Published On: Sat, Jun 24th, 2017

Mock draft: Picking the perfect starting XI

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It's draft season, folks. With the NBA and NHL having their respective entry drafts in recent days – and NFL fantasy mock drafts in full swing ahead of the upcoming season – theScore's footy staff decided to participate in a draft of its own. Five editors were given a simple task: build a perfect starting XI.

Participants: Michael Chandler, Gianluca Nesci, Anthony Lopopolo, Daniel Rouse, Gordon Brunt.

Format: In the interest of fairness, a snake format was used. Given that this is an entirely hypothetical concept, it jives with your standard fantasy draft. Each manager had two minutes to make their selections.

Notes: Every footballer on the planet was available for selection. While entry drafts across the major North American sports leagues are complex beasts that see teams take into account multiple factors – immediate improvement, long-term outlook, simple roster holes that need filling, and stockpiling assets for potential trades – the participants in our draft were given one directive: create a starting XI that would win a title match being played today.

Round 1

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
1 Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) Chandler
2 Lionel Messi (Barcelona) Nesci
3 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) Lopopolo
4 Luis Suarez (Barcelona) Rouse
5 Neymar (Barcelona) Brunt

Analysis: No real surprises at the top. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the best two players alive, and rightly get selected one-two. Picking between Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez is a matter of personal preference for many, and Lopopolo’s selection of the Bayern Munich hitman sees Suarez fall into Rouse’s lap. Neymar could have gone as high as No. 3, so Brunt gladly snapped him up with the final pick of the round.

Round 2

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
6 Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Brunt
7 Luka Modric (Real Madrid) Rouse
8 Paul Pogba (Manchester United) Lopopolo
9 Kylian Mbappe (AS Monaco) Nesci
10 Paulo Dybala (Juventus) Chandler

Analysis: Luka Modric and Paul Pogba are the first two midfielders taken, while the race for Kylian Mbappe sees Nesci grab the 18-year-old sensation one pick ahead of Chandler, who worships at the altar of the French teenager. As with any draft, knowing who your competitors rate highly is always an asset.

Round 3

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
11 Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) Chandler
12 Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich) Nesci
13 Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) Lopopolo
14 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) Rouse
15 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) Brunt

Analysis: Gareth Bale, despite his injury problems, remains one of the most explosive players in the game, and Lopopolo being able to grab him at No. 13 feels like a steal. So too does the selection of Alexis Sanchez with the following pick, as the energetic Chilean’s versatility gives Rouse plenty of options, and allows him to go in a couple different directions for the remainder of the draft, depending on who’s available.

Round 4

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
16 Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund) Brunt
17 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) Rouse
18 Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) Lopopolo
19 Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) Nesci
20 Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) Chandler

Analysis: It’s no surprise that the first defender taken in the draft also happens to be Pep Guardiola’s favourite. Italian stalwart Leonardo Bonucci offers Lopopolo the perfect blend of ball-playing skills, stern marking, and leadership, making him an ideal candidate to anchor the backline. With so much attacking talent still on the board, you need to hit a home run if you’re going to take a defender in this spot, and Lopopolo does just that.

Round 5

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
21 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) Chandler
22 Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich) Nesci
23 N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) Lopopolo
24 Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) Rouse
25 Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain) Brunt

Analysis: The most eclectic group of picks so far, Round 5 sees the five managers start going in various directions as they shape their squad. The opening rounds are all about taking the best superstar available, but decisions made in the middle rounds of the draft are the ones that will largely determine things like formation and playing style.

Round 6

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
26 David Alaba (Bayern Munich) Brunt
27 Radja Nainggolan (Roma) Rouse
28 Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) Lopopolo
29 Marcelo (Real Madrid) Nesci
30 Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) Chandler

Analysis: Having flying full-backs who are adept at both locking down the opposing winger and providing a key outlet going forward is critical to success in the modern game. With that in mind, both Brunt and Nesci make moves to solidify their left flanks, with David Alaba and Marcelo coming off the board. The Austrian provides more versatility, while the Brazilian brings superior attacking output, but who you rate higher is largely a matter of personal preference; they’re the two best players in their position.

Round 7

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
31 David De Gea (Manchester United) Chandler
32 Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid) Nesci
33 Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) Lopopolo
34 Dani Alves (free agent) Rouse
35 Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) Brunt

Analysis: Goalkeeper alert. Chandler makes the leap and takes Manchester United shot-stopper extraordinaire David De Gea to kick off the seventh round. How much of a difference does a world-class netminder make? It’s something of a subjective question, but Chandler was obviously confident that he could fill out the rest of his squad adequately in the latter rounds, and prioritised a solid presence between the sticks more than anyone else.

Round 8

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
36 Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich) Brunt
37 Alex Sandro (Juventus) Rouse
38 Benjamin Mendy (AS Monaco) Lopopolo
39 Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham) Nesci
40 Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) Chandler

Analysis: Round 8 is made up exclusively of defenders, with left-footed studs Alex Sandro and Benjamin Mendy sandwiching three of the world’s top centre-backs. A run on players who occupy the same position is far from uncommon in your typical draft, and our experiment is no different.

Round 9

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
41 Hector Bellerin (Arsenal) Chandler
42 Isco (Real Madrid) Nesci
43 Kyle Walker (Tottenham) Lopopolo
44 Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) Rouse
45 Leroy Sane (Manchester City) Brunt

Analysis: By this point, you’re simply filling remaining holes in your squad. Chandler and Lopopolo answer their right-back questions, while Rouse is unconcerned by Vincent Kompany‘s laundry list of muscle ailments, selecting the Belgian to anchor his defence.

Round 10

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
46 Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) Brunt
47 Gerard Pique (Barcelona) Rouse
48 Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain) Lopopolo
49 Benjamin Henrichs (Bayer Leverkusen) Nesci
50 Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) Chandler

Analysis: Explosive right-back Benjamin Henrichs is the standout name in Round 10, the 20-year-old likely proving to be the most surprising pick in the entire draft. Three rounds after De Gea was taken, Brunt makes Manuel Neuer the second shot-stopper to come off the board.

Round 11

Pick Player (Club) Team Manager
51 Danny Rose (Tottenham) Chandler
52 Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) Nesci
53 Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) Lopopolo
54 Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid) Rouse
55 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) Brunt

Analysis: Three teams waited until the final round to grab their goalkeeper – the fantasy football equivalent of a kicker, if you will – while Brunt’s attack-heavy XI gets even more electric with the selection of Raheem Sterling, who closes out the festivities.

Here’s how the five teams shape up:

Team Chandler

Having Cristiano Ronaldo spearhead the attack gives Team Chandler an immediate advantage on the rest of the field. No matter how stingy your backline, he’ll find a way to tear it down. Just ask Juventus.

Speaking of the Bianconeri … pairing Paulo Dybala with Kevin De Bruyne gives the side a terrifying level of creativity, while the presence of both Toni Kroos and Sergio Busquets will provide a calm, composed duo to anchor the XI. While the four attack-minded men do their thing, those two will sit in the middle, directing traffic. There may be a slight concern over their lack of pace should the ball be turned over, but with Danny Rose and, particularly, Hector Bellerin among the fastest full-backs in the game, opportunities on the break will be limited against Chandler’s squad thanks to their ability to race back into defensive position.

Sergio Ramos and Laurent Koscielny provide a wonderful blend of aerial dominance (at both ends) and on-the-ball talent, while David De Gea is arguably the best shot-stopper alive, justifying his status as the first goalkeeper taken in the draft.

Team Nesci

Good luck trying to get the ball away from this team.

With Toby Alderweireld distributing from the back, Marco Verratti dictating play in midfield, Isco popping up wherever holes develop, and Lionel Messi drifting inside and doing whatever he damn well pleases, this lineup is loaded with creative talent that is multi-faceted enough to dominate in various ways.

Those passing wizards can put you to sleep before cutting you open, while the absurd pace and trickery of rising megastar Kylian Mbappe, and the finishing prowess of Alvaro Morata, give the side a more direct option when “death by a thousand paper cuts” isn’t quite working. Arturo Vidal‘s tireless, dogged work rate will help balance the side from a defensive standpoint, while Marcelo and under-the-radar stud Benjamin Henrichs provide blistering speed and a willingness to dart up the flanks as Messi and, to a lesser extent, Mbappe tuck inside and interchange with their fellow attackers. Jerome Boateng will be relied upon heavily, but he’s arguably the best defender in the world, so it’s a worthwhile gamble.

Explosiveness, craft, speed, and even some bite. This team has it all.

Team Lopopolo

Team Lopopolo’s biggest strength is its harmony.

Securing one of Luis Suarez or Robert Lewandowski with the No. 3 pick was a must. Team Lopopolo considered the fact it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a true No. 9 in the modern game, and whether you rate Lewandowski ahead of Suarez is a matter of subjectivity. In this case, Lewandowski’s pure goal-scoring instincts made the difference.

Gareth Bale was an obvious and perhaps fortunate choice to make at No. 13. Although injuries have restricted him, he still has the legs and the directness to penetrate the most resolute backlines.

Questions over Angel Di Maria‘s selection are valid, but on his day, he is a fantastic playmaker who can alternate wings.

The midfield is comprised of standout players who carry out three different roles. Paul Pogba has the freedom to bomb forward and join the attack, N’Golo Kante has the stamina to cover lots of ground, and Ivan Rakitic has the licence to create from deep-lying positions. They all complement each other.

The defence is just solid. In Leonardo Bonucci and Diego Godin, Team Lopopolo has both ball-playing and no-nonsense defenders. And on the flanks are two full-backs who can deliver exceptional crosses.

As a collective, this XI is the clear winner.

Team Rouse

Team Rouse has fashioned easily the best midfield of the bunch, and if the Champions League final – and Real Madrid, really – taught us anything, it’s that a superior midfield can make all the difference. Radja Nainggolan provides the box-to-box presence and the occasional crunching tackle, Thiago Alcantara is the resident pass master, and Luka Modric simply does everything at an elite level. It’s a spectacular trio that gives the XI a significant edge over the other four sides in the centre of the pitch.

Elsewhere, people tend to forget that Vincent Kompany went untroubled as the Premier League’s best defender for years, and when he was reinstalled to the lineup for nine matches late in Manchester City‘s season he single-handedly shored up a vulnerable backline. Seemingly by osmosis, Nicolas Otamendi‘s footballing IQ swelled alongside Kompany. The Belgian’s an impeccable leader.

Ahead of the aforementioned midfield, which is both technical and snappy, is a ruthless and versatile strike force. Antoine Griezmann could’ve demanded a world-record fee until Atletico Madrid‘s transfer ban was upheld, and Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez are an industrious and potent pair.

This is a balanced and formidable XI.

Team Brunt

Inverting the pyramid? How about just chucking the pyramid – and the rule book – out the window?

Team Brunt promises to be the most entertaining of the quintet, equally likely to score a handful of goals at one end and concede that many at the other. Hey, this was supposed to be fun, and while the other lineups offer more traditionally balanced looks, this is the side you want to watch if you’re going for sheer entertainment value. Besides, playing under Pep Guardiola, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling could certainly be taught to become dominant wing-backs.

Creative geniuses like Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Ousmane Dembele, who combined for 28 assists in the respective leagues last season, will create All. The. Chances. for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is among the best in the world at getting himself into prime scoring positions inside the penalty area.

Mats Hummels has to do basically all of the defending by himself, but if nothing else, Manuel Neuer will get more than his share of chances to show off his sweeper-keeper skills.

Copyright © 2017 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

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