They say no one player is bigger than a club, and while that's true there are certainly some players that would be almost impossible to replace. We've already explored what we think would happen if we added particular superstars to teams, but what if we did the opposite?
Granted, most teams get to where they are because of their depth, so a lot are built to withstand roster turnover. Yet, if you were to remove the players on this list from their respective teams, it would be a major blow to these European powerhouses.
(Note: This isn't to suggest these players are leaving or would even be close to leaving, it's just to examine which players are the most indispensable to their clubs at the moment.)
Real Madrid — Cristiano Ronaldo
Yes, he's an elder statesman, but Ronaldo basically is Real Madrid at this point. Everything about the club at the moment runs through him. He's the focal point of their offense and their longtime leader. Even with a younger Gareth Bale and a team absolutely loaded with talent, losing Ronaldo right now would be a big blow for Real Madrid. If he walked out the door, who would be there to replace him? It's a question the Merengues might need to start addressing in earnest, even without this hypothetical situation.
Arsenal — Alexis Sanchez
Arsenal might need to prepare for life without Sanchez whether the like it or not. If the Chilean were to leave, there'd be a major dearth of creativity, killer instinct and most importantly: goal-scoring. A natural winger, Sanchez filled in at center forward for Arsene Wenger and flourished this year. Without him, the argument could be made that the Gunners wouldn't even be sniffing a Champions League spot this season. Arsenal don't have the most stacked squad in the world, but they could survive if they lost a player at a different position. Losing Sanchez would be dire.
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Juventus — Paulo Dybala
Juventus' bread and butter is their defensive stability, but they're loaded on the back end. If one of these stalwart defenders was to leave, another stud could fill that spot. Dybala's effervescence is much harder to replace, now and in the future. Gonzalo Higuain is still Juve's ace, but at 29 he's a bit long in the tooth. Plus, his heir apparent is already in-house in the 23-year-old Dybala. The Argentine forward is a star for the present and beyond.
Bayern Munich — Robert Lewandowski
Life without Lewandowski would be tough to stomach in Bayern Munich. The Bavarians have the depth to survive a departure at every other position, but losing Lewa would be brutal. A few years ago the answer was obvious: Just turn to Thomas Muller. But the German's precipitous drop in form recently leaves confidence levels in him at an all-time low. Manuel Neuer is also a good shout for this exercise, but Bayern would probably just raid a team for the next young, great German shot-stopper.
Liverpool — Sadio Mane
Mane only just arrived at Liverpool, but his impact has been astounding. When he went down injured, Liverpool's attack stagnated. He's been one of the best purchases in the Premier League, hands down, and does everything Jurgen Klopp asks of him.
Napoli — Marek Hamsik
It might seem obvious that it'd be detrimental for a team to lose their captain, but Hamsik's impact with Napoli extends beyond the pitch. After a number of big-money departures in recent years (like Gonzalo Higuain), Hamsik has managed to remain in Naples. If he were to depart now, there wouldn't be a star with the cache that Hamsik carries. At least, not at the moment.
Roma — Radja Nainggolan
Like Hamsik, Nainggolan is Roma's heart and soul. He's also their metronome, dictating matches both offensive and defensively. He might not have the world's prettiest game, but he might have the angriest game on the planet. He plays mean. It's that type of fire that has a lot of the world's biggest clubs sniffing around that could force Roma's hand in the near future.
Chelsea — Eden Hazard
N'Golo Kante beat Hazard to the PFA Player of the Year Award, but the Blues would be crushed to lose their Belgian superstar. (And unfortunately for them, it could very well happen.) Last season's dud showed exactly how much Hazard means to Chelsea's offense. Without his creativity and attacking prowess, there's little chance the Blues would be on their way to the EPL title this year. Willian and Pedro would be adequate replacements, but they're not Hazard.
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Tottenham — Dele Alli
Spurs are spoiled for choice with young stars, but Alli stands at the top of the heap. It'd be a blow to lose Harry Kane, for example, but Tottenham would probably still survive. They wouldn't be where they are now, but they'd have a heartbeat ... especially if Son Heung-min kept his roll going. Alli's absence would leave a big void, though. He's an innovator in the midfield with an ability to score with the best of them, and he's on 21 years old.
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Atletico Madrid — Koke
Antoine Griezmann has expressed his desire to stay at Atletico, but he still might be out the door if someone (cough, Man United) offers the world for him. Replacing Griezmann would be a tall task, but somehow Atletico haven't had any issue doing that in the past. Just look at Fernando Torres the first time around, or Radamel Falcao or Diego Costa. Koke's skillset is harder to replace, as is his desire and love for Atletico. He's a favorite of Diego Simeone and it's easy to see why.
Manchester City — Kevin De Bruyne
Pep Guardiola's change of system didn't hamper De Bruyne's impact, who remains one of the Premier League's best players. While the argument could be made that a younger player in City's stable of stars or David Silva would be tougher to replace, KDB hits that perfect middle ground. At age 25 he's young enough that his best years should be ahead of him, but also a proven commodity in one of the world's toughest leagues.
Barcelona — Neymar
Wait, no Lionel Messi? Yes, the optics of losing Messi would be harsh, but Neymar is the future. As difficult as it is to snub Messi here, Neymar's loss would be just slightly more pronounced, at least long term. Barcelona would be a completely different team no matter who between Messi and Neymar left, but the 25-year-old Brazilian still seems to just be scratching the surface of his talent. And who knows, with Messi gone maybe Neymar could flourish? (Blasphemy!)
Manchester United — Paul Pogba
Despite the hand-wringing of Pogba not living up to his record-breaking transfer fee, he's quietly put together another strong season. Consider that he's adjusting to a new league and coach and just turned 24 in March. The imposing midfielder only figures to get better as people chill on assuming just because he's not scoring that means he's a failure. Manchester United already lost Pobga once before, and they'd be damned if they let it happen again.
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Paris St. Germain — Marco Verratti
Verratti is another player that PSG can ill afford to lose, but just might. The dynamic midfielder is a tone-setter for the Parisian club and he's caught the attention of a number of big clubs. PSG could probably pay him whatever he wants to keep him, but if he wants out it'll happen. That'd be bad news for Paris St. Germain, as he's young (24), aggressive and can be a true game-changer when he's on song.
Borussia Dortmund — Julian Weigl
Dortmund have a bounty of young attacking talent, so they could stand to lose a player from those ranks. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might be headed to Real Madrid, no matter what happens. Defensive midfielders aren't the spiciest of players, but they can be true game-changers. Weigl can do that and has a scoring touch that seems to show up more frequently in bigger matches. He's also just 21 years old and German. He has "future Bayern starter" written all over him, something that likely scares the bejesus out of BVB fans everywhere.
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