Barcelona midfielder Xavi has questioned whether Cristiano Ronaldo deserves to win the Ballon d’Or and wouldn’t even place the Portuguese in his top three.
Ronaldo is expected to claim his third Ballon d’Or next month after a calendar year in which he scored 61 goals in 60 games for club and country and lifted the Champions League with Real Madrid having ended the competition as its top goalscorer.
However, the one blot on the forward’s copybook is his disappointing tournament in Brazil in which Portugal crashed out at the group stage with Ronaldo struggling in South America with a knee injury.
— Eurosport.com (@EurosportCom_EN) December 24, 2014
The other two names on the shortlist, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer, both enjoyed fine World Cups with the latter triumphing in the final and being named best goalkeeper while the Argentine forward scored four goals in winning the Golden Ball.
In an interview with Spanish daily Sport, Xavi said: “He didn’t do much in the World Cup, and in a World Cup year, the season is defined by that. I would have Leo, second Philipp Lahm, and third Javier Mascherano.”
The future of Messi at Barcelona has also generated a considerable amount of intrigue with the forward said to be unsettled.
However, Xavi added: “He is happier than ever. He’s the best player in the world and we have to live with this kind of news. But I see him happy and content.”
Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta is confident the champions can keep the pressure right on Chelsea this Christmas.
Chelsea top the Premier League heading into the festive programme but with City right on their tail.
The Londoners, who held a nine-point advantage over City at one stage last month, are now just three points clear after their chief rivals hit form.
City have won their last eight games in all competitions – one short of a club record – and confidence is soaring with the indifferent results of October and November now firmly in the past.
— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) December 24, 2014
Zabaleta said: “That (run) shows the spirit that this team has at the moment. When you think of two months ago, when we were not playing our best football, we kept working hard and I think at the moment the confidence is back and we are playing much better football.
“I think that, at Christmas, spirit is always crucial to try and win all the games, because it can make a big difference. It is especially the case for the top squads and the players that can rotate, because it will be very hard to play on the 26th and the 28th within 48 hours.
“We are looking to win those games. Even if Chelsea are winning games and looking solid, it is normal to have some point of the season where you can lose points. Belief is what you need to keep going until the end.”
City’s victory over Crystal Palace last Saturday took them level with Chelsea at the top but Jose Mourinho’s men responded by winning at Stoke on Monday.
Attention now switches to Friday as City travel to West Brom while Chelsea host West Ham. On December 28, City are at home to Burnley while Chelsea visit Southampton. It promises to be a tight battle between the two leading clubs and Zabaleta never had any doubt that City would pull themselves back into contention.
Prior to the November international break, City won just once in six games and questions were starting to be asked of the team’s durability and manager Manuel Pellegrini’s suitability.
Zabaleta, 29, said: “We know that we have enough talent in the team.
“We probably had to improve our performances collectively. In the way that we want the team to play, we were probably lacking intensity and concentration in some of the games. It cost us a few points.
“Now we are a solid team. At the beginning of the season, it was hard for some of the players because we probably didn’t have enough rest and it wasn’t a very long pre-season. It was a bit hard at the beginning with the fitness but now I think everyone is much better.”
Ahead of every round of Premier League games, Sport360 – with some help from our friends at Opta Stats – will provide the pick of the facts and figures. Here are this week's highlights:
Friday December 26 (Boxing Day)
Chelsea v West Ham United
Burnley v Liverpool
Crystal Palace v Southampton
Everton v Stoke City
Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United v Newcastle United
Sunderland v Hull City
Swansea City v Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers
All statistics and facts are brought to you by Opta Sports.