ESPN FC Player of the Month: Messi, Cheryshev or Firmino?
After Diego Costa won the first ESPN FC Player of the Month award of the 2014-15 season, it's been all Cristiano Ronaldo. But as we turn our calendars to a new year, the final award of 2014 will go to someone other than CR7.
Europe's top performers in November have been whittled to a three-man short list in consultation with stats website WhoScored.com and ESPN FC's writers, and not one of our three finalists is Real Madrid's No. 7. Now it's up to you to select which of the three deserves to be named the ESPN FC Player of the Month.
NOTE: Only players with three or more appearances were considered.
LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona)
Is Lionel Messi making a late push for the Ballon d'Or? He started December as he finished November: with his third hat trick in four games as Barcelona crushed crosstown rivals Espanyol 5-1 in front of a delighted Camp Nou. His late brace in the 5-0 win over Cordoba ensured the Catalans trailed Real Madrid by a single point in the league as the calendar turns to 2015.
"The on-fire Argentinean wizard has been given a deeper role within Luis Enrique's formation in order to accommodate Luis Suarez in his preferred striking position," writes Barcelona blogger Francesc Tomas. "But, despite playing further away from the goal, Messi's goal-scoring frequency has actually improved as a result."
DENIS CHERYSHEV (Villarreal)
Denis Cheryshev has quietly gone about his business in his second year loaned out from parent club Real Madrid. In December, the Russian tallied a goal and two assists in three league games, none of which Villarreal lost. Since Cheryshev has grown more consistent over the past eight weeks, the Yellow Submarine have climbed from eighth in the La Liga table to a Europa League-qualifying fifth place.
Spanish correspondent Lee Roden writes, "At times it feels like Cheryshev suffers from being the unfashionable member of a particularly fashionable generation of Real Madrid academy graduates. While it is easy to find comments singing the praises of Alvaro Morata and Jese, for example, their old Castilla teammate tends to get the rough end of the deal.
"Perhaps that's a natural consequence of the Russian spending his first year away from the Bernabeu in and out of the physio room, but perhaps his effectiveness is also overlooked because of the unspectacular way in which it is delivered. Unspectacular, perhaps, but quietly and consistently effective."
ROBERTO FIRMINO (TSG Hoffenheim)
The rise of the Bundesliga is down to hidden gems such as Roberto Firmino. Despite having difficulty replicating his 2013-14 form, in which he scored 16 goals and 11 assists, the Hoffenheim No. 10 was called up to the Selecao in November and scored the winner on his debut.
Perhaps buoyed by his Brazil debut, Firmino stood out for his club throughout December. He scored once and set up three more, with his last match against Hertha Berlin still giving young U.S. international John Brooks something to think about during the winter break.
German correspondent Stephan Uersfeld writes: "The Brazilian is a hard-working defender as the first to put opponents under pressure, and once possession has been won, he's a quick transition player with an eye for better-positioned teammates. He finds those gaps between the holding midfield and the centre-backs, but is not limited to the centre. He loves to move to the wings to escape marking.
"Contracted to Hoffenheim until 2017, Firmino seems certain to move to one of the big European clubs in the summer of 2015. After all, even in Bundesliga, you can't hide forever. "