Central midfield: Javier Mascherano (ARG)
The passing of time only makes it weirder that for six months in 2006, Javier Mascherano could barely get a game for a West Ham side who couldn't buy a win. The Argentine is quite probably the best holding midfielder on the planet, a man so at home with the defensive arts that he frequently gets deployed at centre-half by Barcelona, yet Alan Pardew preferred Hayden Mullins.
At the heart of a well-organised team in Brazil this summer, Mascherano stacked up impressive numbers across all relevant categories. He made the most tackles (30) and only Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm made more passes than his 576, which he completed with 89.41% accuracy. Among midfielders, only Luis Gustavo made more interceptions than his 16; only defenders made more blocks than his 6. He also won 55 of his 83 duels, a much better average than most.
Perhaps the best example of Mascherano's play came in the semi-final against the Netherlands. With seconds of normal time left, opposition dangerman Arjen Robben latched onto a clever flick from Wesley Sneijder, bore down on goal and unleashed a shot. Apparently out of nowhere came a horizontal Mascherano, stretching out his right leg to block the shot with perfect timing and accuracy. Robben had fooled every Argentine except that final gatekeeper, whose intervention kept his team in the tournament.