Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery to battle it out for Ballon d’Or

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The worst kept secret in the global game is out, now there’s just one more decision to make. It’s a big one.

On Monday FIFA released its three player shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award, which crowns the World Player of the Year.

Predictably, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery are the three finalists for the prestigious award that will be handed out in Zurich on January 13, 2014 to honor the best player in the last year.

Messi has won the Ballon d’Or award the last two years after it was re-branded and also has four consecutive World Player of the Year awards overall. But this season with his lengthy spells out through injury and Ronaldo’s sublime campaign it is the Portuguese attacker who many expect to claim the top individual honor in the game.

For Real Madrid and Portugal this season Ronaldo has already bagged 32 goals in just 22 games and is at the peak of his power. Messi has still scored 14 in 14 appearances but he is expected to finish a close second behind Ronaldo. And as for Ribery, the French midfielder has already come out to say he deserves to win the award but no matter how pivotal he was in Bayern Munich’s incredible campaign in 2012-13 when they won the Champions League and every domestic title in Germany, you simply can;t say he stands above Messi and Ronaldo on individual talent.

FIFA caused controversy when they reopened the ballot for this Ballon d’Or vote following Ronaldo’s sublime display in the World Cup qualifying playoffs when he scored all four of Portugal’s goals against Sweden to send them through to the World Cup. That angered many Messi fans as they duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona’s star attractions heats up on and off the field.

We’re witnessing two of world soccer’s greatest every players battle it out at the same time, that’s something we should cherish. But there can only be one winner.

Also, for fans of U.S. soccer Abby Wambach is once again nominated in the final three for the women’s award as the USWNT veteran striker continues to grow her legendary status across the world. Wambach is joined by Brazilian striker Marta and Germany’s Nadine Angerer.

FIFA’s glitzy award ceremony will take place in Zurich in January and here are the full list of nominees for each category, plus the FIFA Pro team of the year will also be announced.

Fifa Men’s Player of the Year:

Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Franck Ribery (France)

Fifa Women’s Player of the Year:

Nadine Angerer (Germany)
Marta (Brazil)
Abby Wambach (USA)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football:

Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United former coach)
Jupp Heynckes (FC Bayern Munich former coach)
Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football:

Ralf Kellermann (VfL Wolfsburg)
Silvia Neid (German national team)
Pia Sundhage (Sweden/Swedish national team)

Ferenc Puskas Award for most beautiful goal:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden v England in November 2012)
Nemanja Matic (Benfica v Porto, Liga in January 2013)
Neymar (Brazil v Japan in June 2013)

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

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Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”