Football Features

Teams around Europe with insane depth in one position

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:26, 7 September 2021

In the modern era of football, we have seen talent coalescing at fewer clubs more often than it ever has before.

You can argue the morality of that all day but what is undeniable is at the end, some teams get absurdly stacked squads as a result. This stacking is also usually concentrated in one zone of the pitch, too. No one has achieved a fully stacked squad since Real Madrid in 2016/17 (although one Premier League side looks to have finally reached that pinnacle), but there are lots of teams that are stacked at one position.

We’ve had a look and come up with a list of clubs that go absurdly deep for one position.

PSG’s attack

Starters: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar
Subs: Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler

PSG’s attack was already ridiculous last season but they’ve taken things to another level this campaign by, y’know, signing arguably the best player in the world. This has not only dramatically increased the quality of their starting attacking trio, who are possibly three of the planet’s five best players, but meant that their back-ups are all literal international class players.

Behind Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar lies a trio of Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Mauro Icardi. The talent level there is staggering. Draxler’s reputation has dropped off but he remains a player of immense ability who was representing his nation as recently as last year. Icardi has played only sporadically for PSG yet retains a 1:2 goals to games ratio and Di Maria needs no introduction. He is a world-class superstar in his own right, reduced to a back-up or rotational role in PSG’s stacked attack.

Manchester United’s attack

Starters: Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford
Subs: Jesse Lingard, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba

Even with injuries, Manchester United’s starting attack is eye-wateringly good. Once everyone is fit, it gets straight-up nutty with Cristiano Ronaldo (674 goals in 897 club games) at the head of the side flanked by Jadon Sancho (the only man besides Messi to have 30+ goals and 30+ assists in the top five leagues since 2018/19) and Marcus Rashford with Bruno Fernandes at No.10 (more Premier League goals and assists combined than anyone since he debuted).

Behind them? Why, only Edinson Cavani (370 goals in 626 club games), Mason Greenwood (the first teen since Robbie Fowler to score in the first three games of the season), Martial and Jesse Lingard (nine goals and four assists in 16 games for West Ham last season). They also have Paul Pogba who can push forward and play wide on the left should the occasion demand it. The talent level is so high, United might honestly win trophies despite their joke of a midfield.

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Chelsea’s attack

Starters: Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount
Subs: Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic

Chelsea won the Champions League last season with a rock-solid defence and an attack that just about managed to score enough to pick up the necessary wins. This summer’s transfer activity brought them the world-class Romelu Lukaku to finish all those chances Timo Werner was missing (despite his excellent movement helping create them in the first place).

Lukaku now takes his place with Kai Havertz growing into the frightening potential he has always displayed and the ultimate link man Mason Mount keeping the whole thing ticking. That front trio is terrifying when you consider it’s on top of Chelsea’s relentless midfield and rock-solid defence. And then you consider that in attacking back-up, Chelsea have Werner and his wild movement, Christian Pulisic’s direct running and dribbling plus the endless creative potential of Hakim Ziyech.

This is the first time since 2017 that a side has assembled what is likely (production and injuries permitting) a fully stacked squad (it would already be confirmed but the sale of Tammy Abraham and loan of Billy Gilmour makes it less than 100% certain). If the Blues don’t win the Premier League this season something will have gone very, very wrong.

Atlético Madrid’s attack

Starters: Luis Suárez, Antoine Griezmann
Subs: Angel Correa, Matheus Cunha, Ivan Saponjic, Joao Felix

Since switching to a 3-5-2, Atlético Madrid’s fortunes have gone from strength to strength and through the transfer market, the 2021 La Liga champions have assembled some dizzying depth up-front. Despite their squad depth overall being thin, with players covering multiple spots, in attack they are blessed beyond belief.

Their starting duo is likely to be Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, two former world-class talents who still have an abundance of wonder left to give. Griezmann’s failure at Barcelona looms large but he has always been exceptional for Atleti, and even if he isn’t, Angel Correa is ready to come in. The Argentine fired Atleti to La Liga last season and has been their talisman so far this time around. Alongside him is new signing Mateus Cunha. And then going beyond even them we have 6’3 Serbian Ivan Saponjic and the phenomenal Joao Felix, who is out of sorts in the Spanish capital but still capable of genius.

Barcelona’s midfield

Starters: Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong, Pedri
Subs: Nico Gonzalez, Gavi, Sergi Roberto, Coutinho

Barcelona are in a miserable state right now with their work-in-progress defence and the sheer mystery of how their attack will look without Messi, but their midfield is still arguably the finest one on the planet. The Blaugrana can field Sergio Busquets, who needs a bit more protection but can pass and press like nobody else from the pivot, as well as Frenkie de Jong and Pedri. De Jong is an all-around magician capable of doing anything and teenaged Pedri is something like the reincarnation of Andrés Iniesta.

Behind them, they have the ever-willing workhorse Sergi Roberto, finally able to provide the physical and goalscoring edge the midfield lacks. And then they have La Masia prodigies Nico Gonzalez and the 17-year-old Gavi. Neither are household names yet but then neither was Pedri a year ago, the two fit the Barca system perfectly and will offer plenty this season. Then finally, they have Coutinho. Will he play well? Will he flop again? Who can say, but a fully fit Coutinho could be a game-changing option off the bench for the beleaguered Blaugrana.

Real Madrid’s midfield

Starters: Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos
Subs: Eduardo Camavinga, Fede Valverde, Isco, Dani Ceballos

Like their eternal rivals, Real Madrid’s squad is in a bit of a mess. Moreso than the Catalans, Madrid are in need of a rebuild at the back and up-top they are relying on Karim Benzema’s genius. Their midfield is getting older but it’s still Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. You know, those three dudes that won three straight Champions Leagues? Yeah, those guys.

Then in back-up to them, Madrid have old stager Isco, still capable of wonder, and misfit Dani Ceballos (certainly talented) as well as two young studs that add the energy and thrust the ageing starters lack. Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga are young, hungry and could make Madrid’s midfielder meaner than anyone around should they play alongside Casemiro.

Liverpool’s defence

Starters: Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk
Subs: Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konaté

Last season, Liverpool had no central defenders. With the exception of Nat Phillips, everyone who identified as a centre-back got injured. It was an apocalypse at the back for Jurgen Klopp’s men, but all bad things pass eventually, and Liverpool’s defence has gone from a glaring weakness to, with everyone fit, a massive strength.

Of course, it helps that they signed the talented Ibrahima Konaté from RB Leipzig, a player who perfectly fits the Klopp profile. Konaté, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are all starter-quality players but will compete with each other for the one spot next to returning colossus Virgil van Dijk. From no one at the back to four studs at the back and lest we forget the big man Nat Phillips is still at the club so even if someone gets injured, the depth persists.

Manchester City’s wingers

Starters: Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling
Subs: Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus

Due to their failure to sign Harry Kane this summer, Manchester City have missed out on being part of the stacked attack. But although their centre-forward slot will be a false nine position filled in by Ferran Torres, Kevin De Bruyne or maybe even Bernardo Silva, City’s wing depth is absolutely ridiculous.

£100m man Jack Grealish will doubtless be the starting left-winger in all his spectacular and sensational glory. Opposite him, Pep Guardiola’s men could field Raheem Sterling, who has 115 goals in 295 games for City. Sterling is a potent goalscorer when supplied right and Grealish should supply him right.

Behind them are the quicksilver pair Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. Foden is a player of near-limitless potential, capable of playing as an orthodox winger or a modern wing-forward. Meanwhile, Mahrez is pure width and hocus pocus. There’s also Gabriel Jesus who both Guardiola and Brazil coach Tite seem interested in converting to a winger (and to be fair, his skill-set suits it supremely) and then also Bernardo Silva, a phenomenal little creative player who was key to City 2018/19 title triumph.

And, of course, City’s depth is the one thing that will be truly used to the fullest as Guardiola’s rotation should see most of these men play between 1,000 and 2,000 minutes with perhaps only Grealish approaching 3,000. Pep knows how good his depth is and will use it.