Who is the world’s best center forward? Falcao keeps making his case

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Radamel Falcao scored two more goals today, leading Atlético Madrid to a 4-2 win at Real Betis. The Colombian international’s up to seven goals in five Liga matches this season. Counting international duty and the UEFA Super Cup, Falcao has 12 goals in his last seven games: Messi-esque numbers.

Since moving from River Plate to Porto just over three years ago, Falcao has 70 goals in 89 games, having spent two years in Portugal before moving to Spain. With his success in Madrid (and his hot start to this season), rumors have linked the 26-year-old with a move up, with Chelsea perpetually in the mix.

The speculation, the numbers – the actual play in games – it’s all enough to have me wondering: Is Falcao the best center forward in the world?

The term center forward is a cumbersome one (most position descriptions are). What we’re going for here is somebody who leads the attack, playing at its highest level. We’re not talking about a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo. We’re talking about the forwards who play in front of them, along the defense. Some may be best dropping back to pick up the ball, others may make their money playing against the shoulder of the last defender. Regardless, they’re the men that give central defenders nightmares.

Three years ago, this debate would have centered around Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and David Villa, with Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres perhaps getting a shout. Today, there are three who have a claim to this title:

Radamel Falcao – The best finisher of the group, he also has the best instincts within the penalty area. Fast, strong, great in the air, the only thing he lacks that the other candidates have is versatility, which may be more of a function of what he’s been used than what he can do. With numbers like those, why would you ask him to do anything else?

Edinson Cavani – Cavani isn’t as good a finisher as Falcao, and he may not have the Colombian’s penalty area instincts, but he can be just as good in the air, and when he lacks in other areas he make up for with his industry. The Uruguayan is capable of playing a more all-around game than Falcao, his effort allowing him to have an impact across the width of the pitch (and often, down its length). Since moving to Napoli two years ago, Cavani has 54 Serie A goals in 75 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Falcao and Cavani can define games by themselves. Ibrahimovic can also control them. He is the best playmaker of this group, having spent the last two years under Massimiliano Allegri playing as a trequartista at Milan. Of anybody on this list, he needs the least help winning games for you, allowing Inter and Milan to unabashedly ride him to titles. After scoring 28 times for Milan last season, Ibrahimovic has seven goals in his first five games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Perhaps Robin van Persie should also be mentioned, but as I tried to type out the argument for RvP, I realized he just isn’t in the same group as this trio.

Perhaps you disagree? Or have somebody else in mind? Have at it, below.

Germany: Below-par Bayern Munich still too good for the rest

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BERLIN (AP) Even a below-par Bayern Munich side was just too good for the rest.

Bayern’s record-extending seventh consecutive Bundesliga title confirmed the distance between the Bavarian powerhouse and its rivals after a season in which it failed to impress as before.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

For the first time in ten years the title race went to the last day of the season, with Niko Kovac’s side missing the chance to wrap it up a week earlier after being held to a goalless draw in Leipzig. His team wasn’t going to miss another chance as it routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 to clinch a 29th German championship on Saturday.

In the end, Bayern’s 5-0 win at home over Borussia Dortmund, its closest and only challenger, on April 4 illustrated the gulf in class between the sides and effectively decided the league outcome. Bayern should have won by more after racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, but Kovac’s team eased off in the second half with Dortmund in damage-control mode.

It proved to be the title that Dortmund gave away. Lucien Favre’s side had a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage, but buckled under the pressure of a title challenge and gave away points in games it should have won.

Dortmund developed an unfortunate tendency to concede late goals, and was frustrated in successive draws against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and lowly Nuremberg, which was relegated at the end of the season.

Bayern President Uli Hoeness had suggested in February that Bayern could “sacrifice the championship for one year” to give veteran players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha a worthy farewell.

“I have won more than 50 titles in my lifetime, so one or another doesn’t matter,” Hoeness said at the time.

Hoeness needn’t have worried. On Saturday, he was able to give the players a perfect sendoff, with Robben and Ribery both coming on as substitutes to score in their final Bundesliga appearances.

Beer flowed among the tears and confetti and the Bayern veterans bade their farewells and celebrated another championship – for Ribery it was a record ninth league title in 12 years at the club.

It was a happy end to a difficult season. The 36-year-old Ribery made no secret of his wish to stay at Bayern and will have heard how the 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro, who also scored Saturday, agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Werder Bremen the same day.

Kovac has had to endure ongoing speculation over his future after ambiguous comments from his superiors.

“We’ll see,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said to repeated questions over Kovac’s future recently, while chairman Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge could only say he has “no problem” with Kovac.

Kovac himself said on Saturday that he was sure he would remain after receiving first-hand information from those responsible, but the lack of public endorsement from the club has done little to stop the speculation.

Even a win over Leipzig in the German Cup final next Saturday might not be enough for Kovac, who has fans’ backing but has struggled for authority at the club since Bayern went four games without a win in late September-early October.

The club lashed out at the media on Oct. 19 for “derogatory, slanderous reporting” of its poor form, while Hoeness was booed and whistled at the club’s AGM in November for the first time over sponsorship deals with Qatar, his railing against the media, and personal tirades against former players and coaches.

Amid the squabbling, Bayern has lost its aura of invincibility. The side’s meek Champions League exit to Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat at home highlighted the need to refresh the squad.

The process is already underway with World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard arriving from Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart, respectively, to shore up the defense. The 23-year-old Hernandez is costing a Bundesliga-record 80 million euros ($90 million) while Pavard is joining from Stuttgart for a reported 35 million ($40 million).

Bayern is also reportedly interested in Germany striker Timo Werner, while Hoeness has hinted at a host of other signings.

After strengthening in the summer, Bayern is likely to be even harder to catch for Dortmund and the rest next season.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Bournemouth snap up $15m defender, look to Burnley GK

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Bournemouth is already busy in the transfer market.

Eddie Howe‘s men have added a $16.5 million defender from Championship outfit Bristol City and may soon swoop to buy a $19 million goalkeeper from a Premier League rival.

The latter target is reported as Nick Pope, part of a deep Burnley goalkeeping corps that includes Tom Heaton and Joe Hart.

[ MORE: Kompany signed, hired by Anderlecht ]

The former would be Lloyd Kelly, who racked up more than 2300 minutes for Bristol and is expected to represent England with the U-21 side this summer.

Primarily a left back but capable of defending centrally, Kelly has 48 first team appearances with two goals and two assists to his name.

From The Bournemouth Echo:

“I’m still young and developing as a player but at the same time I feel like this is probably the best place for me to develop those skills, especially being around a Premier League team and playing Premier League sides,” Kelly said. “I feel like it will speed up that process a bit more.”

No Champions League could lead Lacazette from Arsenal

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Alexandre Lacazette could leave Arsenal if the Gunners fail to win a place in the UEFA Champions League.

So says a report out of The London Evening Standard, which notes that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid would be interested in bringing the Frenchman to La Liga.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

Arsenal will participate in next season’s Europa League unless it beats Chelsea in this season UEL Final on May 29 in Baku.

Lacazette, 27, has 19 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal this season and struck up a tremendous partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has not played in the Champions League since 2016-17.

Arsenal is being linked with a big attacking target, too, and is said to be intrigued with Ajax boss Marc Overmars comments that Hakim Ziyech will be allowed to leave if his $28 million release clause is met. From The Evening Standard:

“He is in focus because of his achievements in the Champions League. Many big clubs are buzzing around him, We promised Hakim that we would agree if there is a good transfer,” Overmars told the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper.
Ziyech has played his entire career in the Dutch Eredivisie between Heerenveen, Twente, and Ajax. He has 12 goals in 23 caps for Morocco and scored five times for Ajax in the Champions League to go with 16 league goals.

Zidane bristles when asked why he didn’t use Bale

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Zinedine Zidane bristled when asked why he did not use Gareth Bale on Sunday in what could’ve been the Welsh forward’s last home match for Real Madrid.

It’s worth noting that Real had just lost 2-0 to Real Betis at the Bernabeu, and Zidane couldn’t have been in a decent mood as the wayward side finished third on the table.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

The 29-year-old Bale did not play in Real’s final three matches of the season, was blanked in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Ajax, and has not scored since March. He finished the season with 14 goals and six assists in 42 appearances. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I have counted on other players in more in recent weeks, and if I had a fourth substitute today I would not have brought him on.

“I make these decisions when it is right to do so, and I must act in the best interests of the team at all times.”

Zidane would not commit to Bale being with Madrid for their preseason tour of the United States, saying “anything could happen” while insinuating that the player was part of Real’s past.