Monday, 25 February 2013

real madrid 1-1 barcelona fabregas callejonIt may ‘only’ be the Copa del Rey, but tomorrow night’s semi-final second leg at Camp Nou between Barça and Real Madrid takes on a greater importance due to the delicate situation of both teams. There is not just a place in the final on May 18 at stake as both sides are looking for a boost in morale and improved performances in the run up to the crucial return matches in the Champions League last 16.
Barça’s defeat last week at Milan has activated many of the underlying doubts surrounding the team. Is playing two attacking full backs leaving us too exposed at the back? Should Andrés Iniesta be used in midfield? Is there a place for David Villa in the team? Can Alexis Sanchez overcome his drop in confidence? Is there over-dependency on Leo Messi and should he be rested more? And perhaps most importantly – can Tito Vilanova make the correct decisions when he’s following everything from 6000 km away?
real madrid 1-1 barcelona fabregas goal celebrationIf Barça lose tomorrow then the prospects of turning things around on March 12 when Milan come to Camp Nou will be affected. Having La Liga more or less in the bag will help to cushion the blow but defeat in the cup competitions would leave two long months with only league games to look forward to. The club and fans are used to a healthy dose of high-tension games during the spring months and if we only have the league to play for, especially as there doesn’t look like being a close race for the title, we are going to miss the adrenaline fix this year.
If the game could be key to Barça’s season, for Real Madrid it could be equally crucial. With a difficult trip to Old Trafford next week they will also be looking for confidence-lifting victory. Sixteen points in La Liga looks like too big a difference to recover which means our rivals will have a very complicated end to the season if they fall in both cup competitions.
real madrid 1-1 barcelona ronaldo missJosé Mourinho has the doubt of including the out-of-form Di Maria or Kaká for tomorrow’s game while he will also have to decide on his best central defensive pairing with Raphael Varane, who played so well in the 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Bernabéu, threatening Pepe and Sergio Ramos for a place. There is also a good chance that Pepe will partner Varane with Ramos moved to right back and Arbeloa moving to the left. It seems likely that Madrid will try to maintain a high pressing game early on and Barça will need to be very concentrated not to make any stupid mistakes at the back.
Adriano has returned to training normally which means Barça have a total of 23 first-team players available for selection tomorrow. It seems certain that Pinto will continue as our Copa del Rey goalkeeper but I expect the outfield ten will be the same as in Milan. Obviously there is a good case to use Villa or Cristian Tello following their performances against Sevilla on Saturday. However, the fact that Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas all rested at the weekend indicates that they will all be restored to the team as the midfield three. That would leave the front three places for the untouchable Iniesta and Messi, with Pedro, who was also rested against Sevilla, returning to the right wing.
One always hopes for a fair game with as little influence from the referee as possible. However, Barça are not happy with the decision to name Alberto Undiano Mallenco to officiate tomorrow. This is the guy who allowed Madrid to get away with all sorts in the Copa del Rey final at Mestalla two years ago, and it is also a worrying fact that while Mourinho has only won three out of fifteen clásicos, Undiano was the man with the whistle for two of those three victories.

Possible starting XIs:

Barça: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Madrid: Diego Lopez; Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Arbeloa; Khedira, Alonso; Ozil, Kaká, Ronaldo; Benzema.
Prediction: Barça 3 Madrid 1
Date: Tuesday 26 February 2013. Kick off: 9 pm local time.
Hi-res-161706478_crop_650x440 Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Here are the top 50 possible European-based summer transfer targets. This means that the likes of Neymar, Leandro Damião, Paulinho, Gino Peruzzi, Facundo Ferreyra and other rumoured transfer targets from South American clubs won’t be included.
Why? I’m not an expert in that region, therefore I’ll stick to European football for this article.
As with any list, there will be omissions, so feel free to comment below with probable transfer targets that weren’t included in this article. 

50. Florent Malouda, Chelsea, WAM

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Chelsea's frustrations with Florent Malouda's excessive wage demands have made him impossible to sell.
The resentment with what they perceive as Malouda doing a "Winston Bogarde" has led to the former Lyon man serving the rest of his contract in exile.
These are double-standards from the Blues, who not only want to kick Florent out of the club, but are telling him to devalue himself as well.
But, who decided to give Malouda his reported £80,000 a week salary? Chelsea.
If he wants to use the £80,000 per-week as the benchmark when negotiating with prospective employers, how's he in the wrong?
The business decision would be to play out the contract and then be in full control of where he goes in the summer, since he'll take advantage of the Bosman ruling.
Florent is angry with what he deems as unethical behaviour from Blues management (from France-Guyane via ESPN FC):
The details, I'm going to explode them when I'm free, but the strategy employed is to make me look like a player who wants to be paid a lot.
It's underhand, but it makes me smile more than anything else because it shows just how much esteem those people have for me. All of this is being done to break me mentally. In reality, it motivates me hugely.
S*it just got real!
Here's Brooks Peck's satirical take on Malouda's situation (via Yahoo! Sports)
The following is an average day in the life of Florent Malouda...
8:37 am—Eats breakfast in the shower so he can get to training early. Even though no one will notice.
9:45 am—While practicing free kicks, he hears the U-21 kids dare one of their cohorts to "kick a ball at Old Man Malouda." When it happens, Malouda takes a few steps in their direction and they all run away screaming.
10:16 am—Checks his bank balance.
11:22 am—Tells a dirty joke to his invisible friend and weight-room spotter BraniFrank RamirTerry, who finds it borderline offensive. Malouda apologises.
12:30 pm—He watches through a window as the non-exiled first-team players enjoy a specially prepared lunch while eating a sandwich he had been carrying in his sock all morning. Between soggy bites, he sees that Fernando Torres looks depressed despite being surrounded by other people who are actually talking to him. Malouda decides he will leave a friendship bracelet on Torres' training kit before leaving the club.
1:11 pm—Checks his bank balance.
2:50 pm—Plays several games of FIFA 13 career mode with a modified Chelsea team made up entirely of players named "Florent Malouda." He keeps the original Florent Malouda character on the bench, though.
3:26 pm—He tweets just to try and prove to himself that he still exists.
4:09 pm—Wanders around the parking lot hoping to "accidentally" bump into Rafa Benitez. When it finally happens, Benitez says "hello Mr. Abramovich" to him and then drives off.
5:15 pm—Takes his daily picture of himself with the Champions League trophy.
7:20 pm—For dinner, he eats a sandwich he had been carrying in his other sock all day while imitating Didier Drogba's voice.
9:41 pm—Stares at his bank balance until he drifts into a deep and restful sleep.

49. Peter Odemwingie, West Bromwich Albion, RAM

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When Peter Odemwingie offered teammate Goran Popov a lift, the Macedonian declined, saying he didn't want to end up in London.
In case you don't understand the context of Goran's witty response, it's a reference to Peter trying to force West Bromwich Albion's hand by driving to Loftus Road, hoping the club would sell him to Queens Park Rangers on transfer deadline day.
Manager Steve Clarke was blunt about Odemwingie's lack of common sense (via Stuart James at The Guardian):
There is no misunderstanding on the part of the clubs. At boardroom level there is absolute clarity. It is total lunacy because he didn't have permission to be at QPR. That's why QPR turned him away. I think Peter has been very, very badly advised. And I think if I was Peter, I would be looking for new agents.
Peter has since thrown his agents under the bus, even though he clearly was in on the charade:
Odemwingie has a history of making impulsive decisions, which led to regret, thus forcing another impulsive decision.
He was so overjoyed with the amount of money Lokomotiv Moscow offered him that he signed on the dotted line without hesitation.
Having spent time in the CSKA Moscow junior team, the Nigerian knew how backwards the nation was with regards to race equality, but he proceeded to complain about racism during his time with Lokomotiv—yet he had no problems cashing in the cheque. 
Peter then changed the reason for wanting to leave Lokomotiv by saying something absolutely ludicrous (via Ian Edwards at The Express):
It wasn’t just racism, although there was that. Lokomotiv are going through a crisis as a club and they tried for a while to blame it on me because Nigeria qualified for the World Cup and Russia didn’t.
Amidst the unhappiness and not getting starts in his preferred No. 9 role, Peter has still scored five goals and registered three assists in the Premier League, which is a better return than Papiss Cissé.

48. Yoann Gourcuff, Lyon, AM

Photo via L'Équipe
Photo via L'Équipe
Yoann Gourcuff is a technically gifted footballer with solid physical attributes, whose playing style is aesthetically pleasing, thus leading to inevitable comparisons to Zinedine Zidane.
Gourcuff's holier-than-thou attitude has rubbed his teammates the wrong way in the past.
Paolo Maldini was miffed with the Frenchman's whimsical behaviour at AC Milan (from L’Equipe via
Gourcuff in Milan was wrong 100 per cent.
His problem here was his behaviour. He did not show an intelligent way to manage himself.
When he played here, he did not want to make himself available to the squad. He did not start studying Italian immediately. He did not work. He was not always on time. It happened a lot.
When he came into the game, he did not give himself fully.
Less talented players have earned the respect of Milan because they gave everything.
Him, he did not. And he knows it. After a while he became foreign to the group.
Former French manager Raymond Domenech was certain of Franck Ribéry's ill-feelings towards Yoann (from Tout Seul via France 24): 
Ribéry doesn’t like Gourcuff, that’s for sure.
Before the Uruguay match, I told Gourcuff: 'You have the keys to the match, it’s down to you.'
The worst thing was Franck's look. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but in his eyes I saw hatred, contempt or jealousy.
It's established that Ribéry had a firmly fixed hatred for Gourcuff but what is still conjecture is whether or not the bulling Yoann endured has left long-lasting psychological ramifications.
What we do know is that he wasn't treated as badly as Domenech, who was left high and dry by a bunch of alpha males he couldn't control. 
Raymond hasn't coached a top-flight team since the debacle
Yoann became a star with Bordeaux, only to ditch them for Lyon, which has seen his career stagnate due to injuries and a lack of self-belief. 
A move away from OL is a certainty.

47. Nani, Manchester United, WAM

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It's been an eventful year for Nani, and it will culminate with him leaving Manchester United in the summer.
He was chastised for cutting ahead of Bruno Alves during the Euro 2012 semi-final penalty shoot out vs. Spain, but Alves was in lala land, and had forgotten the order. 
Nani's hamstring problems have routinely interfered with him making a case to be a starter under Sir Alex Ferguson this season.
By saying olá to Wilfried Zaha, Ferguson has shown his hand to Nani—adeus.
Luckily, he only suffered minor injuries when an unmarked police car collided with his Bentley.
Nani has world-class ability and is capable of conjuring up moments that leave you utterly astounded. If he isn't guaranteed playing time with the Red Devils, why stay?
Braga manager Jose Peseiro remarked last November how Nani needed to be treated with more affection (from The Manchester Evening News' James Robson via
I hope he finishes the season well because it is important for him, the national team—and important for me because I put Nani in the first team at Sporting.
If Giggs can play like this at 38 why can’t Nani do more?
A player can only play at the maximum level when he’s happy. All players have a different personalities. Some need an embrace and support, others don’t need any support.
Sure, the English players don’t need too much support, but the Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish players need more emotional contact.

46. Kaká, Real Madrid, AM

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In the 11 combined La Liga/UEFA Champions League games, Kaká has featured in this season, he has only played 44.1 percent of those minutes.
The longest time he has stayed in a match is 75 minutes. It's an incredible stat, and it goes to show how little faith José Mourinho has in the Brazilian. 
The Portuguese doesn't even trust Kaká enough to let him stay on the field, which has eroded the former AC Milan player's confidence. 
Florentino Pérez invested €65 million in Kaká, once a FIFA World Player of the Year, and it's now going down the drain because of José.
The Only One has so much influence over Pérez that the president hasn't even intervened to save the career of Kaká.
Just sad.
Last season, he accumulated 14 assists, so it's not like he's washed-up. He can still do a job for a relatively good team in Europe, but does he still have that burning desire to be the best?
If not, the MLS or A-League will gladly welcome Kaká.

45. Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich, RAM

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The only way Arsenal will beat Bayern Munich in the first leg is if Arjen Robben goes in two-footed on Thomas Müller in training, thus giving the Dutchman the right attacking midfield spot by default, to which he'll shoot Bayern to a loss. 
Vs. Chelsea in UEFA Champions League final: 0/15 plus a penalty miss. 
This season (Bundesliga + UCL):  2/32.
Two goals from 32 shots equals a 16 shots per goal average, which is almost double Luis Suárez's total (8.4), and the Uruguayan is an inconsistent shooter.
Arjen has achieved this whilst not even being a starter.
He told Algemeen Dagblad (via "I think it is a very interesting choice and I think at first glance Guardiola may fit well at Bayern."
BREAKING: Arjen Robben hands in transfer request after finding out he would have to learn how to pass after the appointment of Pep Guardiola— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) January 16, 2013

44. Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal, AM

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Arsène Wenger used to worry about teams poaching his best players; now he's fretting over teams not buying his players.
Andrey Arshavin, Sébastien Squillaci, Łukasz Fabiański, André Santos, Johan Djourou, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young, Nicklas Bendtner and Denílson are still on the Arsenal payroll.
Six of the aforementioned players are being paid to go on loan knowing they have no future at the club.
Gervinho may offer more pace, but his football acumen is questionable at best given the amount of mental lapses he has in the attacking third.
Arshavin is more calculated and actually has a mental snapshot of what he's attempting to do whereas the Ivorian wings it—more often than not, it hasn't worked out.
So, why not give the Russian a run in the first team?

43. Juan Quintero, Pescara, AM

Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images
BBC Sport's South American correspondent Tim Vickery was full of praise for Juan Quintero during the South American U-20 Championships:
The big two paraded no one with the class of Colombia's wonderful left footed playmaker, Juan Fernando Quintero—the one player present who would seem capable of making an impact on next year's senior World Cup. With his generation of ideas, his push and run organising and his Glen Hoddle-esque capacity to pass beyond the defensive line, Quintero is a joy to watch.
Quintero scored five goals as the Colombians took out the Championship.
The goal scoring is a bit of surprise, considering he has struggled in front of goals in Serie A, only converting 3.3 percent of his chances.
Whilst his shooting is a concern, his passing is top-notch, and he's an explosive dribbler.
Colombia have three exciting talents with all the characteristics you want in a flair player: Luis Muriel (21; Udinese), James Rodríguez (21; Porto) and Quintero (20; Pescara). 

42. Sebastian Jung, Eintracht Frankfurt, RB

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Eintracht Frankfurt are this season's Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Dante and Roman Neustädter have continued to improve having moved on from BMG whilst the stocks of Marc-André ter Stegen and Tony Jantschke have declined from last season.
So, maybe Sebastian Jung should cash in with his transfer value at its highest.
He has won back possession 99 times in return for just 12 fouls and three yellow cards in league-play.
What does this mean? He's a remarkably clean tackler.
If Frankfurt didn't overachieve, Sebastian may have flown under-the-radar.
He doesn't have as high of an upside as teammate Bastian Oczipka, who is a left-sided Dani Alves, but Jung is a steady player.
Frankfurt's right-back would be a good squad player at an elite club, though if big teams were looking to sign a Bundesliga RB, Daniel Carvajal should be the consensus pick.

41. Younès Belhanda, Montpellier, AM

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As brilliant as Younès Belhanda can be on the football field, his hostility could be the undoing of his career.
The cheeky panekas, the flicks, the stunning goals, the panache assists are all overshadowed by Younès' rage. 
He showed no remorse when he violently forced his shoulder into Nolan Roux before lashing out at Benoît Pedretti.
José Saez copped an elbow from Belhanda. Miralem Pjanić can also attest to Younès' dark side.
Belhanda fills way too much of the transfer columns when he isn't even the best player on his own team, let alone in Ligue 1. 

League Only G SPG A SCPG P% CDPG
Rémy Cabella 6 6.0 6 1.5 85.2 1.1
Younès Belhanda 7 6.7 3 1.6 77.9 0.9

G = goal/s; SPG = shots per goal; A = assist/s; SCPG = shots created per game; P% = passing percentage; CDPG = completed dribbles per game

40. Beñat, Real Betis, DLP

Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Anne Hathaway once looked at the lighter side of being in a relationship with a guy, who turned out to be a conman: "You do have to give me credit because as far as relationships crashing and burning goes... c'mon, I did pretty great."
Beñat is doing a spectacular job crashing and burning his transfer value.
In recent times, he has been the worst player on the field every time I've seen him, which is such a twist of fate given how influential he was to Real Betis last season and throughout the first half of this season.
He has picked up more yellow cards than combined goals and assists scored since January.
Beñat turned over possession 31 percent of the time vs. Athletic Bilbao, 38 percent vs. Rayo Vallecano and 23 percent vs. Atlético Madrid. 

Why Beñat Isn't Worth €20 Million
1. High-risk, high-reward type of passer like Raúl García, which won't work if Beñat moves to a bigger club, where he won't be the main man. 
2. Easily lulled into bad tackles; leads La Liga in yellow cards (12).
3. Recent confidence issues indicate he can't handle the pressure. If he is struggling to deal with the transfer speculation, what will his mindset be in the week before a UEFA Champions League final? 

(Per Marca's Mercedes Torrecillas):
Betis is increasingly noticing how little Beñat is contributing to the team's attacking play in midfield.
The player himself admits that he is on a poor run of form which he blames on physical exhaustion, although a theory is gaining momentum that his gradual loss of self-confidence is down to the insane rumours and speculation surrounding his future.
Pepe Mel has defended him to the hilt. He's always been on hand to offer his support because he understands that Beñat's problems are both on and off the pitch. However, his poor run of form is evident and he's been substituted in his last three competitive games.

39. Mauro Icardi, Sampdoria, CF

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Mauro Icardi introduced himself to mainstream footballing fans with a winning brace against reigning Serie A champions Juventus.
This line perfectly explains how the footballing world reacted when Icardi netted four times against Pescara. 
His passing needs refining, because he misplaces the ball when defenders apply pressure. 
Though, the one Sampdoria player that has been dominant isn't Mauro, it's Pedro Obiang, who's an athletic and combative midfielder. 
Antonio Labbate was flummoxed with Icardi's transfer value (via Football Italia):
Icardi clearly has promise, his current market valuation is generous and primarily based on his form over a six-week period.
While his scoring stats of eight goals in just 18 League games seem impressive, they don’t look so phenomenal when you break them down. After all, he’s only scored in four games.
It seems absurd that a player who cost Sampdoria €400,000 in July 2011 is now said to be worth almost 40 times that amount. What is even more staggering is that there are Italian clubs, in these difficult economic times, who seem willing to pay that.
Icardi could very well become the latest Argentine sensation in front of goal, but, for now, he isn’t.
Today he’s just a kid with the rawest of potential. As for tomorrow, it looks like it will take around €15 million to find out…
Talking about other forwards of the rawest potential: Jürgen Locadia (19; PSV Eindhoven) and Neal Maupay (16; Nice) spring to mind. Surely, they're not going to cost upwards of €15 million, so they're viable alternatives to Mauro. 

38. Diego Alves, Valencia, GK

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
League Only GP SPG SPGC S%
Diego Alves 18 3.1 1.8 63.6
Vicente Guaita 5 2.8 3.5 77.8

GP = games played; SPG = saves per game; SPGC = saves per goal conceded; S% = save percentage
Neither Alves or Guaita want to be sitting on the bench, therefore Valencia will sell one of their prized keepers during the summer transfer window. 
Diego is capable of saving a game all by himself with one outrageous save after another.
However, keeping Vicente makes more sense because he's younger, is a more all-round keeper and is Valencia born-and-bred. 

37. Carlos Martínez, Real Sociedad, RB

David Ramos/Getty Images
Piti, who has scored 10 league goals for Rayo Vallecano this season, didn't get much of a chance when he faced Carlos Martínez in 1-on-1 situations. 
Carlos has made 40 of his 54 tackles, which is a great return and shows how strong he is at jostling for possession. 
He may only have two assists to his name, but he does venture into the opposing half with frequency and good effect.
His shots created per game average (1.7) is better than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Martínez's 26 crossing completion percentage is way more accurate than Ángel Di María (14).

36. Adel Taarabt, Queens Park Rangers, AM

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Adel Taarabt is a big-fish in a small pond type of player with a grandiose view of himself.
The Moroccan has persistently discussed about moving on from the club, despite Queens Park Rangers being the best fit for him right now.
What he fails to understand is that QPR are so happy to have a player of his immense ability at the club, they give him every opportunity to showcase his ability.
Regardless if the club stays up, Adel will attempt to force a move away from Loftus Road in the summer.

35. Roberto Firmino, Hoffenheim, RAM/AM

Photo via
Photo via
Roberto Firmino can dribble past the large majority of defenders in Europe.
He's creative, he has Djalminha-esque tricks  and he's a surprisingly good tackler. Despite this skill set, he's been disappointing for a disjointed Hoffenheim side.
He has only scored three times from 42 shots, and from 687 passes, he has created two goals.
Roberto still doesn't have a set position. He can't be the No. 10 if he isn't producing the goods. When he starts out wide, he still ends up playing himself centrally.
If his attacking efficiency doesn't improve, he'll need to be moved into a defensive midfield role like Mousa Dembélé.

34. Victor Wanyama, Celtic, CM

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
In the two games against Barcelona, Victor Wanyama made 75 percent of his passes, but that jumped to 90 vs. Juventus, demonstrating his passing range. 
Though, it must be emphasised that Antonio Conte instructed his players to allow Celtic possession of the ball, so Juve could hit the Scottish club on the counter. 
Wanyama's performance didn't give anyone pause for thought about his ability to play at an elite level, as he continued to break up plays. 
He would add much-needed steel to Chelsea's midfield, but the Blues' management seems insistent on not playing defensive midfielders in the two pivot positions.

33. Adam Maher, AZ, AM

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
AZ's decision to sign one of the Eredivisie's premier playmakers in Willie Overtoom suggests that they're willing to part ways with Adam Maher in the summer.
There's no doubt that Adam has potential to become a world-class attacking midfielder, but he's nowhere near ready for a move to a European giant.
What may transpire is AZ reluctantly selling him to PSV Eindhoven or Ajax.
History says the latter generally raid AZ i.e. Niklas Moisander, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, Mounir El Hamdaoui, Demy de Zeeuw, Kenneth Pérez and Olaf Lindenbergh.
Though, the two last notable AZ players PSV signed were top notch: Jeremain Lens and Danny Koevermans. 

32. Étienne Capoue, Toulouse, DM

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Étienne Capoue has been substandard this season.
His tackles per league game (1.9) has drastically decreased from last season (2.8). He's also committing more bone-headed fouls.
Étienne at times is playing like a box-to-box midfielder, and he shoots 0.7 times more than he creates a shot, which must annoy Wissam Ben Yedder to no end (oh my, talk about coming back to earth—scored nine Ligue 1 goals by November but hasn't scored since).
Capoue can launch exceptional, long passes. However, he isn't a deep-lying playmaker, nor does he possess the passing ability (at this point) to imitate Rio Mavuba.
Étienne has given the ball away 270 times in 22 league games, which is a problem.
Steed Malbranque, Florent Balmont and Jérémy Clément have all been more impressive than Capoue this season.
Whilst his form hasn't eroded like Beñat, one plausible explanation for Étienne's wishy-washy displays is his frustrations with Toulouse not selling him.

31. Nicolas N'Koulou, Marseille, CB

Photo via
Photo via
Nicolas N'Koulou's teammates put him between a rock and a hard place with their woeful positioning.
Someone like Lucas Mendes should never play at full-back. Souleymane Diawara is on his last legs and probably should start contacting some teams in the Middle East. Why play Rod Fanni at centre-back when he's a superior right-back?
Despite these impediments, N'Koulou still has an 85 percent tackle success rate and L'Équipe rate him as the fourth best defender in Ligue 1.

30. Christian Eriksen, Ajax, AM

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Do you know that Chelsea loanee Amin Affane, who plays for relegation embattled Roda, is a league assist (five) behind Christian Eriksen (six)?
Little known Australian Tommy Oar of Utrecht is also just behind Christian in the Eredivisie assists column.
For years, people talk about Eriksen as if he's already a world-class player, when Heerenveen's Filip Duricić (off to Benfica in the summer) is just as talented. 
Ajax put the ball in Eriksen's court, to which he knocked it straight back to them, so we can only presume he wants to leave despite saying last April (from via ESPN FC):
I think that I'm still developing here at Ajax and that the regular playing time that I am getting is making me better and better. I don't see the need for a move at the moment. I feel very much at home here and there is plenty I can still learn. I'm a young player and I'm still trying to improve things in terms of the image I project and my leadership qualities.
Should Christian leave, Ajax could replace him with Adam Maher, and AZ wouldn't be adverse to selling their star since 1) Adam was going to leave anyways 2) they've already signed his replacement—Willie Overtoom. 

29. Timm Klose, Nürnberg, CB

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Timm Klose is a big, strong and aggressive centre-back with a take-charge approach to winning back possession.
Along with Hiroshi Kiyotake and Raphael Schäfer, they are Nürnberg's most valuable assets.
Raphael seems content staying with Nürnberg.
It would be in Hiroshi's best interest to play out another season.
The one concern clubs could have with signing Timm is will he regress next season?
Sebastian Langkamp was superb last season, but he has struggled with his defensive positioning in recent times.

28. Léo Baptistão, Rayo Vallecano, CF

Photo via
Photo via
Martin Rosenow at sifted through the Spanish press and stated that COPE had reported that Léo Baptistão would be arriving at Atlético Madrid in the summer.
Provided that Falcao leaves for a King's ransom, it's a very good move for Léo himself, who can establish himself as an Atléti player.
If Falcao stays, then Baptistão's career with the club could be stop-start like Diego Costa.
You may think Rayo, who? I say: how's Michu going for Swansea City? A heck of lot better than another blonde at Chelsea. 
The club you play for doesn't determine if you're a good player, it's your on-field performances. 
Using an Atlético example, the club signed Manolo from Real Murcia in 1988, and he went on to become one of the best players in the club's history. 
Rayo Vallecano not only played some great football this season (you couldn't say that in the past) but their track record with having modest players, who would go on to achieve bigger and better things at other clubs is quite commendable: Álvaro Negredo, Michu, Mohamed Diamé (Barcelona would have signed him if not for a heart defect) and Guilherme de Cássio. 
Léo is a bright young footballer, and provided that he continues to develop, he will be an elite forward in years to come.
Baptistão's release clause is only €8 million, hence why so many clubs are vying for his signature.

27. Asmir Begović, Stoke City, GK

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Asmir Begović's 74 saves have kept Stoke City just in the top half of the Premier League table, and at one point during the season, Stoke had one of the best defensive records in the league.
Losses to Manchester United (4-2), Chelsea (4-0) and Manchester City (3-0) have tainted Begović's goals conceded stat.
Begović responded frankly to the transfer rumours surrounding his future (via
I read in the papers that I said no to Manchester City and yes to United but the truth is I haven’t decided on anything.
I don’t believe that Stoke bought Butland to warm the bench, so I think I’m going to be sold in the summer. To whom? I can’t move to a smaller club and I also know that some top clubs are interested in me.
Asmir jumped at the chance to represent Canada during the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup (that tournament was kind of football's answer to the 2003 NBA Draft), only to become a Bosnian again knowing he would receive more exposure with the European nation than with Canada at senior level.
This case indicates that he is a pragmatic person, so it's likely that he may have informed Stoke of his future plans, hence why they managed to sign Jack Butland, who clearly values his career over a couple of extra million pounds.
He would have only signed for Stoke if they had guaranteed him playing time, and that is only possible with Begović leaving in the summer.
Jack will play out the remainder of the season with Birmingham City on loan.

26. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Saint-Étienne, CF

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If you only tuned in to watch Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's last four games, you would have thought he was a superstar.
His recent form masks the heavy struggles he went through during the previous two months.
It was an odd form slump.
He went from scoring with ease to not even being able to buy a goal. He started displaying the tendencies of Fernando Torres: dropping deep to facilitate, not attacking the ball in the box and preferring to pass than shoot.
Should Saint-Étienne sign Yohan Mollo on a permanent deal and if  the club qualifies for the UEFA Europa League, Pierre-Emerick should stay with ASSE.
When on song, Mollo is one of the best crossers in Europe.
The Europa league will test Aubameyang to see if he can play against other European clubs of similar stature.

25. Wilfried Bony, Vitesse, CF

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Wilfried Bony has stepped up in the big games this season.
He has scored six goals in five combined Eredivisie games against PSV Eindhoven, Ajax, Twente  and Feyenoord.
Wilfried's vertical leap and aerial prowess is world-class, hence why he has registered headed goals vs. PSV, Waalwijk, NEC Nijmegen, Ajax and Heerenveen.
Bony has mastered the fake shot, and it constantly fools defenders and goalkeepers. 
He has such a physical advantage over the Eredivisie defenders that it's a reason why he has been so prolific. 
Against smaller defenders, he can bully them with his strength. When he comes up against bigger and stronger defenders, they're not agile enough to keep up with him. 
Afonso Alves was one of the best Eredivisie forwards I ever saw, but he lacked the drive and certainly didn't have the physical tools that Bony is blessed with. 
The Ivorian would be a success in the Premier League with the right team, unlike Alves and Mateja Kezman. 

24. Ömer Toprak, Bayer Leverkusen, CB

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The partnership between Ömer Toprak and Philipp Wollscheid has the potential to be elite.
Both are quality players, but they're still getting used to each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Wollscheid went from carrying Nürnberg's backline to a Bayer Leverkusen team where Toprak was more familiar with Manuel Friedrich.
Given that Ömer is a Turkish international and Galatasaray are loaded with cash, he could end up with Gala.

23. Dries Mertens, PSV Eindhoven, LF

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It was a heartfelt moment when Dries Mertens celebrated his free kick goal by lifting his shirt to reveal another shirt emblazoned with the name: Mihai Neșu.
Neșu was a teammate of Mertens at Utrecht, who's now paralysed after a freak accident.
Classiness aside, Dries is getting a bit too good for the Eredivisie.
He scored 21 goals last season, and now he leads the league in assists (13). 
Mertens is 25 years old, he's in the prime of his life and it's now time to test the waters by moving to a stronger league.

22. Christian Benteke, Aston Villa, CF

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With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to say Aston Villa hit the jackpot by signing Christian Benteke for £7 million, when there were so many question marks surrounding the original deal.
Out of chance, I had happened to stumble upon Benteke whilst keeping track of Kevin De Bruyne, who had been signed by Chelsea and was loaned back to Genk.
In a 10-game stretch, De Bruyne created 11 goals and scored twice.
Christian cashed in on playing alongside Kevin, who thrived under the pressure of producing, knowing Chelsea scouts and fans were scrutinising his every action.
Benteke cost De Bruyne so many assists by missing chance after chance.
Why would Villa sign such a raw forward with finishing problems? There were also questions over Benteke's attitude and the shady people he hung around with. 
Didn't it raise a red flag that Christian was arrested at the crime scene with two other people after a victim had been car-jacked and assaultedDid Villa not worry that Benteke was threatening to sue Genk?  
Benteke was acquitted of the charges, and I guess this quote by Ray Lewis is applicable:
Be careful with who you hang around with.
If people don't have your same vision that you have. If people don't have your same drive. If they ain't in the weight room with you day in and day out. If they ain't sacrificing what you sacrificing. Then maybe it's not a bad thing for them to tell you: 'we need to separate.'
Because if not, then you may find yourself like I was... in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. 
Bleacher Report tactical analyst and long-suffering Aston Villa supporter Sam Tighe told me via personal message about his thoughts on Benteke:
Aston Villa have rightly pinned their hopes of survival and future progress on this man mountain because he’s a complete footballer who can damage teams.
He wins the ground duels, he wins the aerial duels. He inspires confidence and he makes the players around him better.
To borrow Paul Lambert’s phraseology, he can be 'anything he wants to be.'
Benteke is not limited by the restrictions your average target man is, with his creative vision and ability to release the Kraken making him a danger anywhere on the pitch.
As soon as he patches up his short-range passing to cut out the odd silly mistake, he’s ready to walk into any team in the Premier League.
Considering Andy Carroll went for £35 million, and Benteke is a substantially better forward than the Englishman, Villa will be making a big profit on Christian should they avoid relegation.

21. Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo, DLF

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Park Chu-Young isn't assertive enough. Michael Krohn-Dehli isn't a goal-threat. Augusto Fernández has more combined bookings than registered goals and assists. Mario Bermejo is inefficient. 
These players are the supporting cast to Iago Aspas.
Opposing players flock to Iago as if he's Candice Swanepoel. 
He gets man-marked, generally by two players, and a third is in the vicinity.
I just don't understand why a player with Park's ability doesn't take advantage of being free.
Despite playing on a terrible team, Iago has scored eight goals and created four goals.
Meanwhile at Chelsea, with about a £75 million-valued triumvirate behind Fernando Torres, the Spaniard has netted seven goals and provided four assists in the Premier League this season. 

20. Isco, Málaga, AM

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Isco's contract extension isn't a sign that Málaga will keep him.
When teams have no intentions of selling a prized asset, they set a crazy buy-out clause (via The Telegraph): "Barcelona have placed a huge buy-out clause of €200 million (£176 million) in Fabregas’s contract."
Málaga have inserted a €35 million buy-out clause, which tells you that they're hoping for bids that will alleviate some of the serious financial troubles the club is going through.
(Per Al Jazeera):
Champions League contenders Malaga were banned from European club competitions for one upcoming season by UEFA on Friday for failing to pay players wages and tax bills on time.
UEFA said the Qatari-owned Spanish club could be banned for a second season within the next four years if they miss a March 31 deadline to pay their debts, which are reported to include $11.6 million in unpaid player wages.
UEFA announced the sanctions on Friday, one day after Malaga were drawn to play FC Porto in the Champions League last-16 round. They will be barred from the first Champions League or Europa League tournament it qualifies for in the next four seasons.
UEFA's club finance judicial body also fined Malaga $396,000. The club can appeal the sanctions direct to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Isco has been in great recent form, scoring four times in his last five league games.
22-year-old Ignacio Camacho, the rambunctious ball-winning midfielder, should also be a prime target for elite clubs.

19. Marc-André Ter Stegen, Borussia Mönchengladbach, GK

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Per (B/R; March 21, 2012):
I respect Kicker as a publication but how on earth is Marc-André ter Stegen not the No. 1 ranked goalkeeper?
He's ranked No. 5—are you kidding me?
He's the most dominant goalkeeper in Europe this season.
If you watch him regularly, what do you see? World class is what you should see. It's so blatantly obvious that this kid is the real deal.
Yes, he has been better than Iker Casillas this season.
Here are a few questions: Álvaro Arbeloa or Tony Jantschke? Sergio Ramos or Roel Brouwers? Pepe or Dante? Marcelo or Filip Daems?
If you picked all Real Madrid players, why is their defence inferior to Borussia Mönchengladbach?
Here's another question: how many of Mönchengladbach's defenders would be in your World XI?
Zero. Yet, Mönchengladbach have one of the best defences in Europe.
Ter Stegen is the main reason why that is the case.
10 months on, Marc-André ter Stegen—the No. 1 ranked goalkeeper on that list—is no longer that dominant.
Whereas, Manuel Neuer—No. 20 on the list—is indisputably the best goalkeeper on form right now.
To clarify the Dante comment, I actually named him in my 2011 World XI, but the rhetoric was used to illustrate that the large majority of people didn't rate him on that level.
Though, Bayern Munich did, and now he's the best centre-back in the world. 
Losing Dante and Roman Neustädter has left Ter Stegen more vulnerable and less confident in their replacements.
Álvaro Domínguez has failed to make the transition from La Liga to Bundesliga football.
Marc-André has clashed with Granit Xhaka, whose pulls-no-punches persona has rubbed management the wrong way. 
The German GK's agent has dismissed reports of his client agreeing to join Barcelona as the heir apparent to Víctor Valdés. 

18. Carlos Tévez, Manchester City, CF

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Here we go again... Carlos Tévez wants to leave (via Tim Rich at The Independent):
I have a year left on my contract and Manchester City want to sign me for two more seasons.
Boca's president has said the door is always open for me to rejoin them and I'm dying to pull their shirt on once more.
I want to end my career there. It is my dream and that of my family. I'd love to be playing for them against River Plate. It would be better than playing against Fulham.
I had lost the desire to play and spent a lot of time crying in my room.
One after the other, bad things happened. I suffered psychologically and I did not want anything more to do with football.
I am much better now and am winning people over because I began the season well, have lost weight and can run faster. I still don't like being substituted but at least I understand the manager's reasons.
I used to call Mancini every name under the sun but now I understand he does things for the good of the team.
Tim Vickery's analysis of Carlos' psyche was so right (via Hawksbee and Jacobs circa 2011):
Tévez is such a difficult little character to have.
He got back into the Argentina team really because of popular pressure.
He had a sit-down meeting with the Argentina coach beforehand when he was told: 'look, no moaning.'
He got into the team for the first couple of games, didn't play well, and do you know what he did? He had a moan.
He's this little creature who's never happy. Happiness is some kind of elusive butterfly for him.
Corinthians have done pretty well not having him because he doesn't want to be in São Paulo.
He's just as much an alien in São Paulo with Corinthians as he is in Manchester.
Tévez is still a top forward, but he just wants to live in Argentina.
It would be futile for City to play him off the bench and give him the occasional start when those minutes could be given to John Guidetti.

17. David Villa, Barcelona, LF

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David Villa has left some indelible memories in the minds of cules.
sumptuous finish against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final or that stunner in the El Clásico—a goal which received more notoriety due to Ray Hudson... well, being Ray Hudson.
Villa has scored six league goals from just 16 shots, so he still has what it takes to be an elite forward, but his time with Barcelona is quickly approaching an end. 
Hopefully, he recovers ASAP from kidney stones—El Guaje has been so unlucky in recent memory. 

16. Heung Min Son, Hamburg, RAM/CF

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Physically gifted, direct and efficient in front of goal.
Heung Min Son does receive criticism for being one-dimensional, but that's generally because he is thrown out wide.
He's not a winger or a wide attacking midfielder. He is a pacey forward, who will exploit opposing teams on the counter attack.
HMS can be world-class, as Borussia Dortmund found out when he scored twice and would have completed a hat trick if not for the wood work. 

15. Diego, Wolfsburg, AM

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Who would have thought a punt by Atlético Madrid in requesting a loan spell from a struggling Diego, would turn the Brazilian's career around.
He should have stayed with Werder Bremen, who had finished second and third in two of the three seasons he played in.
Moving to Juventus ruined his career, and when he signed with Wolfsburg, he couldn't stand being treated with such disdain by Felix Magath.
This little story sums up Felix coaching in the wrong era (via Raphael Honigstein at The Guardian):
Farfán went on to question the manager's 'militaristic methods' and wondered about a lack of 'humanity' in his approach. 'I can laugh now but it was a tough time,' he said.
His current squad probably share that view. Ten days ago, Magath had them running through the Wolfsburg woods (again) and when they had finished, they found that most of their water bottles had been emptied on purpose by the coach.
Look at this photo. Five goals, five assists, and seven WhoScored MOTM awards after Magath was fired.
If Diego keeps up his form, clubs will inevitably bid for his services, but maybe he should stay with Den Wölfen, having learned from his bitter Juve experience that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

14. André Schürrle, Bayer Leverkusen, LF

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André Schürrle's ability to change gears in an instant and accelerate past multiple defenders is amazing.
He's a centre forward that starts out wide but ends up being a quasi-No. 9, considering he averages 3.2 shots per league game compared to 1.2 shots created per league game.
This stat says he's trying to be the leading man rather than play a supporting role.
Unless Stefan Kießling leaves, how's the highly-rated Arkadiusz Milik going to get into Bayer Leverkusen's starting XI?
If Kießling is out of the picture, wouldn't Schürrle want to be the No. 9?

13. Angelo Ogbonna, Torino, CB

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Angelo Ogbonna has only picked up two yellow cards even though he wins back possession 4.8 times per Serie A game.
He's one of the most accurate passers in Europe right now, completing 94 percent of his passes.
Ogbonna is the perfect Barcelona centre-back, but given how poor their decision making is, don't rule out them signing midfielder Alessandro Gazzi and playing him at the back.
Who converts a world-class defensive midfielder (Javier Mascherano) into a mediocre centre-back? Barça.

12. Stevan Jovetić, Fiorentina, DLF

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Stevan Jovetić, the Montenegrin, took advantage of Serbian Zdravko Kuzmanović as Fiorentina romped to a 4-1 win over Inter Milan.
Do you know who Jovetić's partner in crime was? Zdravko's compatriot Adem Ljajić, who surprisingly looked like an elite footballer.
I love these innocuous sub-plots in football games.
Only three players have scored more Serie A goals than Stevan this season (Edinson Cavani, Stephan El Shaarawy and Antonio Di Natale).

11. Marouane Fellaini, Everton, DLF

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Marouane Fellaini has been a revelation as a deep-lying forward, but he wants to play as a No. 6 (from the Daily Mirror via Sky Sports):
I think I am a defensive midfielder. But the manager thinks I can play number 10, number eight, number six, so I play wherever he wants and I give my maximum. I prefer defensive midfielder because I know my job when I play there. More things are in front of you. It is difficult to play with your back to goal. It is not my position but the manager likes me there and I am happy to do it.
There are plenty of midfield enforcers around Europe that would be cheaper options: Valon Behrami, Lars Bender, Juraj Kucka, Morgan Schneiderlin, etc.
How many forwards can win the ball from defenders whilst being a goal-threat by dominating aerially and on the ground?
Only Fellaini.

10. Sebastian Rode, Eintracht Frankfurt, DM

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The two most impressive (non-Bayern Munich) Bundesliga midfielders I've seen this season are Sebastian Rode and Szabolcs Huszti.
Sebastian has been the heart and soul of an overachieving Eintracht Frankfurt side.
Not only can he win back the ball, but he initiates the attacks by dragging opposing players out of position, before offloading the ball.
On the other hand, Szabolcs just throws caution to the wind by launching low-percentage pass after low-percentage pass—that's not a good thing.
There's a method to his madness, because he has eight assists, so you have to turn a blind eye to his high turnover rate.

9. Erik Lamela, Roma, RF

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Erik Lamela is a dynamic, skillful and lethal wide forward, who'll probably end up at Real Madrid one day.
His combined shots created per game and completed dribbles per game is 5.5—better than Lionel Messi (5.3), Cristiano Ronaldo (3.3) and Gareth Bale (4.4).
Erik's stats would be even better if he didn't do his ankle ligaments.
There was one goal against Udinese which showed how composed he was.
With the ball on the right touchline, he dinked his way past Pablo Armero, with keeper Zeljko Brkic thinking there was no way the Argentine would try to shoot from such an acute angle.
Brkic readied himself for the cut-back, but Lamela slid the ball past Zeljko.
Udinese defender Gabriele Angella's shrug of the shoulders was classic.
At just 20 years of age, Lamela's best years are ahead of him.

8. Edinson Cavani, Napoli, CF

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Edinson Cavani's teammate Marek Hamsík just got robbed at gunpoint (again).
Previously, the Slovakian's wife was carjacked.
Edinson's wife had her €18,000 watch forcibly taken from her.
You'd think that Napoli management would have 24/7 security around their most prized players, who are easy victims of organised crime.
These aren't just petty thugs. They're sophisticated criminals, who plan out their attacks and stalk the players and their partners, before robbing them at gunpoint.
Sooner rather than later, something tragic could eventuate (hopefully not).
Cavani is one of the best forwards in the world and Marek has had stretches of world-class play throughout this season.
Napoli will be forced to sell them if they don't feel safe at the club.

7. Bastian Oczipka, Eintracht Frankfurt, LB

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Bastian Oczipka is a left-sided Dani Alves as the German races down the left flank and sends in an incisive cross.
He has attempted 182 crosses whilst only taking 11 shots. That is what you want from an attacking full-back, who is there to facilitate, not shoot.
Bastian's 3.5 tackles per foul indicate that he is a reliable tackler, who generally is not at risk of being sent off.
Oczipka is so good going forward that he could play as a winger.

6. Kevin Strootman, PSV Eindhoven, CM

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Kevin Strootman's tackling has improved dramatically, which is a bit unexpected, because he does have attacking tendencies.
In the UEFA Europa League, he averaged 7.7 tackles and 2.0 interceptions per game, which were absurd numbers.
With managers like Massimiliano Allegri, Andrea Stramaccioni and David Moyes utilising complete players in advanced attacking roles, Strootman could be converted into a deep-lying forward.
That's just some food for thought.
Manchester United have a hole in midfield, and Kevin should be their No. 1 summer transfer target.

5. Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund, CF

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Robert Lewandowski has scored in six successive games for Borussia Dortmund.
BVB's set-up enables him to play at an elite and sometimes world-class level.
Why even contemplate leaving?
Money? That's the only reason, because going to Bayern Munich makes no sense from a footballing perspective.
All those future medals he may win with Die Bayern mean nothing if he didn't contribute. That's how Fernando Torres feels about his FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League medals.
Even if Mario Gómez leaves, it's still not a sound decision from Robert, who isn't guaranteed starting time over Mario Mandzukić, who forced Gómez out.
Lewandowski, don't do it bro.

4. Mario Gómez, Bayern Munich, CF

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The two times Mario Gómez has played the full 90 minutes for Bayern Munich this season, he scored a goal and got an assist in both games (4-1 win versus BATE Borisov and 4-0 win over Schalke).
With Mario Mandzukić in such imperious form, it does make sense why Gómez would want to leave, especially when a club so desperate for trophies like Chelsea needs a real forward and would be willing to give the German higher wages.
His agent has said Mario will stay (per ESPN FC).

3. Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur, LAM/DLF

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Michu has scored more Premier League goals than Gareth Bale this season. I don't see anyone calling him the new 'Zarra.'
Bale is having a purple patch, but comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo are futile.
CR7 has scored 60 and 53 goals in his last two season.
Gareth is still getting acquainted with his new role of "you're not a winger anymore, do what you want, but please score!"

2. Falcao, Atlético Madrid, CF
If only Falcao and Jackson Martínez were 23 years or younger, then Chelsea would certainly buy one of the two.
Mind you, if Fernando Torres continues to struggle, the Blues will probably bite the bullet and sign Falcao on a gigantic deal—ignoring the fact that Romelu Lukaku is one of the best young forwards in the world or the rising star of Islam Feruz.
Atlético Madrid will just bring in Léo Baptistão, who has the potential to score 15-25 goals per season.

1. Marquinhos, Roma, CB

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Marquinhos' successful tackles percentage isn't 50. It's not 60, not 70, not 80, not 85, not even 90.
92 percent...
It's a statistical anomaly because there's no way he'll keep that up whilst winning back the ball 4.9 times per game.
He's not a defender whose tackling percentage is high because of conservative tackles. He goes in full-bolt and wins the ball 92 percent of the time.
Christopher Atkins did a great profile on the Brazilian (via ESPN FC):
Marquinhos is the master of the interception.
His reading of the game has always been quite extraordinary for a player of his age and it is combined with speed across the ground that allows for quick recovery of position.
At 6'0" tall and yet to fully bulk out, the Sao Paulo native is also far from the biggest of Serie A defenders, but his natural athleticism enables him to compete with even those much bigger.
It says a lot about his talent that this slight, somewhat inexperienced defender has quickly become Roma's most important centre-back—keeping either the veteran Argentine Nicolas Burdisso or Brazil international Leandro Castan out of the side.
Throughout his career to date, Marquinhos has risen with apparent ease to each footballing challenge that has presented itself, and evidence suggests the future could hold even greater success.

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