The season isn’t even at its halfway point, but Season 77’s been heating up. Last year’s runners-up UP are heading the pack, Ateneo, who fell from grace last season after finishing a dismal seventh, are on their way to erasing last year’s painful memories at second place. Last year’s kings FEU meanwhile are sitting at fourth, having suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the up and coming dark horses National U.
With the Christmas break coming to an end and the action on the pitch ready to resume, we here at Tiebreaker Times decided to take some time to give recognition to the league’s most brilliant performers so far and put the spotlight on the 11 players on the field we’d pick if UAAP football had its own all-star game.
In choosing the players, we went with the 3-4-3 formation. It puts three players in front of the goalkeeper, quite central in position with the opportunity for movement along the sides. Four midfielders are situated across the pitch with two on the wings and two in the middle. Up front, there are three forwards. They may occupy the central areas or stretch the attack by leaving one in the center and the two near the flanks.
And so, with much pride and no bias do we now present who we think are the best XI for the first portion of the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football championship. After revealing the players on defense, we now disclose who we feel are the outstanding midfield players at the moment.
Before we go to the main selection, we took note of other players who have distinguished themselves as top-caliber players in the league but did not make the cut for our all-star team.
Vincent Aguilar (UP), Jean Clariño (UST), Nicolas Ferrer (FEU), Eric Giganto (FEU), Jose Montelibano (DLSU)
There have been a lot of eye-catching midfielders in the league so far. It does not come as a surprise because the midfield is a pivotal area where the tempo of the action is often controlled.
Players like Giganto, Clariño and Aguilar settle in the middle areas. All of them have controlled the central part of the midfield quite masterfully. They are also regarded as offensive threats and at times have moved skillfully past stingy defenses. Given the opportunity, these players will gleefully shoot for goal. The trio share a total of seven goals in the season and could have had more.
Ferrer and Montelibano, on the other hand, prefer lurking around the wings. Their agile movements coupled by the remarkable ability to craft quality crosses have been handy for their teams in brewing attacks down their flanks. They also pose problems against defenders who are tasked to keep a good eye on them.
Although both Giganto and Montelibano can play as defenders, they have shown the qualities of a capable attacking mid that we believe make them deserving of being mentioned alongside other midfielders.
Perhaps, some may reckon that they deserve to be in the main selection, and we can’t blame them for that. In our opinion though, these players have been important for their squads- it’s just that the four we selected have been the most dependable recently.
Midfield in the UAAP is rich in potential talent. The league’s goal difference rule has everyone set on bagging as many goals as they can every game. We’ve seen a healthy number of goal fests early in the season, including a 7-4 sizzler between FEU and UST during the opening weekend and UP’s 6-0 trouncing of Adamson to welcome the Christmas break. Due recognition was given to the men in the midfield whose efforts on the pitch translated into success for their respective teams.
Paolo Bugas (FEU)
As last season’s titlists, FEU is not where most people think they would be right now. The team has struggled throughout the season, and remains in limbo with continuous line changes.
Although FEU has had a disappointing season so far, Paolo Bugas, the UAAP Season 76 Most Valuable Player has been consistent for his team. He has continued to show intensity on the pitch and his never-give-up attitude rubs off on his teammates. He is a great midfielder who continues to place accurate passes whether it be a lob, a through ball, or a cross for great attacking chances. The national team player facilitates the squad, which is no easy task especially because his team is the gifted FEU, but Paolo seems to always be in control, consistently showcasing his playmaking abilities.
In their initial matches, it was Bugas who created scoring opportunities for Giganto, Melliza, and Ferrer. The ball would go to the right spots for his teammates to score, like in their first match against the Golden Booters. Paolo may not be responsible for ALL the team’s goals but one cannot discount what he does for his teammates- sending the ball to where it can cause the most damage. It’s a trait other teams would consider a threat.
Paolo will definitely be someone to watch whenever the defending champions play. With how FEU has been playing, Bugas will surely push his team to their limits. No team who has won a championship stays down for long, and the FEU team will come back wanting to prove themselves after the break. The other teams better watch out.
The FEU midfielder’s performance this season has been solid despite his team’s recent slump. Another player familiar with this kind of situation plays for a team that has always been a title contender.
Nathan Alquiros (DLSU)
Famous for his brilliance on the pitch, Nathan Alquiros is setting his sights on the elusive UAAP crown his team has yet to win since 1998. The La Salle midfield magician has been a marked man throughout his UAAP career but that does not halt him from heavily influencing the highly potent DLSU attack. He is usually seen on the left flank but La Salle’s midfield tactics have comfortably displaced the senior playmaker. As a result, Alquiros and his fellow DLSU midfielders have been difficult to man this season, causing headaches to their opponents’ back line.
What Alquiros has done for DLSU in their first four games of the season is noteworthy. Both of his two goals may have been scored from set pieces, but the Lasallian midfielder surely brought more to the table than just that. He has two assists to his name in the game against Adamson and teed up Christian Zubiri before being fouled by FEU’s Rey Joyel inside the box for a penalty that he scored. In the UE match, he was instrumental in unlocking the Warriors’ defense with his precise passing and graceful movement away from the ball. In addition, Alquiros also tracks back on defense. For instance, he foiled Jinggoy Valmayor’s attempt to put UP in the lead in the first clash of the season. His versatility pads his ever-growing reputation as a terrific player in the middle of the park.
Nathan has already won trophies for DLSU but never the UAAP crown, something that he would like to have before he bids farewell. La Salle’s remaining games in the first round are all challenging and Alquiros’ involvement will be pivotal for La Salle’s title charge.
Undoubtedly, Alquiros is instrumental towards converting games to wins for his team. As he looks to finally taste UAAP glory, another player from the rival squad would love to be reunited with the collegiate football trophy.
Mikko Mabanag (ADMU)
The go-to guy for free kicks and set pieces, captain Mikko Mabanag is one scary guy to give the ball to. His vision and foresight as the go-to man for set pieces lay the groundwork for the Eagles’ success on the pitch, as was seen in his spectacular performance during Ateneo’s first meeting against the UST Golden Booters, wherein his teammates Julian Roxas and Emilio Acosta bagged Ateneo’s first two goals after connecting with corner kicks he delivered. Proof of his ability to create are the five assists to his name in only a month of action for the Blue Eagles.
But Mabanag does much more for the Blue Booters besides helping his teammates score. He makes sure everyone else is supposed to be on the attack, establishing himself as the control tower of Ateneo’s feared midfield. Likewise, Mabanag stays in position in every attack, trying to free himself up should the ball be sent to his direction. His presence of mind on the defensive end is also commendable, going for the swipe for every time the ball is sent to someone he’s marking.
A gifted creator and facilitator who also tries to do a little bit of everything, Mabanag’s intuition and skill with the ball have worked wonders for Ateneo time and time again.
Integral to the Blue Booters’ championship aspirations, Mabanag continues to cement his name into the rich Ateneo football history books. Missing him would be an unimaginable struggle for the UAAP Season 75 winners. However, there is another skilled player whose absence last year appeared to have reduced his team’s tenacity in midfield.
Carlo Liay (ADMU)
Carlo Liay has three goals to his name so far in the season, but his contributions on the pitch are more than the number of times he scored for the Blue and White. Liay knows how to stay in position to receive or distribute the ball as needed. His ability to quickly spot openings in the opponents’ defense and ready himself to launch one of his devastating strikes has his defenders on their toes constantly. He is blessed with the motor skills necessary for scoring goals- remember those three goals he’s already scored- a blessing Ateneo could be only be much grateful for.
His season was cut short last year after suffering from a torn ACL, but he’s made up for his absence just four games into Season 77. The season’s young and a lot can happen, and the Ateneans are going to need a lot of help from this gifted young footballer if they’re going to want to erase last year’s painful memory. All eyes are now on Liay and how far the Eagles can go this season.
The midfield is a pivotal place in every lineup. One squad may have a premier set of defenders and flamboyant strikers but if the midfield is not at par with them, the team will surely lack firepower to deliver results. Geographically, the midfield is the heart of the team. The players in the middle of the park act as aids to both offense and defense. To have a well-oiled midfield roster effectively boosts a team’s chances. The four players have different approaches to the game, but together, threat is exponentially multiplied. What binds these guys is a classic function of a midfielder: regain possession to play it forward. On that note, they are the best in the league in doing such at the moment. — Brian Tamayao, Aidan Manglinong, and RJ Co