Over 16,000. That’s the approximate number of FIFA Ultimate Team cards the world’s finest FIFA 18 players have at their disposal at this year’s eWorld Cup in London.
Of course, by the time you eliminate the bronze, silver and lower-rated gold items, there leaves only an elite set of player cards good enough to be used at the top level.
With some gamers even eliminating the likes of Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi from their squads at world championship level, anything short of the best team is unacceptable for the main contenders.
The squad must reflect their strengths in the game, adapt perfectly to their formation of choice and possess the right attributes to make the most of their carefully crafted custom tactics.
One wrong decision or one debatable in-game substitution could be the difference between a £190,000 pay cheque or waiting 12 months for another shot at glory.
So, it begs the question: who do the world’s finest players use in their Ultimate Team?
Naturally, the exact starting XIs are varied across the 32 players who congregated in London’s O2 Arena this week, just as the formations and general tactics are.
Nevertheless, just five rounds into the group stages gives spectators a very clear idea of the players in favour and it shows that really, gamers are only picking from a pool of around 30 cards.
Then – of course – the different iterations of cards need to be factored in with Team of the Year, Team of the Season and special release items all available to the players.
It means that players such as Son Heung-min, who don’t necessarily have an impressive original card, are frequently used because of their remarkable FUTTIES releases.
All that considered, what better place to start than between the sticks? This is perhaps the position most commonly agreed on between top FIFA 18 players and the man of choice is David de Gea.
The Spaniard is a superb shot stopper on the game with 90-rated diving and 90 reflexes, supplemented by impressive all-round stats to create a card of 90. His original item is preferred by some players – a decision that comes down to personal preference and experience – but his TOTY card rises all the way to a menacing 97 overall.
Other options include Lev Yashin, Peter Schmeichel and even a special 98 rated Gianluigi Buffon card, but De Gea’s shot stopping is too good to ignore for most players.
Defence is where the teams start to become a little more varied, although there are clear favourites amongst top players such as ‘MegaBit’ and ‘Nicolas99FC.’ Well-rounded players such as Rio Ferdinand, Kyle Walker and Sergio Ramos are amongst the staples in the backline, while Marcelo proves a brilliant attacking asset at left-back.
The likes of Diego Godin, Mats Hummels and Leonardo Bonucci all possess enviable cards, too, but there is a definite preference for pace and strength. Most FIFA eWorld Cup contenders use formations with a back four, too, so the aforementioned Marcelo and Walker can switch between defensive and offensive duties with ease.
Antonio Valencia is also used by many at right-back due to his superb 92-rated FUTTIES card, with Victor Moses possessing a similarly brilliant pink card. Jordi Alba and David Alaba can sometimes make their way into starting XIs and centre-back alternatives don’t come much better than icon Paolo Maldini.
Physicality is arguably even more important in the midfield, though, and that is reflected in almost universally accepted choices such as N’Golo Kante and Patrick Vieira. Both French players provide dominating presences in the centre of the park, crucial when many players deploy three forwards and need their central players to cover plenty ground efficiently.
Kante has a number of impressive cards across the game with his strongest FUT rating coming in at 95 and possessing stunning statistics such as a perfect score of 99 in standing tackle, reactions, aggression and stamina.
Ruud Gullit is another staple amongst players with a rating of over 80 across all six of the main attributes, making him the perfect box-to-box midfielder. His finesse shot from the edge of the area can be a lethal weapon when opposition defences sit deep. Alternatively, Paul Pogba can be used as a number 10, but is a less popular choice.
However, there are some more left-field choices amongst players with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Leon Goretzka making their way into the team of top Xbox player ‘MegaBit.’ Despite distinctly average original cards, their TOTY releases give them the type of all-round attributes that make them formidable weapons at the highest level of FIFA gaming.
That’s all well and good, but what about the business end of the team? Top-class FIFA competitions can often be high-scoring affairs given the lethal finishing of the players, and their choices up front are simply the most important on the pitch.
There’s certainly a common theme amongst the players, too, and that revolves around the name ‘Ronaldo.’ A number of the main contenders for the eWorld Cup use both Cristiano Ronaldo (who boasts a card with a perfect 99 rating) and the indomitable icon card of Ronaldo Nazario that was specially introduced for FIFA 18.
The use of the ‘low shot’ in one-on-one situations can be particularly lethal in this game, a trait that Brazilian Ronaldo excels in while his Portuguese namesake proves a constant threat in the air. However, with most gamers opting for three forwards it leaves the final attacker down to personal preference.
Son’s aforementioned 94-rated card is used by many as an impact substitution, although players such as ‘YimmieHD’ deploy him from the start. Messi – although considerably less popular than Ronaldo – features in the teams of players ‘Kurt0411’ and 'Aero', while Neymar and Luis Suarez’s higher rated cards also make their way into teams.
There are even some very strange selections made amongst players with Pogba being converted to a striker in one instance and Thierry Henry dropping back into central midfield.
However, on the whole, there are only a select number of players that professionals consider ‘event-worthy’ and capable of doing the business on FIFA gaming's biggest stage. When life-changing sums of money are on the line, you can’t blame the players for going all out with their FUT squads and taking no major risks.
So, not only do the top FIFA gamers need gruelling hours of practice to rise to the top and highly personalised tactics to maximise their game, but they need a team stacked with talent to the bring the victories home.
Whether they’re a past or present player, highly-rated in real lift or not, it’s all about those in-game stats and what the gamers do with them under pressure. Their selections aren’t just a starting XI but 11 choices that could make or break a tournament and career in FIFA gaming.