European team of the year

In goal there is surely only one candidate – Manuel Neuer. The German has cemented his position as the best goalkeeper in world football, and has marshalled the planet’s strongest defence. Bayern have been almost impregnable, and Neuer’s unflappability is clearly key to that.

In front of him, Rafael is selected for a superb season at Manchester United. The Brazilian has really matured at Old Trafford and is turning into one of the continent’s leading defenders, also capable of flashes of brilliance and long range strikes. Alongside him in defence is another Premier League full back, Everton’s Leighton Baines. Baines, unlike the others selected, has not shone on the European stage or won a domestic title, but such is his impressive play that he demands selection. Baines has been the most prolific creator of chances in Europe this season, and from left back that is no mean feat. In central defence is Dante, Bayern Munich’s excellent Brazilian centre back. Signed from Borussia Moenchengladbach last summer he has quickly made himself indispensable to the Bavarians and is the key to their rock solid defence with his reading and command of the game. Alongside him is Giorgio Chiellini, one of the world’s finest defenders, whose pace and reading of the game, allied to his sheer commitmen
t and drive, make him a must have in this side. His absence through injury in January coincided with Juventus’ blip in form, and no one is more important to their team than he is.

In midfield Gareth Bale is a must have after his remarkable season for Tottenham Hotspur. Bale has driven his team forward with sheer consistency. He has scored more goals from outside the area than any other player in Europe, and the Welshman’s pinpoint accuracy from range makes him so vital for his club. Javi Martinez is also selected for his sheer intelligence as much as anything else. Technically superb, Martinez’s strength is his ability to both link the play and provide creativity going forward, and be a solid defensive presence too. Tactically so important for Bayern, the Spaniard has been key to his team’s performances on the continent this season, and edges out Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, his team mates, from this team.

Also selected is the energetic Marco Reus, who has been so important for Borussia Dortmund. The driving force in Europe, his goals and pace have been vital for his side. So quick, so sharp, and technically gifted, Reus returned to Dortmund from Borussia Moenchengladbach and has been a superb signing for them this season. He has driven them forward in the Champions League and his energy and play are key.

Completing the team are a trio from La Liga, so far unrepresented. The focal point is Falcao, whose goals have helped Atletico Madrid compete with rivals Real for most of the season. The Colombian is an unbelievable goalscorer, so clever and so effective in the box, his knack for getting on the end of crosses and passes is uncanny. His consistency elevates him above Robin van Persie, Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski, none of whom have scored quite as regularly and consistently as the Atletico man. Then there are the two best players in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo has been at his usual best this season and has scored regularly in the Champions League on Real Madrid’s run to the last four. The Portuguese is in fine form and if Real somehow make it to the final and win, he would be a candidate for the Ballon D’Or this year. And then there is the reigning Ballon D’Or champion, Leo Messi. The Argentine does not need superlatives. Simply the mention of him tells all there is to tell. Messi’s presence on the field against PSG in the Champions League lifted his team to victory in the quarter finals. He has broken more records this season, having scored 91 goals by the end of 2012, a world record. He has also broken a world record for scoring against each of the other 19 teams in La Liga in successive games. He has also just broken records for the most away goals in a season and the most away games scored in in succession. Messi has to be in this team, no world team would be complete without him.

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

Rafael (Manchester United), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Dante (Bayern Munich), Leighton Baines (Everton)

Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)

Leo Messi (Barcelona), Falcao (Atlético Madrid), Ronaldo (Real Madrid)