clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Managing Madrid Roundtable: Real Madrid’s Best XI Of The 2010’s

New, comments

Casillas or Navas? Alonso or Casemiro? Bale or Di María?

Real Madrid Celebrate After Victory In The Champions League Final Against Liverpool Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Real Madrid have had some fabulous players since the dawn of the 2010’s, leading to countless in-house debates over legacies and relative quality. Seven of the Managing Madrid staff thought it would be fun to dive into those discussions by picking their favorite eleven of the last decade.

Here are the ground rules:

  • Only football within the last decade can be looked at when making selections, with the exception of the 2009 part of the 2010 season. Football seasons do not follow the calendar year and it would be awkward to only consider half a season when making judgements.
  • The selections will be split into six parts: (1) Formation and goalkeeper, (2) defenders, (3) midfielders, (4) attackers, (5) coach, and (6) bench (consisting of seven players) and assistant coach.

Now, let’s get to it.


1. Formation and Goalkeeper

Real Madrid Training Session Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Om Arvind:

The rationale for my selections is based on picking those who have most significantly boosted Real Madrid’s title chances as an aggregate of their total career at the club. Therefore, while many tend to value a player’s peak more than anything else, I consider longevity to be an extremely important factor. Given the context, longevity could potentially outstrip a very high, but short-lived peak if the sum of lesser seasons led to a higher total impact on the chances of winning trophies.

Formation:

It is important to note that I am not choosing an eleven based on the assumption that its value is derived from its functionality on the pitch. That is a different exercise entirely and would significantly alter my thought process. However, to keep a balance in positional choices, I have gone with a 4-3-3 formation, with one goalkeeper, two center-backs, two fullbacks, one defensive midfielder, two central midfielders, two wingers, and one striker, and a standard bench (one goalkeeper, two defenders, two midfielders, a winger, and a striker).

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas.

Though it may not be the case for others, this is a relatively easy selection for me. Iker Casillas had three world class seasons in the chosen timeframe: 2009/10, 2010/11, and 2011/12. 2013/14 was a solid season, though it is hampered from a value perspective by a lack of minutes in the league. 2014/15 was probably Casillas’ worst at Madrid though it was definitely not the disaster that people remember it as.

Keylor Navas, by contrast, had one world class season — 2015/16. In 2016/17 and 2017/18, he regressed to ~average levels due, in part, to increased error-proneness.

@Tacticsplatform’s post-shot expected goals model, which judges how many goals a keeper is expected to concede by considering shot placement, supports my assertions on Navas’ decline and Casillas’ final season with the club (data was only available from 2014/15 onwards).

Post-shot xG for Real Madrid’s keepers in La Liga since 2014/15.
@Tacticsplatform

The “percentile since 2014/15” portion of the table puts into context the keepers’ shot-stopping figures by translating the “Goal per xG” column (the ratio of goals conceded to expected goals conceded per game) into a percentile rank. 2015/16 Navas’ shot-stopping was better than roughly 77% of all keepers, dipping down to the 50-60% region in the following two seasons.

2014/15 Iker Casillas’ shot-stopping was superior to a little over 67% of his peers, making it the second best season by a Real Madrid goalkeeper (when mentally adjusting for sample size — Navas only started 6 games in 2014/15 and 10 games in 2018/19) within the date range provided by the table.

Lucas Navarrete:

Formation: 4-3-3.

It’s been the one which brought success to the club ever since Ancelotti implemented it.

Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas.

It has not been the best decade in terms of Real Madrid goalkeepers as Casillas had entered his decline and Courtois has not been his former self ever since he signed for the club a year ago. In the end, Navas won three straight Champions League titles and ultimately that gives him the nod.

Kiyan Sobhani:

All the explanations for my selections are provided at the end.

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Iker.

Rob Husby:

Formation: 4-3-3.

This is the formation Real Madrid have used to win them several Champions Leagues under Zidane in just half of this decade alone. With the right players in form, it’s one of their most efficient.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas.

Casillas is the greatest Real Madrid goalkeeper of all time. He’s arguably one of the best goalkeepers of his generation. He was still a world class goalkeeper at the start of the decade, winning the World Cup with Spain in 2010. He was also a huge part of Real winning La Decima in 2013-14. Keylor Navas is right up there, though.

Kristofer McCormack:

Formation: 4-3-3: All good things that have happened for Real Madrid over the last ten years have come through this formation.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas.

Matt Wiltse:

The team of the decade will play in Real Madrid’s tried and true 4-3-3 formation utilized for the majority of the last six years.

GK: Keylor Navas.

There are a surprising number of candidates for this position: Diego López, Iker Casillas, Keylor Navas, and Thibaut Courtois among those to have held a starting position. Despite Iker’s legendary status, his form did drop after the Mourinho debacle while Keylor was between the sticks for the unprecedented 3-peat in Europe. The Costa Rican’s form dipped after the 15/16 season, but his crucial saves in the lead-up to the trophy-laden years make him the top choice.

Gabe Lezra:

The formation of the decade has to be a 4-3-3, which we saw implemented for most of the golden years. Madrid grew into the formation in the beginning of Ancelotti’s tenure, and deployed it magnificently throughout Zidane’s first term. The only other formation that we should consider is the 4-4-2, which both coaches deployed occasionally, with success. The point, though, is that Madrid’s 4-3-3 could easily become a 4-4-2, and in fact was structured that way on defense. So in essence, the side was really rolling out both these formations at once, which is a brilliant bit of tactical innovation from Ancelotti/Zidane.

The goalkeeper of the decade is Keylor Navas. Navas edges out Casillas, here, because as the decade wound down, Casillas’ play worsened and he was essentially out of the club by 2012. Navas came in to fill that void and occupied Madrid’s starting spot throughout the golden years. We’re only now seeing the extent of his value, as Courtois, a fantastic keeper in his own right, is unable to fill Keylor’s shoes.

2. Defenders

Real Madrid CF v Granada CF - La Liga Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Om:

Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo.

The only mildly debatable selection is Pepe over Raphaël Varane. Varane has had a fantastic career so far but has not shown the consistency that the Portuguese had in the 2010’s. From 2014-2016, Pepe put together the best stretch of defensive excellence in the club’s recent history (his peak was likely in 2014), allowing him to keep his starting place ahead of the younger Frenchman. Pepe also put together strong seasons in the Mourinho era before bowing out with a respectable 2016/17 campaign.

Varane has shown flashes of his generational ability in every single year he has been at Real Madrid, but he only became a starter in Pepe’s final season and has, till date, produced only one season of consistent world class quality — 2017/18.

Moving into the 2020’s, Varane has the potential to have the better career as he enters his prime and gets set to be the new leader of Real Madrid’s defense.

Lucas:

Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo.

The only questionable choice here is Pepe vs. Varane. Peak Pepe was arguably better than Varane but the Frenchman performed better in big games and is probably more consistent. I lean towards Pepe because he was more impressive but I’d understand anyone picking Varane. Carvajal, Ramos, and Marcelo are obvious choices but Coentrão and Arbeloa (especially the latter) deserve to be mentioned and one of them could make it into the bench.

Kiyan:

Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo.

Rob:

Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo.

Álvaro Arbeloa served the club with solid performances for many years, but it is clear that Carvajal is the more complete right back.

Ramos has been the top defender for this club this entire decade — not even an argument that he starts in the best XI.

Marcelo is in the same conversation as Ramos this decade. There hasn’t been a better left back for Real Madrid since Roberto Carlos. Both Ramos and Marcelo have been starters this whole decade.

I think Varane, especially for his age, is a better quality defender than Pepe and he’s been a big part of Real Madrid’s European success the last several seasons. Pepe is a club great and was a great pairing for years with Ramos, but I would personally take Varane, even with Pepe probably making more appearances the last decade.

Kristofer:

Casillas, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphäel Varane, Marcelo.

The backline mostly names itself, the only controversial pick is Varane over Pepe. I have chosen the latter as I started supporting the club since the end of the Mourinho era (2013), so Varane is the defender I’ve seen the most of. Many will claim I’m a hypocrite for including Iker Casillas with that admission, however since Casillas got me into football, I am willing to take that hit.

Matt:

RB: Dani Carvajal.

Arbeloa was the only other true competitor for this spot and despite being a soldier of the club, Carvajal runs away with the right back spot. The Spaniard had a true claim to the best right back in the world throne during the 16/17 season and has yet to be toppled as a starter since 2013, when he re-joined the club. The next decade may be a greater challenge with Achraf, Odriozola, and any future potential signing entering the fray to knock Dani off his perch.

CB: Pepe.

Despite Raphäel Varane performing at world class levels since Pepe’s departure, the Portuguese center back was unrivaled during his peak years. In the lead up to the Décima and Undécima triumphs, Pepe and Ramos were a formidable wall – without Pepe there would be no victory over Bayern Munich to send Madrid to their first final in 12 years and start a new era of European glory.

CB: Sergio Ramos.

Over the last decade, Ramos has cemented his status as a legendary figure of the club and one of the greatest ever players to wear the white shirt. His 93rd minute goal in Lisbon will mean he lives on in eternity in Real Madrid folklore.

LB: Marcelo.

At his peak, there was no one quite like Marcelo – the most unique player on this list. The Brazilian redefined the left back role and provided moments that would make your jaw drop. We may never see a player quite like Marcelo again.

Gabe:

Not a tough choice, here, as the same four defenders have largely stayed constant throughout the decade: Carvajal on the right, Varane and Ramos in the center, and Marcelo on the left. I defy anyone to disagree with those four, and on their day they were the best in the world.

3. Midfielders

Real Madrid CF v Granada CF - La Liga Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Om:

Luka Modrić, Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos.

Casemiro is a respectable choice for the defensive midfield position but Alonso gets the nod for his quality with the ball (which was at an all-time level) and without it (which was strong), which made him the centerpiece of both José Mourinho’s and Carlo Ancelotti’s differing systems. Casemiro has an outside shot at outstripping Alonso’s career value thanks to projected longevity, but the Brazilian would need to replicate the consistency of the latter half of 2015/16 and the sheer quality spattered throughout 2016/17 in at least two to three more campaigns to be in contention.

Lucas:

Alonso, Kroos, Modrić.

The only argument to be made here is Alonso vs. Casemiro. This time, I feel it’s quite obvious. He only played one season in a 4-3-3 formation but was the anchor in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 and was brilliant both defensively and also offensively, which puts him ahead of a defensive stud like Casemiro. Modrić and Kroos are quite possibly two of the greatest midfielders of this generation, so they clearly belong in this XI.

Kiyan:

Xabi Alonso, Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos.

Rob:

Modrić, Alonso, Kroos.

Modrić is a club legend at this point — a Ballon d’Or winner and a big reason why Real Madrid have had so much success over the last handful of seasons.

While Casemiro has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, Xabi Alonso played so well with Modrić when he was at Real Madrid. He was a complete midfielder and a true long ball threat who was also defensively responsible.

Kroos, much like Modrić, is a big reason why Real have the European success the last half of this decade. Getting him for only around €30 million from Bayern was an absolute bargain.

Kristofer:

Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modrić.

Another part of this team that picks itself. Sadly, I missed the Xabi Alonso era at defensive midfield although I will always have 2013/14. Kroos and Modrić are up there as one of the greatest midfield pairings in the modern era and are indisputable picks.

Matt:

CDM: Casemiro.

Even though I feel Xabi Alonso is the better player, Casemiro deserves the spot in team of the decade, just edging the former “#14”. The Brazilian has been a fundamental and indispensable piece to a Real Madrid side that dominated Europe for 5 years. Even in the lead up to La Décima, a year where Casemiro rarely featured, he was vital to Madrid’s progression past Dortmund, away in Germany, with a substitute appearance that saved Madrid’s blushes. Time and time again he’s made the crucial tackle or interception to keep Madrid in a game and has also scored more than his fair share of goals, including that wonder-strike in the Champions League final vs. Juventus.

CM: Luka Modrić.

Not only is the Croatian maestro in the team of the decade, but he probably makes Real Madrid’s all-time XI. What more can be said about the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner? At his peak, Modrić was everything; a calming presence, a breaker of lines, a two-way presence in the middle (and even on the flanks), completely press-resistant, and a leader.

CM: Toni Kroos.

What a return on investment. Toni Kroos was plucked from Bayern for a mere €25 million. Over the last 5 seasons, the German has had ice in his veins – rarely ever showing nerves. He is the metronome to the Madrid midfield and to have a pairing like Modrić, Kroos, and Casemiro peak at the same time meant Madrid had one of the greatest midfield trios to ever be formed.

Gabe:

A much more complicated choice. My heart wants me to pick Xabi Alonso as the starting DM, because I do believe that he was the best Madrid has had at that position in ages. But the fact is, the DM of the decade is Casemiro. With all his flaws and his strange all-around game, Casemiro still managed to dominate at the position. He scored in a UCL final. He was the fixed anchor during the Champions League three-peat.

The other two are not particularly hard. It has to be Modrić and Kroos. Undisputed kings of the center of midfield and arguably the best pairing Madrid has ever had. Hard to see how you could choose anyone else here.

4. Attackers

Real Madrid CF v Granada CF - La Liga Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Om:

Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The only difficult choice, here, is who to play on the right-wing — Gareth Bale or Ángel Di María? Bale has the Champions League Finals goals and has more seasons at the club, but his value has been hindered by injuries and seasons of differing quality. His debut campaign was excellent but was affected by muscular problems and the absence of a preseason. 2014/15 was good but represented a drop-off from his best before he rebounded in 2015/16 with his most efficient league campaign ever despite only playing what amounts to twenty-six and a half games. 15/16 would stand out as the non-negotiable best season of both Bale’s and Di María’s time at Madrid if it weren’t for Bale’s meager production in the Champions League that season. 2017/18 was Bale’s other top class season to date. Though the popular estimation of him in that period is rather low, Bale recorded 0.81 goals per 90 minutes in La Liga and the Champions League, which amounted to totals of 19 goals in 33 appearances (23 starts).

Di María, similarly, has three standout seasons. 2010/11 saw him explode onto the scene as one of the most exciting talents in world football. He was a regular starter for Mourinho — he had 3053 minutes across La Liga and the Champions League — and created at wildly good rates while maintaining a respectable goal scoring record. Di María’s 2011/12 was similar to Bale’s 15/16 in that it was hampered by injuries and yet defined by eye-popping efficiency. Despite playing only 1807 mins in the two major competitions, the Argentinian managed 16 assists and 7 goals. In 2013/14, Di María played as a winger before transforming into a box-to-box central midfielder after Khedira’s injury gave him a chance to play a total of 3208 minutes. This was Di María’s best ever season; he surpassed 3 chances created p90 and fashioned a stunning 22 assists.

Based on their top three seasons alone, Di María and Bale are about even. The tiebreaker, for me, is Bale’s comparative longevity. His capable 2014/15 season probably outweighs Di María’s topsy-turvy 2012/13 by itself, but, when adding in Bale’s pre-injury efforts in 2016/17, I think it becomes clearer that Bale is the winner (2018/19 was not good enough to significantly move the needle in the Welshman’s favor).

However, based on how one values the three best seasons of both players, I can see how Di María would be selected.

Lucas:

Di María, Ronaldo, Benzema.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Ronaldo and Benzema are easy picks for me as I’ve always believed in the Frenchman even when his form wasn’t good. Ronaldo is a legend and it’s a waste of time and words to support his case. For the RW spot I pick Di María over Özil, Bale, and Isco. I would like to pick Isco but in all honesty he hasn’t done enough to beat either Di María or Bale. Bale has had the most impact but I believe that Di María would’ve been even better had he been given the chance to stay. Özil had his moments and could belong in this XI at his peak, but he wasn’t consistent enough.

Kiyan:

Cristiano, Benzema, Bale.

Rob:

Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.

Benzema is the best striker the club have had since Raúl and has been one of the best in Europe over the last decade. I’m also not including Raúl because he only played the first season of this decade before moving to Schalke.

Bale is also among the decade’s best. While he has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism, there’s no denying how important he has been for Real Madrid since joining. He’s been a contributor to countless big moments — specifically his goal in the 2014 Copa del Rey Final.

What really needs to be said about Cristiano Ronaldo other than that he is the most important player Real have had this last decade? He’s arguably the best scorer to ever grace the Bernabéu. He’s also one of the two best players in Europe over the last decade. The club still hasn’t fully recovered from losing him to Juventus.

Kristofer:

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale.

There isn’t much to say about this front three that hasn’t already been said — comfortably the club’s best trio of the last decade and perhaps ever.

Matt:

RW: Gareth Bale.

Yes, there have been injuries and, yes, there have been inconsistent performances for much of the last decade. But, Gareth Bale, when healthy and in-form, has been instrumental in pushing Real Madrid back to the zenith of club football. Who can forget his run past Bartra in the Copa Del Rey final? His game-winning header in Lisbon? That bicycle kick in Kiev? Bale is a big player and has produced big moments.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo.

The best player to ever play for Real Madrid. Enough said.

ST: Karim Benzema.

He arrived in 2009 still a boy, but has matured into a man and a total footballer. Every manager that has passed through the club in the last decade has trusted Benzema. Many have come to try and take his starting position and all have failed. Benzema’s tactical intelligence, technique, and understanding of time and space make him one of the best strikers to ever play for the club and one of the most underrated players in all of world football.

Gabe:

This one has me a little shook, because I actually think there are five or more contenders for these spots. Two of them are obvious: Cristiano Ronaldo (no-doubter) and Benzema. Absolute anchors throughout the decade. Not more needs to be said.

The third spot is a real toss-up for me. On his day, I think Gareth Bale was probably the best of the bunch. A true multiple-threat player — the only thing that dings him is his injury history. But that’s quite a history! Which leads me to another choice that I would have liked to make, but can’t because he left too early in the decade: Ángel Di María. I think people honestly forget how good this dude was for Madrid. He was the real deal — a two-way player with iron lungs, great pace, and tons of energy. He was one of the best creators on the team (seriously—look at his advanced metrics from 09-12), and he had a knack for getting in the right place at the right time. But again, he left too early — not enough longevity.

Which means the third is Isco. Lots of ups and downs with him, but he was ultimately the most consistent of the three. On his day, he is an absolute creative madman. He got better in defense as the decade went along and he remains, when in peak condition, an absolutely enormous presence on the pitch.

5. Coach

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images

Om:

José Mourinho wins on face value due to managing three full seasons at the club (no mean feat in a culture as impatient as Real Madrid’s) and winning the Copa del Rey and La Liga against Pep’s Barca, but his antics in 2012/13 cannot be ignored. His ego ripped the dressing room to shreds and led to a painful, fruitless season. That negative counts strongly against the “Special One” and prevents him from being my pick.

Zinedine Zidane has the trophies without all the drama but he falls just short of being my manager of the decade. His 2015/16 to 2016/17 provides roughly one and a half seasons of genuine quality, inconsistent as it was, but his 2017/18 champions league title papered over the luck Madrid had in Europe and their limp title defense in La Liga that season. At the end of it all, he abdicated his position with a warning — Madrid needed a change.

He may as well have been referring to the managerial position instead of the squad for all intents and purposes. So far, he has not shown that he has a different way of playing for a different team and, as a result, his key tactical weaknesses — namely, defensive transition — are being exposed far more regularly without prime Modrić helping Casemiro to plug all the holes.

Carlo Ancelotti, by contrast, created two effective systems with two different squads. After successfully converting Di María into a central midfielder and winning La Décima, he was stripped of the Argentinian and the key to his side’s “equilibrio” — Alonso. In came Kroos and James Rodríguez, and Ancelotti incorporated them successfully into his 4-3-3 while possessing the flexibility to switch to the fan-favorite 4-4-2 whenever injuries allowed for it. His only glaring weakness was a lack of faith in Asier Illarramendi, but he also did not possess the midfield depth of his predecessors or Zidane. Playing Illarramendi may have given Kroos more rest, but it would have done nothing to mitigate Modrić’s and James’ injuries.

Thus, for his tactical skill and excellent man-management (no elaboration needed), Carlo Ancelotti is my manager of the decade by a small margin.

Lucas:

José Mourinho.

Look, I know I’m being too honest with my pick here and I know that it’s a controversial choice. I was also thinking of going with Carlo Ancelotti even though I know that Zidane is the right pick. Zidane won a historic double and three straight Champions League titles and deserves credit. However, I pick Mourinho because he signed for the club when Real Madrid were not even competing for titles and managed to compete against the best Barcelona in history. He didn’t win as many trophies as Zidane and the football Real played with him in charge wasn’t as beautiful as Ancelotti’s, but Mourinho built a new Real Madrid and the team competed again.

Kiyan:

Zidane.

Rob:

Carlo Ancelotti.

There are really three candidates for the decade’s best manager: José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and Zinedine Zidane.

Mourinho capitalized on Real Madrid’s strengths and made them one of the most dangerous and fastest clubs in the world on the counter-attack. He also managed them to a league title.

Zidane coached this club to three straight Champions League titles and a La Liga title in 2016–17, so there’s no denying the European success. However, Real have heavily struggled in the league under him. That his tactics are as questionable as is his decision-making with the lineups have also always been a criticism.

Ancelotti was not here nearly long enough, but he accomplished great things in that time. He won both the Copa del Rey and La Décima in 2014. He should’ve never been replaced by Rafa Benítez. It would have been great to see what else Ancelotti would’ve accomplished given more time. He’s the most tactically sound of the three and Real scored a lot in 2013–14 under him. He was able to get the most out of stars like Bale and James. You see what he’s doing with Napoli and you see what could’ve happened at Madrid in the long run.

Kristofer:

Zinedine Zidane.

Regardless what I think of his return so far, Zidane was an important piece in the trophies Real Madrid have won this decade, making him hard to ignore.

Matt:

Zinedine Zidane.

The legend cemented his status as a mythical figure in the last decade. He achieved what many thought was impossible – not only winning back-to-back Champions League finals, but winning three in a row. It’s easy to forget, but he also earned Madrid its first double in over 50 years. As he enters the next decade, he has willingly put his reputation on the line in a bid to save the club he loves. Time will tell what the outcome will be.

Gabe:

Coach: this one is a no-brainer for me — the coach who lasted longer than any other and the one who engineered the three-peat. You can’t beat Zidane. He may not be the best tactician, and we might not know where all of his magic comes from, but he was truly magical. We’ll have to see how his second term goes, but, for now, he’s my unquestioned coach of the decade.

6. Bench and Assistant Coach

Real Madrid v Arsenal - 2019 International Champions Cup Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Om:

Bench: Keylor Navas, Raphäel Varane, Álvaro Arbeloa, Casemiro, Mesut Özil, Ángel Di María, Gonzalo Higuaín.

Fábio Coentrão was the better player than Álvaro Arbeloa when he was fit and on the pitch, but, unfortunately, the Portuguese left back simply wasn’t fit and on the pitch very much. In his three relevant seasons at Madrid from 2011/12—2013/14, he tallied 5083 minutes. That is worth about 56 games in total and just under 19 games a season. In Arbeloa’s three best seasons — 2009/10—2011/12 — he was Madrid’s right back for 8773 minutes. That works out to around 97 matches and approximately 32 games per season.

Though Coentrão had the superior peak, I simply cannot justify his value being twice that of Arbeloa’s, which is what it would take for his limited minutes to outweigh not only Arbeloa’s best three-year stretch, but the Spaniard’s contributions in 2012/13, 2013/14, and 2014/15.

Mesut Özil vs. Isco is a case where the peak was so high and the minutes of that peak voluminous enough, that it outweighs longevity. Özil put up all-time great creative numbers at Madrid, managing more than 4 key passes p90 in his debut league campaign and the weaker 2012/13 season. His two generational seasons in 2010/11 and 2011/12 have no equal in Isco’s career at this point in time, with the Spaniard’s efforts in 2016/17 coming closest.

If Isco had played regularly in the double-winning season, this would be a much tighter debate, but, instead, he only got time to shine towards the final third of that period. Isco’s 2013/14 and 2014/15 saw him play a lot more and, together, they hold greater value than Özil’s 2012/13, but they were not consistently world class in a way that moves Isco’s career value ahead of Özil’s 2010-2013; one-third of a world class season in 2016/17 and two good seasons do not outweigh two all-time ones and one very good one.

It becomes closer once you add in Isco’s middling 2015/16 and solid 2017/18 campaigns, but, ultimately, they weren’t good enough to eclipse the way Özil boosted Real Madrid’s title chances in three remarkable seasons. An excellent 2019/20 from Isco could change my mind.

Assistant coach: Zinedine Zidane. Not only did he narrowly miss out on my vote for manager, but he was an excellent assistant coach for Real Madrid and had a fantastic synergy with Don Carlo in the dugout. Easy choice.

Lucas:

Bench: Arbeloa, Varane, Casemiro, Isco, Higuaín, Bale, Khedira.

All of them, with the exception of Khedira, deserved some kind of consideration for a spot in the XI. I chose Khedira ahead of a reserve GK because I feel like he deserved the nod more than Casillas, Courtois, or Diego López, and a midfielder made more sense than another forward.

Assistant coach: Zinedine Zidane.

He was brilliant in that role under Ancelotti and would possibly be even better under Mourinho as he would act as a calming agent for the Portuguese.

Kiyan:

Bench: Keylor, Varane, Coentrão, Casemiro, Di María, Isco, Higuaín.

Assistant coach: José Mourinho.

Assistant to the assistant: Carlo Ancelotti.

Water boy: Om Arvind,

Sporting director: Kiyan Sobhani.

The rationale for my decade eleven selections:

It was important to start at the nucleus of the three-peat, given that it provided us with the peak of so many generational players. Beyond that, I peppered in some players outside that core who were too good to ignore, namely: Xabi Alonso — a supreme organizer, distributor — and Iker, who in 2010, was absolutely incredible.

I also valued ‘peak’ over ‘longevity’. There were some debates in the MM slack about Coentrão vs. Arbeloa. Arbeloa sustained a longer Real Madrid career and was more reliable from a physical standpoint, but I always answer these debates with a simple formula: who would you rather rely on in a Champions League final? To me, 2014 Coentrão was way more valuable than any holes Arbeloa filled over a longer period.

Rob:

Bench: Higuaín, Hazard, Di María, Özil, Casemiro, Pepe, Navas.

Assistant coach: Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane served as an assistant coach to Ancelotti in 2013, so this should count.

Kristofer:

Bench: Keylor Navas, Lucas Vázquez, Ángel Di María, Xabi Alonso, Nacho, Isco, Pepe.

My bench is a bit of a mismash of players who I feel deserve a mention. The standout choices are Lucas Vázquez and Nacho. I think both their reputations have suffered from being overused recently, however, they were fantastic impact subs for Real.

Assistant coach: David Bettoni.

Zidane and Bettoni are kind of a set, you can’t have one without the other.

Matt:

Bench: Iker Casillas, Raphäel Varane, Xabi Alonso, Ángel Di María, Mesut Özil, Isco, Gonzalo Higuaín.

Assistant coach: Teddy Bear Carlo.

Gabe:

Bench: Bale, Xabi Alonso, Di María, (as discussed above), Pepe, Higuaín, Mesut Özil, and Nacho.

Some no-doubters here. I feel pretty good about that bench; there’s some balance and we get to bring along Pepe, who was, on his day, an immense force, Higuaín (people forget how good he was for Madrid), and Özil, who was a critical element on the team for much of the early part of the decade. Nacho rounds it out for being a common element in all of Madrid’s best seasons.

Assistant Coach: Carlo Ancelotti.

Also not really a question in my mind. He brought Madrid to the pinnacle and taught Zidane how to prioritize a beautiful, attacking game. The first half of his 2014-15 season was a thing to behold.


The Final Squads

Om:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Casillas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Modrić, Alonso, Kroos.

Attackers: Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Manager: Ancelotti.

Bench: Navas, Varane, Arbeloa, Casemiro, Özil, Di María, Higuaín.

Assistant Coach: Zidane

Lucas:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Navas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Alonso, Kroos, Modrić.

Attackers: Di María, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Manager: Mourinho.

Bench: Arbeloa, Varane, Casemiro, Isco, Higuaín, Bale, Khedira.

Assistant coach: Zidane.

Kiyan:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Casillas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Alonso, Modrić, Kroos.

Attackers: Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale.

Manager: Zidane.

Bench: Navas, Varane, Coentrão, Casemiro, Di María, Isco, Higuaín.

Assistant coach: Mourinho.

Rob:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Casillas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Modrić, Alonso, Kroos.

Attackers: Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.

Manager: Ancelotti.

Bench: Higuaín, Hazard, Di María, Özil, Casemiro, Pepe, Navas.

Assistant coach: Zidane.

Kristofer:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Casillas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Kroos, Casemiro, Modrić.

Attackers: Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale.

Manager: Zidane.

Bench: Navas, Vázquez, Di María, Alonso, Nacho, Isco, Pepe.

Assistant coach: David Bettoni.

Matt:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Navas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Modrić, Casemiro, Kroos.

Attackers: Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Manager: Zidane.

Bench: Casillas, Varane, Alonso, Di María, Özil, Isco, Higuaín.

Assistant coach: Ancelotti.

Gabe:

Formation: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Navas.

Defenders: Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo.

Midfielders: Modrić, Casemiro, Kroos.

Attackers: Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Manager: Zidane

Bench: Bale, Alonso, Di María, Pepe, Higuaín, Özil, Nacho.

Assistant coach: Ancelotti.