Manchester United Training Session

Is the world’s third best striker at the Bernabeu today? Robin van Persie is pretty good, too


The debate of best forward in the world begins and ends at Leo Messi; most of us agree on that.

Cristiano Ronaldo looks like the clear No. 2 to many of us. Fair to say the Real Madrid man would land there on most lists.

But who is No. 3?

More to the point, are Nos. 2 and 3 paired up scrumptiously for today’s huge match, Manchester United’s sensational visit to Real Madrid. (It’s “the match the world is waiting for,” you know.)

Another of the fascinating subplots entwined in today’s titanic Champions League Clash in Madrid is Robin van Persie’s attempts to bang his way into the conversation of world’s best striker. Manchester United’s first-choice sniper has 19 goals in 26 matches this year. That puts the Dutchman just a bit behind pace (although not too terribly far) in matching last year’s stunning totals, 37 goals in 48 appearances in his last year at Arsenal.

Is there anyone else who can insert his high-scoring feet into the conversation?

Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Brazil’s Neymar? Anybody for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a latecomer to the conversation, now 29 years old?

For most of us, it’s van Persie. The simplest way to break down Manchester United’s gallop away from the field in this year’s Premier League race – about as much of a “race” right now as me facing Usain Bolt – is van Persie’s extraordinary proficiency near goal.

Hand the Dutchman to Manchester City, this thing would likely look much different. Maybe you could even say the same for Chelsea or even Tottenham, dare say. (The Premier League table is here.)

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who had Ronaldo for six years at Old Trafford, said van Persie is getting close to the game’s gold standard in goal scorers:

Robin is approaching the level of Ronaldo and Messi. His arrival at our place has been nothing but sensational. He has been a breath of fresh air to the young players and also a good coach to them. Twenty-three goals tells you everything.”

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.