There weren’t many surprises in Fifa’s team of the year, but the absence of Neymar, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba caught the eye, and the lack of representatives from the Premier League was notable. Fifa’s team featured five Real Madrid players (Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos), four from Barcelona (Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué), plus Dani Alves of Juventus and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich.
It’s difficult to argue with some of the names in the side, but a number of the players who missed out deserve recognition. Here is our pick of players who were overlooked, based on their statistics in Europe’s top five leagues and European club competitions in 2016. Players had to make at least 30 appearances to be included and, as is the case in Fifa’s team, they are split into one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards.
Goalkeeper: Stéphane Ruffier, Saint-Étienne, 7.07
Stéphane Ruffier has been the understudy to Hugo Lloris for France for a long time but his performances in 2016 took him out of the shadows. Only five goalkeepers in Europe’s top leagues kept more clean sheets in 2016 than the 30-year-old (17), which is mightily impressive given that the rest of the keepers played for teams in the Champions League. His save success rate of 76.8% ranked seventh overall.
Defender: Filipe Luís, Atlético Madrid, 7.66
After an unproductive spell at Chelsea, Filipe Luís has settled back into life at Atlético Madrid in some style. The Brazilian didn’t take long to win back the fans with his all-action displays; he made the most tackles and interceptions combined of any full-back last year (263).
Defender: Virgil van Dijk, Southampton, 7.58
He may not have made the shortlist for the team of the year but there is no denying that Virgil van Dijk has been one of the strongest defenders in the Premier League over the past 12 months. The Dutchman is thought to be attracting interest from some of the biggest clubs in the country and will rightly command a massive fee given his still considerable potential. In 2016 he won the most aerial duels of any centre-back in the Premier League (253), while only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sánchez earned more man of the match ratings (10).
Defender: Alex Sandro, Juventus, 7.53
Alex Sandro has been an instant hit at Juventus following his move from Porto in August 2015, with the Brazilian full-back displacing Patrice Evra in the side and thriving in the wing-back role on the left. The 25-year-old is Juventus’ highest rated player in Serie A so far this season. He created more chances than any other defender in Serie A last year (59), all the while helping the team keep up their exceptional defensive record.
Defender: Fabinho, Monaco, 7.49
Although he has played in a defensive midfield role this season, Fabinho has gone on record to say that he would prefer to revert to right-back, where he played for the first half of 2016, so he comes into our team as a defender. He made the second most tackles in Ligue 1 last year (126), while also weighing in with eight goals and two assists. It’s little wonder that the 23-year-old is interesting a lot of clubs.
Midfielder: Paul Pogba, Juventus and Manchester United, 8.00
Paul Pogba was outstanding in 2016. In league and European club competitions he completed the most dribbles of any central midfielder by a distance (128), as well as creating 82 chances, making 94 tackles, scoring 12 goals and registering 14 assists across 45 appearances.
Midfielder: Thiago Alcântara , Bayern Munich, 7.69
After a series of serious injuries had stunted his career at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, 2016 was a memorable year for Thiago Alcântara. He was a favourite of Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti is proving an equally keen admirer, with the Spain international featuring 39 times for Bayern in the Bundesliga and Champions League in 2016. This season has been a particularly strong one for the 25-year-old. He has scored three and provided three assists in the league and he’s way out in front for passes per game (95.3) and interceptions (4.4).
Midfielder: N’Golo Kanté, Leicester CIty and Chelsea, 7.63
The only player here who didn’t feature in the Champions League or Europa League last year. In 36 league appearances in 2016, the Frenchman was on the losing side just three times – twice to Arsenal and once to Liverpool – as he helped Leicester to an historic title and set Chelsea on track to steal it from his former club. Only Idrissa Gueye completed more tackles and interceptions combined than the 25-year-old (284).
Forward: Neymar, Barcelona, 8.19
The highest rated player not in the XI. Neymar completed more dribbles than any other player in 2016 (179) and only five players created more chances (114). He ended the calendar year with 17 goals and 19 assists in La Liga and the Champions League.
Another of the highest profile names to miss out, Gareth Bale was up against it in 2016 given his injury problems over the year. Nevertheless, the Welshman racked up 33 appearances in the league and Champions League combined, scoring an impressive 18 goals and providing seven assists. Eight of those goals were scored with his head, a tally beaten only by Michail Antonio of West Ham, while only six players averaged more shots per game (3.8).
Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG and Manchester United, 7.86
Playing in Ligue 1 may have boosted his goalscoring record last year, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s exploits were still outstanding. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi had more shots and shots on target than the 35-year old, who has shown that he is not too old to make an impact in England, with 14 of his 40 goals in 2016 coming for Manchester United, along with four of his 11 assists. As a result he was one of only four players – along with the front three chosen in Fifa’s team – to have a direct hand in 50 goals or more last year.
The Guardian Sport