Haaland, Messi and GOAL's European Team of the Season so far

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With the World Cup break now over, GOAL has selected our best combined XI from Europe's 'big five' leagues from the campaign's first few months

The first half of the European season flew by at a frenetic pace, with more than a few surprises thrown up as top European clubs dealt with the demands of a gruelling fixture schedule in the lead-up to Qatar 2022.

Arsenal and Napoli upset the established order to lead the way in the Premier League and Serie A, respectively, while Paris Saint-Germain'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 crop of exciting young talent is blossoming and the household superstars have raised their level, which has made for one of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory.

GOAL has collated the best of the best in our European Team of the Season so far...

  1. GK: Brice Samba (Lens)

    GK: Brice Samba (Lens)

    Samba left Nottingham Forest fans heartbroken when he decided against signing a new contract in the summer, having played a key role in their return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence.

    The Frenchman hasn't looked back since joining Lens, though, helping them emerge as the nearest challengers to PSG in Ligue 1 with 11 wins from their first 15 games.

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

  2. RB: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle)

    RB: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle)

    Newcastle's meteoric rise under Eddie Howe should not be simply dismissed as another example of money delivering instant results, but smart recruitment at St James' Park has certainly been a significant contributing factor.

    Trippier was snapped up for the bargain price of £12 million from Atletico Madrid in January, and began the season like a man possessed after seeing his start on Tyneside disrupted by serious injury.

    The 32-year-old has taken on vice-captaincy duties and been the model of consistency at the back as Newcastle have staked a claim for a place in the top four.

  3. CB: Kim Min-jae (Napoli)
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    CB: Kim Min-jae (Napoli)

    Kim was faced with the daunting task of replacing Napoli favourite Kalidou Koulibaly after arriving at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium from Fenerbahce in the summer, but has been more than up to the task.

    The South Korean has been colossal in the heart of the defence and has also contributed two goals at the other end of the pitch as Napoli have stormed to the top of the Serie A standings and made it through to the Champions League knockout stages.

    Fellow summer signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has said of Kim's impact: ''For me, he is one of the best in the world. If he is in the defence, you are in front of an iron barrel!''

  4. CB: William Saliba (Arsenal)

    CB: William Saliba (Arsenal)

    No player was more important to Arsenal during their rise to the Premier League summit than Saliba, who made the transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League look easy after his return from a loan spell at Marseille.

    Mikel Arteta has been rewarded for taking a patient approach with Saliba, who was initially signed in 2019, as the Frenchman has emphatically shaken off the tag of promising youngster.

    Saliba is very much the finished article in terms of his positional sense and composure in possession, with his pace and strength making him a nightmare for strikers across the English top flight.

    The 21-year-old's potential is seemingly limitless, and Arsenal's latest generational talent is on track to become the symbol behind their long-awaited return to the very top of the game.

  5. LB: Joao Cancelo (Man City)
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    LB: Joao Cancelo (Man City)

    Cancelo has solidified his reputation as the most exciting full-back in European club football this season, despite once again being asked to deliver on the left as opposed to his favoured right-back position.

    Pigeonholing the Portugal international into one role is impossible, however, given how much responsibility he takes on in both attack and defence, with his versatility proving to be invaluable for Pep Guardiola once again.

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

  6. CM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

    CM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

    If there were still any lingering doubts over whether De Bruyne is the best midfielder to ever grace the Premier League, he has erased them once and for all this season.

    The Belgian maestro has managed to take his game to even greater heights since linking up with Haaland, who has been the grateful beneficiary of his devastatingly accurate service week in, week out.

    No one can put the ball on a sixpence quite 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 against Brighton in October.

    Pep Guardiola said after that game: ''He can be better. He's not playing at his top level, Kevin, not yet.'' There will be no hope for any defender when De Bruyne reaches his ceiling.

  7. CM: Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
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    CM: Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)

    There is a good chance that Musiala will one day be remembered as the best player England never had.

    The former Chelsea academy prospect, who opted to represent Germany at international level instead of the Three Lions, has established himself as a vital cog in an all-star Bayern Munich side since making his debut as a 17-year-old in June 2020.

    He has arguably been the German champions' best player this season, recording nine goals and six assists in 14 Bundesliga appearances, and was probably Germany's best player during their disappointing World Cup.

    Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus 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 that still has his whole career ahead of him.

  8. RW: Lionel Messi (PSG)
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    RW: Lionel Messi (PSG)

    Messi's debut campaign 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 no justice to his glorious legacy at Camp Nou.

    Some claimed the Argentine's time at the top was over, but he has bounced back in some style, proving he remains football's most majestic figure even at the ripe old age of 35.

    Messi has 12 club goals to his name already in 2022-23, one more than he managed in the whole of last season, and he's set up another 14, with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar on the end of most of those killer passes.

    No one else can do what Messi does on the pitch, and he has reminded everyone of his other-worldly abilities over the past few months.

  9. CAM: Neymar (PSG)
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    CAM: Neymar (PSG)

    Neymar's PSG career has been blighted by injuries and off-field controversy, so much so that 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.

    The former Barcelona man has done his best to silence his doubters this term, scoring 15 goals in 20 games while also contributing 12 assists under new PSG boss Christophe Galtier.

    Galtier backed Neymar right from the off, even when he was being strongly linked with a summer transfer, and his approach has reaped dividends, with the 30-year-old showing the kind of form that saw him emerge as a global superstar at Camp Nou.

    An in-house beef with Mbappe also appears to have been quashed, and he has rekindled his electrifying partnership with former Barca team-mate Messi, with PSG now finally looking like a team capable of going all the way in the Champions League.

  10. LW: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli)

    LW: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli)

    And now we come to the man who has already claimed the 'Signing of the Season' award: Napoli's Georgian magician Kvaratskhelia.

    The 21-year-old, who cost just €10 million from Dinamo Batumi in the summer transfer window, has been phenomenal in his first 17 games for Napoli, earning the nickname 'Kvaradona' after club icon Diego.

    Kvaratskhelia is unorthodox and unpredictable, a new breed of winger that defenders across the continent have no idea how to contain, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, who he ruthlessly exposed when Napoli thrashed Liverpool 4-1 on matchday one in the Champions League.

    Napoli are real contenders across multiple fronts for the first time in decades, and with Kvaratskhelia leading their charge, there is no limit to how far they can go.

  11. CF: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

    CF: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

    Haaland's introduction to English fans saw him miss from point-blank range in a 3-1 Community Shield defeat to Liverpool on July 22, adding weight to the suggestion that he would struggle to replicate his prolific form for Dortmund in the Premier League.

    As it turned out, that setback only strengthened the Norwegian's resolve, as he has since been a force of nature for City, breaking records left, right and centre 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, instantly solving City's No.9 conundrum to give the likes of De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the target man they deserve.

    The 22-year-old is perhaps the most natural goalscorer the Premier League has ever seen, with his movement off the ball and cold-blooded finishing ability setting him apart from the rest.

  12. Honourable mentions
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    Honourable mentions

    Samba got the nod in goal just ahead of Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has been in imperious form between the sticks in La Liga as Xavi's side have shipped just five goals in 14 matches.

    Teenager defender Alejandro Balde has also played a key role, while at the other end of the pitch, Robert Lewandowski has scored 18 goals since his arrival from Bayern, but Barca's catastrophic 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 deliver a haul of 19 club goals, and Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior looks set to compete with the French forward for Ballon d'Or acknowledgment in the future after making more great strides forward.

    Madrid defensive duo Eder Militao and David Alaba have been rock solid, while Alex Moreno, Pedri, Jonathan Clauss and Marco Verratti also made strong cases across La Liga and Ligue 1 competition.

    In the Premier League, Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez has played a major role in lifting the club out of a serious rut, while Gabriel Martinelli has been a shining light for Arsenal during their magnificent early-season run.

    Leicester City's James Maddison, Newcastle winger Miguel Almiron and Tottenham frontman Harry Kane have also been standout performers, and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah made a late play for a place in the all-star XI.

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

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