The European team of the 2021-22 season, according to WhoScored

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Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates beating Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final at Stade de France, Paris, May 2022.

If you asked 100 people to choose their team of the season from all the players in Europe’s big five leagues, you’d get 100 different teams and lots of arguments. Fortunately, WhoScored are on hand to resolve all those arguments by putting together an XI based purely on cold, hard numbers.

As always, the reliable football stats site have put together their best team of the 2021-22 campaign, with players at all clubs in the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga eligible.

Here, we’ve taken a look at those players, arranged in a 4-4-2 formation, and what they did to deserve the accolade.

GK: Mike Maignan – 6.92

When Mino Raiola convinced Gianluigi Donnarumma to move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer, Milan went out and signed Mike Maignan from French champions Lille.

The 26-year-old has helped the Rossoneri to the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years, forming part of a formidable defensive triangle with centre-back Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori.

Owing to that brick wall in front of goal, Maignan kept 17 clean sheets in the league.

He was recently rewarded with just his second start for France, lining up for the 1-1 Nations League draw with Croatia.

RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7.51

Seeing Alexander-Arnold in a team of the season is now about as surprising as turning on the radio and hearing a Conservative minister lying through their teeth.

His immaculate crossing got him 12 Premier League assists, for a career total so far of 45. Given he’s just 23, the Liverpool man could go on to become one of the competition’s leading all-time assist providers. Not bad for right-back.

CB: Nico Schlotterbeck – 7.39

The most surprising name in the XI, Schlotterbeck was outstanding for Freiburg as they finished sixth with 55 points, which was enough for Europa League qualification and just three points off RB Leipzig in fourth.

Schlotterbeck recently joined Borussia Dortmund and upon his arrival, said: “There were many inquiries, but I made a conscious decision to join Dortmund.

“I could have earned more money at other clubs. But I’m only 22 years old, so money isn’t the most important thing for me.

“I’m attracted to Borussia Dortmund: I want to continue writing the club’s history and win trophies.”

Good for him.

CB: Joel Matip – 7.35

Virgil van Dijk is Liverpool’s best defender, right? Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever.

Err, well, no. Or not according to the WhoScored statisticians. That’s right, big Joel Matip makes the European team of the season ahead of his equally big Dutch team-mate, scoring 7.35 to Van Dijk’s 7.18.

Asked if the Cameroon international was underrated after he won the Premier League Player of the Month award in March, Matip’s boss Jurgen Klopp said: “Yes, he definitely is.

“I don’t like to say it usually, but he definitely is. Believe me, if there is one person on this planet who couldn’t care less if we all underrate him, it is Joel Matip. He doesn’t even realise it, probably, he is just happy to be with these boys and playing football.”

And Klopp’s right about him. In fact, if WhoScored allocated points for being an all-round great guy, Matip would be a shoo-in for the player of the year, never mind a mere part of the team of the season.

Liverpool's Joel Matip during the Premier League match against Burnley. Anfield, January 2021.

READ: 21 times Liverpool’s Joel Matip was the funniest player in the world

LB: Joao Cancelo – 7.43

Joao Cancelo made 2,951 passes in the Premier League in 2021-22. That’s more than any other player in the league. And probably more than most Sunday league teams make in an entire decade.

RM: Lionel Messi – 7.77

Lionel Messi left Barcelona and had a disastrous first season at Paris Saint-Germain. He was awful, wasn’t he? A shadow of his former self. Actually, we’re starting to think it’s not Messi at all but some impostor…

Sorry, what’s that? Six goals and 14 assists in 24 starts for an average of a goal contribution every 107.7 minutes? The third most assists of any player in Europe’s big five leagues? More accurate through balls than any other player in Europe?

Oh, right.

CM: Christopher Nkunku – 7.64

Honestly, we’ve got a bone to pick with WhoScored here.

We know you sometimes have to shoehorn a player into a position to get these XIs to work, but Nkunku in central midfield is straying into full Garth Crooks territory. He’s not exactly going to sit in and screen the back four, is he?

Nevertheless, Nkunku is a terrific player. So good that we reckon he’d be the perfect replacement for Sadio Mane should the Senegalese forward leave Liverpool.

RB Leipzig's Christohper Nkunku celebrates scoring in the Europa League v Real Sociedad. Red Bull Arena Leipzig, Germany. February 2022.

READ: Liverpool should go all in for Nkunku – his Sadio Mane-esque stats prove it

CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 7.64

Mohamed Salah won the PFA Player of the Season award, but the players who voted got it all wrong.

De Bruyne was obviously the correct choice and we’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Premier League Player of the Year Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, 6th March 2022.

READ: Forget Salah, De Bruyne was the PL’s best player in 21-22 & we can prove it

LM: Kylian Mbappe – 8.04

Not only the left winger in the team of the season, but, according to the numbers, the best player in Europe in 2021-22.

Mbappe managed 28 goals and 17 assists at a rate of a goal contribution every 67.4 minutes. If you’re interested, he also managed six goals and four assists in eight Champions League games and five goals and two assists in six World Cup qualifiers for France.

Carlo Ancelotti said that Mbappe is the “best player in the world” in April and it’s hard to disagree.

It’s little wonder PSG threw the kitchen sink at Mbappe (and threw a P45 at Leonardo) in their ultimately successful effort to keep the 23-year-old Frenchman at the Parc des Princes for another three years.

ST: Robert Lewandowski – 7.89

The man is a machine. He’s 33 now, but the Bayern Munich forward is showing no signs at all of slowing down. After his bizarrely productive 2020-21 campaign, he was at it again this year, managing 35 goals in the Budesliga and a further 13 in the Champions League.

Currently, though, he’s left goalscoring and weird TikTok dances to one side for a few weeks while he tries to resolve his future. Lewandowski is adamant he wants to leave Bavaria and catch the midnight train to Barca.

“I just want to leave Bayern,” said Lewandowski. “Loyalty and respect are more important than the work. The best thing to do is find a solution together.”

Bayern are equally adamant that he’s going nowhere, though, and he’s got a year left on his contract. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

ST: Karim Benzema – 7.69

Benzema’s 27 goals and 12 assists in La Liga were somewhat overshadowed by his stupendous feats in the Champions League, but they helped Real Madrid to just a third league title in the last 10 seasons and secured him a place in this XI as well.

There surely no other credible candidate for the Ballon d’Or, given that combination of European and domestic collective success and individual brilliance.

Karim Benzema celebrates after Real Madrid win the Champions League final. Stade de France, 28th May, 2022.

READ: 13 crazy stats that show why Karim Benzema deserves the Ballon d’Or

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