Here we are, it’s boxing day, 2015 is nearly at an end, we hope you all had a nice Christmas, or happy holidays depending on your beliefs, together with Chris Andrews I have been looking back at the last 12 months of football.
As is the case at this time of year, people all want to talk about their best team, who’s had the best 2015, who the greatest players were, who were the underachievers and so on. Here at Fanformation.com, our focus is primarily young players and the superstars of the future, so our team of the year is the ‘Under 21 players of 2015’. Players we feel are the best of their age range, or have had the best individual years, with the restriction being they can be no older than 21 years of age by years’ end.
Of course myself and Chris Andrews have differing opinions on football, like all people do, after all opinions are what FanFormation is all about, so we both gave our own individual teams.
As I’m writing the introduction, I’ll go first, here is my under 21 team of 2015.
TOM LEES U21 TEAM OF 2015
As a formation I will go with a 4-3-3, with one midfielder holding, one playmaking, and the other pushing forward to join the attack. My frontline is made up of a striker and two wide forwards who are able to switch sides. The defence is a standard back four, and the goalkeeper is the one wearing the gloves. That’s about as technical as I can go with this.
For my goalkeeper I will go with Predrag Rajkovic, a young Serbian keeper who started the year playing regularly for Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), before securing a summer move to Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv. He has gained Europa League and Champions League experience with both clubs, and even represented Serbia at International level. Also on Rajkovic’s cv for 2015, was a winning medal as part of the successful Serbian side in the Under 20 World Cup.
Other notable goalkeepers were Mouez Hassen, and 16 year Gianluigi Donnarumma of Milan, with my place on the bench going to Frenchman Hassen. The Nice stopper edges Donnarumma because of the high volume of matches he appeared in over the year.
The full back positions gave me a tough choice to make, as a right back Héctor Bellerín is the stand out player, establishing himself as one of Arsenals stars, but the left back role was a lot closer. Benjamin Mendy, José Luis Gayá and Jairo Riedewald were all worthy of inclusion, I opted for Riedewald though because I feel his progression into the Netherlands national side gave him the slight edge.
When compiling my list of players for this team, I left myself with four candidates for the centre back positions, John Stones, José Giménez, Kurt Zouma and Emanuel Mammana. I did also seriously consider Milan defender Alessio Romagnoli, but despite his big money move and performances for club and Italy Under 21’s I felt the other options had stronger years. Mammana has been part of the River Plate side that have dominated South American football, in 2015 he would win the Copa Libertadores, Recopa Sudamericana and Supercopa Euroamericana with the Buenos Aires side, plus adding the Sudamericano U20 title with Argentina’s Under 20’s, so he is definitely included. Partnering Mammana will be Everton and England’s John Stones, a player that has gone from strength to strength in 2015 and is now regarded as one of the classiest defenders in Europe. Uruguayan defender José Giménez also had a fantastic year, and both he and Kurt Zouma, who claimed both the Premier League title and a first French cap, can be considered unlucky not to make the side. Giménez does claim a spot on the bench however, his performances for both Atlético Madrid and Uruguay have set the foundations for a fantastic career ahead.
Unlike the defence, my midfield picks were fairly straight forward, with the first being Portuguese teenager Rúben Neves. It is one thing to play regular football for FC Porto in the league and Champions League at the age of 18, but to captain the Portuguese giants at that age is truly impressive, this year Rúben Neves became the youngest captain in Champions League history. He would also represent Portugal at full International level, plus find time to pick up a runners-up medal in the European Under 21 Championships during the Summer.
Joining him in midfield is Ajax sensation Riechedly Bazoer, a player that has represented the Dutch Under 19, Under 21 and full national teams all in the same year, as well as establishing himself in the Ajax midfield. As an attacking midfielder in the three, the standout choice for me was Hakan Calhanoglu, the Turkish International has been in sensational form for Bayer Leverkusen and could well go on to be one of the star names at the European Championships. I have found two places available on the bench for midfielders, Emre Can is included for his fine form at Liverpool, and International recognition in the German team, also Viktor Kovalenko who has represented Ukraine in three different age groups this year and is performing well for Shakhtar Donetsk. The impressive Óliver Torres just misses out on the squad.
For my wide forwards, some of the obvious choices would have been Raheem Sterling, Memphis Depay and Kingsley Coman, all three men making big moves in 2015 to varying degrees of success. However, I felt Coman’s second half the year was stronger than his first, whereas Sterling and Depay, although both impressing for club and Country, I always felt they had a little bit more to give. All three men are tremendous talents, arguably even better than the two I eventually selected, but because I felt like I was wanting more, both Sterling and Depay find a place on the bench, the unlucky Coman missing out completely. Instead I opted for Anthony Martial and Andrija Zivkovic, young Frenchman Martial showing some outstanding form for Monaco in the Champions League before his record setting switch to Manchester United, where he made an immediate impact. Martial has also gone on to be a hit for the French national team and is sure to be selected for the upcoming European Championships. Serbian winger Zivkovic is perhaps the surprise inclusion, but he is a player I cannot get enough of, every time I see him in action I feel like something is going to happen. His form in 2015 has also been very impressive, a regular performer for Partizan at home and in Europe and a full International, he would claim silverware with the Serbian Super Liga title, plus be the star player in Serbia’s Under 20 World Cup champions side.
As far as the striker, or forward position, I narrowed my search down to three names, Arek Milik, Ángel Correa and Gabriel Barbosa. Young Argentine Ángel Correa had a tremendous second half of 2015, recovering from heart surgery to play for Atlético Madrid and Argentina but sadly he was the one to miss out entirely, as good as his half a year was, Milik and Gabriel had overall quality throughout 2015. Milik has shown a real goal scoring threat, not just for Ajax but also for Poland, and he was one of the major reasons the Poles secured qualification to the European Championship finals, however he will have to settle for a place on the bench, because Gabriel Barbosa is just that little bit special.
Gabriel Barbosa of Santos, more commonly known by the fantastic nickname Gabigol, has become the hottest prospect in World football in 2015. Awarded the ‘Bola de Prata’ in the Brasileirão for best newcomer, becoming the top scorer in the Copa do Brasil, where Santos finished runners up and establishing himself as the star name in Brazils Olympic squad, Gabriel has had the best year of his career so far. He is set for super stardom, it seems like that has been mentioned for a few years, but 2015 was the year that Gabriel really showed that he has what it takes to get to the next level.
So that was my team of 2015, let’s see how they compare to Chris Andrews side.
CHRIS ANDREWS U21 TEAM OF 2015
So I have gone for an identical formation to Tom Lees, I felt this gave my selection a better overall balance, but it also allowed me to pick the players I felt deserved to be in my U21st team of the year. Like most teams now days I have gone for attacking full backs with a holding midfielder.
The Goalkeeper position was the biggest problem for me when picking this side. It is actually quite remarkable the shortage of goalkeepers that are under 21 and actually playing within the top leagues of Europe. Now do not get me wrong there are good young goalkeepers playing in the lower leagues or warming top-flight benches. It is this reason that we actually went for the same three goalkeepers as I was struggling to think of any others that I would even consider calling out.
My number one is Predag Rajkovic, although he has not been playing in one for the better leagues in Europe he has managed to play in both the Europa League and Champions League, which is some achievement for a young keeper. It has been an impressive year for Rajkovic overall being part of the winning team in the Under 20s World Cup, which saw Serbia beat Brazil in the final. My second keeper choice was tough, as I have tried to pick all of my players based on their appearances over the year. Hassan has managed to play many goals for Nice over the past year, however I just could not look past 16 year old Donnarumma, who has somehow managed to secure the number 1 shirt at AC Milan even though there are some good experience goalkeepers on their books, the future is very bright for Donnarumma indeed.
The full back position was much simpler for me to pick, as there have been some standout players this season. The most obvious of these has to be Hector Bellerin who has made himself a key member of the Arsenal Side that already boasted a French international in Mathieu Debuchy. Although the left back position was slightly more difficult, it came down to two players for me. The first of these was Luke Shaw who has progresses well during his time at Manchester United, unfortunately for Shaw he has suffered from injuries, which limited his playing time. Because of this I ended up choosing José Luis Gayá of Valencia as my left back, who this season has established himself as the first choice left back for one of the top teams in Spain.
Unlike the full back position there does seem to be a wealth of good young centre backs scattered around the globe. This is the primary reason that I chose 2 centre backs amongst my subs. So the first of my two centre backs has to be John Stones, who has impressed throughout 2015 at a good Everton side. These performances have seen him called up to England national side and linked very big money moves. The second choice for my defensive pairing is José Giménez who has been a consistently strong player for Athetico Madrid and he has also found himself at the heart of the Uruguay defence. Another close call was Jonathan Tah who has established him self in the Leverkusen defence and also represented the team in the Champions League. If the progress of Tah continues then it will not be long before he is a top class German centre back. A player that was very close to making my 11 was Alessio Romagnoli who started the year as part of the Roma defence. It was down to the performances, which resulted in AC Milan signing him for 17.5m in the summer. During the second part of the year he has justified that price tag by establishing himself with some solid performances at the heart of the Rossoneri defence.
I struggled to pick an out an out Patrick Vieira style midfielder so I ended up picking a player who has played in that position but can also play further forward, The player I picked is Youri Tielemans. Tielemans really is a revelation and has already been highlighted in a wonderkid in a review by FanFormation. He is already a key member of the Anderlecht midfield at only 18 years old and has also played in Europe over this season, the future for him is very bright in deed. My second addition to my midfield three has to be Maximilian Arnold, the young German has been an impressive part of a very good Wolfsburg side which has seen him playing in this seasons champions league. My third choice and most obvious choice has to be Hakan Calhangolu, who is my first choice of this midfield three. He is a very talented player who is a regular in the Champions League and is also a key International player for Turkey. There was one player who was very close to making it in to my 11 so I have added him as one of my subs. That player is Saúl Níguez, who finished last season on Loan to Rayo Vallecano and then return to Atlético Madrid to break in to a very good starting 11 and given the Atlético fans a glimpse of what a good player they have coming through.
There were three clear choices for me in the winger/wide forward role. The first player I had to select was Raheem Sterling, I will be the first to admit that I thought he would end up warming Manchester Citys bench like most of the young English talent who have moved to the money clubs before him. His first half of the year with Liverpool was very good and being English this captured the attention of Manchester City. Following his mega move to Manchester City he has nailed down a position in the starting 11 and has to now be a first pick for England. My Second pick Kingsley Coman has is a player that has really shocked me with his level of progress over the past year. Everybody talks about how good this player is and I saw glimpses of this with Juventus, but it is the fact that he had broken in to a team that arguably has the best midfield in the world. The other player that I had in mind for a wide position is was Memphis Depay. The reason I opted for him on the bench was because I feel that after a bright start for Manchester United I feel he has taken a slight step back. I have no doubt he will rediscover this form and go on to be an exceptional player for Manchester United.
The trouble with playing this formation is that it only leaves you with one slot for a striker. It is for this reason that I ended up using two of my substitutes as Strikers as there are some good young players out there. It was very close for my starting slot between Gabriel Barbosa (Gabigol) and Anthony Martial. Following his move from Monaco to Manchester United I had to opt for Martial. The reason for this is because without him I strongly believe Manchester United would be in a much worse position this season. As for Gabigol he has had a very good season in his native Brasil, I am waiting to see how he does when he follows the footsteps of other great Brazilian goalscorers. As for my final position on the bench this will be going to Breel Embolo who at 18 has already played 82 senior games for FC Basel with 21 of these being in the Champions League and Europa League. I will be interested to see what is next for Embolo but he has to be one to look out for with the strength and pace he has at his disposal.
There we have it, those are our selections, how do they differ from yours, who has the strongest line up? Let us know in the comments section below, thanks for reading and here’s hoping for a fantastic 2016.