With the soccer calendar on hold, editors took the opportunity to review the sport's landscape. Gordon Brunt, Michael Chandler, Anthony Lopopolo, Gianluca Nesci, and Daniel Rouse participated in a standard fantasy mock draft with one very simple directive: Build the perfect starting XI.
|1||Lionel Messi (Barcelona)||Lopopolo|
|2||Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)||Chandler|
|3||Sadio Mane (Liverpool)||Nesci|
|4||Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)||Brunt|
|5||Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)||Rouse|
Analysis: No surprises off the top, as Lionel Messi was always going first overall. Rapidly rising megastar Kylian Mbappe, who has thrust himself into the spotlight as the game's next generational icon, follows at No. 2. Sadio Mane may be a slight reach at No. 3, but Nesci felt he had to make the leap to ensure the 27-year-old didn't get scooped up before his next pick.
|6||Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)||Rouse|
|7||Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)||Brunt|
|8||Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)||Nesci|
|9||Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)||Chandler|
|10||Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)||Lopopolo|
Analysis: Cristiano Ronaldo may not be quite the same scoring force - though he was enjoying a fine Serie A season after some early struggles - but Chandler grabbing him at No. 9 already feels like a steal. Mohamed Salah with the next pick returns great value, too. Any member of this quintet could easily have gone in the first round without anyone batting an eye.
|11||Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)||Lopopolo|
|12||Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)||Chandler|
|13||Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)||Nesci|
|14||Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)||Brunt|
|15||Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)||Rouse|
Analysis: The varying strategies are starting to show, as Lopopolo and Chandler continue to load up on celebrated attackers, while the other three managers have each nabbed at least one defender by this point. Rouse's selection of Joshua Kimmich is particularly shrewd, as the shape-shifting German can slot into various positions.
|17||Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)||Brunt|
|18||Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)||Nesci|
|19||Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona)||Chandler|
|20||Heung-Min Son (Tottenham)||Lopopolo|
Analysis: The first 'keeper is off the board. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool shot-stopper Alisson gets the nod, continuing the strong run on Reds stars. On paper, the rest of the round looks highly unorthodox. An argument can be made that each of these players came off the board too early, including Alisson. It seems there's a specific fit everyone is pursuing.
|21||N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)||Lopopolo|
|22||Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)||Chandler|
|23||Paul Pogba (Manchester United)||Nesci|
|24||Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)||Brunt|
|25||Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)||Rouse|
Analysis: The point above is drilled home here, with round five featuring more established proverbial "superstars" than its predecessor. This is also the first round when a Liverpool player wasn't selected. It's quite the squad Jurgen Klopp has put together at Anfield.
|26||Leroy Sane (Manchester City)||Rouse|
|27||Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)||Brunt|
|28||Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)||Nesci|
|29||Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)||Chandler|
Analysis: Chandler getting Thiago Alcantara at No. 29 is the best value of the draft so far. Arguably the top midfielder in the game right now, the Bayern Munich maestro will pull the strings and dictate play. Thanks to his long injury layoff, some may have forgotten just how electrifying Leroy Sane is flying down the left wing. Rouse clearly isn't one of those people.
|31||Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain)||Lopopolo|
|32||David Alaba (Bayern Munich)||Chandler|
|33||Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)||Nesci|
|34||AndrewÂ Robertson (Liverpool)||Brunt|
|35||Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)||Rouse|
Analysis: David Alaba going off the board at No. 32 started a run on left-backs, with Nesci and Brunt following suit to make sure they're not stuck trying to compensate elsewhere for an obvious weakness in their squad. As is the case in real life, Georginio Wijnaldum will be the glue guy on his team.
|36||Jordi Alba (Barcelona)||Rouse|
|37||Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)||Brunt|
|38||Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)||Nesci|
|39||Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)||Chandler|
|40||Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)||Lopopolo|
Analysis: All La Liga, all the time. Karim Benzema, who for a long time this season was the lone contributor at Real Madrid player capable of finding the back of the net, is the only attack-minded player taken in this round, with managers beginning to fill the few remaining holes in their squads. Lopopolo is clearly confident his team will be good enough to survive with 10 men on the pitch.
|41||Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund)||Lopopolo|
|42||Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich)||Chandler|
|43||Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)||Nesci|
|44||Rodri (Manchester City)||Brunt|
|45||Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)||Rouse|
Analysis: Wilfred Ndidi, the ball-winning machine whose prowess in protecting the backline is rivaled only by N'Golo Kante, allows Nesci to field a more adventurous lineup elsewhere, knowing the Leicester linchpin will hold things down in midfield. Keeping goals out was the theme of the round, with everyone opting for defensive-minded pieces.
|46||Angel Di MariaÂ (Paris Saint-Germain)||Rouse|
|47||Ederson (Manchester City)||Brunt|
|48||Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)||Nesci|
|49||Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)||Chandler|
|50||Theo Hernandez (AC Milan)||Lopopolo|
Analysis: At this point, it's all about drafting for need and filling the remaining gaps. That could mean finding versatility, a creative spark, someone between the sticks, or a full-back who offers attacking verve on the flank. Theo Hernandez will be fuming about his brother getting snapped up one round earlier than him, we're sure.
|51||Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)||Lopopolo|
|52||Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)||Chandler|
|53||Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)||Nesci|
|54||Luka Modric (Real Madrid)||Brunt|
|55||Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)||Rouse|
Analysis: Luka Modric may not be the all-conquering midfield dynamo he was at his Ballon d'Or-winning peak, but it still seems crazy he was two picks away from going undrafted. Wilder still, Sergio Aguero came even closer to the cutoff line. Being gifted the consistently prolific Argentine with the final pick was too good an opportunity for Rouse to pass up.
With four managers going for a lineup that includes only one striker - and one of those teams using a fluid attack that doesn't even field a traditional No. 9 - some marquee names were bound to be left behind. That list includes Roberto Firmino, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Romelu Lukaku, and Harry Kane. There was also no place for Paulo Dybala, though Nesci came within inches of taking him in the final round.
Who was the most egregious snub? Have your say in the comments.
Attacking versatility is the name of the game for Lopopolo, with his quartet of forwards totally interchangeable. All four can swap spots with one another at a moment's notice to wreak havoc. And if all else fails, Messi can take matters into his own hands. There's no better ace in the hole than the Argentine magician. It's not the most physically imposing team, but that's not really a problem when the squad can run circles around opponents.
That front-three is scary good, and getting the ball away from silky midfielders Thiago and Frenkie de Jong will be nearly impossible. There are potentially some questions at the back because rising star Dayot Upamecano is the only defender whose best attribute is actually his defensive ability, but Jan Oblak should more than make up for that. The familiarity between that Bayern Munich triangle on the left side of the pitch can only be considered a positive, too.
Skill, speed, and - crucially for this manager - flair everywhere. This is supposed to be fun, after all. Deploying Jadon Sancho and Mane to craft chances for Erling Haaland is simply delicious, while Paul Pogba and Marco Verratti will be free to take risks. Ndidi will also need to cover for the super adventurous full-backs, which is a hell of a lot to ask. Trotting out a familiar center-back duo should help to manage his workload, though. Besides, if there's ever any trouble, Alphonso Davies can use his superhuman speed to snuff it out.
Defensive strength is king. It's true what they say: You can't lose if you don't concede any goals. Savvy veteran Cesar Azpilicueta supports the best center-back pairing, while Rodri offers another layer of protection - as if the impregnable Virgil van Dijk needs any help. The lone concern? The midfield looks a bit wooden compared to the other sides, and that lack of vigor puts the attacking onus on Neymar's shoulders. But if the chances are created, Benzema and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will convert them.
A good ol' 4-4-2. When you're working with these players, suddenly that formation doesn't seem so outdated. Kevin De Bruyne will provide the special spark in midfield, and there's plenty of industry around him to make sure the team always maintains balance and shape. The front two aren't known for creating their own chances, as both Aguero and Robert Lewandowski need some degree of service. That could be an issue if other teams outnumber the midfield, but both the wide midfielders and full-backs are more than capable of picking up the slack.
Vote on who you think put together the best starting XI, and don't forget to leave a comment below!
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