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’.

STREAM LIVE: Liverpool host Crystal Palace at Anfield

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Liverpool welcome Crystal Palace to Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to boost their top four hopes.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

With Arsenal and Manchester City playing in the FA Cup semifinal this game represents a good opportunity for Liverpool to extend their lead in the race for a top four finish but they have lost each of their last two home games against Palace in the PL. The Eagles need another big win after relegation rivals Hull and Swansea both won on Saturday.

In team news Liverpool look to be starting Wijnaldum out wide, while Palace have to reshuffled their defense with Mamadou Sakho unable to play against his parent club.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi. Subs: Karius, Gomez, Grujic, Moreno, Brewster, Woodburn, Alexander-Arnold

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Tomkins, Schlupp; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Townsend, Puncheon, Zaha; Benteke. Subs: Speroni, Van Aanholt, Delaney, Flamini, McArthur, Sako, Campbell

Burnley 0-2 Man United: Top four hopes alive

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  • United unbeaten in 23 PL games
  • Red Devils one point off top four
  • Martial, Rooney on target in first half
  • Burnley five points off bottom three

An injury-hit Manchester United beat Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor on Sunday to keep their hopes of a top four finish well and truly alive.

First half goals from the excellent Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney did the damage as Jose Mourinho’s men go into Thursday’s Manchester derby against City just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals.

With the win United move on to 63 points, while Burnley remain on 36 and are just five points above the relegation zone after another inept display in attack.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Early on United missed a massive chance as Anthony Martial’s surge into the box found Ander Herrera and he fed the ball to Rooney but he couldn’t trouble Tom Heaton from close range.

Marouane Fellaini then had a free header from a corner but nodded it down straight at Heaton who again saved from close range.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Rooney then sent a cross inches over the bar as United hit Burnley on the counter and that was to become a theme of the game. On the next counter Martial broke, played a one-two with Herrera and the Frenchman finished superbly to make it 1-0.

Before half time Ben Mee went close to getting on the end of Robbie Brady‘s free kick but then Rooney made it 2-0 as good build up play from Paul Pogba set in Martial and his shot deflected off Heaton and straight to Rooney who nudged the ball over the line.

Andre Gray then had a shot deflected wide as Burnley always looked dangerous from set pieces but United were clinical.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half United stayed solid and Pogba had a rasping drive pushed away by Heaton.

The home side failed to create any real clear cut chances with Michael Keane heading across goal but nobody was attacking the second ball.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Marcus Rashford, on as a sub, raced clear and forced Heaton into a fine stop at his near post as United ran out comfortable winners but Pogba limping off in the 90th minute will leave Mourinho concerned about even more injuries to his squad.

Lazio’s Keita scores five-minute hat trick in rout

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Keita Balde Diao had himself a day on Sunday.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Within five minutes he scored three times to put Lazio 5-0 up against Palermo in Serie A after Ciro Immobile had scored twice in two minutes to put them 2-0 up after just nine minutes at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Eagles scored with all five of their opening shots against Palermo to lead 5-0 after just 26 minutes.

Watch the video of Keita’s remarkable hat trick below as the Senegalese forward, like his team, is on fire.


Keita makes it 3-0 in 21st minute…

Keita makes it 4-0 in 24th minute…

Keita makes it 5-0 in 26th minute…

LIVE – Arsenal v. Man City in FA Cup semifinal

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Arsenal and Manchester City clash in an FA Cup semifinal on Sunday at Wembley which promises to be a case of all-out attack.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola met earlier this month with their teams drawing 2-2 at the Emirates Stadium in an end-to-end encounter.

The winner of this semifinal will play Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley after Antonio Conte‘s side beat Tottenham 4-2 on Saturday.

In team news Arsenal stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation they used at Middlesbrough with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil off Olivier Giroud.

City line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Aguero up top and Leroy Sane, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne off him.

Click on the link above to follow live coverage of what promises to be an entertaining semifinal, while here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have plenty more reaction and analysis after the game too.