Once every four years Rugby Union and sports fans in general are treated to something extra special. A British and Irish Lions team touring the southern hemisphere. The tour dates back a full 129 years to 1888, but its popularity really took off in the 50’s. Saturday marks the 33rd tour for the Lions and see’s Warren Gatland take his team to his native New Zealand to take on the mighty, all-conquering All Blacks.
New Zealand has not been a happy hunting ground for the Lions with just two victories and 12 defeats on kiwi soil since the legendary tour of 1971 which the Lions won 2-1. They remain the only Lions iteration to win a test series in New Zealand. Last time the Lions visited the Pacific Island they returned without their roar and with their tails tucked firmly between their legs having suffered their first whitewash in 22 years. This despite having a number of England’s 2003 World Cup winners and a solid spine of the Welsh side who had just swept their way to a 6-Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year.
With the Lions side being an amalgamation of best of the Irish, English, Welsh, and Scottish Union players, we at In The Stand Sport got to thinking what sort of team a similar process would create from the Premier League. To do so we have taken the current World Rankings and transferred them to their football equivalents. New Zealand are currently the number one ranked team globally and according to Uefa.com this would see them as the equivalent to La Liga and Champions League winners Real Madrid. But what of the Lions?
Well, England are ranked second, Ireland third, Scotland fifth, and Wales (a somewhat surprisingly low) seventh. To calculate their Premier League equivalents we took the final Premier League table from last season and correlated world ranking to final league position. So second, third, fifth, and seventh were Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Everton respectively. So now to build a squad of 18 that can take on the Mighty Real in Madrid and bring home the victory.
GK: Petr Cech would have put up a solid challenge for the number one jersey in previous tours but this one comes too close to the end for him and Arsenal will soon need to look elsewhere. Manchester City have had well publicised problems in this area and have just splashed big money on Ederson to replace Willy Caballero and/or the equally disappointing Claudio Bravo. Ironically the man they sent out to Italy, Joe Hart, might make the bench ahead of both. Like City before them, Everton have just smashed their transfer record by signed Jordan Pickford so if they don’t trust Joel Robles, neither do we. There’s only one man for the job and that’s the ever reliable Hugo Lloris of Spurs.
RB: A tougher decision than the goalkeeper. Once again I’m ruling City out, with Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna both not cutting the mustard. The other three sides all have worthy men to offer however. Seamus Coleman, Hector Bellerin, and Kyle Walker are all worthy of inclusion, and that’s without even considering Kieran Trippier who can whip accurate crosses in for fun. Coleman misses out with his unfortunate injury, leaving Walker and Bellerin to fight in out for the start. I’m giving the nod to Walker, due to experience and his familiarity with likely adversary Gareth Bale.
CB x2: Spurs were very stingy at the back last season conceding a league low of just 26 goals. With that in mind it’s difficult to look beyond just putting the Belgian duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld straight into the team. However that isn’t to say we’re without options here. Vincent Kompany has been a rock for City when healthy, which unfortunately isn’t often enough. John Stones isn’t without his faults but he’s got the ability to go far in the game. Laurent Kosicelny, Shkodran Mustafi, Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka, and Nicolas Otamendi could all bring valuable nous and experience to the squad. All things considered I’m taking recent health into account and going with Alderweireld and Koscielny.
LB: Once again Spurs have the outstanding candidates here, but they did have the best defensive record so that’s understandable. Danny Rose is in high demand this summer after an excellent season. Ben Davies capably stepped up after his injury. Once again City have two aged choices in Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy whilst Arsenal can offer Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal. It’s with Everton where we get closest to ousting the Spurs pair though. Leighton Baines has been a solid servant for the club for years and would be a great addition to this team, but I’m sticking with Rose.
CM x2: So far the selections have been reasonably simple. No argument that Spurs were the best defensively last season, hence their domination at the back. Here’s where the arguments start. Yaya Toure has been one of City’s greatest ever players and his experience could be invaluable for this tour. Idrissa Gueye was an under the radar £7million signing from relegated Aston Villa, but I doubt he’ll fly too low next season after a solid debut year. Francis Coquelin has been highly rated in the role just ahead of the defence for the past three seasons. Santi Cazorla, Mousa Dembele, Fernandinho, there are just so many options. I can only have two so I’m taking a bit of a gamble with Toure and Gueye.
AMC: No explanation. It’s Dele Alli. 18 goals, 9 assists and just 21 years old. He is fast becoming one of the top players in the Premier League and a key man for Spurs during two title challenges. He’s one of the first names on the team sheet for Spurs and England and it’s no different here.
AML: More tough choices. Without his injury there’s a great chance Yannick Bolasie would feature high on this list. Raheem Sterling added ten goals to his City tally. Christian Eriksen continues to draw plaudits from European clubs. David Silva remains one of the most talented players in the league in a tight spot. Mesut Ozil, whilst occasionally going missing in big games, is hugely influential when Arsenal turn it on. It’s the other want away Arsenal star who makes the cut though. With 24 goals and 11 assists last season Alexis Sanchez is too good to leave out.
AMR: Most of the above options have the flexibility to switch over to the right. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal add further choices. I’m heading to City for the second time though and handing the start to Kevin De Bruyne. Only six goals which he will look to better next season but a league leading 18 assists gets him the nod over his competition.
CF: Arsenal’s leading scorer is already in the side. Whilst most players would be delighted with a haul of 20 goals from 30 games in the Prem, it’s actually quite a lean return for a player of Sergio Aguero’s calibre. Romelu Lukaku looks to have sealed himself a big money move away from Goodison with a career high 25 league goals. That sort of performance should seal the big Belgians place in any side but unfortunately he’s up against a seemingly unstoppable Harry Kane. 29 goals in the league including a quite frankly ridiculous eight from just his last three games. He’s the man I want to lead my line in Spain.
So there we have it. There are so many others I’d like to have added, with many places coming so close to inclusion and many other unfortunate to not even get a mention. There are only eleven places on the pitch though and I’ve gone with the side I think can defeat this generational Real Madrid side. To recap;
- Hugo Lloris (Spurs)
- Kyle Walker (Spurs)
- Danny Rose (Spurs)
- Yaya Toure (Man City)
- Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
- Toby Alderweireld (Spurs)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
- Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
- Harry Kane (Spurs)
- Dele Alli (Spurs)
- Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Disagree with my picks? Get in touch on Twitter – @InTheStandSport and let us know who you’d pick and why.
This was just a bit of fun, but don’t forget, the actual British & Irish Lions get this seasons tour underway on Saturday morning. Kick off 08.35 GMT.