football. Instead of being driven by desire to play for the best team and win the best trophies, he is driven by money and fame. Instead I have gone for another Bayern star, Robert Lewandowski. 2017 has seen Lewandowski net 49 times in just 47 games for club and country, as well as setting the record for the most goals scored in a world cup qualifying campaign with 16 goals. He goes under the radar as far as celebrity status goes, an old fashioned footballer who is focused on improving his game and helping his team. For me, the world’s best ‘Number 9’.