The finest XI from around the continent this season
Before we all leave the club season and fly to Brazil – in our heads, at least – let's name the best XI from European football this season. Here's the selection of FourFourTwo.com Editor Gary Parkinson; go to www.ultimateviewingexperience.com to pick your own – and enter the competition for the chance to win a 50in Panasonic VIERA TV…
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
Diego Simeone's side based its success on a solid defence, behind whom stood this gawky colossus of a goalkeeper. The 6ft 6in Belgian belongs to Chelsea but has spent the last two years on loan at Atletico, effortlessly replacing David De Gea; the 22-year-old may now replace Petr Cech back at his parent club – or stick with the Spanish champions for good.
Right-back: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
When City fans greeted Barcelona's Dani Alves with a Guantamera-tuned rendition of "You're just a sh*t Zabaleta", it raised a smile and a question: is the Argentine the complete modern full-back? Determined in defence, creative in attack and indefatigable enough to do both jobs, he contributed much to Manchester City's busy, and ultimately successful, season.
Centre-back: Marquinhos (PSG)
The phrase "Brazilian defender" used to strike fear into managers; now it terrifies opponents. Having moved to Roma at 18, Marquinhos impressed enough to move to PSG last summer for a fee north of €30m; now Barcelona are interested – the ultimate accolade for a ball-playing centre-back – and he's still only a fortnight out of his teens. Try not to hate him.
Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Alongside the startling potential of Marquinhos, Italy's vice-captain would lead this defence – just as he does for Serie A champs Juventus, for whom he averaged 2.1 interceptions and 2.5 tackles per game. A former left-back and a threat from set-pieces, he would nonetheless be the bloke holding it all together at the back. Every team needs one, and there are few better than him.
Left-back: David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
Like the rest of this back five, Alaba was a title-winner this season, as Bayern wrapped up the Bundesliga almost a month before Easter. Alaba was vital to new boss Pep Guardiola's flexibility: although settled a left-back, the Austria international has also played on both wings and in central midfield. And, again, he's got youth on his side at just 21.
Right midfield: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Before the Champions League final, we wondered how Bale's debut season would be weighed up against other Galacticos. Scoring the decisive goal to clinch the Decima certainly won't hurt his reputation, already bolstered by blistering displays down the right wing not to mention 21 goals and 16 assists – a few more set-ups than whatshisname on Madrid's other wing…
Central midfield: Koke (Atletico Madrid)
Atletico's heartbeat, Koke keeps them ticking without tiki-taka when it's not necessary. As savvy as Xavi, whom he is tipped to replace in the Spain side when the Barça legend steps down, Koke is at the heart of all that's good in Atletico's play.
Central midfield: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
We'll have to put him in, or he might get angry. And you wouldn't want an angry Yaya Toure stampeding toward you. Not when he's capable of scoring 20 goals in a season, combining defensive solidity with attacking prowess, and brushing off opponents like a ball-playing bull.
Left midfield: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
If Chelsea barely noticed the absence of Juan Mata, either when he was on the bench or gone to Old Trafford, it was because of the brilliant young Belgian. The Blues' go-to guy contributed 14 goals and seven assists, although the latter number doesn't reflect the amount of chances he created for Chelsea's misfiring forward line.
Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
You don't mess with Zlatan. PSG's opponents might as well have not bothered trying: 36 goals and 11 assists suggest he scores when he wants. The French champions are starting to make their mark in the Champions League, and terrifyingly for European defences, he's got the summer off to brood on what happens next.
Forward: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
What, no Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi? They're there if you want to pick them, but this XI is led by an all-ex-Ajax front-line of Zlatan and Luis. Having started the season in shame, the Uruguayan almost dragged Liverpool from seventh to champions, leading a scintillating attack which piled up 100+ goals. And fortunately in this team, he'll have a good defence…
Disagree? Fine: Pick your own XI at www.ultimateviewingexperience.com. You might win a telly...