Last Updated: June 10, 2019 1:35 pm
Barring a major collapse from either of the duo at the start of the 2019/20 season, this year’s Ballon d’Or is likely to be contested primarily by Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
Most bookmakers, including Sky Bet, currently have Messi as the favourite to win the award, with his odds around 5/6.
Virgil van Dijk is a close second, however, with his odds currently around 10/11.
The third favourite, as of writing on June 4th , is Mohamed Salah. But his odds are well away from VVD and Messi at 14/1.
Elsewhere, five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo is joint-5th favourite to win the award in December, with odds of 25/1.
This isn’t too surprising, though, given that Ronaldo finished 4th top scorer in Serie A and Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals.
Juve did win Serie A, but they also did so in the past seven seasons without Ronaldo being there.
However, Ronaldo did score a hat-trick to put Portugal into the Nations League semi-final and they would beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the final.
As a result of winning the NL, Ronaldo may have more of a chance of winning the Balon d’Or but it is still likely to come down to Messi and VVD. So, how do the two compare?
BARCELONA, SPAIN – MAY 01: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after he scores his sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Barcelona and Liverpool at the Nou Camp on May 01, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Messi vs VVD in the league
Let’s start with their respective achievements in their individual leagues.
Lionel Messi would help guide Barcelona to their 26th La Liga title this past season.
Barca would finish the season on 87 points, 10 points above second-placed Atletico Madrid.
However, given the poor season that Real Madrid had, there could be a case made that Barca didn’t have too much competition in the 2018/19 campaign.
Individually, Messi dominated La Liga in terms of goals, scoring 36 in 34 outings.
The Argentine would also earn the joint most assists in La Liga (13), along with Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia.
Messi’s 36 league goals also saw him earn his 6th European Golden Shoe award.
Liverpool come up short vs Man City
As for Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk, they did not win the 2018/19 Premier League trophy.
But Jurgen Klopp’s side did manage to amass a staggering 97 points this past season.
That total would have won Liverpool the league title in all of the Premier League’s past seasons, except the last two.
97 points is also the highest total a PL side has reached and not won the title.
Furthermore, the Reds would manage to keep the tightest defence in the English top-flight, letting in just 22 goals in 38 games.
VVD played a key role in that, starting all 38 of their league outings and only failing to complete 90 minutes once, versus Southampton.
Jurgen Klopp’s side also managed to keep the most clean sheets in the PL – 21, compared to Manchester City’s 20.
Van Dijk would win the PFA Player of the Year award and the Premier League Player of the Season.
In addition, while the statistic is not confined to just domestic football, no opposition player has managed to dribble past VVD in his last 64 games, which is a simply incredible achievement.
Van Dijk earns Champions League glory
In terms of how the pair did in the Champions League, it is hard not to give the upper hand to Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool, of course, won this year’s UCL for the first time since 2005, beating Tottenham 2-0 in the final as van Dijk earned Man of the Match honours.
Messi and Barcelona, however, would be knocked out in the semi-finals, after blowing a three-goal advantage vs VVD and co.
Messi would still earn the Champions League Golden Boot this season, though.
Both players would make it into the UCL Squad of the Season.
But VVD’s Champions League win will no doubt have helped him massively in the Ballon d’Or running.
MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 1: Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool FC, with the trophy during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano on June 1, 2019 in Madrid Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
The impact of the Champions League
While the Ballon d’Or is supposed to be an individual award, and winning the UCL obviously requires a full team, it is hard to ignore the impact that winning the top prize in European club football has on deciding the winner.
Luka Modric won the award in 2018. In 46 appearances throughout the 2017/18 season, he managed four goals and eight assists, not exactly an eye-catching amount.
However, Real Madrid would win the CL in 2018 and Modric would reach the World Cup final with Croatia.
It could be argued that Modric’s World Cup efforts helped him to secure the Ballon d’Or, along with his UCL win.
Also, it is hard to compare the likes of Modric and Messi, as they have very different roles in the game.
2017, though, saw Cristiano Ronaldo win the award for a 5th time.
Both Messi and Ronaldo’s main job is to score goals, and secondly to assist.
In the 2016/17 season, Messi scored 54 and assisted 16 in 52 appearances. Ronaldo, on the other hand, scored 42 and assisted 11 in 46 appearances.
Despite Messi having had a better goals-to-game ratio than Ronaldo, and more assists, the ex-Madrid forward claimed the Ballon d’Or that year.
Real Madrid would also win the Champions League that season.
Finally, in the last five years, every player who has won the Ballon d’Or has also lifted the Champions League that year.
MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 01: Players of FC Liverpool celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 1, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
Nations League vs Copa America
While the UCL clearly has an impact on who wins the Ballon d’Or each year, there are two more competitions set to take place over the coming months, which could help decide the victor.
Virgil van Dijk took on England in the Nations League semi-finals with the Netherlands on June 6th, winning 3-1.
The Netherlands then faced Portugal in the final. Should they have won it would probably have helped van Dijk in his pursuit of the Balon d’Or. However, as mentioned above they lost 1-0.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, will be in action for Argentina, as they look to win the Copa America for the first time since 1993.
Like van Dijk in the Nations League, Messi helping Argentina to win the CA would be a huge point in his favour with regards to being crowned the 2019 BD winner.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – JUNE 26 Argentina forward and Captain Lionel Messi (10) during the Copa America Centenario Final Argentna vs Chile Soccer, 2016 on June 26, 2016 at Met Life in East Rutherford, NJ, USA . The score was tied at 0 to 0 at the end of regulation play and then added time. Chile won the match 4 to 2 in penalty kicks to win the Copa America Final. Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images
Lionel Messi has had yet another outstanding year in football, and him winning the Ballon d’Or is unlikely to upset too many people.
However, at this point, given van Dijk’s excellent year, and the sway that the Champions League has had on deciding the winner of late, it is hard to see the Dutchman not winning the award.
Should Messi win the Copa America after VVD failed to win the Nations League, though, the story may be different.
If van Dijk does go on to win the award, he will become the first defender to do so since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
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