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Ballon d’Or: The Case for Messi

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The Ballon d’Or… could it really not wind up in the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Mohamed Salah is polling very well in the fan vote.

Paul Pogba says he’s not deserving, but give it to N'Golo Kante, Raphael Varane, Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann.

And Griezmann thinks it has to be a Frenchman, saying, “In this best team in the World, there must be the best player in the world, right? … But I think that a Frenchman must be Ballon d’Or.”

Then there’s Luka Modric, who won FIFA’s Best Player award.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

This year has seen more talk of a winner not named Messi or Ronaldo since 2010, when Messi pipped Andres Iniesta to the honor, or 2007 when Kaka finished ahead of the pair.

In fact, those are the only two years since 2007 that Messi and Ronaldo didn’t finish 1-2 in some order, with each claiming five Ballons d’Or.

Our esteemed editor, Joe Prince-Wright, has Ronaldo three and Messi four this year, behind World Cup winner Mbappe and World Cup finalist Modric.

And I get that, really I do. But is there any doubt that Messi and Ronaldo remain the two best players in the world? And is there a really an argument that any player had a better season that either one?

Let’s go strictly cosmetic stats to start to separate the goal producers, which leaves Kante, Modric, and others for another discussion.

Outstanding seasons, no doubt. Ronaldo still managed better than a goal-per-game while helping Real Madrid the first Champions League threepeat since the 1970s. Salah was the best part of the most scintillating non-possession based attack in the world. Griezmann and Messi’s numbers speak for themselves, while Mbappe — sorry Joe — for me sits a clear fifth.

For me, it’s 1) Messi, 2) Griezmann, 3) Ronaldo, 4) Salah, 5) Mbappe

For non-scorers, it’s 1) Kante, 2) Modric, 3) Kevin De Bruyne

Yes, we made it this far without mentioning KDB, or Eden Hazard, or Harry Kane!

This is most certainly the dawn of the post-Messi/Ronaldo era, but I don’t see the 10-year run atop the list ending this season.

Why? Because I cannot fathom a world in which the majority of voters don’t eyeball the game, take the smell test, and say two words.

Lionel Messi.

Spending some time comparing my Top Four attackers on advanced stats site Squawka buttresses the gut feeling. While Salah was better than Messi in the Champions League — the road perhaps a bit easier — Messi was far superior to the field in league play.

Messi rates better in possession and defensive statistics, but here’s what I’d ask you to consider in assessing last season. Your favorite club earns a massive win against Barcelona, Liverpool, Real, Atleti, or PSG. Insert each players’ name, and which one feels more of an indictment on your win:

“Yeah, but (insert player here) didn’t play.”

EPILOGUE: For what it’s worth, there’s a huge sentimental part of me that says Griezmann’s continued stardom on an understated Atleti or Kante’s game-changing performance in three different champion midfields (Chelsea, Leicester City, France) should lift the trophy. But it’s going to go to one of the more prolific scorers… and that means Messi.

Willian confirms exit, thanks Chelsea fans ahead of rumored Arsenal move

Willian leaves Chelsea
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Willian’s new home may be less than eight miles from his old one; The Brazilian mega talent may not even need a new flat, but he’s definitely leaving Chelsea.

Arsenal is reportedly on the verge of seal the deal to bring Willian to the Emirates Stadium and the player announced his departure on his 32nd birthday.

The announcement comes one day after Chelsea’s confirmed exit from the UEFA Champions League, the Blues unable to overcome a mega deficit to Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

“I am really grateful to the Chelsea fans for the affectionate way they welcomed me at Stamford Bridge and their support throughout my time at the club,” he wrote. “There was also criticism, which is normal, what is important though is that both the affection and criticism drove me to always give my all in every training session, every game, to be constantly improving until my very last minute in a Chelsea shirt!”

Twice-named Chelsea’s Players’ Player of the Year, Willian leaves West London with two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a Europa League triumph, and a League Cup.

Willian has nine goals in 69 caps for Brazil, where the 32-year-old has become more of a super sub for the FIFA’s No. 3 ranked Selecao.

Arsenal’s young talent will learn plenty from Willian should the elderstatesman arrive to tutor the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, and — to a certain extent — raw-but-real talent Nicolas Pepe, who is 25.

As for Chelsea, the club is content with Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount, and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the wings. Even if 2-3 of them underperform, the Blues have Timo Werner as a capable winger despite his status as a monster in the middle of a trident.

Frank Lampard’s going to enjoy his 2020-21, even though he’d clearly have enjoyed another year or two with Willian.

Bournemouth appoints Jason Tindall as Eddie Howe replacement

Bournemouth new manager
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There were questions as to how Bournemouth would address finding a replacement forr an institution after Eddie Howe left the club following the Cherries’ relegation from the Premier League.

Would Bournemouth go outside the box like they did with Howe the first time, hiring the 31-year-old following a stint as a player-coach and then youth coach at the club? Would they opt for a manager who’s led a club to Premier League promotion after relegation again? Or might it not be a big departure from the norm at all.

Meet the new boss. Familiar with the old boss.

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

Bournemouth named Howe’s longtime No. 2, Alex Tindall, to lead the Cherries’ first ever bid to return to the Premier League following relegation.

Tindall is 14 days older than Howe and has assisted his former Bournemouth teammate since 2008: twice with the club and also during Howe’s year at Burnley.

:Given the success of the club over the last 12 years, with Eddie in charge and me by his side, I’m not going to come in and rip everything up and start again,” Howe said. “I would be a fool to do that. But I’m my own person with my own ideas and I will be looking to implement them as soon as we get back on the training ground.

“I know the Championship is a very tough league but my aim is to get this club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. This is a challenge that I feel I’m ready for and one I’m looking forward to.”

This is intriguing and exciting for a club like Bournemouth, still steeping its top-level tradition after an impressive five Premier League seasons including a finish as high as ninth.

What will be most interesting is to see if Tindall can have more success arranging the defense. A former striker, Tindall takes the reins of a club which allowed 67, 67, 61, 70, and 65 goals in their five PL seasons. The club was a bit unlucky this year, scoring just 40 and underperforming expected goals scored and conceded.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.