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Deconstructing (and reconstructing) FIFA’s silly Best XI

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Over the weekend, following David Silva chipped in his latest goal for Manchester City, I found myself Tweeting whether he’s the most overlooked superstar in Premier League history.

After Monday’s unveiling of the FIFA Best XI at The Best awards ceremony, I started to wonder whether another Man City player deserves that title on a more short-term basis.

That was one issue with the XI, which was head-scratching at best. Yes, international play also plays into this, but 3.5 Real Madrid players on the team is an absolute joke (They were a mess, finished third in La Liga, and left the Champions League in the Round of 16 against Ajax).

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And Eden Hazard over all Premier League attackers and the entire Bundesliga’s offensive force? He was great, but come on.

Here’s the team FIFA honored:

  • Alisson Becker (BRA) – Liverpool
  • Matthijs de Ligt (NED) – Ajax / Juventus
  • Sergio Ramos (ESP) – Real Madrid
  • Virgil Van Dijk (NED) – Liverpool
  • Marcelo (BRA) – Real Madrid
  • Luka Modric (CRO) – Real Madrid
  • Frenkie de Jong (NED) – Ajax/Barcelona
  • Eden Hazard (BEL) – Chelsea/ Real Madrid
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) – Juventus
  • Kylian Mbappe (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain
  • Lionel Messi (ARG) – Barcelona

Ridiculous, yeah?

Let’s go piece-by-piece and create an XI at the end.

The Trident plus One: Messi, Mbappe, Ronaldo, and Hazard

Maybe Man City and Liverpool fall victim to their own greatness, and the sheer challenge it is to find room for a fourth world class attacker in a Best XI which would be insane to ignore Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Cristiano Ronaldo for their on-field exploits.

But should we?

Let’s get two players out of the way immediately: Messi and Mbappe. Both were miles ahead of the competition as Nos. 1 and 2 last season. In comparable minutes, both outscored Ronaldo in league play by double-digit goals and Serie A

Both also had less productive tridents for most of last season (Neymar was out for most of PSG’s campaign, while Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho weren’t up to snuff alongside Messi and Suarez).

Anyway, that’s a bit of a digression.

Ronaldo’s good-enough season probably got him a career-achievement tiebreaker, and FIFA decided that Eden Hazard was an out-and-out midfielder in their team, so we’ll take some liberties in deciding whether he should’ve been a part of the team.

Should one of them, if not both, have been omitted? We’re here to say we’d like your chances of making the case. These are the league numbers for the four players we’re considering, leaving out Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for now.

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Of the four, only Lewandowski had better than a pedestrian group stage in Europe compared to top level peers. The big Polish striker scored eight times, more than the total goals and assists of the others (Hazard was injured for most of the group stage). But like his Bayern teammates, he was unable to score against Liverpool in the knockout rounds.

Sterling is the one we read as underrated for the season he had, with Leroy Sane off his game and Kevin De Bruyne injured for a lot of City’s season. If any City man deserves a shout at the XI, it’s him.

The numbers for Salah and Mane are about even with the group, and Liverpool fans will want to see the team be all-Liverpool given their strong PL season and UCL title, but in our books we want a little better representation. If you want one of them in the fray, we’re taking out Alisson and putting in Ederson.

Feel free to do that mentally when you read our XI, and we’ll be fine with it. Heck, maybe we’ll even do it.

The ‘Real’ problem

So we’ve covered one Real player in Hazard, who legit deserves a shout at the XI.

Sergio Ramos is great, Marcelo is probably the best left-sided non forward of his generation, and Luka Modric has the worst Ballon d’Or in history (N’Golo Kante was better that year, as were Messi and Ronaldo. Committee got cute).

But should even one Real Madrid player be on the FIFA Best XI for the season? I mean, maybe Marcelo if you want true left and right backs, but the team isn’t that with Marcelo and three center backs. But he played in just 23 league matches and Andrew Robertson (who may not make our list because of representation).

What is a true Best XI anyway? It’s supposed to be representative of the season, so Marcelo has to be out. Modric shouldn’t be in there either, but at least he played a ton if you need to appease Real supporters.

Ramos is an interesting one, especially because he was one of the best center backs in the world last season. But he wasn’t as good as De Ligt or Van Dijk. And if you’re going to a back three, which we might want to for our XI, then Aymeric Laporte was better on a better team. And Gerard Pique had a better season than Ramos, too, as Barca won its league and went further in the UCL.

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Our XI

Before we go any further, shout out to Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid. He’s incredible.

We’re keeping Alisson over Ederson, though that one is the one giving us the most pause. We’re removed Hazard for Kante to give our midfield a little beef.

The second most difficult decision was leaving out one of Salah, Hazard, and Sterling. There’s a UCL, UEL, and Premier League winner in there. And Sterling added two other domestic trophies.

We’re taking out Ronaldo in favor of Lewandowski, and admittedly the tiebreaker is because the latter has never won one, which is an absolutely travesty. Ronaldo also had his worst goals per game since he left Manchester United, and Serie A isn’t that far ahead of La Liga in goals-per-game.

What do you think?

Alisson (BRA/Liverpool)
De Ligt (NED/Ajax-Juventus)
Van Dijk (NED/Liverpool)
Laporte (FRA/Man City)
Kante (FRA/Chelsea)
De Jong (NED/Ajax-Barcelona)
Sterling (ENG/Man City)
Messi (ARG/Barcelona)
Salah (EGY/Liverpool)
Lewandowski (POL/Bayern)
Mbappe (FRA/PSG)

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”