Top 5 Players from Around the World This Weekend, Featuring Two Welsh Wonders
As November closed into December, there were yet more important matches across the world's top leagues.
A number of Europe's top leagues find themselves heading into either hectic festive periods or warming down as they head towards their winter breaks.
In South America, the Brasileirao and a number of others witnessed their penultimate weeks of the season, whilst Argentina's Torneo Inicial championship does likewise. The Mexican Liga continued with its Apertura quarter-finals.
Anyway, with all that being said, here's a look at the weekend's top five performers. Honourable mentions go to Wayne Rooney and Arjen Robben, but here's our five best of the past few days:
Disagree with any of the picks or feel as if there’s a standout omission? Let us know in the comments section below.
*Unless otherwise stated, all statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
The 22-year-old has been a driving force behind Arsene Wenger's side's rise to the top of the Barclays Premier League, and he was too good for the Bluebirds at the Cardiff City stadium with another tremendous all-action display.
Ramsey scored twice as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners, and both his goals were further proof of his growing stature.
The first came just before the hour and opened the scoring, a quite stunning header from 15 yards whistling past David Marshall after Mesut Ozil's cross had found Ramsey's run into the box.
Throughout, Mackay's side fought valiantly to get back level, but Ramsey was everywhere: playing clever passes, recycling possession, making tackles, beating players and linking attack and defence brilliantly.
Aaron Ramsey's heat map is ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/AgkeY9Z5AP— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 30, 2013
And after substitute Mathieu Flamini had secured the win four minutes from time, Ramsey had the final say, engineering a counter-attack intelligently, before receiving the final pass off Theo Walcott and hammering past Marshall.
After both goals, Ramsey was applauded by the home supporters, as much for the player he's becoming as for being one of their own.
This season, the 22-year-old has notched 13 goals and claimed five assists in 21 appearances for the Premier League leaders.
If he continues in a similar manner, there's no reason why Wenger's men can't remain top of the pile come May.
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
With Cristiano Ronaldo missing due to injury, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti was looking for someone to step into the Portuguese star's shoes, and he'll have been delighted to see the latest Galactico take charge.
Starting his eighth successive match—having seemingly overcome his early-season fitness problems—Bale was at something close to his devastating best as he put Real Valladolid to the sword in a 4-0 win.
Hat-trick for @GarethBale11 . Great to see him proving what most of us knew. He's a monstrous talent!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) November 30, 2013
After Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria had threatened to open the scoring the Welshman did, a simple header putting Madrid in front just after the half-hour.
Bale would then turn provider, picking out Benzema with a sumptuous cross to allow the Frenchman to head home.
By now Bale was striding around the pitch as though he owned it, his confidence very much up, and he had a devastating impact in the second half, both starting and finishing the moves which gave Los Merengues their third and fourth goals.
Both came after crosses from left-back Marcelo, and both were rather simple finishes for the former Spurs man, but not only did Bale help himself to a treble—which he attributed to his teammates, as outlined in the Mirror—and an assist, his all-round game also marked him as head and shoulders above all others on the pitch.
There were plenty of intelligent passes, a number of vicious shots and some searing runs at the heart of the Valladolid defence, while his pass accuracy stood at 90 percent for the entire 90 minutes.
All-in, he ended with a perfect-10 rating on WhoScored.com and leads our top five performers of the past weekend.
Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan)
On Sunday, they took to Sicily to meet a Catania side which are unfortunately a shadow of the 2011-12 vintage which was led so well by Vincenzo Montella and which had such an excellent home record.
Nonetheless, a 13th-minute goal from Lucas Castro gave the home side an early lead and a match-needed boost following their 4-1 loss at Torino last time out.
However, it wasn't to last and a major reason for that was the excellent performance of Milan skipper Riccardo Montolivo, who played a captain's role in grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and leading his side to a 3-1 victory.
Just six minutes after the opener, Montolivo fired Milan level, volleying Urby Emanuelson's deep cross low past Mariano Andujar from 10 yards for a textbook finish.
Milan would take the lead through a Mario Balotelli free-kick, before Panagiotis Tachtsidis was sent off a minute later. From then, there was only going to be one winner and with the extra space, Montolivo sent a slide-rule pass into the path of Kaka, who fired high past Andujar to secure victory.
Throughout, whether against 11 men or 10, Montolivo was excellent. Whether keeping possession—from 90 passes, he had an 89 percent success rate—breaking up play—only Catania's Gino Peruzzi made more tackles—or encouraging his teammates to press and work harder, Montolivo proved vital to Allegri's side.
It was the kind of performance which shows why Cesare Prandelli has so often persevered with him at international level and why he'll be important to the Azzurri in Brazil next summer.
And his latest showing, featuring an eight-minute hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Osasuna on Sunday evening, further highlighted the talented Brazilian's attacking talents.
With Djukic once again leaving No. 9 Helder Postiga on the substitutes bench, Jonas was tasked with leading the line. However, with his natural inclination being to drop into deep-lying forward positions, it gave Valencia the look of a 4-2-4-0 formation against Javi Gracia's side, and Jonas revelled in the away defence's apparent confusion at not being sure who to mark—WhoScored.com giving him a 9.6 rating.
Not blessed with great pace nor physical power, Jonas uses his clever movement and intelligence to find chances for himself, and when presented with three opportunities around the half-time interval, he made no mistake with any.
Just before the break, Sofiane Feghouli's defence-splitting pass found Antonio Barragan who squared for Jonas to tap home, before three minutes into the second-half, Jonas smashed home a magnificent second.
Stationed just to the right of the penalty spot, having originally run the defenders onto their own six-yard box, Jonas pulled away to meet Feghouli's cutback with a stunning volley which left keeper Andres Fernandez rooted to the spot.
And five minutes later, the Brazilian had a classy third, rifling a Barragan pull-back in off the crossbar from 16 yards.
The result puts Los Che ninth in La Liga and eases some of the pressure on Djukic, while simultaneously moving Jonas to eight goals in 12 league appearances.
3 - Jonas Gonçalves is the 1st Brazilian player to score a hat-trick in the Europe’s top five leagues this season. Signature— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 1, 2013
Alex De Souza (Coritiba)
However, a mid-season run of three wins in 19 matches saw them plummet down the league table and saw them enter the penultimate weekend of the Brazilian campaign very much entrenched in a relegation battle.
But in a must-win match for the Parana side on Sunday evening, the 36-year-old attacking midfielder—who had 12 goals to his name in the league this term prior to kick-off—was at his inspirational best, to lead his side to a vital 2-1 win over a strong Botafogo side at the Estadio Major Antonio Conte Pereira.
Playing as an archetypal No. 10 behind lone striker (and former Fener teammate) Deivid, Alex rolled back the years with a wonderful performance, full of intuitive passing, clever positioning and two ultimately decisive moments.
The first of those decisive moments came in the 39th minute as his perfectly-flighted free-kick—courtesy of his gorgeous left foot—was met by the head of Deivid who headed through the legs of the bemused goalkeeper Jefferson.
Alex's second vital moment came midway through the second period, with the goal that gives Coritiba more than a fighting chance of avoiding relegation next weekend.
Clever work down the right saw the ball pulled back from the byline to the penalty spot, where Alex was waiting to thrash home his 13th league goal of the campaign.
On their own they could prove crucial for Coritiba, but Alex's entire performance was typical of what you've come to expect from him down the years: intelligent, classy, creative and decisive.
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