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Stats Zone’s European Team of the Month: Messi makes the cut but Prem (almost) ignored

Fraser Forster (Southampton)

The former Celtic shot-stopper returned against Watford after missing the last 10 months with a horrific knee injury and has made an immediate impact. Southampton had conceded 19 goals in the 10 games prior, but with Forster between the posts they have now kept 3 consecutive clean sheets.

In fairness he hasn't had to make that many saves in comparison to some of his Premier League counterparts, but his 6ft 7in frame gives him a presence that has helped his defenders to remain relaxed and calm in battles with some of the league’s top strikers including Odion Ighalo... and Wayne Rooney.

Southampton face Arsenal at the Emirates and host champions Chelsea in February, and if they are to continue with their impressive defensive displays they will need Forster to be 100%.

Ignazio Abate (Milan)

The right-back has been a consistent performer for Milan throughout the campaign, which hasn't been easy given how the club has underperformed. Abate has been part of the defence that kept clean sheets against Bologna, Fiorentina and Inter, while his ability on the ball is a vital component in Sinisa Mihajlovic's 4-4-2.

The Italian likes to play direct balls down the wings or into the forwards, and his crosses tend to come from deeper rather than close to the byline. He made 6 interceptions against Bologna and 5 against Fiorentina, but it was his fantastic 10 tackles in the encounter with Empoli that really stood out.

Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)

It has been another good month for Juventus, and Bonucci has epitomised their performances. This foundation has allowed Juventus back into the title race, conceding just 10 goals in the last 4 months.

His strength and technique make him a formidable character both in preventing attacks and creating them. The centre-back started January by scoring a header against Verona, and has been a member of the back three that’s kept clean sheets in its last 5 matches. He made 3 interceptions and 4 clearances against Udinese, then managed a 91.7% pass-completion rate with over 100 passes in the encounter with Chievo.

Stefan Savic (Atletico Madrid)

The former Manchester City defender has had to bide his time before making an impact at the Vicente Calderon, but has recently been rotated into Atletico Madrid's team along with Jose Gimenez.

He signed a five-year contract following his transfer from Fiorentina in the summer and looks to have a promising career ahead of him in Madrid. Mario Suarez, who was sent in the opposite direction as part of the deal, has already departed for Watford after making just 5 Serie A starts for the Viola.

Savic is exceptional in the air, and won 8 out of 9 aerial duels in the 0-0 draw with Sevilla – made even more extraordinary by the fact that the majority of those came against Fernando Llorente.

Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

The Spain international is an underrated player for Luis Enrique's men, and with Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan eligible this month, the left side of the defence is now the weakest position in terms of squad depth.

With Alba in the Barcelona side they have conceded only 2 goals in the last 5 matches, and when the former Valencia man missed 3 games through injury, both Adriano and Sergi Roberto had to fill the gap.

Alba probably should have opened the scoring against Granada, but his brilliant run off the ball couldn't be matched by his finish. He made 4 tackles and 4 interceptions against Athletic Bilbao, and his accuracy in his passing in the final third continued to be a regular theme of Barça's play.

Thiago Motta (PSG)

The holding midfielder no longer starts every single game and has to be used according to the circumstances, but the 33-year-old is still a crucial member of Laurent Blanc's squad.

His experience is invaluable to the team that now sits top of Ligue 1 by a massive 24 points, and his passing capability enables Paris Saint-Germain to dominate matches with relative ease.

Motta scored his first goal of the season against Bastia, but his 4 tackles against Angers illustrated the shield he provides to a team that has conceded just 2 goals in the last 8 games he has started.

Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)

Saul is versatile: in his formative years on loan at Rayo Vallecano he operated as a centre-back. The youngster has recently been deployed on the right, although as a natural central midfielder he likes to cut inside when attacking and is comfortable tracking opposing players.

He scored against his former side in the Copa del Rey, and could have repeated that feat in the second minute against Barcelona when Claudio Bravo was forced into a spectacular save to deny his curling effort.

His physical attributes make him perfect for Diego Simeone's ethos, and he helps provide a further threat in Atletico Madrid's set-piece armoury.

Jose Callejon (Napoli)

Callejon has enjoyed his best spell of the season with 3 goals and 5 assists for the league leaders. It's arguable that he doesn't always reach his potential against the very top sides, but his ability to dispatch lesser opponents shouldn't be underestimated when aiming to secure Napoli's first title in 26 years.

He scored and assisted against Frosinone, and made 18 out of a possible 19 passes in the final third. Then, against Empoli, his cross was turned in by Michele Camporese for an own goal on the defender's debut, and he added 2 goals himself including a tight-angled strike which squeezed just inside the near post.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

It's the first time that the Argentine wizard has made FFT's European Team of the month this season, when in the not-too-distant past both him and Cristiano Ronaldo would have been automatic selections.

The recently crowned five-time Ballon d'Or winner is back to his best and scored an unbelievable 8 goals in January. He netted a brace in the Catalan derby against Espanyol before grabbing a hat-trick against Granada the following match. His equaliser against Atletico Madrid gave him his 27th goal of the season, as he moved to the edge of the six-yard box to evade four defenders and fire home Alba's cutback.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Gianluigi Buffon's dad was delighted when Juventus signed Dybala from Palermo in the summer, and phoned his son to express his excitement. The goalkeeping legend will surely now understand his father's exuberance, having witnessed first hand the striker’s phenomenal influence for the Old Lady.

For a while Juventus looked like they were going to relinquish their title with little fight, but they have now won 12 league matches in a row, which equals the club record. Dybala has been the catalyst for Juve's remarkable comeback with 12 goals in 17 Serie A starts. He scored 5 goals and assisted another 5 last month, including a late winner with his magical left foot in the victory over Roma.

Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli)

Not since the 1950s has any striker scored as many Serie A goals at this stage of the season as Higuain. He now has 22 in as many league matches, putting the nightmare key moments of last season behind him.

The forward missed a huge one-on-one in the 2014 World Cup Final against Germany, and a penalty at a key stage in the vital last game of the 2014/15 campaign for Napoli against Lazio. His 12-yard woes continued when he blasted a penalty over the bar in the summer’s Copa America final defeat to Chile.

His strength of character to get over such high-profile errors is now evident, having produced a consistency which has only previously been seen in a handful of the world's star players.

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