Who is the world’s best center forward? Falcao keeps making his case

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Radamel Falcao scored two more goals today, leading Atlético Madrid to a 4-2 win at Real Betis. The Colombian international’s up to seven goals in five Liga matches this season. Counting international duty and the UEFA Super Cup, Falcao has 12 goals in his last seven games: Messi-esque numbers.

Since moving from River Plate to Porto just over three years ago, Falcao has 70 goals in 89 games, having spent two years in Portugal before moving to Spain. With his success in Madrid (and his hot start to this season), rumors have linked the 26-year-old with a move up, with Chelsea perpetually in the mix.

The speculation, the numbers – the actual play in games – it’s all enough to have me wondering: Is Falcao the best center forward in the world?

The term center forward is a cumbersome one (most position descriptions are). What we’re going for here is somebody who leads the attack, playing at its highest level. We’re not talking about a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo. We’re talking about the forwards who play in front of them, along the defense. Some may be best dropping back to pick up the ball, others may make their money playing against the shoulder of the last defender. Regardless, they’re the men that give central defenders nightmares.

Three years ago, this debate would have centered around Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and David Villa, with Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres perhaps getting a shout. Today, there are three who have a claim to this title:

Radamel Falcao – The best finisher of the group, he also has the best instincts within the penalty area. Fast, strong, great in the air, the only thing he lacks that the other candidates have is versatility, which may be more of a function of what he’s been used than what he can do. With numbers like those, why would you ask him to do anything else?

Edinson Cavani – Cavani isn’t as good a finisher as Falcao, and he may not have the Colombian’s penalty area instincts, but he can be just as good in the air, and when he lacks in other areas he make up for with his industry. The Uruguayan is capable of playing a more all-around game than Falcao, his effort allowing him to have an impact across the width of the pitch (and often, down its length). Since moving to Napoli two years ago, Cavani has 54 Serie A goals in 75 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Falcao and Cavani can define games by themselves. Ibrahimovic can also control them. He is the best playmaker of this group, having spent the last two years under Massimiliano Allegri playing as a trequartista at Milan. Of anybody on this list, he needs the least help winning games for you, allowing Inter and Milan to unabashedly ride him to titles. After scoring 28 times for Milan last season, Ibrahimovic has seven goals in his first five games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Perhaps Robin van Persie should also be mentioned, but as I tried to type out the argument for RvP, I realized he just isn’t in the same group as this trio.

Perhaps you disagree? Or have somebody else in mind? Have at it, below.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.