The first 30 names for the 2019 Ballon d’Or have been released. There are some usuals, there are some surprises, and there are some head-scratchers.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both headline the list as expected, as the two share eleven previous awards between them. Behind them are young stars Kylian Mbappe, Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, with the latter two having made the Champions League semifinals with Ajax. Another pair of Ajax players also make an appearance as Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic impressed in that European run.
The goalkeepers on the list are somewhat contentious. Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson rightly appears, having led the Reds to new heights since joining in the summer of 2017. Tottenham netminder Hugo Lloris also shows up, a curious selection given his down form for Spurs the last two or three years. In fact, Lloris has made the most errors leading directly to goals of any Premier League player in the past three seasons, according to Opta. Alongside those two is Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who has locked down the starting spot at the Camp Nou each of the last four years.
The most glaring absentee left off the list is Paris Saint-Germain attacker Neymar, who spent much of the year injured or suspended but when on the field put up video game numbers. Considering that France Football hands out the award, his exclusion seems to have a hint of troll to it. Luka Modric, the reigning winner, was also left off the list after struggling over the past year with Real Madrid. Others left off include Paul Pogba, Harry Kane, and N’Golo Kante.
The names on the list seem to heavily favor last year’s Champions League. Players like Tadic, Wijnaldum, and Lloris, for example, are excellent players but would be difficult to argue they deserve a spot in the top 30 players in the world. Meanwhile, players like Neymar, Kane, Lautaro Martinez, Sergio Ramos, Joshua Kimmich, Miralem Pjanic, Angel di Maria, Raul Jimenez, and countless others who either departed the competition early or didn’t appear altogether were an afterthought.
The winner will be announced December 2.
Full 30-man shortlist
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Dusan Tadic (Ajax)
Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona)
Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
Donny van de Beek (Ajax)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)
Raheem Sterling (Man City) Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Liverpool is flying atop the Premier League table with Manchester City giving chase, but teams like Everton, Manchester United, and Tottenham are floundering below their expectations. There are players on those squads who expected to be performing at a higher level that have instead struggled to make an impact.
The Iceland international, along with the rest of the Everton attack, has been completely invisible so far this season. With just one assist through the first eight matches, the Toffees have had trouble converting chances, and Sigurdsson was benched for the win over West Ham on Saturday.
Thankfully, for Gylfi, there’s plenty of hope that both he and Everton will figure it out moving forward. According to infoGol’s xG model, Everton has by far the biggest differential between expected table position and actual table position based on chances created. Their expected table placed them fourth in the league before the West Ham game, with their actual position in the relegation zone. The same can be said for Sigurdsson, whose expected assist total is actually up – significantly – from his career total, with a 0.33 mark this season compared to his career clip of 0.21. It will come. In fact, it already has…he scored a brilliant hit from distance after coming on for the final few minutes of the win over West Ham, a goal that could mark the beginning of a return to form for Sigurdsson.
Now, to the players we’re a little more worried about. Nicolas Pepe cost Arsenal a whopping $118 million, but he hasn’t lived up to that price tag to this point. Through eight matches, Pepe has been a periphery player in the Arsenal attack with just one goal and two assists. The xA off his passes so far this season, on a better team, is on pace for about half what he put up last season at Lille. Obviously he’s facing better competition in the Premier League, but the drop in creativity is stark.
Pepe is also taking worse shots than he did last season in Ligue 1, with just a 0.11 xG mark per shot compared to 0.14 last campaign. That doesn’t seem like much, but most breaking that down further, most concerning is his shots inside the box are much poorer than usual. In his 11 shots from inside the area are averaging just 0.13 xG compared to last season where he found a 0.26 xG mark, a massive contrast that expanded to a full season amounts to just a 6.79 xG total for the season compared to his whopping 17.71 xG total last season for Lille. He is on pace to take slightly fewer shots, which makes perfect sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are the two main goalscorers in the Arsenal offense, but Pepe needs to make his own efforts count much more.
There is hope for Pepe. It seems he still is learning the Arsenal offense, and should he improve his play even slightly, it tracks that Unai Emery would entrust him with a more prominent role in the attack. Sadly, at the moment, he appears just a bit-part player with Dani Ceballos instead looking the most impressive creatively.
While Gylfi Sigurdsson appears poised to turn his own fortunes around with Everton likely to pick up the pace this season, his Brazilian teammate’s poor form is far more worrisome. Richarlison has been invisible through the first nine games of the year, and put in yet another anemic performance against a West Ham squad at Goodison Park that defended very poorly and did not play well.
This is Richarlison’s first 45 minutes against a pretty lifeless West Ham performance. Missing.
Marco Silva stuck Richarlison up front in a striker role against the Hammers, benching Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean, and it didn’t get him more involved. Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were excellent and Bernard also played well, with the trio behind Richarlison all excelling to produce Everton’s best attacking display yet, but Richarlison wasn’t invited to the party. He took just two shots and missed the target with both, while completing just 58% of his passes (14/24) including 2/9 in the penalty area. So far this season, Richarlison has not taken a single shot inside the six-yard box, having taken eight last season, with six finding the back of the net.
Richarlison admitted over the international break that his increased defensive responsibilities were sapping his attacking energy, which makes sense, and he approached Marco Silva about changing the tactics a bit. This tracks with his switch to a spot up top in the formation, and while it produced a win for the team, it did little to enhance Richarlison’s form.
Looking at Marcus Rashford’s season-long numbers, it’s a shock that he’s receiving the criticism he’s garnered. He collected three goals and two assists in the first eight games, plus a 4.39 xG total in that span, which puts him on double the pace of last season. Then you look a little closer…two of his three goals and 1.40 xG came from the opening match against Chelsea, and two of his three goals are from the penalty spot. In his last three games, Rashford has three total shots (including a pair of goose eggs) for a total of 0.27 xG, plus a measly xA total of 0.13. In the 1-0 loss to Newcastle last time out, Rashford – in a 90 minute performance – had 0 shots while center-back Harry Maguire had two. The 21-year-old was invisible, attempting just 16 passes (nine of which were backward), failing to complete a take-on, 0/4 in the air, and failing to draw a foul.
In addition, Rashford’s contribution to others in the Manchester United attack has plummeted. Last season, Rashford put together a 0.2 xA mark per game, but the bottom has dropped out of that, falling to 0.06 thus far. Much of that can be attributed to overall team performance in a toothless Manchester United attack, but Rashford has certainly contributed to that as well.
There were plenty of positives to take from today’s performance against Liverpool. While he will still hope his time on the ball increases as the season progresses – Solskjaer’s somewhat negative tactics playing with a lead contributed – Rashford’s movement at times was stellar. On the goal, he utilized a common but effective striker move, drifting towards the near post forcing Joel Matip commit before fading away to the far post where he met the cross. Rashford also completed four take-ons in dangerous areas, adding to the collective showing. Still, he remains miserable in the air (0/5), only received 19 passes all match and delivered just 11 himself, and the goal represented one of just two shots taken (the other was a poor finish when given space outside the top of the area). He was withdrawn after a 83rd minute run that did not produce separation from his defender. The signs of improvement are there, but he must become more consistently dangerous to reach his true potential.
Of all the players on this list, Dele Alli’s season-long performance is by far the most worrisome. He’s completely lost his place in the Tottenham squad, and the few chances Mauricio Pochettino has given him to prove his worth have gone quite poorly. Alli was given his first start of the Premier League season against Watford, and Pochettino clearly hoped to reign in his wandering, giving him a smaller area to cover. His passing in the middle of the field was tidy, but he struggled to unlock a Watford defense that has been porous this season. Alli earned two chances created, but both the ensuing shots were extremely poor efforts from bad positions outside the box. Alli did make his trademark runs through the defensive line and was rewarded with the late equalizing goal, but if he is to earn more playing time over or alongside Christian Eriksen, he has to put in a better overall performance to help Spurs get better results than a home draw against Watford.
In their two Champions League games where Alli has seen the field more, he was even worse. Against Bayern Munich, Alli had little influence, especially in the first half where the game was still in the balance.In Greece he was even less influential, sending 11 of his 27 completed passes backward while failing to record a single shot assist, completing just one take-on, and committing three fouls while earning none. Overall, his body language is extremely poor and he looks like he expects bad execution before mistakes even happen.
This is a tough one because on paper, Harry Kane is in great goalscoring form. He’s bagged five goals this Premier League season, plus a whopping nine goals in his last nine international matches. And yet, the eye test tells a completely different story.
Watching Kane, he has devolved from a quick, crafty striker with excellent off-ball movement to a static target man unable to keep up with counter-attacking chances. Kane has been sapped of his explosiveness, most likely thanks to a host of ankle injuries suffered over the past few seasons. Have a look at Kane’s radar for this season compared to the previous two, and you can see the worrying regression.
As you can see, the xG totals have declined sharply, while so have his shooting totals. Numbers can be rectified with improved play, but watching Kane play tells a whole different story, one of a striker who appears unable to produce the same skill set he once could, and at 26 years old its far too early in his career for that to be a natural transition.
City moves back into second place with 19 points, five behind leaders Liverpool who visit Manchester United on Sunday.
Palace will finish the weekend sixth on 14 points.
Three things we learned
1. Fits and starts for odd CB pairing: Pep Guardiola was without an injured Nicolas Otamendi and perhaps not ready to put 90 minutes on returning John Stones, so he deployed center mids Rodri and Fernandinho at center back. There were several dicey moments for the pair, who also did well at times in the clean sheet, but perhaps most glaring was Rodri’s absence from the midfield. He’d go there for the final 10 minutes when Stones subbed into the match. If you doubted that Pep would make his employers open the checkbook in January, this lineup may have settled that for you.
2. VAR is so weird: WilfriedZaha shoved Kevin De Bruyne to turf with two hands, turning the playmaker on his route to the turf. Anthony Taylor didn’t see it, but hey, that’s why we have VAR, correct? Incorrect. VAR backed up the ref on the field and Palace remained in the match. Truly head-scratching on a bad day for the system.
3. Zaha not all there but shows flashes of brilliance: Crystal Palace’s Ivorian star wants out of South London, and it’s affecting his play. The winger disputes every touch from the opposition — he is fouled a lot — who knows they can get to him. He’s produced just one assist this season, and he simply doesn’t have the right desire to get things done for Roy Hodgson.
But, my, when he’s ready to roar. Zaha had several mazy dribbles in the final third and was denied a smashing goal by a flying Ederson in the 89th minute. It wasn’t enough to offset the headaches, like when he followed referee Anthony Taylor around the pitch begging for a yellow card following a tactical foul.
Man of the Match: Sterling — A killer at both ends, even if he missed a would-be third goal in the 87th.
Bernard gave them an early lead and although the Toffees missed several glorious chances after that, Gylfi Sigurdsson sealed the win in stoppage time with a magnificent strike.
With the win Everton move on to 10 points for the season, while West Ham remain on 12 points.
3 things we learned
1. Everton dig deep and fight for Silva: The Toffees were told by Silva ahead of this match that it was a ‘must win’ in their season. My goodness, did they take those words to heart. Silva’s side fought hard from the start, tracking back and pressing West Ham out of the game. They should have won by three or four but a victory after four-straight PL defeats is exactly what Silva wanted. Great reaction after a tough few weeks as they set the tone and there was a renewed sense of urgency. With games against Brighton, Norwich, Saints, Tottenham and Leicester coming up, Everton need three wins from their next five, at least, to get themselves fully back on track. This was a good start.
2. Hammers attack lackluster: Sebastien Haller had an off-day and the way West Ham’s attack is set up around him, that was bad news for the Hammers. Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals were woeful and the introduction of Andriy Yarmolenko only improved things slightly. Back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace and Everton has seen most of West Ham’s early-season optimism evaporate. Now it is Manuel Pellegrini who will be under pressure.
3. Neither team ready for top seven: Everton were wasteful and West Ham were shaky at the back, as neither team looks ready to push for a top seven finish this season. Leicester, Wolves and even Crystal Palace look better set, right now, to push for European qualification but there’s no doubt Everton and West Ham have the quality to be in the top 10. Taking that next step will be the toughest part.
Man of the Match: Theo Walcott – His energy on the flank epitomized this Everton display as he hit the bar and came close to scoring. Walcott was fired up and along with Bernard and Richarlison, Everton’s attack was dynamic and didn’t allow West Ham to settle.
The Hammers started slowly as Manuel Lanzini curled a free kick wide and Everton flew out of the traps.
Angelo Ogbonna deflected Theo Walcott’s curling shot wide as the Toffees attack looked lively, and Tom Davies was then denied in superb fashion. A corner to the back post found the Englishman but Roberto somehow clawed away his effort.
Moments later Roberto was beaten, as Bernard wriggled free in the box, looked to be going nowhere but somehow snuck home an audacious effort at the near post to put Everton 1-0 up.
Richarlison then struck the foot of the post after Alex Iwobi‘s perfect through ball as the Toffees were rampant in the first half. West Ham were reduced to long balls over the top as Pablo Fornals almost got on the end of one of those.
Andriy Yarmolenko came on at half time to try and give the Hammers some momentum in attack.
Yerry Mina‘s tame header was saved by Roberto, while at the other end Fornals volleyed wide after a poor clearance from Jordan Pickford.
Lucas Digne sent a free kick wide then Roberto denied another Mina header as Everton pushed for a second. Walcott smashed an effort from distance off the crossbar and Yarmolenko’s free kick was saved by Pickford as the Hammers barely threatened.
Iwobi then missed a glorious chance to seal the victory as Djibril Sidibe played him in but the Nigerian forward hit his shot right at Roberto as the home fans couldn’t believe it. Moments later Mina headed home a corner but the referee blew his whistle for a foul in the box, and then Walcott’s cross was somehow deflected over by a combination of Issa Diop and Roberto.
Pickford came up big for Everton with a fine save late on as Ogbonna’s shot deflected off Mina and the England goalkeeper somehow pushed the ball away.
Then substitute Sigurdsson fired home a fine strike from distance to cap off a fine performance from Everton.
Crystal Palace has earned four points in their last 3 PL games v. MCFC
Crystal Palace has 3 clean sheets in 4 home PL matches this season
Sergio Aguero has not scored in 6 PL matches at Selhurst Park
With Liverpool set to face Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal in the next three matches with Champions League play sprinkled in, now is the time for Manchester City to pounce.
Pep Guardiola leads Man City to Selhurst Park with a hefty eight point distance between them and the Reds atop the Premier League table, looking to make a dent in the differential as they face Crystal Palace on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.
Kevin De Bruyne has been on fire despite his injury troubles, with eight assists in league play this season, double anyone else in the league. Unfortunately, the Man City defense has not followed suit, with the squad banged up and conceding twice to Wolves before the international break and recording just three clean sheets this season. The nine goals they’ve conceded thus far is triple what they allowed through the first eight matches of last season – in fact, it took them until a Week 16 loss to Chelsea to concede nine league goals.
Now, they face an in-form Crystal Palace side challenging for a European place to begin the season, having won its last two and four of its last six. They have been excellent at home, going unbeaten in four this season in league play. They aren’t dominating teams, but they’re earning results and sit sixth in the table with 14 points. What’s more, they’re doing all this without stalwart defender James Tomkins, who struggled with a groin injury early in the season and has suddenly found his place in the squad snatched up by Martin Kelly and Gary Cahill who are performing well together at Selhurst Park.
Roy Hodgson has instilled a culture of consistency at Crystal Palace that has allowed the club to not just earn results against teams they should beat but also challenge for points against the best squads in the league week in and week out.
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson on Raheem Sterling: “The criticism that could be leveled at him then and was, much to my displeasure because I would see him playing well, the big thing for Raheem is that there’s no draining his confidence, and no doubts. He’s playing in a team that creates a lot of chances so he gets in the right positions. His maturity, not just as a Manchester City player, but shouldering a very heavy burden with the racism and the attention that is being paid to the racism problem that we have. He has been a spokesperson.”
Man City boss Guardiola on Roy Hodgson: “I think since Roy took over the team [Palace] with zero points and helped them to avoid relegation, they have always made a really good season. They have incredibly talented players. Of course I admire him. He has the patience and love. It’s incredible. You have to have a lot of energy every day and he is there.”
Manchester City has a loaded squad with reinforcements on the way in John Stones and Benjamin Mendy. Stones in particular is a massive addition, and if he is indeed fit to play, his presence gives this squad new life at the back. Still, Crystal Palace is as formidable a mid-table side as any in the Premier League and will be hungry to prove they mean business challenging for Europe this season. It will be a hard-fought grind, but Man City walks away with a quality 1-0 victory behind a goal from Raheem Sterling.