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So far, the European Team of the Season is comprised of Haaland and Messi.

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As the World Cup kicks off, GOAL has chosen our best combined XI from Europe’s “big five” leagues from the first few months of the season.

The first half of the season flew by at breakneck speed, with more than a few surprises thrown in as top European clubs dealt with the demands of a grueling fixture schedule in preparation for Qatar 2022.

Arsenal and Napoli have defied the odds to take the lead in the Premier League and Serie A, respectively, while PSG’s all-star front three appears to be reaching its full potential and Bayern Munich are finally clicking as a collective under Julian Nagelsmann.

A new generation of exciting young talent is emerging, and the household superstars have raised their game, making this one of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory.

Brice Samba is the goalkeeper.

Samba disappointed Nottingham Forest fans by declining to sign a new contract in the summer, despite having played a key role in the club’s return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence.

However, since joining Lens, he has helped them emerge as the closest challengers to PSG in Ligue 1 with 11 wins from their first 15 games.

Lens have the division’s second-best defensive record, and Samba has already kept seven clean sheets, while his replacement at Forest, Dean Henderson, has conceded 30 goals in 15 Premier League games.

Kieran Trippier, RB (Newcastle)
Newcastle’s meteoric rise under Eddie Howe should not be dismissed as yet another example of money producing instant results, but smart recruitment at St James’ Park has undoubtedly played a significant role.

Trippier was signed from Atletico Madrid for a bargain price of £12 million in January, and he has started the season like a man possessed after having his start on Tyneside disrupted by serious injury.

As Newcastle have staked a claim for a place in the top four, the 32-year-old has taken on vice-captaincy duties and been the model of consistency at the back. He has also been a constant threat from set-pieces, and he has earned his place back in England’s squad for their latest quest for glory in Qatar.

Kim Min-jae, CB (Napoli)
Kim was faced with the daunting task of replacing Napoli favorite Kalidou Koulibaly after joining the club from Fenerbahce in the summer, but he has proven to be more than capable.

As Napoli stormed to the top of the Serie A standings and advanced to the Champions League knockout stages, the South Korean has been colossal in the heart of the defense and has also contributed two goals at the other end of the pitch.

Another summer signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia said of Kim’s influence: “In my opinion, he is one of the best in the world. If he’s defending, you’re up against an iron barrel!”

When the World Cup kicks off next week, players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez will find out firsthand…

William Saliba, CB (Arsenal)
No player has been more crucial to Arsenal’s rise to the top of the Premier League than Saliba, who has made the transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League look effortless since returning from a loan spell at Marseille.

Mikel Arteta has been rewarded for his patience with Saliba, who was signed in 2019, as the Frenchman has clearly shed the label of promising youngster.

Saliba is a finished product in terms of positional sense and possession composure, with his pace and strength making him a nightmare for strikers across the English Premier League.

The 21-year-old’s potential appears to be limitless, and Arsenal’s latest generational talent is on track to become the symbol of the club’s long-awaited return to the top of the game.

Joao Cancelo, LB (Man City)
Cancelo has cemented his reputation as Europe’s most exciting full-back this season, despite being asked to perform on the left rather than his preferred right-back position.

However, given how much responsibility he takes on in both attack and defense, pigeonholing the Portugal international into one role is impossible, with his versatility proving invaluable for Pep Guardiola once again.

Cancelo is a master of both feet, and his grace on the ball is breathtaking. His passing range is also exceptional, as evidenced by the sensational trivela cross he produced for Erling Haaland to score a late winner in the Champions League against his former club Borussia Dortmund.

Kevin De Bruyne is the captain (Manchester City)
If there were any doubts about De Bruyne’s status as the best midfielder in Premier League history, he has put them to rest this season.

The Belgian maestro has taken his game to new heights since joining forces with Haaland, who has been the grateful recipient of his devastatingly accurate service week in and week out.

No one can turn the ball over like De Bruyne, or find the top corner with the cleanest strike you’ll ever see, as he did in City’s 3-1 win over Brighton in October.

“He can be better,” Pep Guardiola said after the game. He’s not performing at his best, Kevin.

Jamal Musiala, Chief Minister (Bayern Munich)
Musiala has a good chance of being remembered as the best player England has never had.

Since making his debut as a 17-year-old in June 2020, the former Chelsea academy prospect, who chose to represent Germany over the Three Lions, has established himself as a vital cog in an all-star Bayern Munich side.

He has been arguably the best player for the German champions this season, with nine goals and six assists in 14 Bundesliga appearances, and is now poised to be one of the stars of the 2022 World Cup.

Lothar Matthaus, a Bayern legend, has even compared Musiala to a certain Lionel Messi, and the biggest compliment we can give is that such a statement does not feel like a stretch for a youngster who still has his entire career ahead of him.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, LW (Napoli)
And now we come to Napoli’s Georgian magician Kvaratskhelia, who has already claimed the Signing of the Season award.

The 21-year-old, who joined Napoli for €10 million from Dinamo Batumi in the previous transfer window, has been outstanding in his first 17 games for the club, earning the nickname ‘Kvaradona’ after club icon Diego.

Kvaratskhelia is unconventional and unpredictable, a new breed of winger that defenders across Europe aren’t sure how to contain, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, whom he ruthlessly exposed when Napoli thrashed Liverpool 4-1 on matchday one of the Champions League.

For the first time in decades, Napoli are genuine title contenders on multiple fronts, and with Kvaratskhelia leading the charge, there is no limit to how far they can go.

Neymar is the CAM (PSG)
Neymar’s PSG career has been marred by injuries and off-field drama, to the point where he has yet to live up to his world record €222 million price tag, with some critics accusing him of a lack of effort and discipline.

Under new PSG coach Christophe Galtier, the former Barcelona man has done his best to silence his critics this season, scoring 15 goals in 20 games while also contributing 12 assists.

Galtier backed Neymar from the start, even when he was heavily linked with a summer move, and his approach has paid off, with the 30-year-old resuming the form that saw him emerge as a global superstar at Camp Nou.

An internal feud with Kylian Mbappe appears to be over, and he has rekindled his electrifying partnership with former Barcelona teammate Messi, with PSG finally looking like a team capable of winning the Champions League.

Lionel Messi, RW (PSG)
Messi’s debut season at PSG was forgettable, not least because he barely had a pre-season after being forced to leave his beloved Barcelona under circumstances that did not do his glorious legacy at Camp Nou justice.

Some thought the Argentine’s time at the top was over, but he has come back with a bang, proving he is still football’s most majestic figure even at the age of 35.

Messi has 12 goals and 14 assists in 2022-23, one more than he had all of last season, and he’s set up another 14, with Mbappe and Neymar on the receiving end of the majority of those killer passes.

Nobody can do what Messi does on the field, and he has reminded everyone of his otherworldly abilities in recent months.

Messi is back, and we can expect him to put on a show for the ages at the World Cup as he chases the only title missing from his resume with Argentina.

Erling Haaland, CF (Manchester City)
Haaland’s first appearance in front of English fans saw him miss from close range in a 3-1 Community Shield loss to Liverpool on July 22, lending credence to the notion that he would struggle to replicate his prolific form for Dortmund in the Premier League.

That setback, as it turned out, only strengthened the Norwegian’s resolve, as he has since been a force of nature for City, breaking records left, right, and center with a staggering 23 goals in 18 matches across all competitions.

Haaland was very good at Dortmund, but he’s been nothing short of outstanding at the Etihad Stadium, solving City’s No.9 conundrum instantly and giving De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the target man they deserved.

The 22-year-old is the Premier League’s most natural goalscorer, with his movement off the ball and cold-blooded finishing ability distinguishing him from the rest.

There doesn’t appear to be a defender alive who can deal with Haaland in full flow, and it’s a shame he won’t be on football’s biggest stage in Qatar.

Notable mentions
Samba was chosen ahead of Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has been in imperious form between the sticks in La Liga, allowing just five goals in 14 games.

Alejandro Balde, a teenager defender, has also played an important role, while Robert Lewandowski has scored 18 goals since joining from Bayern, but Barcelona’s disastrous Champions League exit cannot be overlooked.

Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe’s omission does not detract from his stellar start to the season, which has seen him score 19 goals, and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior looks set to compete with Mbappe for Ballon d’Or recognition in the future after making significant progress.

Eder Militao and David Alaba have been rock solid for Real Madrid, and Alex Moreno, Pedri, Jonathan Clauss, and Marco Verratti have also made strong cases in La Liga and Ligue 1.

In the Premier League, Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez has been instrumental in pulling the club out of a rut, while Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli has been a shining light during their incredible start to the season.

Leicester City’s James Maddison, Newcastle winger Miguel Almiron, and Tottenham frontman Harry Kane have also stood out, and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah made a late push for a spot in the all-star XI.

Joshua Kimmich and Christopher Nkunku have once again stood out in the Bundesliga, while Victor Osimhen, Nico Barella, and Sandro Tonali are among the other Serie A stars who deserve praise for their outstanding performances.

PSV winger Cody Gakpo has been making regular headlines outside of Europe’s most prestigious leagues, with his record of 13 goals and 17 assists from 24 games fueling rumours of a January transfer amid reported interest from Manchester United and Liverpool.

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