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Notable snubs from the FIFA/FIFPro World XI

At Monday’s FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony, Spanish football was king. All 11 players on the FIFA/FIFPro World XI were players from La Liga, and only one of which, Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao, was from outside Real Madrid and Barcelona. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t notable snubs.

The team in full was: GK Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain); RB Dani Alves (Barcelona, Brazil), CB Gerard Pique (Barcelona, Spain), CB Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spain), LB Marcelo (Real Madrid, Brazil); CM Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid, Spain), CM Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona, Spain), CM Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain); FW Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal), FW Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina), and Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid, Colombia)

As talented as all the above players are, one can’t help but think there were some deserving players on the back of very good 2012 campaigns for both their clubs and their countries that were left out.

GK Manuel Neuer over Iker Casillas

Casillas had a great year, winning both La Liga with Real and Euro 2012 with Spain. In the 2011-2012 La Liga season, Casillas recorded 14 clean sheets and made 85 saves. His goals-against average was an impressive 0.84.

But the play of Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer was equally deserving of a spot in the team if not more so. In Bayern’s second-place finish in 2011-2012, Neuer recorded 17 clean sheets, but made just 57 saves in comparison to Casillas’ 85. However, Neuer’s goals-against average was 0.67, which is equivalent to conceding 2 goals every 3 games.

Something to also consider is this: In the Champions League semi-final, Neuer out-dueled his counterpart in the shootout, helping Bayern reach the final. Although Bayern came up short in the final, losing out to Chelsea on penalties, Neuer was one of the shooters for Bayern — and he scored.

LB/RB Philipp Lahm over Dani Alves or Marcelo

Philipp Lahm helped captain his teams to the final of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the Euros in the 2011-2012 season. He’s started 2012-2013 in equally good form, helping Bayern amass a 9 point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table by the winter break.

Statistically, Alves had a superior year in the attacking sense, scoring twice and assisting 11 goals in Barcelona’s second-place finish in La Liga. In the Champions League, Alves notched 3 more assists in just 9 appearances. Real Madrid’s Marcelo also put up good numbers, scoring three and assisting five in league play, while also putting in solid defensive shifts in terms of tackling and interceptions.

Meanwhile, Lahm’s attacking stats from the RB position were not as impressive: He didn’t score at all in the Bundesliga, but did tally 3 assists. In the Champions League, he added another assist in 12 appearances for Bayern.

Statistically, Alves and Marcelo would be more deserving of a place. However, Lahm’s leadership ability (and the fact he can slot in at either RB or LB at a moment’s notice) cannot be underestimated — he lead both his club and his country deep into tournaments.

CB Giorgio Chiellini or Mats Hummels over Gerard Pique

Pique was one player in on the back of reputation more so than performance in 2012. Having an injury-plagued year, Pique’s performances for Barca were not up to his usual standard, although his performance at the Euros for Spain was impressive.

That said, Giorgio Chiellini of Juventus deserved a place in the side. Anchoring both Juve’s and Italy’s backlines, Chiellini helped Juventus achieve an unbeaten run of 49 games in Serie A — including a Serie A crown. In the 38 fixtures that season, Juve conceded only 20 goals and posted 20 clean sheets. Chiellini’s play at the back for Italy also helped put the Italians into the finals of the Euros, where they lost to Pique’s Spain.

In comparing both CBs, Chiellini averaged more interceptions (3.1 avg, 106 total) and tackles (3.6, 124) than Pique in nearly twice as many appearances (1.5, 32 / 1.3, 28, respectively). Chiellini did have the disadvantage of Juventus not playing in any kind of European football in 2011-2012 due to finishing 7th in Serie A the season before.

Germany and Borussia Dortmund CB Mats Hummels is another good shout. In addition to getting to the semis of the Euros, Hummels anchored his club team to back-to-back Bundesliga titles. Dortmund won the Double (Bundesliga and DFB Pokal cup) in 2011-2012. Along the way in league play, Hummels averaged 3.3 tackles per game (109 total), and averaged 2.5 interceptions per game (81 total).

CM Andrea Pirlo over Xavi Hernandez or Xabi Alonso

All three of Xavi, Alonso and Juve’s Andrea Pirlo operate as something between a holding midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker. Pirlo had an incredible year, playing pivotal roles in helping Juventus go undefeated en route to a Serie A title, as well as lifting Italy to the finals of Euros with a cheeky Panenka chip against England in the semis. Operating as something between a defensive mid and a classic regista — Italian for “director,” but in football terms means “deep-lying playmaker” — Pirlo was crucial in recycling possession from the backline and dictating the tempos of Italy’s and Juve’s attacks.

Pirlo netted just three times in Serie A, but he notched 13 assists and finished with a 86.9 percent passing average (1132 accurate passes out of 1405 attempts). Pirlo also contributed defensively, averaging 2.1 tackles per game (79 total) and making 64 total interceptions in league play. At the Euros, Pirlo scored once and had 2 assists while completing 369 passes out of 423 attempts, an 87.2 passing average. Those kind of numbers might not be the most impressive in the world, but they do underscore Pirlo’s influence to his club and country.

Alonso and Xavi had similar numbers to one other, with Xavi scoring more while Alonso had more assists in La Liga. Both players made 65 key passes throughout the season. Xavi had a more impressive season for Barcelona, but Alonso edged his countryman’s performance at the Euros. Alonso made 16 tackles and 7 interceptions compared to Xavi’s 2 and 4 respectively at the tournament. Alonso scored twice while Xavi had 2 assists.

FW Robin van Persie over Radamel Falcao

Choosing between Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao is like choosing between suede and velvet. Both van Persie and Falcao are classy, clinical finishers, and each are coming off monster years.

Robin van Persie played for two clubs in 2012: He started the year as captain of Arsenal before moving to Manchester United in the summer transfer window. For Arsenal in 2011-2012, van Persie scored 30 goals in 38 appearances, which averages out to .789 goals per game — an absurd number by Premier League standards. So crucial was RvP to Arsenal that he scored 40.5 percent of the team’s entire number of goals in the Premier League (70 total team goals). He also assisted his teammates 9 times in league play. In all competitions, he scored 37 goals in 48 appearances for the Gunners, while playing for the Netherlands he netted 6 times in 10 appearances.

Van Persie continued his fine form after making the switch to Manchester United, scoring 20 times in 26 appearances (all competitions).

Falcao was no slouch either, scoring 24 times in 35 appearances for Atletico Madrid in the 2011-2012 campaign. He scored 36 goals in 50 total appearances that season, including a brace against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final. For country, Falcao scored 5 goals in 7 appearances in 2012 for Colombia.

Falcao, like van Persie, is also on a tear in the new campaign, finding the back of the net 20 times in just 17 appearances in all competitions — not to mention his hat-trick demolition of Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in August.

The difference between the two is negligible, but on the basis of goals and assists, van Persie edges Falcao’s fine play slightly. That said, leaving either out is difficult. Tough choices for the voters, who opted for Falcao instead of RvP.

What the FIFA/FIFPro World XI could have looked like.

What the FIFA/FIFPro World XI could have looked like.

All stats are from WhoScored.com, which uses Opta to crunch the numbers. Goalkeeping stats are from NBC.

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