Soccer Mock Draft: Building the perfect starting XI

With the soccer calendar on hold, theScore's editors took the opportunity to review the sport's landscape. Gordon Brunt, Michael Chandler, Anthony Lopopolo, Gianluca Nesci, and Daniel Rouse participated in a standard fantasy mock draft with one very simple directive: Build the perfect starting XI.

Round 1

Pick Player (Club) Manager
1 Lionel Messi (Barcelona) Lopopolo
2 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) Chandler
3 Sadio Mane (Liverpool) Nesci
4 Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) Brunt
5 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) Rouse

Analysis: No surprises off the top, as Lionel Messi was always going first overall. Rapidly rising megastar Kylian Mbappe, who has thrust himself into the spotlight as the game's next generational icon, follows at No. 2. Sadio Mane may be a slight reach at No. 3, but Nesci felt he had to make the leap to ensure the 27-year-old didn't get scooped up before his next pick.

Round 2

Pick Player (Club) Manager
6 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) Rouse
7 Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Brunt
8 Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) Nesci
9 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) Chandler
10 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) Lopopolo

Analysis: Cristiano Ronaldo may not be quite the same scoring force - though he was enjoying a fine Serie A season after some early struggles - but Chandler grabbing him at No. 9 already feels like a steal. Mohamed Salah with the next pick returns great value, too. Any member of this quintet could easily have gone in the first round without anyone batting an eye.

Round 3

Pick Player (Club) Manager
11 Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) Lopopolo
12 Eden Hazard (Real Madrid) Chandler
13 Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) Nesci
14 Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) Brunt
15 Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) Rouse

Analysis: The varying strategies are starting to show, as Lopopolo and Chandler continue to load up on celebrated attackers, while the other three managers have each nabbed at least one defender by this point. Rouse's selection of Joshua Kimmich is particularly shrewd, as the shape-shifting German can slot into various positions.

Round 4

Pick Player (Club) Manager
16 Alisson (Liverpool) Rouse
17 Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) Brunt
18 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) Nesci
19 Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona) Chandler
20 Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) Lopopolo

Analysis: The first 'keeper is off the board. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool shot-stopper Alisson gets the nod, continuing the strong run on Reds stars. On paper, the rest of the round looks highly unorthodox. An argument can be made that each of these players came off the board too early, including Alisson. It seems there's a specific fit everyone is pursuing.

Round 5

Pick Player (Club) Manager
21 N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) Lopopolo
22 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) Chandler
23 Paul Pogba (Manchester United) Nesci
24 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) Brunt
25 Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) Rouse

Analysis: The point above is drilled home here, with round five featuring more established proverbial "superstars" than its predecessor. This is also the first round when a Liverpool player wasn't selected. It's quite the squad Jurgen Klopp has put together at Anfield.

Round 6

Pick Player (Club) Manager
26 Leroy Sane (Manchester City) Rouse
27 Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City) Brunt
28 Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus) Nesci
29 Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) Chandler
30 Fabinho (Liverpool) Lopopolo

Analysis: Chandler getting Thiago Alcantara at No. 29 is the best value of the draft so far. Arguably the top midfielder in the game right now, the Bayern Munich maestro will pull the strings and dictate play. Thanks to his long injury layoff, some may have forgotten just how electrifying Leroy Sane is flying down the left wing. Rouse clearly isn't one of those people.

Round 7

Pick Player (Club) Manager
31 Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain) Lopopolo
32 David Alaba (Bayern Munich) Chandler
33 Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) Nesci
34 Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) Brunt
35 Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) Rouse

Analysis: David Alaba going off the board at No. 32 started a run on left-backs, with Nesci and Brunt following suit to make sure they're not stuck trying to compensate elsewhere for an obvious weakness in their squad. As is the case in real life, Georginio Wijnaldum will be the glue guy on his team.

Round 8

Pick Player (Club) Manager
36 Jordi Alba (Barcelona) Rouse
37 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) Brunt
38 Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona) Nesci
39 Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid) Chandler
40 Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) Lopopolo

Analysis: All La Liga, all the time. Karim Benzema, who for a long time this season was the lone contributor at Real Madrid player capable of finding the back of the net, is the only attack-minded player taken in this round, with managers beginning to fill the few remaining holes in their squads. Lopopolo is clearly confident his team will be good enough to survive with 10 men on the pitch.

Round 9

Pick Player (Club) Manager
41 Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund) Lopopolo
42 Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich) Chandler
43 Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City) Nesci
44 Rodri (Manchester City) Brunt
45 Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) Rouse

Analysis: Wilfred Ndidi, the ball-winning machine whose prowess in protecting the backline is rivaled only by N'Golo Kante, allows Nesci to field a more adventurous lineup elsewhere, knowing the Leicester linchpin will hold things down in midfield. Keeping goals out was the theme of the round, with everyone opting for defensive-minded pieces.

Round 10

Pick Player (Club) Manager
46 Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain) Rouse
47 Ederson (Manchester City) Brunt
48 Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) Nesci
49 Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City) Chandler
50 Theo Hernandez (AC Milan) Lopopolo

Analysis: At this point, it's all about drafting for need and filling the remaining gaps. That could mean finding versatility, a creative spark, someone between the sticks, or a full-back who offers attacking verve on the flank. Theo Hernandez will be fuming about his brother getting snapped up one round earlier than him, we're sure.

Round 11

Pick Player (Club) Manager
51 Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan) Lopopolo
52 Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) Chandler
53 Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) Nesci
54 Luka Modric (Real Madrid) Brunt
55 Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) Rouse

Analysis: Luka Modric may not be the all-conquering midfield dynamo he was at his Ballon d'Or-winning peak, but it still seems crazy he was two picks away from going undrafted. Wilder still, Sergio Aguero came even closer to the cutoff line. Being gifted the consistently prolific Argentine with the final pick was too good an opportunity for Rouse to pass up.

Not Selected

With four managers going for a lineup that includes only one striker - and one of those teams using a fluid attack that doesn't even field a traditional No. 9 - some marquee names were bound to be left behind. That list includes Roberto Firmino, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Romelu Lukaku, and Harry Kane. There was also no place for Paulo Dybala, though Nesci came within inches of taking him in the final round.

Who was the most egregious snub? Have your say in the comments.

The Teams

Team Lopopolo

Attacking versatility is the name of the game for Lopopolo, with his quartet of forwards totally interchangeable. All four can swap spots with one another at a moment's notice to wreak havoc. And if all else fails, Messi can take matters into his own hands. There's no better ace in the hole than the Argentine magician. It's not the most physically imposing team, but that's not really a problem when the squad can run circles around opponents.

Team Chandler

That front-three is scary good, and getting the ball away from silky midfielders Thiago and Frenkie de Jong will be nearly impossible. There are potentially some questions at the back because rising star Dayot Upamecano is the only defender whose best attribute is actually his defensive ability, but Jan Oblak should more than make up for that. The familiarity between that Bayern Munich triangle on the left side of the pitch can only be considered a positive, too.

Team Nesci

Skill, speed, and - crucially for this manager - flair everywhere. This is supposed to be fun, after all. Deploying Jadon Sancho and Mane to craft chances for Erling Haaland is simply delicious, while Paul Pogba and Marco Verratti will be free to take risks. Ndidi will also need to cover for the super adventurous full-backs, which is a hell of a lot to ask. Trotting out a familiar center-back duo should help to manage his workload, though. Besides, if there's ever any trouble, Alphonso Davies can use his superhuman speed to snuff it out.

Team Brunt

Defensive strength is king. It's true what they say: You can't lose if you don't concede any goals. Savvy veteran Cesar Azpilicueta supports the best center-back pairing, while Rodri offers another layer of protection - as if the impregnable Virgil van Dijk needs any help. The lone concern? The midfield looks a bit wooden compared to the other sides, and that lack of vigor puts the attacking onus on Neymar's shoulders. But if the chances are created, Benzema and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will convert them.

Team Rouse

A good ol' 4-4-2. When you're working with these players, suddenly that formation doesn't seem so outdated. Kevin De Bruyne will provide the special spark in midfield, and there's plenty of industry around him to make sure the team always maintains balance and shape. The front two aren't known for creating their own chances, as both Aguero and Robert Lewandowski need some degree of service. That could be an issue if other teams outnumber the midfield, but both the wide midfielders and full-backs are more than capable of picking up the slack.

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Soccer Mock Draft: Building the perfect starting XI
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