World Cup 2018: The best XI based on stats
By Ben McAleer, WhoScored.com
Last Updated: 11/10/17 5:53pm
The 2018 World Cup is taking shape, with 23 of the 32 places now decided, but who will be the best players on show in Russia?
We asked WhoScored.com to pick their best XI based on their unique ratings system since the start of the 2016/17 season.
From Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to Argentina hero Lionel Messi, take a look at the line-up below.
GOALKEEPER - Wojciech Szczesny, Poland (6.99)
Roma were desperate to sign Wojciech Szczesny permanently after his loan deal expired over the summer, but they were pipped to the former Arsenal man by Serie A champions Juventus. While the Poland shot-stopper has made just two league starts since his switch, his fine form for Roma helped propel him back into people's thoughts. He has kept more clean sheets (16) than any other Serie A goalkeeper since the start of last season, giving him a WhoScored.com rating of 6.99.
LEFT-BACK - Alex Sandro, Brazil (7.63)
Alex Sandro only has a handful of Brazil caps due to stiff competition from Marcelo and Filipe Luis at left-back, but he has certainly been a consistent performer for Juventus. Since the start of last season, he has an impressive WhoScored.com rating of 7.63. Sandro is an attacking force to be reckoned with. He has made more accurate crosses from open play (41) than any other Serie A defender since the start of the 2016/17 campaign.
CENTRE-BACK - Nicolas Otamendi, Argentina (7.48)
Nicolas Otamendi has plenty of critics but Manchester City's Argentine centre-back remains a steady performer at the heart of Pep Guardiola's defence. His no-nonsense approach alleviates pressure on the City goal, but he is also capable of playing the ball out from the back as required in a Guardiola team. Otamendi may not be flavour of the month for fans, but his showings have earned him a WhoScored.com rating of 7.48 since the start of last season.
CENTRE-BACK - Thiago Silva, Brazil (7.35)
Thiago Silva lost his place in the Brazil side when he was stripped of the captaincy in 2014, but he has returned to the team under manager Tite. He missed the 3-0 win over Chile in the early hours of Wednesday morning, but it would be a surprise if he is not on the plane to Russia next summer. Silva remains a key figure for Paris Saint-Germain, and a pass success rate of 94.3 per cent - the second-best in Europe's top-five leagues since the start of last season - highlights his ball-playing ability. His experience could be vital, too.
RIGHT-BACK - Dani Alves, Brazil (7.41)
Completing an all-South American backline is Silva's PSG team-mate Dani Alves. The marauding 34-year-old was a key player in Juventus' progression to the Champions League final and has maintained his good form with a series of fine showings for PSG on the back of his summer switch to the Ligue 1 side. His WhoScored.com rating (7.41) is the best of all right-backs to have made the World Cup in Europe's top-five leagues. Alves is a consistent performer at both ends of the pitch.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD - Paul Pogba, France (7.79)
Paul Pogba has been under intense scrutiny ever since his record-breaking transfer from Juventus to Manchester United last summer, but his 7.79 Whoscored.com rating suggests he has comfortably lived up to expectations. Pogba is currently sidelined by a hamstring injury, but the Frenchman is a crucial figure for both club and country.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD - Toni Kroos, Germany (7.64)
One of Real Madrid's seven Ballon d'Or nominees, Toni Kroos continues to impress in midfield for the La Liga and European champions, with his passing ability perhaps his stand out quality. Only Samuel Umtiti (93 per cent) has a better pass success rate than the German star (92 per cent) in La Liga since the start of last season. Since the start of last season, Kroos has comfortably controlled proceedings in the middle of the park for both Madrid and Germany.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD - Thiago Alcantara, Spain (8.11)
Thiago Alcantara is one of a handful of players who can feel aggrieved to have missed out on a Ballon d'Or nomination. He may have struggled to force his way into the Bayern team for much of this season, but he is one of the most technically gifted midfielders on the continent on his day. A 69.1 per cent dribble success rate is the best in the Bundesliga of players to attempt 50 or more dribbles since the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign, and reinforces a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'dribbling'. Thiago's good work both on and off the ball has helped return a WhoScored.com rating of 8.11 over that period.
LEFT WING - Neymar, Brazil (8.64)
The last of four Brazil players to make the grade, Neymar's WhoScored.com rating (8.64) is better than any other player in Europe's top five leagues since the start of last season. The PSG man is top for successful dribbles (214) and fourth for key passes (120) over that period, with the 25-year-old continuing to live up to his world record price tag. With Brazil securing safe passage to Russia with time to spare, Neymar is once again their best chance for success on the grand stage.
CENTRE-FORWARD - Dries Mertens, Belgium (7.81)
Beating the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Romelu Lukaku to the sole forward spot in this XI is Napoli's Dries Mertens. The Belgian star has been in excellent form since the start of last season, tucking away 35 league goals in Serie A, a return only bettered by Edin Dzeko (36). Eleven assists from open play was also a solid return for the 30-year-old, whose attacking instincts helped earn him a WhoScored.com rating of 7.81 over the last 18 months.
RIGHT WING - Lionel Messi, Argentina (8.57)
His hat-trick against Ecuador earned Argentina their place at Russia 2018 and it wouldn't quite be a team of players to make the World Cup without Lionel Messi. The Barcelona ace is enjoying another campaign to remember after a high-class 2016/17 season at Camp Nou, with his WhoScored.com rating (8.57) second only to former team-mate Neymar. Much of that was due to his goals (48) and assists (11), but he has also created more clear-cut goalscoring chances (30) than any other player in Europe's top five leagues since the start of last season. The World Cup is going to be a better tournament with him in it, that's for sure.