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25th Nov 2016

Which European city has the best combined XI?

We've forced big rivals to come together to create the ultimate European Cup of combined XIs.

Benjamin Lowrie

Everyone knows derbies aren’t as good as they used to be.

As much as Sky Sports wants us to believe in thrillers, we know every time Arsenal and Spurs meet it will probably end 1-1. We know United will never beat City by more than one goal from now until the end of time. All the captains are really small these days so there’s not even any interesting fights on the pitch.

In the grimly cosmopolitan absence of bastards like Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, we’ve been forced to make our own fun on derby day – and there is no better example of this than the combined XI.

In abstract, these are a fun little pub game where you and your mates try to squeeze eleven good players out of Newcastle and Sunderland, and then form that dripping, oozing mess into a feasible football team.

In reality, though: oh my god. We need to talk about Combined XIs. They are an absolute mess.

The other week Sol Campbell put Eric Dier, quite visibly a stumpy, porridgey boy, at right wing in his Arsenal-Spurs combined team.

Then, Charlie Nicholas, the George Costanza of Soccer Saturday, blagged a ‘combined’ England-Scotland XI in anticipation of the World Cup qualifier. He included a grand total of zero Scottish players.

This is where the grand old tradition of the combined eleven has gone astray. It’s obviously cheating to cram in players you rate in weird positions; and you can’t just say England’s players are all better – you have to lie and say you think Scott Brown is a top, top footballer.

So, to bring back order and reason, here’s what the actual, proper, not-cheating combined XI of the major footballing cities in Europe would look like:




Just to address it early on, nip it in the bud: there’s obviously no West Ham players in this team. The reason for this is that West Ham don’t have very many good players, and for that, I apologise.

Harry Kane loses out to Diego Costa only because he hasn’t played as much this season, likewise Fabregas and Giroud, while Hazard and Sanchez face absolutely zero competition for their spot on the wings.

As Azpilicueta can play right or left, it was a straight choice between Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – Walker creeps ahead on experience.

Mesut Ozil will make the team when he stops exclusively showing up against the likes of Abandoned Soviet Commune FC and turns up in a proper game.




Put your hand over the bottom inch of that XI. Look at what an incredible midfield and attack the two Manchester giants have. The unbelievable amount of quality, and depth behind it is mind-blowing to think about – talents like Fernandinho, Herrera, Fernando don’t even get a look-in.

Now take your hand away. Look at the defence. That’s not a joke. That’s the best you can come up with between the two of them.

Kompany misses out because he hasn’t had working legs since 2014, and I’ve gone for Ibrahimovic where others might make a case for Agüero.

Devil’s advocates and people with Twitter accounts called like: ‘@Registaholic’ or something will try to convince you Mkhitaryan is better than De Bruyne, but I’m not having it.




Quite an interesting one, this: Liverpool, who are suddenly really good after spending loads of money, allied with Everton, who are also suddenly really good, and have also spent loads of money.

The strength of these squads combined would make circa 2005 David Moyes weep into Tony Hibbert’s rough, overworked hands. There wasn’t even room for Seamus Coleman, Gareth Barry or Yannick Bolasie – all top players.

There’s also a bit of a crunch on the Liverpool side of things, with no space for Wijnaldum and Lovren for Liverpool, besides Mane who could very easily have nicked Lukaku’s forward spot.

The only really easy pick of this lot was Karius, as Everton inexplicably decided to start their season without a proper goalkeeper.




Smashing into the continent now, starting with arguably the strongest two sides in Europe over the last few seasons, and you’ll not be surprised to learn that the team picks itself.

Real’s historically imbalanced, top-heavy squad dominates the top of the pitch, while Atletico’s unreasonably solid backline firm things up at the other end.

The midfield, in honesty, could have been any number of Modric, Gabi, Kroos or Koke, who I think we can all agree are all very good at football.




“Not exactly Maldini, Pirlo and Zanetti” doesn’t even begin to cover the state of the Milan teams these days.

No one of much note missed out, unless you rate Donnarumma above Handanovic, or fancy Montolivo to outshine Perisic without any ligaments. If you’re really into FIFA you might argue for Murillo over Romagnoli.

Gary Medel, of ‘Relegated With Cardiff’ fame, walked into this team. Ever Banega partners him. A mess.




Roma and Lazio – the Milan derby’s ugly, forgotten younger brother – has come into the spotlight recently. As the Milan teams have fallen to pieces and Juventus’ city rivals are pub trivia, there’s only been one competitive, and fiercely competed city rivalry in the Serie A, and it lives in Rome.

Even though both squads are packed with solid, big name players, there can be very little argument about where the true quality lies. Romantics will say Totti should be in there, purists that Parolo is the more complete player (they’re right – he’s not 40), but the only real toss-up here is between Immobile and Roma’s Dzeko – I’ve gone with Immobile because he scores more often.




Something you might not have realised: Literally every good Turkish team plays in the city of Istanbul. All three of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas play their home games in the famous football city.

On the face of it this makes selecting a best XI quite a challenge, particularly following a foreign influx after the relaxation of the Turkish homegrown quota last year. However, in terms of real quality players it’s still fairly slim pickings.

Despite the strong competition at the top, Van Persie is the clear leader in quality; with experience and youth flanking him on either side with Quaresma and Bruma, respectively.

Gökhan Inler, whose stint at Leicester somehow amounted to a year as a training cone and a Premier League winner’s medal stands in front of a very experienced, and extremely hard back four.




Besides the indignity of featuring two Fulham rejects from their 2014 relegation, this Lisbon team actually looks pretty decent.

Benfica, who are always good, and Sporting, who’ve seemingly only just recovered from losing the boy Cristiano back in 2003, combine for a team that absolutely screams ‘Europa League semi-finalists’.

As with any Portuguese team, the young players here (Carvalho, Grimaldo) are probably destined for greater things, while the older players probably don’t have a lot left to give – solid, but not spectacular.




Officially the worst combined XI, absolutely no arguments to be had about this one. Couldn’t even put Joey Barton in for banter because he’s walked out.

It’s basically just Celtic’s (quite poor) first team, with a couple of Rangers players you might remember from a really, really late night Football League Show. Even Manish would struggle to find much to say about this one.

At the absolute scraping-the-barrel least, it’s nice to see Kolo Toure’s still doing his thing.