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’.

UCL roundup: Roma flounders against Atleti, PSG nets seven

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PSG-Celtic hogged most of the goals on Wednesday, but the action was wild across the day’s UEFA Champions League slate.

[ MORE: Celtic shocks PSG early, but Neymar and Co. take over ]

Group B now knows both of its sides that will advance into the Round of 16, but there will be plenty of drama on Matchday 6 as several other groups sort themselves out.

With PSG already knowing it would advance, Bayern Munich joined the French giants today after picking up a 2-1 win against Anderlecht. That didn’t stop the Parisians from putting on a show though, as Neymar and Co. put up a 7-1 drubbing of Celtic at the Parc des Princes.

That brings PSG’s goal total up to 24 in the group stage, which has well-surpassed Dortmund’s mark in the 2016/17 campaign (21).

Meanwhile, tight races in Groups A, C and D will see squads fighting in early December for the right to continue in this season’s competition.

Antoine Griezmann scored a massive goal for Atletico on the day to give Madrid side a 1-0 win over Roma, keeping the club’s UCL hopes alive. Atleti now sits just two points behind the Giallorossi with one match remaining.

Elsewhere, Juventus and Sporting CP will have an intriguing final matchday as the two sides currently sit one point between the other for the second position in Group D.


Group A

Basel 1-0 Manchester United
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Benfica

Table

1. Man United — 11 points  (ADVANCED)
2. Basel — 9 pts +4 GD
3. CSKA — 9 pts -1 GD
4. Benfica — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Whichever team finishes higher (CSKA or Basel) will reach UCL Round of 16, while other team goes to Europa League.


Group B

Anderlecht 1-2 Bayern Munich
PSG 7-1 Celtic

Table

1. PSG — 15 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Bayern Munich — 12 pts (ADVANCED)
3. Celtic — 3 pts
4. Anderlecht — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Celtic and Anderlecht are both in contention for the third position, which would send either of them to the UEL knockout round.


Group C

Qarabag 0-4 Chelsea — RECAP
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Roma

Table

1. Chelsea — 10 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Roma — 8 pts
3. Atletico Madrid — 6 pts
4. Qarabag — 2 pts (ELIMINATED)

Either Roma or Atleti will advance on Matchday 6, with the former taking on Qarabag and the Spanish side facing Chelsea.


Group D

Juventus 0-0 Barcelona
Sporting CP 3-0 Olympiakos

Table

1. Barcelona — 11 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Juventus — 8 pts
3. Sporting CP — 7 pts
4. Olympiakos — 1 pt (ELIMINATED)

Juventus will take on Olympiakos on Matchday 6, while Sporting faces Barcelona for the right to move into the Round of 16.

Lang strike helps Basel stun Man United in final minute

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The Red Devils didn’t make things easy themselves on Wednesday, and they certainly helped their opposition’s case of reaching the knockout phase.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves into Round of 16 with win over Qarabag ]

FC Basel struck late to earn a 1-0 win over Manchester United at St Jakob-Park in the penultimate match in Group A play, making the group-stage finale all the more intriguing.

Michael Lang struck in the 89th minute to give the home side the unthinkable victory, setting up a crazy final day.

After pushing for a goal in the second half, Lang’s chance came in the dying moments as he was picked out in the penalty area by Raoul Petretta.

The Red Devils dominated the opening stanza without allowing Basel to a single shot on target, however, the visitors struggled to find a breakthrough of their own.

Anthony Martial had the one of the best chances of the first half just minutes before halftime when his shot from close range was saved by Tomas Vaclik in the bottom corner.

Mourinho’s group certainly benefitted from Paul Pogba‘s return over the weekend, and the Frenchman’s influence showed again early on in this match.

Pogba picked out Romelu Lukaku in the 12th minute, but the latter was stopped by Vaclik.

As things stand, Man United currently tops the group on 12 points, while Basel and CSKA Moscow sit second an third, respectively, on nine points.

Madrid defender Carvajal faces 2-game ban for seeking yellow

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal is facing an additional two-match Champions League ban for deliberately getting a yellow card in a 6-0 win at APOEL.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances after 4-0 beatdown on Qarabag ]

UEFA said Wednesday it has charged Carvajal with “receiving a yellow card on purpose.”

UEFA’s disciplinary panel will judge the case on Dec. 7. The European soccer body’s disciplinary rules say a player trying to get a yellow or red card should get a two-game ban.

Carvajal was cautioned in the 90th minute in Cyprus on Tuesday for time-wasting at a throw-in.

His third yellow card in three Champions League games earned a one-game ban – at home against Borussia Dortmund on Dec. 6.

Madrid is certain to finish second behind Tottenham, making the final match essentially meaningless.

However, Carvajal now risks being suspended by UEFA for both games in the last 16 instead of beginning the knockout round with a clean disciplinary record.

Madrid has previously been in trouble with UEFA for deliberately triggering cards in a fifth group game in order to serve bans in the sixth and final game.

In the 2010-11 season, UEFA found then-Madrid coach Jose Mourinho guilty of misconduct for ordering two players, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso, to get themselves sent off late in a game at Ajax. Four players, including Ramos and Alonso, were fined over that incident.

Celtic shocks PSG early, but then Neymar takes over (video)

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Wednesday featured a dream start for Celtic, however, the delirium didn’t last long for the Scottish side after Neymar and Co. stepped up their game.

[ MORE: Chelsea reaches UCL last 16 after Qarabag thumping ]

Moussa Dembele had stunned PSG inside of the opening minute after finishing a well-designed corner kick. However, the final shot probably should’ve been handled by goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

That was about all the excitement though for Celtic in the opening half, as Neymar decided to take matters into his own hands.

The Brazilian scored twice in a span of 13 minutes, before Edinson Cavani restored complete control for the home side in the 28th minute.

Updated: Kylian Mbappe brought the PSG advantage to 4-1 in the 35th minute as the hosts continue their impressive start to the 2017/18 campaign.

As you’ll see below, it doesn’t matter if Neymar is forced onto his weaker left foot, because well, his left foot is still pretty darn good.

And for good measure… Neymar added an assist to his total on this third PSG goal.