Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristiano RonaldoWith Europe's major leagues closing down for the winter break, Pitchside Europe selects a team of players who have distinguished themselves in the season to date.
*Note: Premier League players not considered for selection*
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
Hostility from Bayern's fans initially made Neuer's chances of success at his new club appear remote, but he proved his quality - and his nerve - by going a club record 1,147 minutes without conceding a goal between August and October. With Edwin van der Sar in retirement, Gianluigi Buffon still re-establishing himself after injury and Iker Casillas prone to the odd blunder, Neuer has become the world's pre-eminent goalkeeper.
Right-back: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus)
The right-back berth had become a problem position for Juventus in recent seasons, with Marco Motta, Zdenek Grygera and youngster Frederik Sorensen all unable to lay claim to the spot in 2010-11. Lichtsteiner has started every league game since arriving from Lazio in the summer, however, and the Swiss international has brought a new dimension to Juve's attacking play with his raids down the right flank.
Centre-back: Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
A classy and committed centre-back, every Hummels performance gives Bayern fresh reason to regret letting him leave two years ago and he is currently the top-rated defender on the website of German sports magazine Kicker.
Centre-back: Thiago Silva (Milan)
They recognise a good centre-back when they see one at San Siro, and Thiago Silva has become the lynchpin of a Milan defence that was the meanest in Serie A last season. A virtual ever-present so far in 2011-12, his first Champions League goal was a memorable stoppage-time equaliser at Barcelona in September.
Left-back: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Marcelo when Fabio Coentrao arrived at the Bernabeu from Benfica this summer, but the Brazilian remains Jose Mourinho's first-choice left-back. Occasionally maligned for his perceived defensive weaknesses, he is nonetheless an explosive component of Madrid's counter-attacking style.
Central midfield: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
After injuries restricted him to a bit-part role in Milan's title triumph, Pirlo's career appeared to be on the wane, but he has been revitalised by his move to Turin. The elegant driving force behind Juve's revival, he remains the reference point for deep-lying playmakers.
Central midfield: Xavi (Barcelona)
Already the finest passer in the sport, Xavi has introduced an increased goal threat to his game this season, notably scoring important goals against Milan, Real Madrid and in Sunday's 4-0 humbling of Santos in the Club World Cup final.
Right wing: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
He continues to be eclipsed by Messi in head-to-head showdowns with Barcelona, but Ronaldo has taken the upper hand in the goalscoring stakes. Having netted 40 goals in 34 league games last term, he has already scored 20 times in 16 league appearances this season, while Saturday's hat-trick at Sevilla was his fifth of the season.
Attacking midfield: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Poised to become the first player since Michel Platini to win three consecutive Ballon d'Or awards, Messi has assumed even more creative responsibility for Barcelona this season. Occasionally deployed in a slightly deeper role, he single-handedly created the goal for Alexis Sanchez that sparked Barca's fightback against Madrid and remains just as prolific in front of goal.
Left wing: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
His needless red card on Friday was the only stain on a start to the season that has seen Ribery rediscover the thrilling form of his 2007-08 debut campaign in Bavaria. With eight goals and six assists in 17 league appearances, he seems to have finally put the personal nightmare of 2010 behind him.
Striker: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)
He may not have scored as many goals as Bayern's Mario Gomez (16) or Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (15) - not to mention Messi and Ronaldo - but Giroud has scored 12 goals despite playing for a team with only modest ambitions in Ligue 1. Tall, strong, capable of playing with his back to goal and a fine finisher with either foot, he seems tailor-made for the English Premier League.
European Team of the week (Chosen by Opta, including Premier League):
Goalkeeper: Casto (Real Betis v Atletico Madrid); 90 minutes; Clean sheet; Nine saves; Two big chances faced
Right-back: Fousseni Diawara (Ajaccio v Rennes); 90 minutes; Clean sheet; One goal; Nine clearances
Centre-back: Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke v Werder Bremen); 90 minutes; Clean sheet; One goal;100% shot conversion rate
Centre-back: Andrea Ranocchia (Inter v Siena); 90 minutes; Clean sheet; One goal; 100% tackle success rate
Left-back: Paolo De Ceglie (Juventus v Novara); 90 minutes; Clean sheet; One assist; 45 touches opposition half
Right-midfield: Matthieu Valbuena (Marseille v Lorient); 90 minutes; One goal; One assist; 94% pass success rate
Left-midfield: Abdel (Getafe v Mallorca); 83 minutes; Two goals; 100% shot conversion rate; 100% pass accuracy
Centre-midfield: Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich v Cologne); 90 minutes; One goal; 93 passes received; 122 touches
Centre-midfield: Leon Osman (Everton v Norwich City); 90 minutes; One goal; Five key passes; Eight crosses attempted
Striker: Raul (Schalke v Werder Bremen); 90 minutes; Three goals; 100% shot conversion rate; 51 passes opposition half
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid v Sevilla); 90 minutes; Three goals; Four shots on target 11 successful lay-offs