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Ribéry’s candidacy overshadows other deserving players in Ballon d’Or conversation

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Messi, Ronaldo, and Ribéry. Every indication says this year’s Ballon d’Or come down to those three Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo are givens in this conversation, and a standout year from Franck Ribéry on top of an astounding season from Bayern Munich has vaulted the France international into the discussion. With most ballots sent in by now, there’s no more room in the conversation.

Which, of course, won’t stop us from second-guessing the whole discussion. Take yesterday, when we had two chances to comment on Ribery’s curious candidacy, albeit in passing. This is from our post on Real Madrid’s support of Cristiano Ronaldo:

While the France international’s improved play without the ball is a huge factor in his candidacy, the Bayern winger scored 20 goals in 50 appearances for club and country in 2013.
Ronaldo? 67 goals in 56 appearances.

So the question voters have (hopefully) asked themselves: Are the unquantifiable aspects Ribéry brings to the game worth enough to transcend that 47-goal gap?

It’s a question that addresses the idea Franck Ribéry might have out-performed Cristiano Ronaldo, but let’s leave that aside, even if it’s great comments fodder. (Seriously, have at it, below.)

What I’m more concerned with is others’ exclusion from the conversation, and in that sense, Ribéry serves as the best reference point. If he was able to break into this discussion, one that’s normally dominated by Messi and Ronaldo, why haven’t others?

Part of that is how the award’s announced. The 23-man shortlist will be reduced to three finalists shortly, a whittling down that influences how we talk about the award. When voters are casting their ballots, they’re asked for first, second, and third choices, another reason Ballon d’Or discussions focus on trios. At this point, the conversation has picked one player to join Messi and Ronaldo, focusing all its attention on him. Toppling that big two is such a monumental task, it takes the wills of many to keep the narrative afloat.

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Arturo Vidal (left) is up to 20 all-competition goals this season after Wednesday’s hat trick in UEFA Champions League. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But the resulting tunnel vision isn’t fair to the handful of players who have as strong a case as Ribéry. Again, this is a guy who scored 20 goals, was crucial to many others, but has an offense-heavy case based largely on his intangible contributions to his team’s performance. If you recognize this is an individual award (and great teams are already rewarded by trophies), it’s not too difficult to argue players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robin van Persie were better in 2013 (I’d only agree with one of those, though).

There are other two players, however, who’ve come on strong since the start of the club season – players who’ve received almost no attention for this award. Both are overshadowed by teammates more apt to pick up individual honors, something that kept one of them off the 23-man ballot entirely.

But Arturo Vidal deserves some attention here, especially if you’re using Franck Ribéry as the standard for what it takes to be in this discussion. Ribéry was unquestionably great last season, but if the argument hinges on his is production and influence on a successful team, Vidal’s case shares those merits. Though not as lauded as midfield partner Andrea Pirlo (who finished seventh in last year’s voting), he is the better player at this point in their careers, somebody who’s capable of being the best player in all facet of a game.

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If a case is going to rest on intangibles, Philipp Lahm’s may be best. Captain for Bayern Munich and the Germany National Team, the defender-cum-midfielder has proven vital for two highly successful teams.

This season, in all competitions, Vidal already has 10 goals and four assists from his central midfielder’s role. In 52 games this year for club and country, the Chilean international has scored as many goals as Ribéry (20) while seemingly making a greater defensive contribution. That’s not to say Vidal definitely had a better year than Ribéry (these players are close enough where personal preferences should be allowed to win out), but if Ribéry’s in a player of the year discussion, Vidal deserves a place, too.

On the surface, Ribéry appears to be getting credit for Bayern’s team accomplishments, but even if you think that has a place in individual awards, why aren’t other Bayern players getting the same benefit? For example, given how important we’ve seen Philipp Lahm be in defensive midfield this season, would it make sense to look at his play this fall, his contributions to Bayern’s success last season, and his role with a highly successful German national team and note his intangibles case probably transcends Ribéry’s? It’s worth talking about, particularly as Lahm’s play to start this season may have closed the gap Ribéry built up last spring.

And Ribéry did have a truly great year. Through June, he was Bayern’s best player, and the best player in the Bundesliga. But there are a handful of players who, over the course of the year, were just as good. While he may get some bonus points for his contributions to Bayern, it’s not like he was their only good player. And even when you give him that benefit of the doubt, it’s unclear he’s done enough to monopolize this conversation at the expense of Vidal, Lahm, Ibrahimovic, and others. One players greatness shouldn’t come at the expensive of all others’.

Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.

Everton 1-0 Stoke: Toffees remain unbeaten

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Shay Given of Stoke City reacts after failing to save a penalty during the Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on August 27, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
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  • Given own goal the difference
  • Williams, Mirallas, Bolasie go close
  • Just one goal this season for Stoke
  • Everton unbeaten, 7 points from possible 9

Everton continued their solid start to the new Premier League season as Ronald Koeman‘s side edged out Stoke City in stormy conditions at Goodison Park.

The Toffees won the game thanks to Leighton Baines‘ second half penalty kick which rebounded off Shay Given, onto the post and then back off his head and in. Despite the comedic nature of the game-winner, Everton were the more dangerous side throughout and deserved to win by more.

With the win Koeman’s side now have seven points from their opening three games, while Stoke has just one point on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was all Everton in the first half as Kevin Mirallas forced Given into a smart stop down low and Ashley Williams almost grabbed his first goal for the club as he headed Mirallas’ cross towards the far corner of the net but Peter Crouch brilliantly hooked it off the line.

Everton then had a great chance as Ross Barkley drove towards the box and set up Mirallas. His powerful shot forced Given into a fine stop as the veteran goalkeeper tipped the ball over the bar.

[ MORE: Premier League standings

Barkley then went close as Mason Holgate whipped in a great cross from the right which Barkley slid in for but just missed.

Everton eventually went 1-0 up in the second half as Phil Bardsley was adjudged to have pushed Williams in the box and Baines’ spot kick was not well struck and was saved by Given in the wet conditions. However the ball then struck the post and hit Given on the head before going in. 1-0 to the Toffees in comedic fashion.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Soon after they went behind a rare chance arrived for Stoke as Marko Arnautovic had a shot pushed onto the bar by Maarten Stekelenburg but Everton kept pushing hard for a second with Yannick Bolasie forcing Given into a save and the Stoke goalkeeper also denied Barkley.

Stoke went close as Arnautovic’s cutback couldn’t find Jonathan Walters and then Bolasie curled another effort just wide.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Everton comfortably held on for the win as Koeman has two wins and is unbeaten in his first three games in charge.

Leicester 2-1 Swansea: Foxes back in business

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Vardy nets first of the season
  • Leicester secure first win
  • 2 defeats in 3 for Swansea 
  • Mahrez misses PK

Reigning champs Leicester City beat Swansea City in torrential rain at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as Claudio Ranieri‘s side survived a late scare.

Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead in trademark fashion and Wes Morgan made it 2-0. Leroy Fer‘s header made things interesting but Swansea couldn’t find an equalizer late on.

With the win Leicester has four points on the season, will Swansea has three points after two-straight defeats.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Riyad Mahrez whipped a free kick just over from a promising position and it was then down to Leicester’s other star to put them ahead.

Leicester took the lead through a classic counter attack as Danny Drinkwater‘s perfect long ball found Vardy who finished emphatically to grab his first goal of the season, and his 50th in the league for Leicester, to put the Foxes 1-0 up.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

With thunder and lightning in the skies over the King Power Stadium, Swansea responded well to falling behind as Gylfi Sigurdsson curled an effort just over from 25-yards out.

The game was effectively early in the second as Morgan knocked him after a corner fell to the Leicester captain inside the box and he hooked home. 2-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Leicester then had a great chance to go 3-0 up after Shinji Okazaki was fouled in the box but Mahrez’s penalty kick was saved by Lukasz Fabianski as he tipped it onto the post and then saved Okazaki’s shot with the rebound.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A worrying moment then arrived for the Foxes as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was forced off after making a brave save. That meant a debut for Ron-Robert Zieler.

One of his first acts was to pick the ball out of the net as Fer headed home to make it 2-1. Game on.

Despite being ahead Leicester continue to pour forward and search for a third goal but left gaps at the back which Swansea couldn’t exploit. The Foxes were relieved to bag their first win of the new season.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth: Dann rescues late point for Palace

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Lewis Grabban of AFC Bournemouth takes the ball away from Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and AFC Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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  • Dann pulls out result for Palace
  • King gives Cherries early advantage
  • Boruc makes fantastic PK stop

They had more of the chances on the afternoon, but it took over 90 minutes for Crystal Palace to rescue a point at home against Bournemouth. Scott Dann‘s 93rd minute equalizer gave the home side a 1-1 draw after limiting their opponent to just three shots on target.

Bournemouth struck in the 11th minute when Josh King smashed his close-range effort inside the far post.

Just five minutes later, Palace had a perfect chance to equalize from the penalty spot but Yohan Cabaye‘s effort was saved in spectacular fashion by goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

With neither side taking control of the match in the second half, Palace battled its way back into the game to find their opening goal on the day in stoppage time.