By: Abdul Samad
Another exciting week in club soccer has flown by us and with that in mind, I have compiled a starting XI that includes the best-of-the-best amongst Europe’s top five leagues. Each of these individual players stood out for their teams and put on some masterful performances.
With soccer games being played at irregular intervals (due to the global COVID-19 pandemic), it is important to realize the contributions being made by athletes all around the world.
Here is the starting XI for this week’s edition (in no particular order):
Marcelo (Olympique Lyonnais)
Two points away from the top spot in Ligue 1 and one point ahead of their league rivals Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyonnais (also known as ‘OL’) seem to be in a very comfortable spot. They have the third best defensive record in the league this season and have battered away at teams with a total goal tally of 46. The star-man running the show for Lyon this week was the Brazilian centre-back Marcelo who netted in two goals in a convincing victory over Saint-Etienne (5-0). He has been a solid rock at the back for the team and is always an aerial threat from set-pieces.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
At just 23, Calvert-Lewin is a hot property in the Premier League right now. Possibly, Everton’s finest player this season (alongside James Rodriguez), he was back scoring goals for the club in the F.A. Cup this week. With a total goal tally of 11 in the Prem, he sits just four spots away from the top. Masterful with his technique and deadly in front of goal, Carlo Ancelloti seems to have an ace up his sleeve.
Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham Hotspur)
Super-sub Ndombele made headlines this week for Spurs as he netted two vital goals for the club in the F.A. Cup against Wycombe Wanderers which in turn resulted in a 4-1 victory. Pretty much a backup for starter Erik Lamela, Ndombele has really come into his own this season. Being used regularly has helped the Frenchmen build on his midfield game and passing which has translated into goodwill with coach Jose Mourinho.
Raúl García (Athletic Bilbao)
Ever seen a more hard-working Bilbao player than Raul Garcia? Chances are that you haven’t and that is because of a simple fact; there isn’t a more dedicated player than Garcia in this outfit. Scoring two early goals for Bilbao this week and orchestrating the midfield has earned him this spot. Although, Bilbao themselves have been struggling domestically this season, Garcia has had some monstrous performances in the past few weeks and at age 34, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Absolutely jaw-dropping!
Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan)
Italian born maestro running circles around players in the midfield? Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? Well, with Antonio Conte at the helm, Nicolo Barella is a man that can do no wrong at the moment. This in-form player was the key to breaking down Inter’s city rivals AC Milan in their quarter-final clash of the Coppa Italia. Although a late free-kick by Christian Eriksen sealed the 2-1 victory for Inter, it was Barella’s tireless effort in the midfield that allowed for that to happen. He darted up and down and switched from left to right to daze defenders and put balls in the box for Inter’s front three.
İlkay Gündoğan (Manchester City)
Manchester City have hit peak-form and don’t seem to be slowing down. Racking up 11 wins in a row in all competitions just goes to show what a great manager can do for a team. Pep Guardiola’s midfield is world-class and amongst those elite players lies Ilkay Gundogan, a prolific playmaker capable of scoring goals regularly. He has by far been City’s best player and really shined in the spotlight when he netted in two goals against West Brom this week. He has yet to hit his full stride in the City outfit but things are looking very bright for the German international.
Federico Chiesa (Juventus)
It is almost impossible to have your name stand out in a Juventus team that has a fit Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese is the highest scorer in Serie A with 15 goals. Yet, Federico Chiesa is the name on every Bianconeri fan’s lips. And for good measure too. Moving from Fiorentina in 2021, Chiesa has found solidarity with head coach Andrea Pirlo and seems to be in contention to become a full-time starter alongside CR7 and Alvaro Morata. In-form and lethal while finishing, Chiesa scored in the quarter-final of the Coppa Italia against a struggling SPAL. He then repeated the same feat as he opened the scoring for Juventus in under 20 minutes against Sampdoria in the league. Chiesa seems to gel amazingly well with his teammates and is ready to take his game to the next level.
Mohammed Salah (Liverpool)
‘Oh Mo Salah! Oh Mo Salah!’ are the words that reverberate through every Liverpool fan. The Premier League’s top-scorer with 15 goals and four assists, hit the ground running for a sluggish Liverpool side again this week. He has scored three times in just two games against Spurs and West Ham respectively. Liverpool’s star man looks to maintain his reign as the top-dog in English soccer and there are very few who can stop him.
Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)
Just a few days ago, Lukaku was in the news for an on-field scuffle with Zlatan Ibrahimović that resulted in the latter being sent off. And now, the big Inter man is in the news again for scoring twice against a relegation-zone Benevento side. This performance leaves him just one off Ronaldo’s tally of 15 in Serie A. It will definitely be a race to the finish line and the Belgian will look to assert his dominance in Italy in the upcoming months.
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
We all know what Neymar is capable of and this week, it’s noting new. He is once again being crowned the best player for PSG this season due to the uncertainties revolving around the future of Kylian Mbappe. Under new management, Neymar has been able to balance out his game even more and looks to be a force to be reckoned with. He only has 6 total goals this season but his contribution has helped PSG navigate some difficult waters. No matter if he scores goals or not, it’s always a treat to watch Neymar absolutely obliterate defenders (yes, I am looking at you Marseille’s back three!)
Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
Luis Suarez is the epitome of perfection at Atletico Madrid this season. He hasn’t done anything wrong in the 2020/21 season. His team are 10 points clear from second-place Barcelona (his former club) and he is indeed La Liga’s top goal scorer with 14 goals. His performances this deserve a standing ovation and it’s a shame that his stint at Barcelona was cut short. But you know what they say, “one man’s loss is another man’s gain”. Luis Suarez is the key to this Atletico Madrid side winning their first-ever La Liga title. Also, the free-kick he scored from 30 yards this week deserves separate recognition. Completely sublime!