tirsdag den 29. december 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 162-160

I actually started writing on a season so far update but got kinda stuck so instead here comes the list again.

Also, I've done some counting and

players on the list playing in:

EPL: 59

La Liga: 43 (It feels low when you compare to EPL and Serie A, but they do crush when it comes to top 20, 50 and 100 too I think, where they have the most players)

Serie A: 44 (There probably is some unintentional favoritism when it comes to some of the lower inclusions over people from some other leagues based on watching more mid-table Serie A teams than mid La Liga, Bundesliga and France teams, but they are clearly behind La Liga and EPL when it comes to the top ranks)

Bundesliga: 23

Ligue 1: 12 (again this feels too low but they're suffering a bit from some very talented people that I just haven't seen enough like Sissoko from Toulouse and then there were a few others like Ben Arfa and Gomis who have been struggling a little bit too much and were late cuts.
Also, none of these 12 have even appeared yet!)

Players on the list from:

Brazil: 19 (Low number when compared to the Europeans but if it's top 400 and of course upwards they'd pull away from the field)

Italy: 17 (A lot of people think the national team has been terrible so this must be way too high right? WELL... Something like half of these aren't even playing on that team regularly!)


France: 16 (see the Ligue 1. comments and to those I'll add Flamini who is easily talented enough but just isn't playing at the moment. A lot of candidates also seems like they're defenders (and goalkeepers for that matter) where a lot people were cut)

Germany: 12 (This really surprised me and it seems very low. When it comes to defenders they're in the same boat as France though and virtually no one made it. All in all I do feel like I have a good representation of their midfielders and forwards where some are ranked pretty high, though of course there will be people who you could easily make a case for in the lower placements)

Argentina: 18

Spain: 26 (The big winner and World Cup favorites!)

England: 19 (Don't like the number compared to Brazil and Argentina or Germany for that matter, but remove Walcott who probably shouldn't have been included after all and it's at least one less!
And like I said in relation to Brazil, all the European nations would start falling behind once we went deeper. England too of course)

An Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194-193
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192-189
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187-185
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184-182
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181-177
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England
176-173
176: Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey
175: Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina
174: Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - The Netherlands
173-170
173: William Gallas - Arsenal - France
172: Shaun Wright Phillips - Manchester City - England
171: Pavel Pogrebnyak - VBF Stuttgart - Russia
170: Darijo Srna - Shakhtar Donetsk - Croatia
169-167
169: Bojan Krkic and Pedro - Barcelona - Spain
168: Ronaldinho - AC Milan - Brazil
167: Tranquillo Barnetta - Bayer Leverkusen - Switzerland
166-163
166: Stiliyan Petrov - Aston Villa - Bulgaria
165: Amauri - Juventus - Brazil
164: Dirk Kuyt - Liverpool - The Netherlands
163: Bruno Alves - FC Porto - Portugal

162:

Lorik Cana - Sunderland

Albania

Midfielder



Literally carrying teammates (here Nasri), what a hero!

Lorik Cana is one of the more limited players on this list technically, now that I think about it perhaps the most limited , meaning the rest of what he brings better be something special and all in all I think that it is.

Now it can of course be argued that this is a little too generous of a ranking but defensively I think he is the best midfielder so far, which counts for a lot.

Cana is the former Marseille captain and when he moved to Sunderland this season he immediately became captain there too and when you watch him play there is definitely a sense of this is a real leader trying to make the people around him better.
It's hard for an outsider to really judge something like that and generally it's something that is often probably quite overrated, but Cana really does seem to get acclaim from just about everyone as a great influence on his team.
If nothing else he definitely leads by example, head or feet first with non stop hard work for his team. The man just goes to war in every game.

So why then did he end up at Sunderland and not a better team like for an example Arsenal who over the summer were reported to be interested in his services?

I don't know why that move didn't materialize exactly. There could be many reasons not necessarily to do with Cana's strengths and weaknesses but generally I think it could be argued that his lack of technical skills just aren't a good match for many elite clubs and especially not a team like Arsenal where complementing teammates not just through defensive work but even more so through technique is essential.

Can a team that match in and match out have to break down opponent defenses afford to have a midfielder like Cana who compared to other top players offers far more on the defensive front than anywhere else.
I definitely think that Cana would instantly become the best defensive midfielder for Arsenal and even though they're all improving to various extents I'd say outside of Fabregas (ldo) he'd become the best midfielder too, BUT, and that's the problem, still the worst technical player of the bunch by some distance which even if he is the best "overall", would end up making that team worse!
It's better then for Arsenal to count on someone who is ever improving like Alex Song who is becoming good defensively plus on top of that has a lot of natural ability making him a good fit in the gunners possession game. Technically and physically.
My one complaint about him is that he is slow but Cana isn't the exactly the quickest either, so there...

For Sunderland however, who play very differently than Arsenal and at a lower level obviously, there isn't any real danger of him looking out of place and here he is actually a nice combination of decent skills (cause I hope I haven't made him sound worse technically than he is. He is also good at keeping it simple) good tactical play and of course that trademark fierce physical play of his.

161:

Carlton Cole - West Ham

England

Striker




Before getting injured Carlton Cole was enjoying an excellent start to the season playing on an, at least to me, unforeseen very high level.

Through great athleticism and forward skills to go along with it he was creating goals not just for himself but with some superior displays up front resembling the guy who probably does it better than anyone Didier Drogba, for the players around him as well.

Needless to say West Ham who are currently struggling at the bottom of the table desperately needs him back and personally I'd love to see how he would complement someone like Italian energy bunny Alessandro Diamanti, still adjusting to England in many ways, who would not only love all the space Cole seems to create but also be provided with a great target he could aim his very good left foot at.

I think getting something special going there is what could get West Ham to safety in the table.

That Cole arguably hasn't proven that he exists at a high level over a longer period of time counts a little against him too (maybe it should have counted more) but like other relatively unproven players making the list I don't see (other than in his case some worrying injury concerns) why the good play shouldn't continue for years to come.

160:

Lukas Podolski - FC Köln

Germany

Forward



After some seasons spent mostly failing to shine at Bayern München, Podolski is now back at FC Köln the club where he first broke through, but to my great surprise things STILL aren't going well and at the time of writing only has 1 goal in 15 games and predictably have to endure seeing his name on much less flattering lists (compared to this one!) such as "biggest Bundesliga flops of the season".

Fortunately for Podolski, Alexandr Hleb like already touched upon in the Pogrebnyak writeup (who is on as well btw), was there to wipe competition away and take first.

Of course a lot to do with Podolski's placement on my list is connected to what I've seen from him on the national team where I've almost always have found myself very impressed by his performances.
Comfortable both as a forward and wing he's again and again shown great explosiveness in the final third where his work especially with Miroslav Klose have resulted in one goal after another.
Quite frankly the quality shown for the national team indicates a player who could be ranked much higher, but consistency is the major worry.

Podolski is still only 24 and I expect his play to pick up sooner rather than later.
If it doesn't and he is once again relegated with Köln then perhaps he shouldn't just have been lower but maybe not included at all.

mandag den 28. december 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 166-163

In between these updates I really want to make a follow up to the Season so far entry that focused on England (which is looking really interesting this year btw), as well as some kind of half season review of at least some of the other leagues.

So yeah, stay tuned to see if I eventually get around to that.

But on with the list:

First the Introduction (zzz) to the list.

And as usual the list so far:

200-195
200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194-193
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192-189
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187-185
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184-182
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181-177
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England
176-173
176: Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey
175: Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina
174: Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - The Netherlands
173-170
173: William Gallas - Arsenal - France
172: Shaun Wright Phillips - Manchester City - England
171: Pavel Pogrebnyak - VBF Stuttgart - Russia
170: Darijo Srna - Shakhtar Donetsk - Croatia
169-167
169: Bojan Krkic and Pedro - Barcelona - Spain
168: Ronaldinho - AC Milan - Brazil
167: Tranquillo Barnetta - Bayer Leverkusen - Switzerland

166:

Stiliyan Petrov - Aston Villa

Bulgaria

Midfielder




The current Aston Villa captain was voted Aston Villa's player of the year last season by his teammates as well as their fans and he is rewarding Martin O'Neill's confidence in him with some very solid play.

Petrov and O'Neill of course go back to when they were together at Celtic. Petrov won four league titles there but it's interesting how his role and play has changed almost completely from what he was known as then (at least by me who didn't see Celtic that much) and what he does now at a higher level being the captain for a top 4 contender in England.

For Celtic I saw him as a dynamite attacking midfielder who was talented enough to rack up both goals and assists. He scored 55 goals for Celtic in 228 games while for Aston Villa he isn't anywhere near that pace and has just 4 in 106.
Now obviously club and league wise those are two different situations but so is clearly Petrov's role.

While Aston Villa has good depth on their wings and when it comes to more attacking players, in central midfield with Gareth Barry leaving and Steve Sidwell being a flop, they would be in terrible shape if Petrov hadn't been able to do as good a job there like he has. Maybe you could even go as far as to say that they'd have no realistic challenge for the top 4.

In fact it doesn't really look like they miss Barry much at all and while that most certainly also has a whole lot to do with some Villa players still to come on this list, I think a former primarily attacking player like Petrov deserves huge credit for going in as comfortably as he has, doing a great job of good all round technical and physical midfield play.

165:

Amauri - Juventus

Brazil
(at least for now)

Striker



Oh how he has fallen since I started making this list...

Amauri along with the rest of his team is struggling terribly at the moment and very few things are working, including the play up front where Amauri is still the most usual suspect.

He has great athleticism, not least strength but also decent pace for someone with his target-man characteristics.

He actually used to be able to play a pretty good wide forward in 3 forward lines but a serious knee injury while still at Palermo took away some of his speed I think.

When he came back though he showed so much quality as more of target-man type of forward that Juventus still did not hesitate signing him for big money. In what at the beginning didn't look like a bad move.

In his first season for Juventus with a partner up front (either the similar Iaquinta or the not similar at all Del Piero) in Ranieri's 4-4-2 he at times performed at a very high level.
The kind of impressive level not only suggesting, depending on citizenship, filling out the hole left by the fading Luca Toni for Italy as well as a much higher placement on this list.

Since then it's all gone to hell though and while I very much against popular opinion, thought he kept his performances at an admirably decent level, on a team with a new inexperienced coach that just wasn't functioning, in the beginning of this season, he has since then fallen to pieces along with most of his surroundings and whether or not a lot of it is really out of his hands and his situation in the Juventus attack would be tough to overcome for almost anyone, it would be very hard to justify any higher ranking for someone playing as poorly as Amauri is at the moment.

He is definitely a lot closer to joining Juventus forward-fallouts from this list like Del Piero and Iaquinta than climbing any higher, but at least he has his health going for him which was the final piece of undoing for the other two.

164:

Dirk Kuyt - Liverpool

The Netherlands

Forward




And here is another player who has found himself in a very bad situation this season and the poor performances that tends go along with that.

Generally Kuyt is not very kindly looked upon by a lot of fans in the first place. What's the use of a forward who doesn't score goals anyway, right?

And then this season with his team really struggling and him obviously not being able to do anything even coming close to changing that, is something that surely hasn't done much to change all the negative opinions about him.

But what I like about Kuyt is his running and work rate. That he is very good without the ball basically all over the pitch. Whether that's defensive work like putting pressure on the opponents and/or defending his wing, or if it's offensively in the final third where his tireless running diagonal or deep, take your pick, presents teammates with a mobile target.
Then when he gets it (current Liverpool it's really much more a case of IF) he is capable with both head and feet to do good things.

Now I'm not claiming Kuyt is a good passer or anything like that but he has good enough ball-control to make sharp turns with the ball enabling him to get either shots on goal (FWIW like everyone else he DID score in abundance in Holland) or makable passes.

Mind you this is in the final third with the ball, because while Kuyt has a lot of value without the ball almost anywhere, with the ball he is pretty useless in most places (this is one area where someone like Rooney is so much better) and can actually be pretty destructive to quality possession if he keeps getting it in places he shouldn't.

Fortunately at his best with his great stamina he is able run himself into right positions without the ball and the right positions in the final third where can be constructive if he gets it or if he doesn't at least create space for the likes of Torres and Gerrard.

Unfortunately this season a lot of that work just seems wasted and in what I suspect is a damaging combination of Liverpool having lost Xabi Alonso, their one midfielder with a great range of passing, and having acquired an attacking right-back in Glen Johnson, it does seem like Kuyt more than ever is getting the ball where he just isn't any good.

Either because he finds himself somewhat further back cause the new fullback loves to come forward a lot, or because the two remaining central midfielders Lucas and Mascherano just doesn't have the deep pass, or any playmaking ability, in their arsenal but time and time again instead passes it short, often sideways, which is where we find Kuyt then, standing still, not making forwards runs and unable to do much positive at all.

And last and possibly least here is a random Dirk Kuyt fact:

He finished 2nd in the Actim Index last season behind Nicolas Anelka and ahead of Frank Lampard who was 3rd.

163:

Bruno Alves - FC Porto


Portugal


Defender




To be honest I don't see all that much of Bruno Alves.

FC Porto isn't on tv a lot here with the exceptions being when they occasionally play a European giant in the Champions League group stage or of course when they've qualified for the knockout stages.

I saw more of him this year for Portugal though (they were in Denmark's qualifying group) where manager Carlos Queiroz started playing Pepe as a defensive midfielder which made room for Alves to play alongside Carvalho in the central defense.

Alves had started playing there already alongside Pepe filling in for Carvalho when he had been out injured and I guess did so well that he kept the spot when Carvalho eventually came back.

The Carvalho/Pepe partnership had already suffered an early very unfortunate 2-3 disaster home against Denmark and while following that they struggled mightily scoring goals, some of it I remember as bad luck, defensively for what its worth after Alves took his place in the central defense, they only allowed 2 more goals in the remaining 8 group games and went unbeaten.

So with that and Pepe's recent season ending injury it does look increasingly likely that it will be Bruno Alves we'll see in central defense for Portugal during the World Cup where they'll face Cote D'Ivoire and Brazil in the group of death.

For Porto where he is the captain he has been the defensive stalwart for years and is currently on 4 consecutive league titles.
He is athletic, strong in the air, a tough tackler and last season he won the Portuguese footballer of the year award!

mandag den 21. december 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 169-167

Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
194-193
192-189
188
187-185
184-182
181-177
176-173
173-170

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England
176: Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey
175: Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina
174: Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - The Netherlands
173: William Gallas - Arsenal - France
172: Shaun Wright Phillips - Manchester City - England
171: Pavel Pogrebnyak - VBF Stuttgart - Russia
170: Darijo Srna - Shakhtar Donetsk - Croatia

It continues:

169:

Bojan Krkic and Pedro - Barcelona - Spain

Forwards






The first and only shared ranking on this list I promise!

For some reason it just seemed appropriate.

In some ways it could be argued that they're both a little too unproven to sit this comfortable on the list or even to be included at all.

Bojan is someone who has been surrounded by a lot of hype since pretty much day one of his adulthood but this season so far has been slow for him and he now finds himself fighting for playing time, with among others of course Pedro, who unlike Bojan, at least for outsiders, kind of came out of the blue this season after previously mostly playing for Barcelona B .
He had just 5 first team starts last season and didn't really make much of a mark.

This season however with stars such as Iniesta, Henry and Bojan all battling fitness issues he received a chance to play first team Barca football and took it so well that he still, following all of these stars to various extents having been back, is getting plenty of playing time.

Pedro is a skilled attacking player who can make effective runs so that the Barca playmakers can find him and then when he gets the ball he has excellent control.

He is comfortable on either wing and he seems superior to Bojan when it comes to such things as general effectiveness in the area, especially centrally and not least in Guardiola's all important systematic immediate pressure on the opposition ball-holder whenever possession's been lost.

Spain manager del Bosque has declared him a serious candidate for the World Cup and considering the absurd amount of talent he is up against at his position that's a serious endorsement of the kind of talent that he has been displaying this season.
The kind of talent that in just a few months could make this list look rather silly by not having been included!

Yesterday when he scored one of the goals in Barcelona's World Club Championship win over Estudiantes he even set the curious record of being the first player to score in six different competitions in a single season following strikes in the European Super Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, the Champions League and the Spanish Super Cup...

Then there is Bojan who it needs to be said is three years younger than Pedro and has already been a star for years, with a much slower start to the season and it could be argued that even last season was a personal disappointment for him. But then again expectations were very high.

He just has those glimpses of great pace and extraordinary dribbling skills that make people expect the world of him.
And that he in stature and style reminds people of his teammate Messi doesn't help lowering expectations either.

Physically is where the obvious improvements can be made. Bojan is a very skilled finisher (over the years he has nettet 500 goals for various Barca youth teams) but needs better off the ball work so he can find himself in better positions more often (when playing with the big boys). Especially when we're talking centrally in the final third.
He is much better coming from the wing where he can use his acceleration into actual space but then another physical problem enters in that he can't defend very well and that rivals like Henry, Iniesta, Messi and now Pedro are more able to put effective pressure on the opponent ballholder whenever the possession is lost.

168:

Ronaldinho - AC Milan - Brazil


Forward



Not on the first,second or third version of this list but with some timely reminders lately of the incredible talent that's still there, the clown prince makes a late entry after all.

But first let's take a look at why he almost didn't make it.

While he is still a supremely skilled player he has been something of a team killer in recent years. Killer of his own teams that is.

Because of what I presume must be poor physical condition, cause he is still only 29 which is a decent football age, he just doesn't have any movement without the ball anymore.
That he doesn't work when his team isn't in possession is not anything new of course. That's never been his role in the first place. But when he never makes runs or has movement off the ball he is generally just too easy to mark.
Then when he 4 or 5 times a game he will make a run he will often be too out of breath to do anything effectively once he gets the ball.
Too often it has seemed like he wasn't able to keep up with the tempo at the highest level anymore, which when you think about it is pretty sad for a 29 year old who among millions of people is still one of the utmost talented this game.

Personally I'm convinced that a significant part of Barcelona's historic improvement from the last season under Rijkaard to first season under Guardiola was the black hole that had become Ronaldinho wherever he was on the pitch now being gone from the lineup.
His extreme case of non work simply limited the team in too many ways. With the ball he reduced the movement of the whole team and without it, for starters, something like effective pressure on opponent possession could never be very effective.

Even last season in what was his debut season for Milan it was when Ancelotti started benching him that results finally improved for Milan and they started a rapid climb up the table. Coincidence? I think not!

So why is this clown even on the list? Why is this season different?

It really isn't that much different from what I can tell. I still see many of the same negative things from him and him now being given a whole left-wing to occupy in a 4-3-3 by new Milan coach Leonardo, where he can then mostly stand still or sometimes go for walks, he still hurts his team's balance consistently throughout games.

But what can't be denied is that he is an extraordinary playmaker when he gets the ball out there.
He doesn't really have the energy/pace/whatever to dribble much anymore, but he'll make great passes that very few can even think of. Short, forward, long, diagonal or cross, he'll do it all and with two other forwards to look for and a player like Seedorf coming from behind often ending up somewhere near him, he's been quite effective lately and he leads Serie A in assists. It's when Milan doesn't have the ball where the real trouble starts but with it and Ronaldinho, parked out on the wing, he has actually become value.

Leonardo seems to have just accepted that off the ball Ronaldinho just isn't good enough anymore in order to not be, a way too easy mark so to speak, so he has placed him so far out left field that he really is beyond normal marking unless you wanna man mark him for some reason.
For long periods of the game he is just out there almost glued to the sideline and yeah most players wouldn't be able do much of anything from out there especially not when they're slow and not much of a threat to cut well inside, but Ronaldinho he'll somehow make things happen from out there.
Say one great first touch, follow it up with some genius pass and the man (the clown) has created a dangerous situation, and that without much effort at all.

He is too skilled not to be on the list :(

167:

Tranquillo Barnetta - Bayer Leverkusen - Switzerland

Midfielder




Now here is a player who I honestly have no idea how is looked upon. What people think of him or how highly or not so highly (at all) that he is rated. If rated at all??

For Switzerland he has been a key player for years now helping them impressively through qualifications to major tournaments. Not an easy thing to accomplish for a small nation.
In Germany I have less of an idea how he has been doing game in and game out. From one season and on to the next. All I can say is that whenever I've seen him there is always something I really like.

Barnetta is just an all-round player in every sense of the word. He will make effective contributions to both defense and attack. Without the ball he has good movement always looking for space and even with the ball he has nice things to offer. Not like some of the previously ranked players in this update but still, he is a skilled player who can run with the ball himself or try and create chances for others through passing.

He is also a versatile player who can get the job done in several positions. Be it on either wing or central.

The man is even good on set pieces where he is always a danger to collect an assist.

All in all this is starting to sound like a player who should be even higher?

Well he is someone who has been connected with big clubs before and seeing what he could regularly do at the highest level would tell us a lot more of how good he really is (or just seeing him flop there) and to what extent this is a case of good at most things but great at none we have here with Barnetta, certainly for Switzerland in major competitions it could be argued that exactly has been the case. That it's mostly been rather ordinary.

It's possible that this year with Leverkusen will tell us a lot one way or the other. They have just secured the "winter championship" in Germany meaning they're leading at the traditional winter break and just how far they can go from that will not only depend on, but should tell us a lot, about how good, not just Barnetta really is, but other players (still to come on the list) from that team as well.

It will be interesting to watch.

fredag den 18. december 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 173-170

Three more players.

Again relatively short writeups.

Instead of the Semak's of the world getting all the words and all the space, I guess I'm now saving it for the Xavis and the Kakas instead.

Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
194-193
192-189
188
187-185
184-182
181-177
176-173

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England
176: Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey
175: Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina
174: Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - The Netherlands
173: William Gallas- Arsenal - France

172:

Shaun Wright-Phillips - England - Manchester City

Winger




Pace and considerable dribbling skills are of course SWP's very well known strengths.

Added I think to his game in recent years also is a very good work-rate and while that still wasn't good enough for him to regularly get games at Chelsea (bought for a staggering 21m£, he was a massive flop) for Manchester City he has at least some the time without the ball been able to hold his own without that much help on his wing.
When under pressure though he definitely becomes a major liability defensively where he is a poor player.

171:

Pavel Pogrebnyak - Russia - VBF Stuttgart


Striker



Big strong center forward who can be a very useful target-man actually creating more for others than himself.
Be it with his head or with his back to the goal in narrow space making use of his strength as well as his good technical skills.

Like similar players Pogrebnyak will look clumsy at times but his short passing and ball control skills are both very good. He is also a really smart player who reads the game well and makes good decisions accordingly.

What he still hasn't proven though is that he is a great goal scorer ( (likely he just isn't).

H is not the type of striker who will consistently make sharp runs in between defenders into the dangerous area. Neither with or without the ball, so he really does need, most of the time, for players to create for him, if he is to get consistent goalscoring opportunities.
I think that his movement between the defensive midfield and the backline is superb. Whether it's sideways or drifting back seeking the ball, but his forward movement compared to that is rather ordinary and exposes his lack acceleration.

His new team Stuttgart who has a bad start to the season hopefully are not expecting Pogrebnyak to score in abundance like Stuttgart goal-heroes from the past.
He is much more a team player where an effective attack involving many players can be build, more than he is anykind of individual goal scoring machine.

Unfortunately for Stuttgart one integral part of such an attack would be a skilled pacy striker who could work alongside Pogrebnyak and feed off his qualities, but while they do have some young striker talent I'm not sure if they are good enough (yet at least) for Stuttgart to seriously challenge this season.
Then there is someone like Brazilian born Cacau, but I see him more as a second-striker type of player and the few times I have watched Stuttgart this season him and Pogrebnyak haven't had the best of understandings and not complemented each other very well.

A more likely recipe for success would be Stuttgart's on paper impressive core of good midfielders with at least some things to offer coming forward. They could work well with Pogrebnyak.
Khedira, Kuzmanovic and Hitzlsperger all have things to offer both ways but of course most helpful for everyone would be if Alexander Hleb would FINALLY snap out of his drought and rediscover some form.


170:

Darijo Srna - Croatia - Shakhtar Donetsk

Fullback/Winger



Srna can play both as a fullback (wingback in this case if you will) and a winger.

In neither role he is as flashy as other people on the list. As a wing, while he does have good pace, he can't dribble like a Lavezzi or Shaun Wright Phillips but compensates fully by instead being an effective hard working (up and down his flank all game long) player who is blessed with great right foot.

He uses that for high caliber crosses, dangerous set pieces or simply powerful shots on goal.

He captains his club team Shakhtar Donetsk and has had a lot of success there collecting league titles as well as most impressively last season's UEFA Cup.

Still playing where he does means I don't see him play all that much except for sometimes in European competition and internationally for Croatia. It's possible this has hurt his ranking.

mandag den 23. november 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 176-173

Hey the list is back!

Finally.

The goal is a lot more updates at least until Christmas where things inevitably will be delayed some.

Certainly I can't wait to reach top 100 where the players chosen and their placings have been much more set unlike the 100-200 ranked players where I find myself constantly changing things up.

Anyways here is the update:

Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
194-193
192-189
188
187-185
184-182
181-177

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England

176:

Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey

Midfielder/Forward




A difficult player to rank since I don't see him very often.

He is probably the most talented player coming out of Turkey since Emre Belözoğlu.

Emre who after an up and down time abroad now is back in Turkey, and who a little surprisingly is still only 29.

Emre seems to have been around forever but right now I would say I have even less of an idea of how he is doing than Arda Turan, and therefore perhaps mistakenly didn't even consider him for the list.
At EURO 2008 Emre unfortunately got injured in the opening game and instead it was Arda who shined and also Arda who makes the list!

For years and years heralded as one of Europe's prime talents, Arda Turan is now 22, captain of Galatasaray, has 34 caps for his country and is already quite an experienced player.

He has very good technical ability. Dribbling, shooting and passing and creates goals for himself and for teammates. He is also comfortable on either wing, as well as playing up front working with a striker.
Something like his work-rate I have to admit I'm not really sure of so I can't say whether that's a strength or weakness of his, but if I was to point to something of the latter I would say his athletic ability doesn't seem to be all that great. Neither when it comes to strength or real speed, and that's what keeps him behind the next ranked player and others to yet to come. And the difference in level of competition that he faces.
Hopefully like Emre before him, we'll see Arda in one of the top leagues in not too many years.

175:

Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina

Winger/Forward



A notoriously inconsistent performer Lavezzi has unique acceleration going for him. In fact I think it's safe to say that with the ball at his feet he must be a candidate for the fastest player around.
That of course also tells you something about his very good control and great balance. His "Tevez like" stockiness and low center of gravity helps too. Though not as strong or hardworking as Tevez he is definitely faster.

The downside is that it just seems like he doesn't get enough out of those qualities and therefore at times isn't all that effective and helpful to his team.

He doesn't consistently make good or even right decisions. In fact he often picks the worst solutions and his passing skills aren't that good either. And rarely good enough to create. That could easily have a lot to do with bad decision making of course but either way at the moment it just isn't good enough.

Then there is his questionable stamina and/or fitness. If Napoli really do fulfill their ambitions of European football, could Lavezzi even make good contributions twice a week?

His skills on the ball are so unique that he still makes the list but he needs to improve in other areas in my view to have any chance of climbing to somewhere much higher on the list, where I'm sure a lot of people, overly impressed by his skills, would feel he should be placed.


174:

Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - Netherlands

Striker




Currently having something of a nightmare season for his new club AC Milan which has hurt his ranking a lot.

How much of it is his own fault though I'm not really sure. At the moment Milan is playing with three forwards where one of them, Ronaldinho is pretty much immobile and then to have Huntelaar in there too who does almost all his work exclusively in the box is a bit too much of a balance destroyer and would expose the very thinly occupied midfield behind even further than what's going on at the moment.

Marco Borriello who plays instead of Huntelaar and enjoying something of a resurrection this year, after his own struggles settling at Milan last season, isn't as impressive as Huntelaar can be in the box or as dangerous, but he is good at that too and more versatile when it comes to other things. And he is mobile and has some pace which the Milan lineup desperately needs.

So as long as that system is rewarded with results and Borriello as well as Ronaldinho shows reasonable form it's going to be tough for Huntelaar to establish himself in the lineup.

But all those things are far from given and I'm pretty confident that alone up front with more midfielders behind him or in a partnership with basically any of the other Milan forwards that Huntelaar's striker qualities would come through and he would be scoring a decent amount of goals in Serie A too.


173:

William Gallas- Arsenal - France


Defender




In some ways this is the Kolo Toure writeup all over again except there have definitely been times where I haven't thought of Gallas very highly.
Perhaps mistakenly, but to me he often seemed like an erratic defender who while hugely talented was guilty of costly bonehead plays.

At the moment I'm not really seeing that. In fact he does an admirable job of keeping things together in the Arsenal central defense together with his colleague Vermaelen often directly preventing dangerous situations.
Meanwhile at City (albeit arguably with an even harder job for Mark Hughes erratic lineups, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't!) Toure often not at 100 percent isn't really doing the same.

Gallas good track record shouldn't be ignored either.

Previously for Chelsea whether playing as a fullback, something he probably still has the speed to do, or in central defense with John Terry, he was in no way a liability on what was a very good defensive team under Mourinho winning the league two years in a row.

For France also he was part of the near flawless defensive efforts that took apart both Spain and Brazil on the way to the final at the 2006 World Cup.

Gallas despite not having great height impressively rarely misses a beat in the air which speaks volumes about his athleticism.
At 32 now his agility and speed really seems as good as it always was and he is of course very good with the ball as well.
He is also something of a threat to score from set pieces.

With age and experience the errors (bad positioning/bad decisions) have become rare. It lands him at 173!

tirsdag den 10. november 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 181-177

Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
194-193
192-189
188
187-185
184-182

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia

And it continues:


181:

Martin Demichelis - Bayern Münich - Argentina

Defender/Midfielder




The thing he is holding there is his talisman. Maybe it's what saved him from being dumped from the list? Cause it got pretty pretty (Larry David style) pretty close.

At first I had Demichelis much higher. I was thinking here is someone who can do a good job both as a central defender and defensive midfielder. That's some value right there and a very useful player I thought.
He was ahead of so many of the players coming up, but at some point for whatever reason it just started looking silly. It looked wrong!
And it's entirely possible that some of the players he is STILL ahead of STILL makes it look a little silly. I'm not even sure anymore...

I'm not sure how much defensive midfielder he has actually played in recent years either, and also recently it hasn't exactly been easy to look any good at all as a central defender for Bayern.
Worst of course last season when Klinsmann was still the manager and made it a rule to organize the team in a fashion ensuring as many defensive holes as humanly possible.
That has cost lower ranked Lucio some spots I'm sure, and someone who I suspect would look good on a lot of teams, Daniel Van Buyten didn't even make the list.

Demichelis however remains. He is pretty good at everything in two different positions. That's not so bad when you think about it.

I hope!

180:

Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium

Midfielder



The most expensive Belgium player of all time and Everton's highest purchase of all time as well, unfortunately hasn't had a great start to the season and that has affected his ranking some.

However with how good he was last season, a key contributor to Everton's impressive repeat 5th place in the league, I expect him to perform much better, sooner rather than later.

Fellaini is something increasingly rare these days, a tremendous box to box player. He defends. He attacks. From one end to the other. He has great stamina and can really put it to use.

Then there is his his height which makes him effective in the air. Something always useful whether in his own team's box or the opponent's, where he has shown himself to be a good goalscoring threat.

When it comes to passing he is not as impressive as some of the midfielders already listed and it's possible his ball control could improve as well, but make no mistake about it, with his size, despite looking skinny he does have great balance which of course really helps.

He is someone potentially commanding football games but I do think he could improve his defensive discipline. Work hard is one thing, needlessly flying around in tackles is another and he'd well adviced to put that great energy into great positional play moreso than into reckless tackles.

If he can improve/add even some of those elements to his impressive box to box play he will have an excellent case for a much much higher placing.


179:

Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia

Fullback/Central defender




I'm not sure what there have been more of in recent years for Zapata, various injury problems or various big clubs he has been linked to.

I think that with a good injury free run he would have been at a big club already and very likely higher ranked too. That hasn't happened though but with the athleticism and skill he has shown both as a central defender and right-back he just had to make the list.

And while he may settle, depending on where he ends up, as "just" a central defender, his size would indicate such, I think that right now there aren't really many if any, as able as Zapata to play both as a central defender and fullback as well as him when on form.

Unfortunately it's only been in glimpses and last season especially was disappointing. I even remember some horrible individual errors in Serie A when he played but I wonder how much of that was due to the lack of a good injury free run, in fact he was coming back from missing 6 months, errors like those are not really something I remember from the seasons where he played more and I haven't seen any this year either.

Anyway it's too early to say if his sky high potential has been severely damaged by the injuries or how much they will affect him in the future.
With this ranking I'm definitely not writing him off but also being a bit cautious as I'm still uncertain where exactly he is right now, let alone how far he will go.
If this was made a couple of years ago, before all the adversity, I don't think I would have hesitated jumping the gun and based on his obvious talent and high level of play, ranked him very high.
Just like I have with some of the, yet to come, young stars now.
Who I hope will have a lot more luck with injuries than Zapata.

178:

Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia

Midfielder




Yet another really tough player to rank. Some years ago, Ballon d'Or nominee and everything, a a much higher ranking would have seemed obvious, but rightly or wrongly, it's my impression that Cahill has slowed down some, or at least at the moment isn't quite on the same level as the last few years.

He still has a good work rate and in the opponent's penalty area of course is a very proven goal scorer with both head (especially that) and feet but overall it just seems that it's to a lesser extent than before.

Though decent enough in his own right Cahill's never been a great technical player, this list will be full of better ones, but what set(s) him apart are the things above (workrate/goalscoring) and if those two great qualities are lesser now because of presumably less effective movement he loses some real value.
Though he is not old yet at 29, he has had some serious injuries along the way and that could be a reason for any correctly perceived slowdown or decline.

One interesting thing to look out for at Everton is to what extent Cahill and Fellaini will play together or if one, they do share a lot of qualities, will be preferred over the other. Earlier this season manager David Moyes expressed doubts over fitting them both in at the same time and commented it was a real dilemma.

I suspect for now at least, just like on this list, Cahill will still be ahead but if not able to find room for both (Arteta at some point will come back too) I don't think Cahill should be given a long a leach at all.
Meaning if he isn't just as effective in the final third as he used to be, Fellaini younger and stronger likely will be, it's only a matter of time anyway, and should be given the chance.


177:


Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England

Midfielder




35 years old now and obviously not going... Quite as strong.

When he first came up, if anyone remember, he was actually a striker but that was relatively short lived and he quickly became a very good attacking midfielder and then at some point gradually developed into a superb all around midfielder contributing effectively both to attack and defense, and doing it day in and day out.

That I think is the biggest difference from now and to then. Then being when he was one of the very best in the world. Say at least 100 places better than this.
He does still have those games where he will do all the things he is so good at and do it almost as good as ever, but it's not every game anymore, in fact it can be pretty far between sometimes. Too far between. There just isn't the same consistency.
If I think that Cahill has slowed down then I know that Paul Scholes has. But of course when it comes to quality he has something of a head start over most, hence him still being ranked ahead of a lot of very good players.

Scholes is a very good passer, probably underrated over the years when it comes to that, short or long and very direct, established attack or in transition, Scholes can deliver.
Especially when keeping the pressure on an opponent like Manchester United have done time and time again in the Ferguson era, Scholes has been a key player in forcing and forcing (and forcing!) the tempo, contributing through great work both with and without the ball, into reaching a final frenzy where eventually the poor opponents just could not keep up anymore and succumb. Usually by some time in the final minutes with United grabbing a late winner or equalizer...
Over the years I think, the higher the tempo the better the performance from Scholes. Dynamic runs, booming shots on goal, quick turns with the ball, crunching tackles and direct passing.
Scholes could do all those things very well even when the tempo was high (on the flip-side when it was not so high, like occasionaly in Europe, what most would stand out sometimes from Scholes would be those trademark dumb tackles).
But even if now as a veteran he can only bring that "A -game" some of the time it's still enough to earn him a place on the list

fredag den 6. november 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 184-182

Introduction to the list.

The list so far:

200-195
194-193
192-189
188
187-185

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel

And it continues:

184:

Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy

Midfielder




Montolivo was difficult to place. In some ways his performances when playing at the highest level for quite a few years now have been rather disappointing. That includes when given the chance for the national team and when asked to play a leading role for Fiorentina in Europe.

On the other hand he is such a complete player that a place among the 200 best would seem rather obvious.
He is a good technical player with a very nice range of passing and he has good ball control too.
He also works hard and defends well.

Still if it had not been for some very good performances this year, in Europe too, the disappointments of previous years, despite all that nice completeness , would have kept him off the list.

With a reputation of being a complete enigma, my theory is just that Montolivo early was asked to do too much. Not that I really blame the club for asking a lot from someone, for some years, seen as their best player. Who else would they ask?
But Montolivo consistently just wasn't able to be an attacking midfielder, with serious playmaker duties, as well as carry his weight defensively. At times it was just too much I think and Montolivo had some collapsing performances where he basically failed on all fronts. He didn't contribute well to attack, awful sometimes in fact, and he wasn't able to carry out his defensive duties either.

This season I'm more seeing a Montolivo with some much simpler tasks and it has really helped his performances.
The emergence of talented players in front of him like Vargas (moving him further forward has been a great move) and of course Jovetic, plus the clever signing of Marchionni, has relieved him of a lot of attacking duties.

He doesn't have to always be the one trying to make something happen anymore. With attempted passes or runs.
Now a lot of the time he can just concentrate on more simple distribution to the people around him and they too can make something happen. In fact they're more likely to!

As a result we're now seeing Montolivo less often in the final third where he has struggled with less space. Because Fiorentina now have players who can do great things even there. In the tightest of spots.
Montolivo then from further back can start counter attacks or seek out people with a deep ball, under not so much pressure and much more comfortable. OR just do something simple.
He isn't the best attacking player anymore and he isn't forced to pretend that he is.

This has of course also done wonders for his defensive performances where it's been a lot easier to maintain good position when not having to play catch up from failed attacking duties.

Could it be argued then that Montolivo really has made the list cause of great teammates who've made him look better?

I think that had he done very well with his previous huge responsibility that it would have been something worthy of a much higher placing. But he just isn't that good.
I do think however that in this current role that he is showing enough good things to earn a spot around this mark.
WITH a chance to get higher if it continues. He is better technically than some players still to come and pretty good defensively too, a little worse than some. A little better than others!

Last but not least a random thing about him which I didn't know but found interesting (liked even) when I read it on Wikipedia:

Somewhat unusually for an Italian footballer, Montolivo has publicly stated he is an atheist.


How about that?

183:

Kolo Toure - Manchester City - Côte d'Ivoire

Defender




Kolo Toure is someone who in his career has been called everything from terrible to excellent.

All the while during that I've always thought he was very good, but certainly at times last season doubts crept in while at times watching what looked like a quite shaky Arsenal defense.

However like I talked about in the introduction to this list I do believe such things very easily can have to do with the overall defensive balance of the team, which for Arsenal last year lead by central midfielders with some way to go still, certainly wasn't great.

In previous seasons even when still inexperienced at what was a new position, on more balanced teams, Toure has looked just great though, with the prime example being Arsenal's incredible unbeaten 03-04 title winning season where he was a key player in defense on a very well balanced team.
Another example was Arsenal's 2006 Champions League run where they reached the final and along the way managed an impressive 10 consecutive clean sheets.
It's special times like those when central defenders receive a lot of praise and Toure was no exception, getting recognition as one of the best in the world at his position.

Since then those kind of words and Kolo Toure in the same sentence have been much more rare.

I think he is basically the same player though. Maybe even slightly stronger now than then and of course more experienced.
He still has great athletic ability. Can win headers and save his team with great tackles.

And with secure ball control, he can still make those impressive runs forward.

He is neither as great as he may have looked when Arsenal's been good or as bad as he may have looked when they've struggled. Likely he is just somewhere in between.

With a decent start this season for his new team Manchster City, I say he is the 183rd best player in the world, is what he is!


182:

Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia

Fullback/Winger



Unfortunately as I write this Zhirkov hasn't had any chance to really do anything for his new team Chelsea.

This is something that hasn't helped his ranking.

For the Russian national team and from the occasional look at him for CSKA in Europe though, he has shown himself to be very skilled technical player who with consistent raids down the left wing could make life complicated for opposing defenses and create goal scoring chances for his team.

This could be done with dribbling, crossing or just by being talented enough to be a key part in often breathtaking combinations with skilled teammates.

Overall I thought Zhirkov was a peculiar signing by Chelsea. On the one hand their leftback depth behind Ashley Cole is a little suspect but on the other hand he seems way too good to be just that, a back up.

Zhirkov is also to an extreme degree an all out attacking back who is below par defensively and really much more someone resembling a winger.
So you could say then, that's what they did, they bought him as a winger?

But Chelsea currently doesn't really play with wingers.

In their midfield diamond there is the left central midfielder spot. Where both Malouda and Frank Lampard can do very well while it's a little unclear to me what exactly Zhirkov could do.
It does involve not insignificant defensive duties, nothing new for someone sometimes playing fullback of course, but with a lot of action for that position more central, I wonder what he could do there. He is not exactly a player you'd feel confident in winning physical midfield battles or even holding his own there.

Another option which we could be seeing, once among others Didier Drogba, is off to the African Nations Cup, would be just Nicolas Anelka up front and an extra midfielder then playing instead of Drogba.
That would make room for Lampard in a central midfield attacking role and Zhirkov could play as the left-wing fighting/rotating the spot "just" with Malouda (interestingly with a new 4 year extension) as his main competition.
And of course this could be an option whenever one of Anelka/Drogba wouldn't be available.

All in all it's definitely premature to call Zhirkov the next Alexey Smertin at the club. Smertin who barely played in 3 years at the club. Arguably Zhirkov is a lot better anyway, but it does look like things won't be easy and it definitely hasn't been a great start for him.

onsdag den 4. november 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 187-185

The list so far:

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy

And it continues with:


187:


Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland

Midfielder



Now at 33 years of age, few if any active players have achieved more in their careers than Seedorf.

He has won the Champions League title an incredible four times with three different teams (Ajax, Real Madrid and twice with Milan) and league titles in Holland, Spain and Italy.

For his national team it's been a far more bumpy ride but that's a whole other story...

Throughout his long career Seedorf has been a technical superb midfielder, one that could be used in any role there almost, able to make fine passes, short, long or cross and with his great ball control beat guys with his dribbling skills or participate in sweet combinations with skilled teammates.

These days due to age what he has lost is some pace. That in itself is very negative for any player.

He has probably lost some stamina too, though he certainly still works quite hard in most games.
But if we're talking game after game then it could be argued that he hasn't really been able to perform at a high level consistently in recent years. There are longer between the really good games you could say, and the bad ones make more appearances than they used to.

I'm not sure how much truth there is to it exactly, but I've certainly heard more than one Milan fan over the years suggest that Seedorf saved his best for the Champions League games while often being quite mediocre in Serie A.

What Seedorf has added though, and with him being part of (and at times contributing to) an aging struggling Milan team, the deciding factor in him still making this list, IS some real "veteran savvy".
He just plays smart and reads the game very well I think, relies on that more, now that his body isn't quite able to do what it once was.

You could say that there is at least one of Seedorf's midfield teammates who maybe it would do some good if he could somehow learn from that.

186:

Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain

Winger



Diego Capel is a very explosive winger. He has great acceleration, only knows one way, that is of course forward, and with the always impressive high energy that he brings to seemingly every game, can be an absolute terror for opposition defenders with his constant harassment.

I think that he especially excels when play is direct where as if the game is slower, for whatever reason, with more touches, that he loses some of his tremendous value compared to when the game is fast paced and of course especially compared to games where there are plenty of transition opportunities. The more of those for Capel, the better! He is really good in those situations.

In some ways of course the above is true for most players who thrives on pace but the really good ones of those I'll argue offer more to their teams and can vary their game more.
Be constructive in their actions further back in midfield. Just vary their play! Their whereabouts. Their passing. Their movement. Their play off teammates. Set a different tempo...

Capel it's my impression is just 100 percent dynamite winger who ideally should always get the ball when he can run effectively at someone or better, fast into space, like a Sevilla bull seing red, but of course that's not always possible and I'm not sure if other wing type of players (and I'm talking really really good ones much higher up including a certain teammate) don't offer more there.
Capel I don't feel have that many other dimensions to his game than run, dribble, cross the ball!
And that's actually fine when you do it all well like Capel does. I even think he can defend some too! But to get even higher up I think he needs to add even more to his game.

That he is seeing increased competition from talented teammate Diego Perotti I suspect could have to do with this as well. I'm actually not sure of Perotti, he doesn't have many games yet, but could he be a more well rounded player? Doing certain things better than Capel?

Yeah it's a tough world this but there is good news too! Capel is still only 21 and can only get better.

That is until of course, he gets old and slow... But that shouldn't happen for a while!

185:

Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel

Attacking midfielder



Good at comforting John Terry?

With Benayoun it's relative simple. With his good technical ability he is good at creating goalscoring chances.
He can pass a decisive ball and he can make a decisive run.

Elsewhere than in the final third his value goes significantly down and he really isn't able to contribute much. Not even with the ball, unless surrounded by very good players, like good wingers or good fullbacks coming forward, and definitely not without the ball.

I do think he has improved his workrate quite a bit but he is still a bad defensive player that makes Liverpool worse there when he plays.
That can be helped when he is sort of put out on the wing himself where he doesn't have to "fill as much" but then he will often spend a lot of time too far away from where he is really good, like when deep in his own half having to make up a lot of ground, and then can't contribute much either.

Ideally he would always play just behind a striker and with good technical players near him but at Liverpool that's the preferred spot of someone who is better.
Still when him and Gerrard do both play they can produce very good things, but the team mostly will be worse defensively. It is of course up to the manager what he prefers. Literally, one way or the other.

The 200 best players in the world: 188

One more before the Champions League games start. More later tonight.

188:

Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy

Midfielder




Injury problems throughout his career and barely having played yet this season is what keeps him this low.

But he has more than enough ability I feel to still make the list.

Aquilani is a very complete midfielder who while not as good defensively as defensive midfielders per se still is quite good and certainly better than most of the midfielders categorized, like he himself usually is, as attacking.
He is just disciplined when it comes to that part of the game and without being a strong tackler or anything does a good job of defending his zone.

I think for Liverpool, health permitting and possbily Rafa Benitez staying permitting, that there is a good chance, like his predecessor Xabi Alonso did and like other players under Benitez have, that he will make great improvements physically and then we could see a really strong two way player deserving of a far far higher ranking. But again, health permitting!

As okay as he is when it comes to the defensive part of the game, he is still way behind in those areas if you again compare him to someone like Alonso. But there are some other things he does on a similar level and some things he does even better.

First of all he is a good passer. In the short passing game he is generally secure and makes good decisions and he is able to execute deeper more direct passes as well.

Where he is definitely better than someone like Alonso though is in the final third playing in tighter space.
He can make quality runs in and around the penalty area both with and without the ball and has some play making ability there too. Unlike some of the previously ranked players who to some extent are restricted to only being able to do this further back in midfield.
He is of course also well known for having a good shoot from the outside.

I think all in all this reads like a player with enough quality to pass many players yet to come. But again and again bad health really hurts him. Hopefully it will less in the future. Both Liverpool and the Italian national team could of course really use him.

mandag den 2. november 2009

The 200 best players in the world: 192-189

The list so far:

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine

And it continues with:

192:

Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England

Wing - Forward



Like Ramos, Walcott is another player who had a rollercoaster ride up and down the positions of this list.

At 20 he is a player who definitely can still improve in a lot of areas.

Actually in a lot of those areas he might be one of the worst players on the list! However as everyone knows he has that great gift of speed and in the end I just didn't feel comfortable leaving someone so elite in that important differencemaking area off the list.

I think it's clear that when he has space available to him he is right up there in effectiveness with players ranked much higher.

With injury problems lately (and that counts against him too), a very good indication of exactly how good he is just now, will be to what extent he gets a run in Arsenal's new 4-3-3 this season and how well he performs. Will be interesting to watch!

191:

Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales

Midfielder



UPSET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No I haven't seen a lot of him but I'm confident that what I've seen is good enough.

Actually having seen him so little is probably what stops me from putting him even higher!
I'm being a little (too) careful. This is after all a player who is yet to play a whole lot on the highest level.
Sure, I suppose there is a chance that I'm overrating him. That it's ALL TOO SOON.
But what I seriously think I've seen would fully justify including him. Just because it's so rare and so few players got it. Ramsey he's got it!

He has that superb vision and playmaking ability that you only see from very few players and there is great technique too.

Ability, and this is where almost every talent of this type fails/develops into something else in the current game, on a high enough level to survive, to thrive in a climate of tight opposition team defense.

In fact on this whole list you only see it from a very small handful of players so what I think we have with Ramsey is a truly unique talent and possibly the most interesting talent to come out of the UK since Joe Cole (someone like Rooney was a bigger talent but of a nature that at least at the time was less interesting).
AND I do think Ramsey's playmaking ability is a level above what Joe Cole's was and the sick thing is, his technique is at least comparable too!

Even if somehow everything else about him is way below average I'd say that it's okay to include him here.

But let's take a look at some of the other things. Something like how good his movement is I'm not sure of yet and then there is his whole physical ability where there easily could be some way to go.
At least when he is on a team like Arsenal where coincidentally exactly the things Ramsey could bring, that some teams would die for him to bring, on his team IS one of those small handful of unique players who also just happens to be one of the best in the world, AT bringing those things.

I really have a feeling that Ramsey would start on most teams right now and it's really only a team who has someone like Fabregas already who can afford to hold such a gifted player back a little and instead fill the midfield around the big star with more primarely physically talented players.

Players who I might add arguably to some extent has been underachieving quite a bit, and I think Wenger's recent comments about how it's getting more and more difficult not to play Ramsey, is an indication that physically he is getting there too. And I hope so! Cause he will really need to.

With both him and Fabregas playing, even with such a team likely dominating possession, his workrate would have to be very high and he would have to be able to defend his midfield position reasonable well. Whether that would be putting on high pressure on the ball holder Barca style or tracking back transforming the 4-3-3 to more defensive formations when not in possession.

And last but not least here is an interesting article on him that I found:
When Cardiff City striker Jay Bothroyd was an 18-year-old coming through the youth system at Arsenal, his reaction to being substituted in the final of the Premier League Youth Cup immediately cost him his future at the club. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it scornfully at the coaches in the dugout. He was, literally, sent to Coventry, to restart his career.

In the hotly competitive world of youth football, where the most promising players are hunted by a pack of ­ravenous agents, scouts, and managers, it is rare to find the perfect combination of talent and temperament. Terry Burton, Cardiff's assistant manager, remembers the moment he clapped eyes on a boy called Aaron Ramsey, who immediately impressed on both counts.

"He had just left school and was only two weeks into his career and we drafted him into the team for a friendly at Merthyr Tydfil. He was excellent. He had this maturity and vision above his years." Burton got straight on the phone to the manager, Dave Jones, and told him Ramsey had to be included in the first-team squad for their pre-season trip to Portugal. The boy never looked back. His first full season, which began at the age of 16, ended with an appearance in the FA Cup final last May. "In a very short space of time he added to the small list of folk heroes at Cardiff," Burton adds. "Everyone loves their own, don't they?"

He was the one to tip off Arsène Wenger about this special kid at Ninian Park. Burton's connections go back to his time as an apprentice at Highbury, where he went on to coach and help bring through players such as Tony Adams. "I have been 20 years away from the Arsenal and I never really knocked on the door to recommend someone," he says. "But I did with Aaron. That's how impressive his qualities are.

"I spoke to Arsène just before they signed him. I was sitting with him in his office at the training ground and said: 'I'd really like to find something negative to say, but I can't.'" The worst he could come up with was that he was exceptionally quiet – ­surprisingly so for a lad nicknamed Rambo who wrote on his social networking ­webpage that he was scared of "nuffin".

As Burton explains: "Having come across a lot of London boys who obviously have a ­different type of personality, you didn't really know Aaron was about the place. Not on the pitch, though. As a character, that's where he comes to life. That's the best way, really."

Burton was also important in swinging Ramsey's decision away from Old Trafford and towards north London. "Manchester United were in, just after we had played in the Cup final. I said to Aaron: 'I don't know what is going to happen, but if you get the chance, ­consider Arsenal because of the way they play and the way you play.'"

Burton is sure there will be no resentment from Cardiff's vociferous fans this afternoon and says they are all very proud of him and how he is pushing on. It is easy to detect the improvements that come from working with, and against, faster technicians. "It is not very often that young players move up and get straight into the team," Burton says, smiling. "He did that at Cardiff and again with ­Arsenal. He'll be thinking the game is easy."

Not quite. Even though Wenger describes Ramsey, who was 18 on Boxing Day, as "ahead of schedule", he still has to take on board some valuable lessons. While he has caught the eye with some of his cameo appearances this season, a splendid first goal in the Champions League at Fenerbahce being the best example, on other occasions he has been guilty of preferring the flash over the safe option in the closing stages of nervily tight games. Nobody doubts that he will soon learn.

At the rate he is progressing, his home town of Caerphilly will soon no longer be famous just for producing cheese and Tommy Cooper.

190:

Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal

Defender



Even more so than Mexes earlier Pepe is incredibly naturally gifted.

Whatever the sum may be of his great athleticism and excellent technical ability, it's probably higher than for any other central defender on the list, or out there anywhere, I think quite similar to the young Lucio, so despite all the well known flaws, some seen on the picture above, leaving him off the list entirely I just didn't think was the correct choice.

Yeah he is a total nutcase and in the midst of any run of good form, sometimes looking dominant, he is capable of both defensive and epic mental breakdowns.

Hopefully he'll get his act together eventually. Based on talent alone he really should be up there with the very best central defenders.

189:

Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia

Central midfielder



Captain of the excellent Russian national team as well as the champions Rubin Kazan, this inclusion is somewhat of a tribute to the almost impossible win that Kazan secured over Barcelona.

There was definitely luck involved and Barcelona mostly dominated but Kazan still managed to do what teams astonishingly seldom have succeeded in doing against this historically great Barcelona team, and actually executed their defensive game plan close to perfection.

Under, what of course is, which is why so many teams fail, the most difficult of conditions.

I think sometimes it's a more than a little neglecting of the work that goes into good defense when people talk about a team "just" "parking the bus".
Certainly against Barcelona facing that incredible attack it would never be enough or as simple as to just have the whole team back and kick the ball away, or whatever it is "parking the bus" implies you do exactly.

Some teams are perhaps reduced to that when playing Barcelona but as we see all those teams end up suffering heavy defeats too.
If it was in any way simple or easy to get a result against a team like Barcelona that way then everyone would do it (and maybe not lose all the time!).

No what everyone are trying to do is to play a good defensive game with all that comes with it. Work very hard defending space. Marking zones. Close down at exactly the right times and back off exactly at the right times. This has to go on all over the pitch from almost every player and against a team as good as Barcelona it requires not just very hard work but really wise tactical sense. A lot of that can be prepared by the coach of course, and absolutely have to, but the execution of course is still up to the players.

Chelsea last season in the Champions League was the team, maybe the only team all season who was able to do it. They had a great coach in Hiddink to organize things to perfection and they had the right players to execute (not just by parking the bus) but team defense at a high enough level to give themselves a great chance to win.

Now I wouldn't say Rubin Kazan was on that level defensively, that Chelsea showed in that game. Not even close. Barcelona created a lot of chances, but still they did do a good job and their players executed very well under great pressure.

And not just out of the blue either. Apparently Kazan has only lost once away from home in over a year.
That's pretty remarkable in itself and that (finally) brings me to their captain, the currently ranked 189 player in the world, Sergei Semak who quite simply embodies these things. All these things talked about above!

He is a veteran leader for club and country who basically does all the right things in his defensive midfield position. Both with and without the ball.
Obviously he is far from the most talented so far on this list, he is in fact the least talented, but he could very well be the smartest (his teachers wanted him to become a mathematician!) And if you combine that with what is still a very impressive workrate for a 33 year old then you have one very effective football player. One I think worthy of a spot on this list.