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Virgil van Dijk should be serious contender for Ballon d’Or

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The game was boring, they’ll say. The game was dull. The game was putrid. The game was sloppy.

Boring is just the way Virgil Van Dijk likes it.

The Dutch defender was named Man of the Match as he led the back line for Liverpool in a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final to secure the club’s sixth European crown. The game was punctuated by bad passing, poor build-up play, and a general lack of attacking quality, but van Dijk was at the thick of all that, locking down the Tottenham attack and leaving Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, and Harry Kane firmly in his pocket.

Van Dijk donned the Champions League winner’s medal having led the Liverpool defense in one of the most spectacular individual defensive seasons you’ll see. Liverpool conceded just 27 goals across the 38 Premier League matches – not only the best in the English top flight, but the best domestic defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. The Reds conceded just five goals in the Champions League knockout stages against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Porto, and Tottenham Hotspur, with three of those coming in the first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou.

Through it all, van Dijk was a model of consistency and durability, accumulating an enormous 4,465 minutes across all competitions. He missed just three matches all year, sitting out the first leg against Bayern Munich due to yellow card accumulation and resting for the pair of domestic Cup losses to Wolves and Chelsea. Otherwise, van Dijk played every single minute of every single match throughout the entire season, racking up 26 clean sheets in his 50 appearances on the pitch – over half the games he played Liverpool did not concede.

Nevertheless, those are team achievements. That’s where the most unbelievable stat comes into play, proof of van Dijk’s dominance on the season. The 27-year-old did has not been dribbled past in a staggering 64 straight matches, completing 52 straight tackles this season without fail, a perfect personal defensive record.

In fact, as Opta confirms, van Dijk has not been dribbled past since a 5-0 win over Porto in February of 2018, his first Champions League appearance for the club.

All these glittering facts and figures culminate together to make one glaringly blatant argument that might not seem so blatant after all: Virgil van Dijk should be a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or come December, with a real chance to be the first defender to win the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and only the fourth defender to win the award in its history.

Obviously there’s plenty of time to go. Van Dijk will likely be in the lineup for the Netherlands as they take on England in just five days in the Nations League semifinals, and should he lock it down in Portugal, a solid performance on a short turnaround would be yet another feather in his cap this season. If Liverpool starts next Premier League as expected title contenders, van Dijk could even be the frontrunner for the prestigious award headed into the fall.

Still, a modest van Dijk just minutes off winning the Champions League doesn’t think he is the best player in the world. “I think [Barcelona striker Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world,” van Dijk said in his post-match press conference. “I think he deserves [the Ballon d’Or] as long as he plays. The Ballon d’Or isn’t something I think about. But if it happens by any chance then obviously I will take it. I don’t think there is any case. I think he is still the best player in the world. Whether he’s in the final or not.”

Luka Modric won last year’s Ballon d’Or essentially on the back of a fabulous World Cup performance, despite the fact Real Madrid suffered through a dismal October of La Liga play, dropping to ninth in the table and falling out of the La Liga title race. Van Dijk may not have that much room for error in the calendar year, given his status as a defender always puts him behind the curve of the flashier goalscorers and even midfield maestros like Modric. Still, the Dutchman merits serious consideration and potentially even the trophy should he continue to plod along on this stellar pace.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Brighton, Sheffield Utd v. Newcastle

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Matchweek 15 of the 2019-20 Premier League season wraps up on Thursday, with two more midweek clashes featuring two mid-table sides, and two more from much nearer to the relegation zone, in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

First up, PL new boys (and 9th-place side) Sheffield United will host 14th-place Newcastle United, who sit just two points outside the relegation zone ahead of kickoff. 45 minutes later, 10th-place Arsenal will host 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion in Freddie Ljungberg’s first home game as Arsenal interim manager.

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The schedule for Thursday’s two games is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Newcastle United [STREAM]
3:15 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion [STREAM]

Marco Silva fired by Everton

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Marco Silva has been fired as manager of Everton, making him the fourth Premier League manager to lose his job in the last 16 days.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Silva reported for a regular day’s work at Everton’s training ground on Thursday, a day after suffering a 5-2 defeat to local rivals Liverpool, all while a conference call was expected to take place involving the relevant figures: owner Farhad Moshiri, chairman Bill Kenright, chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale and director of football Marcel Brands.

15 games into the 2019-20 PL season, the Toffees currently sit 18th in the league table with less than a point per game — relegation territory — on the back of three straight losses and just four wins all season. Silva’s only victory since mid-October came against fellow bottom-four side Southampton nearly a month ago.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (now up to nine) on the season thus far, but many of the sides to which they’ve lost (newly promoted Aston Villa, 12th-place Bournemouth, newly promoted Sheffield United, 11th-place Burnley, 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion and 19th-place Norwich, to name a few) that forced them further and further down the table and made relegation a semi-serious threat, at least for the time being.

Atleti escapes major punishment for fans’ Griezmann threats

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid escaped major punishment Wednesday after its fans made threatening chants against former player Antoine Griezmann during last weekend’s La Liga match against Barcelona.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The Spanish league had denounced the club after some fans chanted “Die Griezmann” in Sunday’s match, won by Barcelona at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.

The Spanish soccer federation said it would fine Atletico $333 because the game was disrupted, but it did not cite the chants against Griezmann. The fine was prompted mainly because fans threw objects — including an umbrella — onto the field.

The Spanish league had denounced the club to the federation’s anti-violence committee, saying about 2,000 fans from Atletico’s “ultras” section made the chants for about 20 seconds before the start of the second half, and again later in the game.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Griezmann left Atletico for Barcelona at the end of last season in a transfer worth more than $132 million.

The France forward was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball at the Metropolitano on Sunday. It was his first match at Atletico’s stadium since leaving the club.

Klopp to take first team to Club World Cup, leave youth for EFL Cup

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Jurgen Klopp has chosen his strongest possible Liverpool squad to take to the Club World Cup later this month, leaving a reserve- and youth-laden team behind to compete in the EFL Cup during the same period.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Liverpool will head to Doha, Qatar, for the Club World Cup, where they’ll play their semifinal fixture against one of Monterrey (Mexico), Al-Saad (Qatar) or Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia) on Dec. 18. The day prior, on Dec. 17, the Reds will also play away to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. With the club’s star-studded first team in Qatar, progression to the semifinals of the League Cup will be down to a team full of teenage prospects.

Only defender Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho, both of whom are currently injured and unavailable, were left out of the Club World Cup squad.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Players suffering from illness or injury prior to Liverpool’s first Club World Cup game can be replaced in the squad up to 24 hours before kickoff.

Liverpool’s Club World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Defenders: Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams

Forwards: Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi