Top 10 midfielders of the Premier League season

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Discussing and dissecting the quality of midfielders can be a touchy subject. If the player in question is regularly playing wide in the top band of a 4-3-3, does he get to be dubbed a midfielder? How do you account for defensive mids, if the majority of your list is focused on the excitement and trickery of attacking players?

Should you take a fantasy league approach, in which just one appearance at midfield qualifies a player to be eligible for a top ten list? And what, exactly, makes a player truly top in his position?

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In this case, the top ten footballers for the 2013-2014 Premier League season have been chosen based on their clear, definable numbers, like goals scored and assists provided. But the players on the list were also selected according to their value to their team…which is why you might see some interesting names:

10. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
With Aaron Ramsey healthy, the Gunners were challenging for the title. With Ramsey injured, they were worried about losing out on Champions League. Despite missing over three months of the season, the Welshman still had 17 goals and 9 assists in all competitions – that’s in 37 appearances. Who knows where Arsenal may have finished this season if they’d been able to count on a fit Ramsey? It’s a question plaguing supporters’ dreams, it’s certain.

9. Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/PSG)
It’s probably not kosher to bestow top honors on a player who only spent the first half of the season in the Premier League. But Cabaye’s worth to Newcastle is perhaps best demonstrated by his absence. His seven goals and two assists for the Magpies don’t tell the full story. After his move to Paris Saint-Germain, it became painfully clear that Cabaye was the architect of Newcastle’s entire game. After his move, Newcastle failed to score in their next four matches. They went on to win four of their final sixteen matches, failing to score in ten of those.

8. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
What is Liverpool without Stevie G? The Reds are hoping they won’t have to find out for a few more years. Brendan Rodgers, hoping to keep the Liverpool captain on as a valued member of the side, moved the 33-year-old into a deeper role in midfield. There were a couple blips – most notably the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in January – but Gerrard now looks as though he will flourish there. In total he notched 13 goals and 13 assists in Liverpool’s impressive season, and his impressive form shouldn’t be overshadowed by an unfortunate slip…

7. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Giving a top-ten spot to a player with only 15 starts and 4 goals seems a bit odd. But then again, Manchester United finishing in 7th also seems a bit odd. It’s been known for ages that United are lacking in the midfield, so when an exciting teenager comes along and seems to be able to create more in his few minutes on the field than the entire rest of the team, it’s worth acknowledging him. Particularly when, in his first start with the team, he sinks two goals in seven minutes to give his side a comeback win over Sunderland.

6. Adam Lallana (Southampton) Lallana, now 26, has been at Southampton since he was born, more or less. He was part of the club when they were sent down to League One and with them as they rose up, and up, up to 8th place this year. He’s now come into his own, displaying a quiet brilliance throughout the entire Saints’ season. Lallana has six recorded assists to his name, but he also works to set up his teammates – or takes the goals himself, bagging nine this season. His performances have earned him a place in England’s World Cup squad, with him likely to see some starts in Brazil.

5. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
This may just be another case of a quality player shining for a disappointing team, but it seems Eriksen is the real deal. It took him a bit to find his Premier League feet after joining from Ajax in the summer, but once he was established in the side it became clear that Erikson was one of the few buys upon which Spurs definitely did not waste their money. He might not score many goals but he certainly can set them up, particularly with his tremendous free kicks. Now Tottenham fans will be hoping whoever comes in to take the helm will be able to get even more out of their favorite Dane.

4. Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
The Palace captain very nearly played every minute of every Premier League game this season – he came off injured in the final match against Fulham, losing out on the last 30 minutes of the match. But worry not, Socceroos fans, Jedinak is confident it’s just a minor injury and he’ll be fit to play in Australia’s first World Cup match. The defensive midfielder played a key role in Crystal Palace’s 11th-place finish, sweeping up in front of the defense to ensure that the Eagles could hold off many of the league’s strongest attacks.

3. Ross Barkley (Everton)
Barkley, just 20 years old, filled a variety of roles for Roberto Martínez this season. He’s played behind the striker, out wide in a band of three, or in a more withdrawn role – much of the time to great success. Barkley’s made it difficult to remember that this was really his first season in the Premier League (he spent much of the last on loan to Sheffield Wednesday) and that it’s still not certain where his best role on the field might be. But his versatility and his creativity make him a quality addition to any squad. That fact was not lost on Roy Hodgson, who named him in England’s World Cup squad.

1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Some want to call Hazard a “forward”. Let’s face it – Chelsea’s forwards are Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres, who have under 20 goals between them. Hazard, an attacking midfielder, has 14, in 32 starts. Just a few months ago, his playmaking abilities were being talked up as among the best in the world. But manager José Mourinho apparently didn’t feel the same, dropping him after the Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and now telling him he needs to work harder at his game. Mou, most teams would kill to have such a talented player in their squad – enjoy it!

1. Yaya Touré (Manchester City) There’s no official ranking of these ten players, but you’ll have to admit we’ve saved the best for last. Yaya is the king of the Premier League midfield, a consistent gem in the center of the pitch. In 35 games he scored 20 league goals for Manchester City, ending the year as their top scorer. He absolutely terrorizes defenses, either with his own shots on goal or by placing a perfect pass to the likes of Sergio Agüero or Edin Džeko. Snubbed for the Player of the Year award, Touré decided to go ahead and win the title instead.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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