Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar: An XI of world-class superstars at their absolute peak

Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar: An XI of world-class superstars at their absolute peak

To truly go down as an all-time great, a player must deliver consistently throughout their career, entering eye-catching performances on a weekly basis.

However, even the biggest talents have spells, competitions or even particular venues in which they simply excel.

Last Wednesday, Lionel Messi continued his outrageous run of personal form at Wembley Stadium, providing two superb assists for Argentina colleagues Lautaro Martinez and Paulo Dybala as he ran the show against Italy.

With that fantastic showing in mind, Twitter user @peak_wessi decided to put together a full XI of footballing superstars who have truly shone on a particular stage.

Drawing inspiration from the concept, we’re decided to have our own crack at putting together a similar line-up.

All of the below were world-class operators, but seemed to ramp it up for certain occasions to a ridiculous degree.

GK: 2014 Manuel Neuer

It has been notoriously tough over the years for a goalkeeper to fight their way into consideration for the coveted Ballon d’Or trophy.

In 2014, though, Bayern Munich’s German shot-stopper Neuer had a credible claim for the honour after starring for both club and country across the calendar year.

The man credited with popularising the sweeper-keeper role lifted the Bundesliga title and the World Cup in the space of just a few months – and few could have argued with much gusto had he been rewarded for his efforts with the Ballon d’Or.

In the end, he had to settle for third place behind the familiar pairing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. Despite not getting the verdict, we’ve rarely seen a ‘keeper in such spectacular form.

Neuer wins 2014 World Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – JULY 13: Manuel Neuer of Germany lifts the World Cup trophy with teammates after defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

LB: Champions League Marcelo

The Brazilian celebrated the end of his time at Real Madrid last week by collecting a fifth Champions League winners medal with Los Blancos. That kind of success demands respect.

CB: Champions League knock-out Sergio Ramos

Granted, his move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer did not go to plan, but Ramos was a colossus for former club Real Madrid in the knock-out rounds of Europe’s premier club competition.

In addition, to contributing vital goals, Real’s record in knock-out ties while Ramos was on the pitch was a remarkable one. The Spaniard left the Bernabeu with four Champions League triumphs to his credit.

Sergio Ramos scores for Real Madrid
LISBON, PORTUGAL – MAY 24: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates scoring their first goal in stoppage time during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at Estadio da Luz on May 24, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

CB: 2018/19 Virgil van Dijk

Gerard Pique was mightily close to getting this spot for his form at Barcelona between 2008 and 2012. However, in order to prevent a La Liga clean sweep at the back, we’ve plumped for Liverpool’s Van Dijk during their Champions League-winning 2018/19 season.

Not only did Van Dijk marshal the Reds’ defence to European glory, but Jurgen Klopp’s men were narrowly denied the Premier League crown, losing out to Manchester City by just a point. The Dutchman was a mammoth presence for the Merseyside club throughout the campaign and will feel unlucky not to have more silverware on his mantle.

RB: 2009 Dani Alves

Having returned to Camp Nou last year to link up once again with former colleague – and Barcelona boss – Xavi, Alves is still contributing at the top level, even at the age of 39.

Whatever he goes on to achieve in his second stint with La Blaugrana, though, the Brazilan right-back won’t be matching his phenomenal 2009 calendar year.

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Alves won almost everything in sight over the course of that 12-month period with Barca, including the Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercopa, UEFA Super Cup and World Club Cup.

He also bagged the Confederations Cup with his country. All that silverware and Alves was still somehow ignored in the 2009 Ballon d’Or nominations.

Dani Alves at Barcelona in 2009
BARCELONA, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 19: Daniel Alves of Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

CM: 2018 Luka Modric

The only man since 2006 to break the Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo monopoly over the Ballon d’Or, 2018 Modric simply had to be included.

CM: Euro 2012 Andres Iniesta

Iniesta turned the 2012 European Championships into his personal playground. The majestic playmaker guided Spain to the final of the competition, picking up three Match of the Match awards before scooping the same honour in his country’s victory over Italy in the final.

He was deservedly awarded the Player of the Tournament prize afterwards.

Iniesta wins Euro 2012
KIEV, UKRAINE – JULY 01: Andres Iniesta of Spain poses in the dressing room with the trophy following the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

LW: 2014/15 Neymar

Neymar’s legacy looks increasingly likely to be that of an exceptionally talented player who never quite achieved his full potential.

As part of a prolific trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Barcelona in 2014/15, however, the Brazilian forward was nothing short of electric.

‘MSN’ notched a total of 122 goals across the campaign, with Neymar providing 39 of those, together with 11 assists.

Barca overwhelmed all in their path to claim an historic treble. We may never see anything quite as brilliant again.

RW: Wembley Messi

Let’s face it, there’s very few stadiums around the world where Messi hasn’t shone at some point during his legendary career. That said, the guy just seems to love Wembley Stadium.

Aside from lifting the ‘Finalissima’ with Argentina a few days ago, Messi has also hoisted the Champions League at England’s national stadium and absolutely destroyed Tottenham when he visited north London with Barcelona in 2018.

On each visit, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has thrilled the crowd with his individual genius.

Messi at Wembley
LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 01: Lionel Messi of Argentina looks frustrated during the Finalissima 2022 Final between Italy and Argentina at Wembley Stadium on June 01, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

CF: Champions League Cristiano Ronaldo

With 140 goals in only 181 games, no player has ever dominated a single competition quite like Ronaldo in the Champions League. Outstanding numbers for the five-time tournament winner.

CF: Cup Final Didier Drogba

A Chelsea legend, Drogba scored an impressive 177 goals during his time at Stamford Bridge. When it came to cup finals, though, the Ivorian striker was simply untouchable.

His tally of nine goals in ten finals for the Blues is a remarkable record – and one which helped deliver eight trophies to the Chelsea trophy cabinet.

Drogba scores for Chelsea in FA Cup final
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 05: Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates as he scores their second goal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 5, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Check out the team in full below.

XI of the world’s best players from the last 15 years at their absolute peak

Elite XI graphic

Jesus to Arsenal close! (Reaction via The Football Terrace)

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