Pogba Early Leader for PFA Player of the Year

Paul Pogba is the early leader for the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year Award 

Paul Pogba has an early lead for the Professional Footballers Association’s award for Player of the Season in the English Premier League. In his first two games back with Manchester United after the same club hilariously let him go to Juventus for free, Pogba has looked like a professional playing an exhibition game against amateurs. A British pundit commented that Pogba looked like the best kid on the school playground dominating all of the other kids.

If Pogba weren’t so effective, he could almost be accused of playing too selfishly, but he’s involving his teammates too much to accuse him of this. His ability to dribble through crowds and embarrass opponents with the ball at his feet gives him free license to play the way that he’s playing. His individual play has been very effective because when he has the ball Manchester United is constantly getting in scoring positions. He has played so well that his teammates have all adapted to just letting him run the show. Even Ibrahimovic has been playing in his trademark style without getting in Pogba’s way.

The only minor critique that could be made of Pogba is that he’s not utilizing his left foot enough, but his technique and ability with his left foot have already been on display plenty of times. Pogba should use his left foot more since greats like Zinedine Zidane, Brazilian Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and so many others used both feet to dominate opponents and win titles and awards.

Although Pogba’s ability as a two-way midfielder is so impressive, it’s difficult to not focus on his dribbling brilliance. Only Neymar, Lionel Messi, and few others are better 1v1 dribblers than Pogba, and Pogba also shields the ball so well that opponents frequently can’t even get close to the ball when Pogba is static with the ball.

Pogba was always expected to be outstanding in the EPL, but he has been embarrassing opponents so far. Once Manchester United face off against better opponents, Pogba will likely have to dribble less and pass sooner, but that’s not a problem for him.

 

The Luxury Player Fallacy

The Luxury Player Fallacy

The attacking midfielder or Number 10 shirt is often the most decisive and important player on any soccer team. Having a true Number 10 gives a team a player who can decide the game with one inspired or magical play. In major tournaments, having a gifted playmaker gives a team an edge over a team without one.

Often this type of playmaker is labeled a “luxury player” by many people. The accusation being that this type of player is surplus to requirements for not being a player who contributes much defensively or one who puts the ball in the back of the net. The problem with this mentality is that this supposedly luxury player is vital to linking the midfield to the attack and creating goals. Goals are the most important thing in soccer, and having a playmaker puts the primary goalscorer in the position to have more scoring opportunities.

Players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, and Pelé have always separated their team from the others. At the highest levels of soccer, every team has technical and athletic players at every position, and only the magicians and grandmasters can break the deadlock. Besides the Number 10 players, a prolific center forward like Brazil’s Ronaldo is the other most valuable player. Of course, every position is vital and valuable, but finding a Number 10 and a Number 9 is the hardest thing for a coach.

In the last two World Cup Finals in 2010 and 2014, we saw two Number 10s decide the game with goals themselves. Andrés Iniesta, an absolutely legendary Number 10, scored the winning goal in 2010 for Spain. In 2014, Mario Götze, another Number 10 who is often left on the bench by coaches for being a luxury player, scored the winning goal for Germany. It was a goal that only an absolute master could have scored. There was no time to think before he struck the ball and no angle to beat the goalkeeper, but he scored anyway. So the last two World Cups were decided by Number 10s, and we still hear these players called “luxury players.”

With eleven players on a side and normally almost seven players designated as defensive players, it makes little sense for one of the remaining four players to not be an attacking midfielder or playmaker. How else will a team unlock the defense, connect the midfield to the attack, and score goals? You can’t really expect the ball to make its way to the striker or strikers with a midfield stuffed with defensive midfielders.

Too many coaches and teams continue to push this mentality of the “luxury player” and the game of soccer suffers as a result of it. There is a direct connection between technical skill and winning.

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey is the best American soccer player ever, even better than Landon Donovan, but Dempsey’s skill and career remain underrated.

The Texan has displayed a level of advanced technical ability and creativity that no other American soccer player has ever displayed. American soccer still hasn’t produced many players who can smoothly execute individual skill against elite opponents in a game setting.

Even at 33 years old, Dempsey’s skill level, speed, and fitness suggest that he might still be in his prime.

Many observers still view Dempsey as inferior to Landon Donovan in skill and accomplishments on the field, and that’s unfair. Dempsey is often praised for his toughness and will to win, and while these are indeed great qualities of his, they neglect to mention his skill, creativity, consistency, and effectiveness. At his core, Dempsey is a player whose play is based on technical skill with the ball and the ability to display above average technical qualities against top competition.

While many of the American soccer players are essentially just hustle players and mentally strong players, Dempsey has always displayed a comfort and mastery with the ball that American players have normally lacked compared to players in Europe and Latin America. He has also showed more hustle and more mental toughness than his American counterparts.

The real gap between American soccer players and their better counterparts in Europe and Latin America is the absence of the first touch and overall ball skills to play smoother and faster.

With these real gaps between American soccer and the better varieties in mind, it puts Dempsey’s accomplishments and abilities in the right perspective. Consistently displaying refined and advanced technical ability along with a real talent at avoiding injuries is a real achievement.

There have been multiple interviews about Dempsey’s childhood and hard road to becoming a professional soccer player in the United States and in the United Kingdom, but a strong argument can be made that Dempsey really is underrated and underappreciated by American fans and journalists. Fans and journalists outside of the United States sometimes scoff at Dempsey for being good by not quite elite, but their standard is essentially a logical fallacy where unless Dempsey is a top player for one of only a few elite European clubs, then he is just mediocre in those critics’ eyes.

By any standard, Dempsey is a creative and technically-skilled attacking player who can dribble, pass, and score against top competition, and he’s displayed a facility at playing with both feet and scoring with his head. Elite club teams and national teams were never able to intimidate and psych out Dempsey as he routinely showed them zero respect.

Returning to the Donovan comparison, even the biggest Donovan homer must admit that Dempsey has a better club playing resume where he played in a better league (the EPL) against better competition. He also has an almost identical goal-scoring rate and tally as Donovan at the international level, and Dempsey can’t be accused of ever playing small or being bullied by opposing players and teams.

When Dempsey retires in several years, he deserves to be recognized as not only the most accomplished American soccer player ever but also the most talented and technical player. American soccer has seen Donovan or Tab Ramos, but neither of them displayed the level of technical skill and creativity that Dempsey not only showcased but showcased consistently for over a decade.

What really made Dempsey a pioneer for American soccer was how everyone could see that this player represented a new level of skill with the ball for American players. Dempsey proved that American players could be creative, technical, and effective even against world-class competition. That’s what Dempsey gave American soccer fans and players: the proof that Americans could be players that people in other countries recognized as truly skilled.

In the video included with this post is an interview that Clint Dempsey did with Colin Cowherd, and it’s perhaps the most illuminating Dempsey interview as Dempsey normally doesn’t say too much in his interviews.

Sebastian Lletget, The New USMNT Number 10

Sebastian Lletget Should Be the New U.S. Men’s National Team Attacking Midfielder

Sebastian Lletget is a viable Number 10 type attacking midfielder that can start for the United States Men’s National Team. Under coach Jürgen Klinsmann, any attacking midfielder has been a persona non grata, and this was also the case under Bob Bradley and Bruce Area.

This isn’t a Klinsmann problem as much as it is an overvaluing of non-stop full-speed running and defending to the detriment of skill and smooth passing. Despite being a striker as a player, Klinsmann’s refusal to deploy attacking midfielders might be his German mentality taking precedence over his attacking mindset as a former Number 9. Although Lletget is a young player and one who hasn’t represented the United States before, Lee Nguyen and Darlington Nagbe have played well for the national team on multiple occasions, and even this didn’t convince Klinsmann to start a Number 10.

Lletget is arguable better player than Nguyen and Nagbe, and he has a higher ceiling. There’s no evidence that he has trouble with the spotlight or playing in big games, and he appears to be fully ready right now. He would be a big boost for the national team’s poor passing, creativity, and creative play.

With center forward Bobby Wood putting in great performances for the United States in the Copa America Centenario, Lletget would be even more useful. Now that the United States has a more dangerous, aggressive, and active center forward in Wood, a true playmaker would make Wood even more of a threat.

Compared to Nagbe and Nguyen, Lletget is more creative and technical, and he’s more dynamic in his constant probing and searching for openings in the defense. Lletget is a versatile attacking player who can play wide or centrally as well as in the midfield as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker up top. He can also play as a wing in the midfield or in a forward line.

The LA Galaxy forward and midfielder not only has the trickery and technical skill to help his team keep possession and attack, but he also has a low center of gravity and a strong ability to shield the ball and not get muscled off the ball by defenders. These shielding and physicality qualities make him more resistant to overly physical defending or just very physical defending. Some coaches dismiss Number 10 like players as luxury players because these players supposedly don’t hustle or defend, but that’s not true of Lletget. The LA Galaxy man works for his team non-stop with or without the ball, and he covers lots of ground either defending or presenting himself as a passing option for his teammates.

Anyone who watches Lletget notices a player who plays with more skill and creativity than is average in MLS where there is still too much out of control passing and movement plus a scary dose of dirty, nasty defending which borders on criminal. Skill players are still heavily criticized in MLS unless they just wipe the floor with the opposition as Sebastian Giovinco does as he is really a Serie A fantasista playing with people well below his skill level. Giovinco himself suffered from being labelled a luxury player by many coaches who also viewed his tiny size as major deficiency.

But, the problem for Lletget might be that his advanced skill level isn’t at the level where he simply embarrasses and destroys opponents like Giovinco does.

Lletget has been a standout talent since he started in MLS at the beginning of the 2015 MLS season, and the United States would be wise to bring him into the fold for the national team even if he were just to substitute into the game for the final 20 to 30 minutes. The United States needs more skill players, and they need playmakers to link the midfield to the attack and improve the creativity of the team. None of those claims are controversial, but there remains not only a reluctance for players like Lletget to be used but also for more fans and media members to call for their inclusion on the national team.

Lletget should have already been on the national team, but it’s unlikely that playing for the LA Galaxy that he will continue to be underrated much longer. He doesn’t always start for the Galaxy, but that is simply a reality of player rotation in a deep squad.

 

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

It’s no secret that the United States needs more skill and more goals, and now there is another dangerous attacking player other than Clint Dempsey: his name is Bobby Wood.

A dangerous center forward that combines skill with athleticism is what the United States really needed, and Wood has shown well for the United States on too many occasions to not consider him legit.

Wood’s play in competitive matches in the Copa America Centenario reaffirmed the skill he showed in international friendlies against Germany and The Netherlands. He has proven that he is a dangerous striker that the United States can count on for goals and assists.

Compared to all of the other strikers the United States has used since 1990, Wood displays much more movement and fluidity than the United States normally uses at center forward. It would be fair to say that the United States used to mostly just hit crosses or long balls to center forwards who were good in the air, but now the national team has a striker whose movement demands service and balls played to feet.

Jozy Altidore is a technical striker in his own right that wants the ball played to him on the ground, but Wood has displayed much better movement with and without the ball than Altidore has shown in the past. Maybe that’s unfair to Altidore who suffered from a lack of service due to multiple national team coaches who placed essentially zero value on playmakers or Number 10 players.

Expect to see Wood starting for the United States for the foreseeable future, and this should make the American attack more of a scoring threat. With Wood starting, the USA can look to start playing more final balls through and behind the defense because the Hawaiian makes excellent runs and runs the entire game.

Wood would benefit from a playmaker, but his style of play is one where he involves himself in the match and demands service.

Wood’s Playing Style

Wood is a technical center forward and a smooth athlete who plays with a high work rate on and off the ball.

Wood displays a huge increase in movement and activity compared to Altidore, the United States’ regular starting center forward when healthy.

It must be said that Wood is simply better and more aggressive than Altidore.

The Hawaiian center forward who will play in the Bundesliga beginning later this summer is a complete striker who can score with either foot or his head. Wood likes the ball played to his feet, but he is a strong striker who can shield the ball and outmuscle defenders.

Much of what has been lacking from the United States’ attack is technical skill, creativity, and quick combination play, and Wood can take defenders off the dribble, link up with his teammates, and score.

After the Copa America Centenario, Wood must be considered the USA’s best option at center forward in the Number 9 role. The use of Wood marks an evolution of sorts for the United States because previously the Stars and Stripes had normally preferred big, powerful strikers over skillful and fast ones, but Wood is powerful and tall while being skillful and quick.

The Hawaiian can stretch defenses and make them work, and these are not only fantastic in and of themselves, but they also suck defenders away from Clint Dempsey or whomever else the United States is using in the attack.

Wood is the type of technical, dynamic, and quick center forward that the United States has been waiting for.

How the USMNT Can Improve its Attack

How the USMNT Can Improve its Attack

By bringing Bobby Wood into the U.S. National Team, Jürgen Klinsmann has already improved the American attack. Wood is an excellent strike partner for Clint Dempsey, and both players are technical and creative players. With Wood starting, the attack is more dynamic. Wood plays with more skill and movement that Jozy Altidore, and this gives Dempsey more support in the attack.

Adding a true Number 10 like Sebastian Lletget would make the American attack even better because Lletget can be a playmaker for both forwards, and he can also score himself. With Lletget, Wood, and Dempsey in the attack, the United States would have a more dangerous and talented group of attackers.

The United States has been lacking enough talent in the attack to really threaten top national teams, and these three – or Rubio Rubin in place of Dempsey- have the qualities to improve the attack. This attack won’t magically make the United States as good as the likes of Chile, Argentina, or Germany, but it will signal a major improvement to the overall skill of the United States. This would be an attack that displayed skill soccer over just toughness and a high work rate.

Dempsey still has several years in the tank, but Rubin is also ready to start for the United States now. Rubin has already played well for the United States, and nothing about him or his play indicates that he needs more development before playing a major role.

Without Dempsey, an attack comprised of Lletget, Wood, and Rubin would also be a skillful and dynamic attack that plays proactively against top opponents rather than waiting to score off a set piece or benefit from a defensive mistake.

Klinsmann has already figured out that Wood and Dempsey are an effective strike partnership, and he has already brought Rubin into the national team and seen him perform well. Adding Lletget to the squad or even just using Darlington Nagbe as an attacking midfielder would improve the American attack even more.

The United States looks close to having an attack that can do real damage against elite opponents. Klinsmann doesn’t need to change his Wood-Dempsey combination, but he would be wise to better link up the midfield to the attack with Lletget and/or Nagbe.

 

Who Should Start for the USMNT in the Copa America?

Who Should Start for the USMNT in the Copa America?

Jürgen Klinsmann’s starting lineups continue to lack continuity, and there is always the feeling that one or two players are out of position. But, the squad has the personnel to field a balanced and talented lineup. There isn’t a lot of creativity or goal-scoring ability, but there aren’t likely to be any players who look at sea against Latin American competition.

Goalkeeper

Brad Guzan has been backed as the starting goalkeeper for the United States, and there is no reason to doubt him. Perhaps Tim Howard is better, but Guzan has never really been allowed to settle into the role and make it his own. Commentators and fans seem to always be looking to be able to say that any mistake Guzan made, Howard wouldn’t have made. We’ll see, but Guzan is a proven EPL goalkeeper that almost any national team would be proud to have.

Fullbacks

DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson are the best choices for the right back and left back positions. Yedlin has vastly improved his defending in regards to his marking, tackling, and physicality, and Johnson is a skilled left back who plays better as a wing in the midfield or attack. Johnson is a more skilled and technical player than Yedlin, but Johnson sometimes doesn’t track back on defense well enough.

Center Backs

In the center of the defense, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are likely the best options at center back. An argument can be made that Cameron could better serve the national team as a defensive midfielder to let Bradley have more freedom to go forward, but Bradley is an excellent defensive midfielder who excels at not only defending but passing from the back of the midfield. This allows Jermaine Jones the license to attack.

Midfielders

A three-man midfield of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Darlington Nagbe is a strong option for the United States. Bradley can play the role of the defensive midfielder who plays in front of the defense, and this frees up both Jones and Nagbe to go forward and feed Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, and Bobby Wood.

Forwards/Attackers

In the attack, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Clint Dempsey form the best trio. Pulisic and Dempsey are “wings” on paper, but really their role is more as playmakers and goalscorers in their own right. Both can float out wide or play more centrally, and likewise Wood isn’t a stereotypical center forward. Nevertheless, Wood is a center forward. Just because he drops deep, drifts out wide, and looks to play final balls doesn’t mean that he isn’t a center forward. The belief of the Number 9 as only a big bruiser of a center forward playing with his back to goal and mostly looking to score headers is a fairly Stone Age concept of the center forward position. Wood can score with either foot, and he can stretch the defense and get behind them. Speed kills, and Wood is certainly fast and skilled.

Clint Dempsey

The belief that Dempsey has lost a step of lacks the stamina to run for 90 minutes lacks much proof. Dempsey’s play and fitness don’t suggest that he is slowing down or should be a bench player. The view that the United States somehow don’t need Dempsey starting is a vast overestimation of the technical ability of the United States’ other players.

Dempsey still stands apart from all other American soccer players in terms of technical ability and creativity. Even Nagbe so far has looked to be largely one-footed despite all of his many great attributes. Pulisic is an excellent young player that has proven his abilities in the Bundesliga, but he isn’t at Dempsey’s level yet, as Dempsey has the skill, mentality, and physicality to excel against world-class competition. The United States would be best served by Pulisic and Dempsey playing together.

Importance of the Midfield

Much of the success of this team will be dependent on the midfield, which is the same situation where any team finds itself. An American midfield of Bradley, Jones, and Nagbe is full of running, ball-winning ability, and technical skill, and if those three don’t offer enough defensive coverage then the United States has major problems.

Those three offer almost an excessive tendency toward the defensive, but all three are two-way threats. Jones, Bradley, and Nagbe is two holding midfielders and an attacking midfielder, and that is a tried and true midfield formula.

For example, Argentina  will likely be starting Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, and Javier Pastore which is two defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder.

My USA XI: Guzan; Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson; Jones, Bradley, Nagbe; Pulisic, Wood, Dempsey.

 

Who Should France start at Euro 2016?

Who Should France start at Euro 2016?

Les Bleus have a stellar and deep roster. France produces the best footballers along with Brazil and Argentina, and this French generation is full of world-class players. From Raphaël Varane to Paul Pogba, France is an amazing squad, and Antoine Griezmann has gone from being elite in recent years to being a world-beater this season.

Didier Deschamps and France use a 4-3-3 formation, but and it’s possible the Front Three could be somewhat narrow on paper with Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann deployed as playmakers behind a center forward.

At goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris is the regular starter for France, but Steven Mandanda is an impresser goalkeeper who was injured during the 2014 World Cup. Lloris has been the French goalkeeper since the 2014 World Cup, but Mandanda is fresh off winning Goalkeeper of the Year in Ligue 1.

At right back, Bacary Sagna has to be the starter. No younger right back has proven that they should start over the Manchester City right back, and Sagna is far from over the hill.

Raphaël Varane (the world’s best center back along with Thiago Silva) will be one of the starting center backs, and his center back partner was supposed to be Kurt Zouma who suffered a knee injury earlier in 2016. A Zouma-Varane pairing would have been a sight to see and arguably the best central defense pairing in the world. Now either Laurent Koscielny or Eliaquim Mangala will partner with Varane.

At left back, Patrice Evra is more than up to the task, and he enjoyed another great season with Juventus. Lucas Digne is the Roma left back, and he’s a younger player than Evra. Still, Evra doesn’t appear to be a liability due to his age. People tend to write off footballers once they reach 30, but there is a lot of evidence that age is really just a number.

The French Midfield Three should be Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra, and Blaise Mautidi, but it’s possible that N’Golo Kante could possibly start over Big Bad Blaise. It’s also possible that Kante could start over Diarra, but both Diarra and Kante are defensive midfielders that all of the top European clubs want. Kante can play as a defensive midfielder or as a Number 8, but Matuidi deserves his due as a world-class Number 8.

The French attack should be Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet play deeper and/or wide of some central forward. Karim Benzema was left off the squad for his behavior, so Anthony Martial could be the center forward unless Deschamps goes with the duller options of Olivier Giroud or André-Pierre Gignac who are both essentially big bruisers. Martial is actually a lot more muscular, taller, and more physical player than he gets credit for as a skill player. Make no mistake. Martial is a skill player whose technical ability is light-years beyond that of Giroud or Gignac who are capable strikers.

 

Below is the French lineup that we could see starting in the Euro Cup now called the dumb name of “UEFA Euro 2016”:

Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris/Steven Mandanda

Right Back: Bacary Sagna

Center Back: Raphaël Varane

Center Back: Eliaquim Mangala

Left Back: Patrice Evra

Right Midfielder: Paul Pogba

Central Midfielder: Lassana Diarra

Left Midfielder: Blaise Matuidi

Right Forward: Antoine Griezmann

Center Forward: Anthony Martial

Left Forward: Dimitri Payet

Which 23 players should make the USMNT Copa America roster?

Which 23 players should make the USMNT Copa America roster?

Jürgen Klinsmann has selected a 40-man United States preliminary roster for the 2016 Copa America Centenário, and once again there are multiple players on the roster that do not deserve to be there given the other talent in the pool.

The following players likely didn’t deserve to make the 40-man roster: Brad Evans, Alfredo Morales, Chris Wondolowski, Edgar Castillo, Graham Zusi, Michael Orozco, Gyasi Zardes, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, and Ventura Alvarado.

That’s 10 important roster spots that could have gone to either more talented or more in-form players. The 10 players that would have been better picks are: Sebastian Lletget, Rubio Rubin, Dillon Powers, Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Jorge Villafaña, Brek Shea,  Andrew Farrell, Paul Arriola, and Fatai Alashe.

Nevertheless, Klinsmann must cut down his 40-man roster to 23 names, and here are the names that World Soccer Source believes deserve to make it.

Goalkeepers (3)- Brad Guzan, David Bingham, Ethan Horvath

World Soccer Source went with two younger goalkeepers to back up Brad Guzan instead of backing Howard, but Howard is an excellent goalkeeper who still has several years of quality goalkeeping in the tank.

Defenders (8)- Geoff Cameron, Steve Birnbaum, Matt Miazga, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Lichaj, Kellyn Acosta, Tim Ream

Cameron, Birnbaum, Miazga, and Brooks give the squad the requisite four center backs, and Yedlin, Lichaj, Acosta, and Ream give the squad four fullbacks or outside backs. Yedlin and Lichaj are the right backs on paper, and Acosta and Ream are the left backs. Acosta plays right back or left back, despite really being a center midfielder or defensive midfielder. Lichaj can play left back, but he is a right back. Ream is a left-footed center back that also plays left back well.

Midfielders (6)- Michael Bradley, Perry Kitchen, Jermaine Jones, Darlington Nagbe, Lee Nguyen, Fabian Johnson

Bradley, Kitchen, and Jones give the squad three defensive midfielders, and Bradley and Jones are also box-to-box midfielders. Bradley and Jones do not partner well together because they normally don’t have a clear designation of roles: either the stay-at-home defensive midfielder or the Number 8 central midfielder. Nagbe is an attacking midfielder that has become an excellent Number 8 midfielder, plus he can play wide or as a second striker. Johnson is a winger, and Nguyen is a true playmaker that is essentially a Number 10.

Forwards(6)- Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Ethan Finlay, Jordan Morris

Altidore, Wood, and Morris are all center forwards, and Dempsey, Finlay, and Pulisic are all either attacking midfielders/second strikers or wings. All three can play well wide or centrally, and they give the center forwards a strike partner or wing support. Johnson listed as a midfielder can play as a wing or either side in a Front Three.

*Jozy Altidore is now out injured with a hamstring injury

Raphaël Varane Key for Real Madrid in Champions League Final

Raphaël Varane Key for Real Madrid in Champions League Final

While Sergio Ramos and Pepe are dirty, dirty butchers, Raphaël Varane is an artist and surgeon of a central defender. Comparing Varane to the classless hackers and divers that are Ramos and Pepe is insulting.

Varane defends better than Ramos and Pepe. Varane is a better ball-winning and ball-playing center back than Ramos and Pepe. Varane is more technically-skilled than Ramos and Pepe, and Varane is faster and quicker than Ramos and Pepe.

Varane is possibly the best defender in world football. He’s mabe even better than Thiago Silva, the gold standard for defenders. Zinedine Zidane was pivotal in Varane coming to Real Madrid as a teenager from France, so it’s suprising that Zidane has favored Pepe and Ramos in the center of the defense. Basically nobody that follows soccer believes that Ramos and Pepe are better than Varane, which makes it very strange that a soccer grandmaster like Zidane has made Varane sit on the bench.

For Real Madrid to win the Champions League Final over Atlético de Madrid, it will be crucial that Varane starts in the center of the defense, so that he will not be goaded into hacking Atlético’s attackers. Either Pepe or Ramos will have to start with Varane in the final, but only having one reduce the chance of a yellow or red card. Given how well fellow Frenchman Antoine Griezmann has been playing, a more graceful and athletic central defender like Varane is a smart decision for the final.

Looking toward the Champions League Final, Zidane must make the correct decision and start Casemiro as the defensive midfielder and Varane as one of the two center backs. Atlético de Madrid’s excitable coach Diego Simeone will be looking to make the Champions League Final an ugly affair full of hacking and diving, and Varane can reduce the likelihood of both Real Madrid center backs being carded in the Final.

With that being said, it bears mentioning that Varane does not like Simeone. Varane has spit plenty of verbals at Simeone during games, and he has also purposely kicked the ball into Simeone on the sideline.

Whereas Ramos and Pepe commit more cardworthy offenses, Varane seems to understand how to goad Simeone into crazier and crazier behavior.

Perhaps the 2016 Champions League Final will be the game where Varane cements his status as the world’s best center back with his electric speed, effortless skill, and graceful and dominating defending.