A talented XI can beat any team. A deep squad can win any title.
For the established elite, the objective is to not merely compete for three maybe four trophies, but to actually secure them.
However, while the strength of a starting side is scrutinised and debated, it’s actually beneath the first-choice selections where titles are won.
To best gauge a barometer for which clubs will be capable of securing domestic and/or European success, it’s perhaps more accurate to examine the quality options at their disposal from the substitutes bench.
So, it got us thinking, which side has the best bench from Europe’s top-five leagues?
Sticking with a quota of seven players per bench with a loosely forecasted XI, we’ve slated and rated the options for eight big teams ahead of the new season.
Alphonse Areola, Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva, Julian Draxler, Christopher Nkunku, Timothy Weah, Angel Di Maria
PSG could field the seven names above on a weekly basis and still saunter to Ligue 1 success such is the supremacy they enjoy domestically.
A big fish in a small pound indeed, but when the waters widen to Europe, the Parisians are in with fellow sharks and so far they’ve been bitten hard.
Tasked with sharpening their teeth in the Champions League this season is German boss Thomas Tuchel but so far only free agent Gianluigi Buffon has been added to the squad.
Yet, the former Dortmund coach need not be concerned because on his bench is variety and verve. Buffon’s arrival pushes talented stopper Areola to the bench but the 25-year-old will no doubt be better for learning from one of the greats.
Tuchel is reportedly considering a back three and so will be pleased to have Meunier, who proved with Belgium at the World Cup he’s one of the best attacking wing-backs around, and Thiago Silva who possesses a wealth of experience.
There’s a nice blend of youth, too, as Nkunku (20) was an impact sub last season whether in midfield or attack while George Weah’s son Timothy (18) is another great American prospect.
Draxler and Di Maria are two technical talents who have enough class to start for most big clubs and the pair make up what is a brilliant bench.
If we’re being really picky, Tuchel lacks a proven No9 to back up Edinson Cavani but otherwise, they’re a match for anyone.
Gianluigi Buffon, Dani Alves, Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos, Layvin Kurzawa, Marco Verratti, Giovani Lo Celso, Adrien Rabiot, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Neymar
Kevin Trapp, Lassana Diarra, Jese, Goncalo Guedes
Mattia Perin, Gonzalo Higuain, Federico Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa, Rodrigo Bentancur, Andrea Barzagli, Blaise Matuidi
Domestic dominance countered by European struggle is a similar theme for Juve. The European Cup is their Kryptonite and seems to drain them of their true potential, so the Bianconeri will hope aligning with Mr Champions League (Cristiano Ronaldo) powers them up.
His blockbuster arrival from Real Madrid does mean previous record buy Higuain is forced to take a seat on the bench, providing he remains in Turin, but with 55 goals in 105 games, the 30-year-old is a predatory option for Max Allegri.
Mattia Perin was signed over the summer and has duly been anointed as Buffon’s successor but, still a raw talent, the 25-year-old will benefit from competing with Wojciech Szczesny for the No1 spot.
There’s legs and world champion pedigree in Matuidi to back up the middle men and Barzagli, even at 37-years-old, is a formidable option for the defence.
If Allegri requires pace and direct running in the wide areas there’s few better than the electric Costa and a fit-again Bernardeschi is another source of thunder for the right side.
Bentancur was an absolute workhorse for Uruguay in Russia and, still only 21, has a high ceiling and will continue to develop as Miralem Pjanic’s understudy.
Just peak at the players who miss out entirely as justification for the strength of this Juventus bench because this is a squad built to challenge on all fronts.
Wojciech Szczesny, Joao Cancelo, Giorgio Chiellini, Medhi Benatia, Alex Sandro, Claudio Marchisio, Emre Can, Miralem Pjanic, Mario Mandzukic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala
Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Stefano Sturaro, Juan Cuadrado, Mattia Caldara, Sami Khedira
Sven Ulreich, Sandro Wagner, Niklas Sule, Leon Goretzka, Kingsley Coman, Arjen Robben, Arturo Vidal
On the face of it, the average age of Bayern’s bench is, well, average among the rest of the elite sides represented here.
However, strip away the numbers and it’s a little more concerning because their older players are on a deep decline while the next generation is still yet to prove they’re capable of replacing them.
The big talking point is in the wide areas. The dynamic but decaying ‘Robbery’ duo needed splitting up last season, but Kingsley Coman missed 20 games in all competitions through injury and although the 22-year-old is obviously talented, there’s doubt over his ability to break into the elite bracket.
New boss Niko Kovac will be able to pick the equally impressive Serge Gnabry this season after his impressive loan spell at Hoffenheim, so the two will battle for a starting spot with the other a dangerous option to bring on. Arjen Robben edges Franck Ribery to provide veteran flair.
On the subject of decline, Arturo Vidal (31) is nowhere near the level he was at when he joined from Juventus while Sandro Wagner (30) is an uninspiring back-up for Robert Lewandowski.
The strength in Bayern’s bench comes in the form of giant centre-back Niklas Sule who at 22 is a formidable young defender, and Leon Goretzka who is kind of in the early Toni Kroos phase of his development in that the 23-year-old has a complete skillset but is yet to nail down a suitable position.
Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Thiago, James Rodriguez, Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller
Corentin Tolisso, Franck Ribery, Sebastian Rudy, Renato Sanches, Rafinha
Loris Karius, Joe Gomez, Gini Wijnaldum, Daniel Sturridge, Xherdan Shaqiri, James Milner, Adam Lallana
When it was mentioned earlier brilliant XIs can beat anyone, but deep squads win titles, it’s a notion which can be stamped on Liverpool.
As evidenced by last season’s march to the Champions League final and their fourth-placed finish in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp has built a thrillingly talented first XI but the quality in reserve was lacking for a sustained title challenge.
They have done superb business in the window to rectify that, though. The midfield was decimated towards the back end of their 2017/18 campaign and the arrival of Naby Keita and Fabinho means Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner will become good squad players.
Shaqiri is another bullet in the gun for the forward areas but beyond that, with the context of comparing the sides judged here, they’re lacking a little X-Factor.
Nothing more needs to be said on Loris Karius, Daniel Sturridge’s injury record doesn’t inspire confidence, neither does Adam Lallana who is now 30 while Joe Gomez is a versatile option for the backline and has bags of potential but is a distance away from the upper echelon.
It must be noted, the human wrecking-ball Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have bumped the Reds up a mark but he’s likely to miss the season with a knee injury so it bumps them down.
Liverpool are as good as anyone in the Premier League, there can be no doubt, but zoom out onto the continental level and the depth of talent is a little bit shallow.
Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah
Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Joel Matip, Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ben Woodburn
Sergio Romero, Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford
The youngest bench and arguably the most effective substitute in world football (yes we are talking about Marouane Fellaini) but there are some glaring shortages which will worry Jose Mourinho.
Diogo Dalot is young and extremely inexperienced at the top level so the full-back area is a massive cause for concern. In midfield, there is no-one to really inject guile or craft.
Ander Herrera is a player with plenty of ability but he’s not the type to be fearful of from the bench. Anthony Martial’s fractious relationship with Mourinho sees him drop out completely, although Marcus Rashford can be irresistible and his daring dynamism offers a change of pace either out wide or through the middle.
As mentioned earlier, while Fellaini is a very limited player and somewhat ‘anti-United’, his physical presence is a useful option to have, perhaps not worthy of the pandering Mourinho displayed in order to keep him at the club, though.
Hard to believe Jones is still just 26-years-old because for much of last season he showed some good form until dropping off. He might be lucky to be in the seven if the United boss does manage to bring in another centre-back before the window shuts. Mata remains a classy operator but not enough to add any real shine to an average bench.
David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard
Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Matteo Darmian
Claudio Bravo, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Nicolas Otamendi, Ilkay Gundogan
It is probably of no surprise to see the Premier League champions rated so highly, there’d be something drastically wrong if they weren’t given their exponential wealth.
Indeed, Pep Guardiola is arguably the best equipped to compete at the very top end in every competition and you only have to look at the fact Riyad Mahrez is a club-record £60-million buy who will do well to start more than 10 league games.
And that is a remarkable thought considering over the past four seasons, there have only been six players to notch double figures for goals and assists in the Premier League – the Algerian is the only one to reach the mark twice.
He’s a luxury world-class attacking midfielder and he’s not alone in that regard on City’s bench with Bernardo Silva another supremely gifted player.
The Portugal playmaker should actually start as a No8 alongside Kevin De Bruyne next term with his namesake David Silva likely to be gradually phased out as he turns 33 this season but we’ll give the Spaniard the benefit of the doubt for now.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old Phil Foden is one of English football’s most promising young stars and is set for more action this season. We haven’t reached the club’s record scorer Sergio Aguero who is a ridiculous reserve frontman because he’s still one of the best strikers in world football.
Finally, there is the intelligent midfield option of Ilkay Gundogan while Nicolas Otamendi was outstanding last season and dropping to the bench here is no slight on his ability.
Yes, City possess comfortably the best seven substitutes in Europe with a blend of goals, penetration, steel and tactical acumen.
Ederson, Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling
Fabian Delph, Danilo, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Brahim Diaz
Kiko Casilla, Vinicius Junior, Marco Asensio, Mateo Kovacic, Alvaro Odriozola, Nacho, Lucas Vazquez
Does anyone know of any strikers available and if so, could they give Florentino Perez a nudge?
Borja Mayoral is the only other recognised striker and by our reckoning, he’s not good enough for the bench so Karim Benzema is without support unless something changes in the coming weeks.
Julen Lopetegui has lost a player who averaged 50 goals in all competitions over the last nine seasons after Ronaldo’s departure and he will look at his XI, nevermind his bench, and wonder who will step up to plug the void.
Perhaps the Los Blancos boss will expect more from his attacking midfielders and he does have enterprising options in that regard with Marco Asensio surely a player who will profit from Ronaldo’s departure.
Lucas Vazquez enjoyed the season of his career last term and is a versatile option in midfield and attack, Nacho almost the mirror image further back. They are a functional rather thrilling duo but perhaps the youthful exuberance of Brazilian winger Vinicius can excite if he’s not shipped out on loan.
Mateo Kovacic is another strongly linked with a Bernabeu exit and a player of his calibre certainly deserves more first-team football. However, shifting that middle three is a tough act.
If the Croatian does stay, that’s good news for Lopetegui because this is going to be a tough season for the wounded kings of Europe after losing Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco
Theo Hernandez, Borja Mayoral, Marcos Llorente, Jesus Vallejo, Dani Ceballos
Jasper Cillessen, Arthur, Clement Lenglet, Malcom, Thomas Vermaelen, Sergi Roberto, Paco Alcacer
Roma were furious with Barcelona for hijacking the Malcom deal yet Ousmane Dembele was probably more incensed by the move.
Competition is healthy, though, and the two widemen are tantalising prospects to fill a key role for Ernesto Valverde with the Blaugrana boss expected to switch from a 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 this season.
Malcom, alongside Dembele and Philippe Countho, will take some of the creative burden away from Lionel Messi and so is a great addition to the squad.
Jasper Cillessen is good enough to be a No1 for most clubs in Europe and that may well become a reality. For now, he’s solid back-up and that’s the case for new signing Clement Lenglet who solves the centre-back issue from last season with his La Liga experience.
Sergi Roberto is far more suited to midfield than being shunted to full-back and will be a useful reserve for Sergio Busquets who was left exhausted last term.
Arthur will need some time to assimilate but is a great two-way addition. The biggest issue with Barca’s bench and why they’re marked so low is up front.
If Antoine Griezmann had agreed to join then the narrative would have flipped but right now the uninspiring Paco Alcacer is the only real reserve for Luis Suarez who will be 32 this season.
Still, who needs a bench when you’ve got Messi?
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Nelson Semedo, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi
Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes
In Unai Emery‘s second pre-season game in charge, 17-year-old Emile Smith Rowe shone and it was his goal which cancelled out Luciano Vietto’s opener as the game ended 1-1.
Arsenal were sloppy from the spot, scoring just one of their four penalties as Atleti debutant Antonio Adan saved three strikes before coolly converting the winner as the Europa League holders took the shootout 3-1.
Mesut Ozil, who has been in the headlines since announcing his international retirement from Germany, was not involved.
Emery was able to name a strong side even with Ozil, Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi sitting out as they step-up their individual preparations following their World Cup exploits.
New signings Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi started at the Singapore National Stadium while the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were all named in the line-up.
Atletico have a younger-looking squad in Singapore but were ahead when Vietto headed home.
That lead did not last long and, with goalkeeper Jan Oblak replaced at the interval, Smith Rowe levelled with a superbly-taken solo effort.
Emery made a plethora of changes after the hour mark and the flow of the game never really recovered.
The match went to a shootout where substitutes Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Joe Willock both saw their penalties saved by Oblak’s replacement Adan.
Atletico missed two of their first three spot-kicks as Ainsley Maitland-Niles drew the Gunners level with a Paneka-style penalty before Adan made another save from a tame Eddie Nketiah strike and then smashed home the decisive penalty to settle the contest.
Morning, it’s Alex Broun here giving you a bitesize look at what’s going on today.
Just like he’s never been away
It took Mohamed Salah just 52 seconds to get on the score sheet as Liverpool came from beat to Manchester City 2-1 in the International Champions Cup in New York.
After a scoreless first half Leroy Sane opened the scoring on 57 minutes only for Salah to even things up six minutes later – with just his second touch of the game.
Sadio Mane then scored an injury time penalty to give the Reds the win.
To read the full report – and see Salah’s goal – click HERE.
World Cup takes a heavy toll
With so many players unavailable due to the World Cup – just how will the top six line-up in the first few matches of the Premier League.
Sport360’s Alex Rea takes a look HERE.
India cut a day from warm-up game
Coach Ravi Shastri has defended India’s decision to reduce their scheduled four-day game against Essex to a three-day game.
The match against Essex is the only first-class fixture India will play before they head to face England in the first Test of the five-match series, at Edgbaston in Birmingham.
To read more about the curious decision read HERE.
FEATURE OF THE DAY
Hurry up for Harry
Manchester United fans are a little bit worried about Jose Mourinho’s lack of summer business.
But it seems that one area that the ‘Special One’ may strengthen before August 9 is the back four with England star Harry Maguire (above) in his sights.
Sport 360’s Aditya Devavrat takes a look at the options HERE.
SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP
Jurgen Klopp provides Mohamed Salah injury update as Liverpool lay marker against Man City pic.twitter.com/PsPEd4hwb8— Sports Popular (@sportspopular24) July 26, 2018
📸 Sadio & Mo with Daniel Craig 🔴 pic.twitter.com/Z3R63NREAO— Liverpool FC Photos (@LFCSnapped) July 26, 2018