Messi in but Ronaldo out of European Team of the Season

All of these champions are represented in our European Team of the Season, but there are also some players who managed to shine in surprise packages or struggling sides.

GIANLUIGI BUFFON (Juventus): Buffon claimed the eighth Scudetto of his career (although, he will tell you he's won 10, given two were revoked as part of the fallout from Calciopoli). No other player in the history of Italian football has won more. And why? Because he is a freak of nature, a man who has somehow managed to defy the ravages of time through impeccable professionalism and an insatiable will to win. Indeed, as he himself said after lifting the Serie A title, he has an "addiction to winning". For that reason, he remains the most dedicated, hard-working and, by consequence, best goalkeeper in the world.

ANDREA CONTI (Atalanta): The wing-back made a bet with his agent that he would score five goals this season. On April 2, he earned himself an expensive watch. His agent then promised him a car if he got to seven goals before the season's end. Conti already has eight – and a brand new car. No defender across Europe's 'Big 5' leagues has scored more than the 23-year-old, who is now being courted by a number of top continental clubs but insists that he wants to represent Atalanta in the Europa League next season.

CESAR AZPILICUETA (Chelsea): There is a reason why the Spain international was the only man to play every minute of Chelsea's Premier League title-winning campaign — there is no more versatile, consistent or reliable defender in England right now. As Blues boss Antonio Conte enthused, "It means that Azpi is a great player, a champion. Because when you do this and you haven't injuries or suspensions, it means you are great on the pitch and, above all, off the pitch."

DIEGO GODIN (Atletico Madrid): One wonders how much differently Manuel Pellegrini's time in charge of Manchester City would have panned out had he managed to persuade the Uruguayan centre-half to move to the Etihad two years ago. Indeed, there's not a side in the world what wouldn't be strengthened by the addition of his brand of old-school, no-nonsense defending. As well as being both aggressive and composed, Godin is also loyal. "I feel just like every other fan of this club," he said, ruling out leaving Atletico earlier this year. They are lucky to have him. And we are lucky to get to watch him demonstrate that the art of defending isn't dead.

MARCELO (Real Madrid): After netting a late winner in Real Madrid's crucial 2-1 win over Valencia at the Bernabeu, the Brazilian stated: "We dug deep into our soul and we've shown who we are." With his precious goal, Marcelo also demonstrated who he is: the best left-back in the world. No other defender across Europe's top five leagues has provided as many assists this season (10), while the 29-year-old's defensive attributes are often unfairly overlooked. He may never match Roberto Carlos' appearance record for a foreign player at Real but he has arguably equalled his compatriot's level of sustained excellence.

THIAGO ALCANTARA (Bayern Munich): With Barcelona currently being berated for allowing Dani Alves to join Juventus on a free transfer last summer, it is worth pointing out that they made an even bigger mistake in letting Thiago Alcantara leave for Bayern Munich. At least Alves was 33 when he left; Thiago was only 22. Now free of injuries, the midfielder is showing just why Pep Guardiola made him his one and only priority signing when he took charge at the Allianz Arena in 2013. Thiago has proven integral to Bayern's Bundesliga title triumph, the man who makes Carlo Ancelotti's side tick. Indeed, only last month, he acknowledged: "This is my best season as a professional."

N'GOLO KANTE (Chelsea): Chelsea fans like to say, "70 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered by water — the rest is covered by N’Golo Kante." It's only a slight exaggeration, with the France international having proven the key cog in a second consecutive Premier League title-winning campaign with his staggering stamina, remarkable work-rate and defensive excellence. Blues boss Antonio Conte is a very hard man to please, yet he sees Kante as the perfect professional. "N'Golo is a fantastic guy and a fantastic player," he enthused. "Great commitment, great behaviour, a great example to everyone else." No arguments, here!

BERNARDO SILVA (Monaco): Edinson Cavani may have been crowned Ligue 1's player of the year, but he hasn't been the best player in France this season. That honour belongs to Bernardo Silva. Despite operating in an era in which physique is ranked above technique, the 22-year-old playmaker proved that the game is played with the mind — not the feet. Indeed, as PSG legend Pauleta stated: "Some might say he is small and not tough enough, but he is different than other players. He is doing things other players are not capable of doing." Like inspiring Monaco to a surprise title triumph with his artistry and finesse.

LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona): Some people said Messi was past his best. They were wrong. Nowhere was this more thrillingly and emphatically demonstrated than at the Santiago Bernabeu on April 23. Casemiro kicked him. Marcelo elbowed him. Sergio Ramos tried to chop him in two. But Messi kept coming. Right until the very last seconds, when the Pichichi winner fired home his 500th goal for Barcelona to earn his side a famous 3-2 victory at the home of their great rivals, Real Madrid. Then, he stopped and stood silently, defiantly, before a crowd baying for more of his blood and showed them the back of his shirt. No.10. Messi. Still the greatest player in the world.

ALEXIS SANCHEZ (Arsenal): If there was one moment that typified what Alexis Sanchez is all about, it was when he sealed a crucial victory for his side at Stoke just moments after signalling to the bench that he would have to come off injured the next time the ball went dead. Essentially, the Chilean is as tenacious as he talented, "a fighter" as Arsene Wenger calls him. There is finesse to his game, too, though — and even that was on show at the Britannia, with Alexis producing the pass of the Premier League season to set up Mesut Ozil for a goal that made it 10 assists this term for a player who has also netted 24 times. Where would Arsenal be without him?! 

KYLIAN MBAPPE (Monaco): It had been obvious since he replaced Thierry Henry as Monaco's youngest ever player (December 2015) and youngest ever goalscorer (February 2016) that Kylian Mbappe was a special talent. Just how special, though, only became evident this year, as the fearless, seemingly jet-propelled teenager inspired Monaco to their first Ligue 1 title triumph in 17 years. He's not the new Thierry Henry, though. Just ask Juventus man-marker extraordinaire Andrea Barzagli, who spoke for the rest of us grizzled veterans when he recently enthused, "I've never seen anyone like Mbappe before."

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