To mark the impending return of the UEFA Europa League round of 32, UEFA.com tries to pick an all-star XI from the players set to illuminate the competition.
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To mark the impending return of the UEFA Europa League, UEFA.com dons its sheepskin coat and attempts to select a composite XI from the array of stars set to illuminate the competition. As you will see, we are taking an 'attack-is-the-best-means-of-defence' and 'left-is-best' approach.
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Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur FC)
The France captain has been increasingly influential since joining Tottenham in summer 2012. The 28-year-old sweeper-keeper has thrived in European competition this term with a man-of-the-match display in the 1-1 draw against Beşiktaş JK and a stunning save sealing progression against FK Partizan on matchday five.
Ricardo Rodriguez (VfL Wolfsburg)
The Switzerland full-back has always had talent and his move to Wolfsburg in 2012 has brought the best out of him. Solid at the back, his real forte is getting forward and delivering pinpoint crosses into the box – it is little wonder the 22-year-old has been linked with so many clubs this winter.
Ezequiel Garay (FC Zenit)
The centre-back arrived in Russia after helping Argentina to the FIFA World Cup final and picked up where he left off, establishing himself as the keystone of Zenit's back line. The powerful 28-year-old has good UEFA Europa League experience, too, reaching two finals with SL Benfica, though a rib injury makes him a doubt to face PSV Eindhoven.
Leighton Baines (Everton FC)
The 30-year-old England left-back recently claimed his 45th Premier League assist, a record for a defender. The landmark was no surprise given the constant attacking endeavour and set-piece expertise that the laid-back, likeable Baines – a veteran of 250-plus top-flight matches for Everton – brings to the Blues.
Nani (Sporting Clube de Portugal)
The Portuguese international returned to Sporting on loan last summer and wasted no time making his mark, scoring four goals in the UEFA Champions League group stage. The strike at home to NK Maribor displayed all his skill, dribbling past opponents before shooting in brilliantly from outside the box.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool FC)
The England winger's lightning pace and cool head in the box have made him a crucial asset for a Liverpool side adjusting to life after Luis Suárez. Daniel Sturridge's injury woes have placed even more pressure on Sterling's slight shoulders but the Jamaican-born 20-year-old remains as unfazed as ever.
Kevin De Bruyne (VfL Wolfsburg)
The playmaker has revived his career in the Bundesliga following a frustrating 2013/14 at Chelsea FC. Some have said the Belgian international is not necessarily a champion trainer, but on matchdays the 23-year-old is always in the thick of it as an intelligent assist-provider who contributes his fair share of goals too.
Yevhen Konoplyanka (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)
Ukrainian international Konoplyanka is an exemplary left midfielder who likes to run at defences with the ball seemingly attached to his foot and can really let fly from distance. The 25-year-old has received enough admiring glances from other clubs over the past two years to make any person blush.
Gonzalo Higuaín (SSC Napoli)
Higuaín, 27, is the kind of striker any defender would find it difficult to deal with: strong in the air, powerful and skilled enough to cause problems for anyone. Having scored more than 120 goals for Real Madrid CF, he has netted 42 times in 76 games for Napoli and is justifiably considered an heir to great Argentina No9s Gabriel Batistuta and Hernán Crespo.
Francesco Totti (AS Roma)
It is no easy task to summarise Totti's greatness in just a few lines. A one-club man in his native city, he has numerous records to his name: oldest scorer (at 38) in UEFA Champions League history and Roma's all-time leading marksman, to name but two. Deadly from set pieces, he is as exquisite at playing the killer pass as he is at finding the target himself.
Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven)
Still just 20, Depay has been key to PSV's Eredivisie dominance this season. Combining technical skills with pace and a strong physique, the Dutch international forward has struck six times in the UEFA Europa League this term (qualifying included) and has resisted speculation linking him with a move away; he wants to win the title with PSV first.
The UEFA Europa League returns on 19 February with the round of 32 first legs