Teammates XI: A line-up of the greatest teammates from the modern era
A guest piece from Kyle Norbury – the Creator of Teammates App. This is a platform to test your knowledge of footballers, and a football quiz like no other. Here, Kyle selects a Teammates XI: a line-up of the greatest teammates from the modern era…
Individuality has taken over football media due to the rise of Football Twitter, Fantasy Premier League and FIFA Ultimate Team, as well as complex player stats becoming more widely available online. Footballers are now more often referred to singularly rather than as part of a team of players. Combinations of players are rarely discussed, such as how two or more players have a strong understanding with each other or simply complement their contrasting roles on the pitch. Perhaps this is down to a lack of statistical evidence to back up views, but it is clear that when a player’s strike partner or centre-back partner is out of the team, it affects their performance and ultimately the whole team suffers.
When Liverpool left out Mo Salah for Minamino against Everton in their first game back from lockdown, Alexander-Arnold was not as effective down Salah’s usual right flank and Roberto Firmino’s link up play was ineffective in a lacklustre 0-0 draw. Minamino’s style of play as a tricky technical player is very different to Salah’s and both Alexander-Arnold and Firmino have had less than half a season to forge an understanding with Minamino, whereas they have played alongside Salah for the most part of two seasons. This does not mean that Minamino is necessarily an inferior player to Salah, but more so that he does not yet fit as well in Liverpool’s successful system, as shown when Salah returned to the line-up the following game and Liverpool ran out comfortable 4-0 winners v Crystal Palace.
Combinations can be crucial at the elite level. Knowing when and where a teammate will make a run or being able to provide defensive cover for a forward-thinking number 8 in a midfield pairing can be the difference-maker in a closely contested game. I decided to create an 11 made up of legendary teammates from the past 20 years.
Each player is a club teammate of at least one other player in the line-up. Players who have played alongside each other form a teammates link one position up, down or across (see image below), but for variation, no player forms more than two links to players from the same club and players from the same club cannot be linked more than twice in succession. I opted for a traditional 4-4-2 formation for the most potential links.
Choosing the best teammates from the modern era was a struggle, but the line-up fell into place as I managed to form two links from five players. I must note that there are too many other reasonable alternatives for each pairing to mention.
Petr Cech & Ashley Cole
Partnerships between goalkeepers and full-backs are not particularly vital, as the entire defence are responsible for their organisation, but Petr Cech and Ashley Cole stand out for their longevity for Chelsea. Cole was not involved in Cech and Chelsea’s record-breaking 2004/05 season, which was arguably Cech’s best season with Chelsea, conceding just 15 goals. While that feat seemed a team effort, Cech and Cole performed consistently well as part of an unstable Chelsea side over their eight seasons as teammates. Managers came and went and the defence changed apart from the ever-present captain John Terry, but Cech and Cole played a significant part in Chelsea winning every trophy there was to win in their time at Stamford Bridge.
Paulo Maldini & Alessandro Nesta
Maldini and Nesta are among the first to come to mind when thinking about centre-back partnerships, mainly for their success over an entire decade at Milan. Maldini became a regular in the Milan team 17 years before Nesta as part of Milan’s early 90’s golden generation, but his club’s success dried up in the late 90’s. Maldini had gone 8 years without winning the Champions League and 4 years without winning Serie A until Maldini had the chance to play alongside an equally composed and well-positioned defender. Nesta helped transform the Rossoneri into Champions League winners. They won the Champions League in their first season playing in the same defence, but the partnership properly began when Maldini moved in-field from left back and the trophies continued, including another Champions League in 2006/07. Wayne Rooney names the pair as the toughest he has faced in his career.
Dani Alves & Lionel Messi
We all know about Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance, but it’s sometimes undervalued how big a part Dani Alves played in Messi’s goalscoring records, especially in The Flea’s fleeting years under Pep Guardiola, when he was still considered a right winger. Alves’ overlapping runs drew the full-back out of position and meant that Messi could dribble inside onto his magical left foot. Alves also had the pace and stamina to make attacking runs inside into the box to give Messi a forward passing option. There is also the small matter of the two winning 23 trophies together.
Lionel Messi & Luis Suarez
Of all the forwards Messi has played alongside, including Ibrahimovic, Villa and Neymar, Messi has had the best understanding with Suarez. Suarez allows Messi to do what he does best. Since joining in 2014, the Uruguayan has carried out Messi’s running off the ball to close down defenders and stretch the opposition, giving Messi more space to operate in. Think Messi and Suarez and you think of Messi chipping a delightfully weighted through-ball to find a clever run from Suarez, who so often finds the back of the net.
— Mahmoud Maher محمود مَاْهِر (@MahmudMaher) April 11, 2014
Steven Gerrard & Luis Suarez
Gerrard has said he actually formed a better partnership with Fernando Torres when he played further forward, yet the telepathy between him and Suarez at Liverpool is undeniable. Gerrard’s exceptional forward passes from deep to an on-running Suarez was a feature of Liverpool’s best play during their 2013/14 nearly season. Suarez hit 31 league goals that season with the help of Gerrard, who had his best goalscoring season himself since his partnership with Torres in 2008/09.
Steven Gerrard & Xabi Alonso
Gerrard and Alonso was the midfield duo that helped Liverpool win an improbable Champions League in 2005 despite having a limited squad. Gerrard being able to play box-to-box meant that a defensive midfielder behind them wasn’t essential but added extra protection to Rafa Benitez’s well-drilled team against stronger opposition, whether that was Momo Sissoko, Didi Hamann or later Javier Mascherano. Both had the passing ability to reach anyone on the pitch with accuracy.
Xabi Alonso & Cristiano Ronaldo
They didn’t achieve what they deserved to under Mourinho at Real, but Alonso and Ronaldo were the best performers in a team overshadowed by the dominance of Barcelona. Alonso’s cross-field passes were a beauty to behold and gave Ronaldo the service he needed to kick-start his Blancos career. Unsurprisingly, Alonso and Ronaldo flourished after Mourinho departed, as Zidane allowed his team to commit further forward.
Rashford: “Rooney & Ronaldo were unreal together. In 2007-08 it was an unreal partnership, they have been huge players I have looked up to.” pic.twitter.com/qnSj75faAw
— Rahul Singh (@forevruntd) October 1, 2016
Cristiano Ronaldo & Wayne Rooney
The emergence of both Rooney and Ronaldo at Man United came at a similar time. Both were young, exciting attacking players in a team full of established players, which was the perfect storm for United to win three Premier League titles back-to-back and the Champions League in between. They could interchange between playing wide and centrally. Their pace and control on the counter-attack was breath-taking too, summed up by Rooney’s goal against Bolton in 2007 following a Bolton corner.
Kyle Norbury – Creator of Teammates App
Think you could pick a better team? Get involved in the conversation and let us know your line-up here using the hashtag #TFBTeammatesXI…