Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery has been in scintillating form early in the 2013-14 season and has further talked up his own performances by insisting he works harder for his team than fellow global stars Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do for theirs.
Stefan Coerts of Goal.com reports the French attacker's comments:
Compared to them, I work much harder. I do a lot more defending than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and provide more assists. I have even more confidence in myself than before and that shows on the pitch. I am on top of my game and score a lot of goals. I am really enjoying myself on the pitch.
In regard to the latter claim, providing more assists than the Spanish-based duo, Ribery's words are quickly justified.
Ronaldo has made one assist this season in league play, with a further during 10 last season. Messi has laid on three goals for his teammates this term, with 12 his total for 2012-13.
Ribery, meanwhile, also claims three assists so far this season—but weighed in with a hefty 14 last term.
"Working hard for the team" is something that many managers would expect as nothing less than standard for most players, but, of course, the top two or three talents in the world game are, at times, catered for by leaving them as close to the opposition goal as possible, with the rest of the team shouldering more defensive responsibilities.
That's not to say, though, that none of the trio contribute defensively, far from it, in fact.
At Barcelona, pressing high up the pitch is regarded as a staple to their dominant style of play and is in itself a measure to ensure that Messi remains close to the penalty area his team are attacking.
Winning the ball back in the offensive third of the field often gives Messi, with his speed of thought and foot, a chance to run directly for goal after a quick turnover.
Ronaldo, usually operating from a wider starting role than Messi, is known to be rather lax at times in his chasing back of play after his team loses possession—but as one of the most supreme athletes at the top level of the game, his explosive ability to sprint forward from deep means he's not completely averse to dropping in and helping to keep Real Madrid's shape.
Ribery, like Ronaldo, operates from a left-sided role initially but has ample opportunity and licence to drift infield, especially when in possession of the ball. His dribbling, acceleration and shooting ability make the Frenchman a real danger moving forward.
But as his comments indicate, his strengths are not limited to attacking.
Fellow Bayern wide man Arjen Robben was noted to have improved his defensive output last season as the Munich team ethos helped the side win the Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup, with a combination of high-pressure play and devastating attacking ability.
The table below offers the season-long statistics from 2012-13 for all three, on their defensive work:
|Player||League Appearances||Tackles Won/Attempted||Headed Duels Won/Attempted||Interceptions||Clearances|
This current season, the three have been almost perfect in their direct battles: Ribery has won all eight of his tackles, Ronaldo all seven of his, and Messi five of his six. He has played two games less than his rivals due to injury.
Naturally, in all three cases, their respective teams prefer Ribery, Messi and Ronaldo to do their main work heading toward goal, but pressing without making challenges, dropping deep to keep the team shape and covering for out-of-position teammates can all go unnoticed as good defensive work.
Bayern, of course, are one of the world's best teams right now, probably in fact the best team.
They dominate huge passages of play, even against good quality opposition, and as such expect to have the ball in the attacking half of the field more often than not.
That was the case in their most recent game against Bayer Leverkusen, who finished third last season in the Bundesliga, where Bayern had 64 percent possession and limited their opponents to just two corners and five shots all game.
Leverkusen's team heat map from the game shows how they struggled to get out of their own half to good effect for much of the match.
Even so, Ribery's own heat map indicates he was prepared to work back when required and help out his side defensively, more regularly than his teammate on the opposite flank, Xherdan Shaqiri.
Who works hardest defensively for their team?
While one game should not be taken in isolation as proof, it is certainly indicative of Ribery's conscientious approach to tracking back and working hard off the ball, something very much encouraged by current manager Pep Guardiola and treble-winner Jupp Heynckes before him.
It might be Ribery's talents and actions at the opposite end of the field, his goals, dribbles and assists, which will get him the recognition he needs to win the next Ballon d'Or, a very attainable ambition given the season he has had.
But in the eyes of his coaches, his teammates and even himself, his work in the opposite direction is proving just as important to his overall performances and that of the whole side—leading, in turn, to the incredible success story which is Bayern Munich's current team.