Picking the World Cup Ultimate XI is a unique opportunity not only to decide who the best players in the world are, but to assess how those players would all fit together while wearing the same jersey. And while there really is no perfect answer, the advantage that statistics provide is that they can at least help to make the argument more clear once the conceptual part has been decided.
My Ultimate XI aims to provide balance in all areas of the field, as that is ultimately what every manager hopes for in his lineup. In the current European season, every major club has been exposed for its imbalance at some point in the season, and the best managers have done just as good a job of exploiting their strengths as they have of hiding their weaknesses. The same will hold true this summer in the World Cup.
Here is what I believe would be the most balanced, formidable lineup that can be made from the 32 teams competing in this summer’s tournament.
Note: These selections were made based on the Ultimate XI’s player candidates at each position and working within the designated 4-3-3 formation.
Tim Howard, United States (Club: Everton)
Defining an elite goalkeeper is not a straightforward task, as some of the best in the world also face a relative lack of action while playing for the top European teams. This is a factor in my choice for Howard, as the Everton keeper ranks sixth in the Premier League with 98 total saves, but also ranks second in the Premier League with 13 clean sheets. His volume of saves is significantly higher than rivals Manuel Neuer (65 saves) and Thibault Courtois (58 saves), while his 53 diving saves rank ahead of Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Plus, the fact that Howard has improved from a 70.9 percent save percentage to 76.7 in the 2013-14 season is evidence that he is worthy of a starting position.
Dani Alves, Brazil (Club: Barcelona)
Barcelona defender Dani Alves is averaging 1.9 interceptions per 90 minutes this season compared to 1.0 interceptions per 90 in 2012-13, and he appears to be taking more control on that side of the field.
Alves' rate of interceptions slightly beats that of right-back Pablo Zabaleta, and even though...