Nothing unites people more than an outrage shared. Common goals and interests are all well and good, but it takes something more visceral to really bring us together.
To wit: the PFA Premier League Team of the Year (they mean "season", of course, but that is currently the least of their concerns), released into the wild on Thursday morning and instantly torn to pieces by the ravenous denizens of the football Twittersphere.
Looking at things soberly – and at the risk of putting a price on my head – it is not immediately apparent that the selection is so objectionable. It stands to reason that Chelsea and Tottenham should dominate proceedings, for a start, and one would struggle to begrudge the inclusion of any of the front six, all of whom have had excellent seasons. Some poor intern has probably been demoted to tea duty for putting Eden Hazard on the right and Sadio Mané on the left, but that's a minor quibble.
The principal lines of complaint have centred on the back five. David De Gea in goal over, say, Tom Heaton? No César Azpilicueta, to many minds Chelsea's most reliable defender this season? And Gary Cahill? Over Toby Alderweireld? Really?! They publish this and expect us not to riot?
The first law of the digital age (football + internet = anger) ensures that picking these teams is a thankless task. But someone has to do it and if you read the title of this piece you will have already gleaned that I am one of those someones. The question, now the smoke is beginning to clear, is this: how would that XI get on against the equivalent teams representing Europe's other top leagues?
Clearly, this is purely speculative. You're doubtless already quaking with anger at the teams below. But some rough methodology has been employed: (1) These sides, like the PFA's, are based on domestic league performances. (2) The players selected had to fit into a vaguely feasible tactical set-up – no 2-3-5 formations here. (3) As the Premier League XI featured players from five different teams, that has been taken as a minimum requirement to prevent, say, a team of 11 Bayern Munich players.
Capiche? On with the show…
Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid); DaniCarvajal (Real Madrid), SergioRamos (Real Madrid), Diego Godín (Atlético Madrid), FilipeLuís (Atlético Madrid); Jonathan Viera (Las Palmas), Steven N'Zonzi (Sevilla); Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Neymar (Barcelona); Luis Suárez (Barcelona)
With apologies to Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić, the team-quota system ensures midfield spots for Steven N'Zonzi, who has had a fine season with Sevilla, and Las Palmas magician Jonathan Viera. Aside from that it's very much a Barcelona-Madrid affair.
Chances against PFA XI
That backline would take some beating, for a start: the Diego Godín/Sergio Ramos pairing is probably the best in any of these sides and their experience would be a big factor against Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane. Dani Carvajal might not have a great time if Hazard and Danny Rose double up and N'Golo Kanté might boss the midfield, but it's hard to see that Spanish attack failing to make hay. La Liga wins.
GianluigiBuffon (Juventus); MattiaCaldara (Atalanta), FedericoFazio (Roma), GiorgioChiellini (Juventus), Alex Sandro (Juventus); MohamedSalah (Roma), MiralemPjanić (Juventus), RadjaNainggolan (Roma), Alejandro Gómez (Atalanta); Dries Mertens (Napoli), Andrea Belotti (Torino)
Juventus are naturally well represented, although there's no place for forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala. Instead, the line is led by Napoli's Dries Mertens and Torino hitman Andrea Belotti, who edges out Edin Džeko to take us up to five teams. Alejandro 'Papu' Gómez is a shoo-in at the end of a wonderful season, while Atalanta team-mate Mattia Caldara plays slightly of position because Dani Alves has only started 13 games.
Chances against PFA XI
You imagine Kane would be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Federico Fazio, who has been solid for Roma but flopped at Tottenham. Hazard vs Caldara looks a mismatch, too, not least because the latter won't get much defensive help from Mo Salah. The midfield battle probably goes Serie A's way – Dele Alli is going to spend most of his time bombing on – but the PFA XI looks too powerful on the flanks. Premier League wins.
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich); LukaszPiszczek (Borussia Dortmund), NiklasSüle (Hoffenheim), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), SeadKolašinac (Schalke); ArjenRobben (Bayern Munich), ThiagoAlcântara (Bayern Munich), NabyKeïta (RB Leipzig), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig); Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Pierre-EmerickAubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
Naby Keïta and Emil Forsberg are rewarded for breakout campaigns at RB Leipzig and Niklas Süle sneaks in just before he swaps Hoffenheim for Bayern in the summer. In-demand Schalke full-back Sead Kolašinac starts on the left of the defensive line, while the right-back berth goes to Lukasz Piszczek, who has been among the goals for Borussia Dortmund.
Chances against PFA XI
The strike pairing of Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could make mincemeat of Cahill and David Luiz on their day, so you'd fancy the Bundesliga XI to score a couple. There's also plenty of craft and athleticism, but a perhaps slight lack of experience, mainly due to the fact we couldn't pick too many Bayern players. Manuel Neuer is a formidable barrier in goal, but Kane, Alli and co would probably have some joy against that defence. High-scoring draw.
YoanCardinale (Nice); Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), KamilGlik (Monaco), ThiagoSilva (Paris Saint-Germain), Benjamin Mendy (Monaco); RyadBoudebouz (Montpellier), Jean Seri (Nice), Fabinho (Monaco), Thomas Lemar (Monaco); EdinsonCavani (Paris Saint-Germain), AlexandreLacazette (Lyon)
The temptation was to overload on Monaco players, but we've spread the love in recognition of the fact that, for much of the season, it has been a three-horse race for the French title. Thomas Meunier and Edinson Cavani have had excellent seasons for PSG, while Nice are represented by midfield dynamo Jean Seri and young goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale. Kylian Mbappé misses out so we can meet the club quota, with attacking spots for Lyon's prolific Alexandre Lacazette and Ryad Boudebouz of Montpellier.
Chances against PFA XI
This side might not have as many household names as, say, the Spanish XI, but it's full of players on the up. Meunier, Kamil Glik and Benjamin Mendy are all impressive performers, although some of their best work is done on the front foot, so the likes of Hazard, Lukaku and Mané might fancy their chances of exploiting space on the counter-attack. Kanté would be a busy boy against two patrolling midfielders, however, and you'd also back Thomas Lemar, Lacazette and Cavani to pose problems. High-scoring draw.