WORLD-EXCLUSIVE: BRAND NEW FANTASY FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT MEANS RONALDO WILL PARTNER NEYMAR
Have you ever wondered what time of year produces the best footballers?
I have, so I’ve planned a little imaginary competition. An eleven has been picked for each season (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), and the four teams will play a mini-tournament to find the winner.
Each season must have a reasonable formation, and every player is available, and will remain fit throughout the match. No injuries in our fantasy land, and no substitutes either.
1st Semi-final: Spring vs Summer
In their dandelion-inspired kit, Spring has a solid line-up. They seem quite Klopp-Esque, with full-backs very capable of marauding forward and assisting the attack, and a hard-working midfield duo of De Jong and Kanté who will pitch in defensively.
Neuer is an incredibly safe pair of hands in goal and snuck into this team ahead of Ter Stegen. It’s the German national team all over again. In front of him is Laporte, a superb left-sided centre-back, and Ramos, a superb centre-back full stop.
At the pointy end of the team, Lukaku will make sure to bury any chance that springs up from the creative minds of Mané, Sancho and Thiago, who are all capable of chipping in themselves.
This team is very nicely balanced, with world-class performers all over the place, plenty of goals and plenty of capable defenders to protect Neuer. Not that he needs much protecting.
Now, Summer is where it gets interesting. This team is incredibly unbalanced but is full of game-changing talent.
Think Atalanta, but more goals.
The three at the back are all incredibly capable defenders and will not move from the defence in this system. In midfield, Valverde makes it into the team based on one tackle, made in the Supercopa final earlier this year, when he made a last-ditch challenge on Alvaro Morata to stop a 1-on-1 chance for a winning goal. He got sent off for it, but that defensive determination earns his place in this side.
Salah and Gnabry on the wings are going to be asked to do a lot more defensive work than they are used to, and De Bruyne doesn’t have as much creative freedom as he might like, but the sheer volume of world-class forwards born in the Summer have forced him backwards.
Now, let me take you through some of the forwards who have missed out on this team. Son, Aguero, Aubameyang, Bernardo Silva, Lautaro, Haaland.
Unfortunately, you can’t have seven strikers on the pitch at once. But you can have three, if you try really hard. And what a three it is. Messi, arguably the best player of all time, Lewandowski, the best player this year, and Harry Kane, the most productive player this season.
Although Messi is perhaps more comfortable in Kane’s position in an attacking sense, I trust Kane more to pitch in and get back when this team is put under more pressure defensively, which will happen.
It’s game day, and Summer kick off, instantly forcing Spring onto the back foot. They open the scoring within 10 minutes as Messi skips past Laporte and cuts it back to Lewandowski to finish.
Things calm down after that, and Spring start to dominate, eventually breaking through on the half an hour mark with Mané sprinting down the left flank, outpacing Koulibaly and cutting inside for a cool finish at Ederson’s near post.
The first half finishes all-square, with Spring dominating possession, and both keepers bailing their teams out on numerous occasions.
The second half starts with Summer coming out swinging, stringing moves together freely, finding the net quickly, as Valverde brings down Neuer’s punching clearance, and feeds it to Kane on the edge of the box, who fires it into the top corner.
The continued pressure from Summer takes its toll on the Spring defence, and in the 64th minute, Sergio Ramos brings down Messi outside the box and is shown a red card. Neuer saves the free-kick, but can’t keep Koulibaly’s header out from the corner.
De Jong moves into Ramos’ role, but they can’t stop Summer, and Lewandowski gets his second, from a Kane through ball in behind a muddled defensive line.
In the 88th minute, Sancho latches onto a clearance, and sprints off on a fast break, swinging in a cross at the byline, for Lukaku to prod home. It’s too little too late for Spring though.
FULL TIME: SUMMER 4 - 2 SPRING
Semi-final 2: Autumn vs Winter
Autumn are the young wonderkids of this tournament. The average age of their defensive line is just 22.
They play very similarly to Spring, with Davies and Trent charging forward, and Fabinho and Saúl are two very versatile midfielders able to cover them.
Fernandes sneaks into the team ahead of Jack Grealish, as both are very capable of carrying teams on their back, but Fernandes gets ahead because he’s been doing it for longer. Thomas Müller is a dependable option in midfield, and the natural captain of the side.
The pairing of Félix and Dybala is interesting, and a bit of an unknown. Joao Felix is an incredible talent and works best when he is given a free attacking role, allowed to go anywhere he likes, as long as he creates goals. Dybala can play across the forward line, so is given the same free role as Felix.
It is a good team and would challenge for the title in any league in the world, but so could every other team here.
This team needs very little explanation, other than an apology for their awful Christmas kit.
The defence perhaps isn’t the strongest, but each player is capable in their own right, and behind them is arguably the best pure shot-stopping goalkeeper around in Jan Oblak. They are protected by two titans of midfield in Joshua Kimmich and Casemiro, and then in front of that is a mesmerising attacking line-up. Neymar, Mbappé and Ronaldo all in the same side, and in a system that allows that to happen is nothing short of magical.
Hazard is a controversial pick, and beat Sterling and Sane to the role. I picked Hazard because with a clean bill of health, he is still an excellent player, and will make the runs and put in the work to let the other three play how they want to play. Which means goals.
The game starts with a 20-minute onslaught from Winter, pinning Autumn back, and forcing a number of saves from Alisson. Autumn get their first real chance halfway through the first half, with Davies making a quick break after nicking the ball from Mbappe, and releases Félix with a through ball between Carvajal and Giménez, but Oblak rushes out and pounces on the ball to stop the chance.
On the half-hour mark, Neymar plays the ball out wide for Hazard, who whips in a cross, and Ronaldo heads it home. A few minutes before half time, Winter breaks through the Autumn defence again, and Mbappe puts the ball in the back of the net, to take them two ahead.
In the second half, Kimmich sends a wide free-kick into the penalty box for Neymar to tap home at the far post.
Dybala does eventually get one back for Autumn, firing a shot into the bottom corner in the 72nd minute, but just 10 minutes later, Ronaldo escapes Sule to hammer the ball past Alisson to finish the game off in favour of Winter.
FULL TIME: WINTER 4 - 1 AUTUMN
The one we’ve all been waiting for. The game that decides the absolutely not-important-at-all title of Team of the Seasons. Summer vs Winter. Ronaldo vs Messi.
Summer is a very strong lineup, yes, and if you directly compare every player individually, it’s arguably the better side, with some truly world-leading talent. But this is a team game.
The match begins with a cagey first half-hour, with both teams settling into what is probably the biggest imaginary game of their careers.
Ederson and Oblak make a few important saves, before a slick move between De Bruyne, Salah and Messi results in Summer taking the lead just before half-time.
After the break, and Winter come out swinging. Within five minutes Neymar has a shot ricochet off the post, and not three minutes after that, he has another opportunity as Mbappé draws Alaba out wide, leaving room for the Brazilian to escape Valverde’s marking, and plant the ball past Ederson for the equaliser.
Winter’s superior setup shines through as the game wears on, and they start to dominate proceedings.
Salah gets caught too high by Hazard, and Koulibaly is forced to cover, leaving Van Dijk to make the impossible decision of whether to mark Neymar or Ronaldo. Hazard dummies a run, then plays the ball back to Kimmich, and he feeds it to the unmarked Ronaldo to bury in the back of the net.
Neymar caps off a magnificent performance late-on, and puts the game to bed on a breakaway, sprinting clear of De Bruyne, and lobbing Ederson to finish.
FULL TIME: WINTER 3 - 1 SUMMER
So there you have it, the eternal question answered. If you want to become a world-class footballer, make sure you’re born in winter first. You’ll be in very good company.