A Saint, an Angel and a Sinner
Virgil van Dijk fills in at Southampton, while Zlatan edges out Suárez
Another league season has come to an end in Europe, with players now looking forward to this summer’s Euro 2016 tournament.
Barcelona triumphed in La Liga, while Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus also defended their crowns, but the drama was in the Premier League where Leicester City shocked everyone to take the title.
But who were the Saints and Sinners of the European campaign, and who makes it into a fantasy team of the year for the season, based on Oulala’s comprehensive scoring criteria.
Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid fell short in their La Liga title challenge, but their goalkeeper Keylor Navas secured his growing reputation as one of the finest goalkeepers in European football.
Navas – who almost moved to Manchester United as part of a proposed swap deal for David De Gea a year ago – kept 13 clean sheets and conceded just 28 goals, while his form in Madrid’s run to the final of the Champions League was particularly excellent.
Virgil van Dijk (Southampton)
The Saint in our team, Virgil van Dijk slotted into the Southampton team so seamlessly you would never guess it was his first season in English football after a summer move from Celtic.
Van Dijk is particularly strong in the air, winning 157 aerial duels over the course of the season, but he is just as composed on the ground. Van Dijk chipped in with three goals as the Saints finished sixth in the Premier League, securing qualification for next year’s Europa League.
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)
The man van Dijk replaced at Southampton also makes it into our team, with Toby Alderweireld performing superbly for Tottenham, even though their Premier League title bid fell just short.
Alderweireld made 293 clearances and completed 33 blocks, with his partnership with fellow Belgium international Jan Vertonghen a key part of Spurs’ success under Mauricio Pochettino.
Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo)
Perhaps a surprise selection, Sassuolo’s Francesco Acerbi has developed into one of Europe’s top defenders over the course of the last 12 months.
With 19 successful take-ons, Acerbi was a key player as Sassuolo continued to light up Serie A, but keeping him at the club will be a massive challenge, with a range of appealing suitors lurking.
Dimitri Payet (West Ham United)
Despite missing a chunk of the season through injury, West Ham United star Dimitri Payet excelled enough to earn a place in the European team of the year.
His gorgeous free kicks make up a fantastic individual highlights reel, but Payet’s raw statistics are sublime as well, with 12 assists and nine goals making him one of the top signings of the season.
Real Madrid have been linked with a summer move for the France international and it is easy to see why coach Zinedine Zidane would be interested in his prodigiously talented compatriot.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal)
It is tempting to wonder how effective Mesut Özil would be if Arsenal had a top-class striker to feed off his sublime through balls, with Olivier Giroud managing to score only 16 league goals.
Özil made 19 assists for his side, with a pass completion rate of 87% marking him out as one of the most creative players on the continent this season.
Ángel Di María (Paris Saint-Germain)
Ángel Di María put his Old Trafford nightmare behind him with a terrific year at Paris Saint-Germain, where he proved himself to be one of Europe’s top midfield talents.
Able to play either on the wing or centrally to great effect, Di María scored 10 goals and provided 19 assists, while the 98 chances he created ranked him among the elite.
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Few would have predicted a year ago that Leicester City would be Premier League champions, with Riyad Mahrez crowned as the best player in the league.
But Mahrez was unplayable at times, scoring 17 goals and collecting 11 assists as he linked up to devastating effect with the Foxes’ whippet-fast striker Jamie Vardy.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Oulala’s European Player of the Year is Lionel Messi, who was crowned Ballon d’Or winner for the fifth time in January.
Roundly regarded as one of the finest players in the history of the sport, Messi scored more fantasy football points this season than any other player in four of Europe’s top flight leagues, scoring 26 goals and picking up 16 assists in the process.
Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain)
Zlatan Ibrahimović is leaving Paris Saint-Germain and all eyes are now on the Sweden international to see what his next step will be.
Ibrahimović left Ligue 1 on a high, scoring 38 goals and regularly making the difference for his side, which romped to the French title again with many weeks to spare.
A shot conversion rate of 25% marks Ibrahimović out as among football’s deadliest strikers too.
Lastly, Neymar just about pips his Barça colleague Luis Suárez, the Sinner in our squad, for selection in the European team of the year.
The Brazilian superstar hit 24 goals in a fantastic individual season as his side defended their La Liga title on the last day of the campaign, while he also created 101 chances for his side.
Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid was unlucky to miss out having kept an amazing 24 clean sheets, while defensive cover is also provided by Bournemouth’s Steve Cook, who made 303 appearances as his side eased to Premier League safety.
Leicester’s N’Golo Kante was a revelation in the Foxes midfield, making 157 interceptions and 125 tackles as his team won the Premier League title, while Roma’s set piece specialist Miralem Pjanic is in our fantasy football squad thanks to his 12 assists and 10 goals.
Suárez scored 40 goals for Barcelona, winning La Liga’s Pichichi, but only makes the bench here, where he is joined by Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 35 league goals.
A couple of decent options to bring off the bench there!