After the UEFA already bestowed their Player of the Year award to Virgil van Dijk, it’s just a matter of time till we get our Ballon d’Or winner for the 2018-19 season. However, this time around, there are more players with a shot to win the trophy than the two usual suspects — Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Both have dominated this award over the past 10 years and have five apiece to each of their names.
Here then, are the top five contenders to lift the Golden Ball this year:
5. Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling was the key attacking player for Manchester City in their 2018-19 Premier League title-winning campaign. In his 34 appearances, he scored 17 goals and provided 10 assists, helping City remain on top of the table above Liverpool, who were just few points behind the leaders. His ability to cut through the wings and find shooting spaces at lightning-quick speed on the flank makes him a fearsome player. He also has five goals and two assists in the Champions League.
For his national side England, Sterling scored two goals in five matches and helped them reach the semi-finals, where they lost to Netherlands. His consistent performance for club and country makes him a legitimate contender for the honour.
4. Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva won in Premier League with Manchester City and in UEFA Nations League with Portugal, playing a pivotal role in both teams’ midfield by scaring opposition defenders with his solo runs. Silva was everywhere, covering all parts of ground, making crucial passes and pulling key interceptions. Apart from being an attacking midfielder, Silva’s defensive display gave an extra edge to Pep Guardiola’s team in crucial Premier League games.
He did the same for Portugal to complement Cristiano Ronaldo, who was leading their attack.
3. Lionel Messi
With his direct competitor Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Italy this season, Lionel Messi had a free run at La Liga, which led him to scoring 36 goals in the La Liga. Messi won the league title with Barcelona once again and was looking confident to take his team through to the Champions League before Liverpool’s comeback knocked them out. They were also knocked out of the Copa Del Rey, and if that wasn’t enough, Argentina lost in the Copa America as well.
But Messi’s performance was not below his standards this season as he was top scorer in Europe with 15 goals and 21 assists to his name.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo has always had an eye for new challenges, so he moved to Italy this season, leaving a well-set Real Madrid side with which he won Champions League the previous season. Moving to Italy was not a bad move for him as he won his maiden Serie A title, scoring and assisting for his team through the season.
In addition to that, he also won the UEFA Nations League with Portugal, which ranks him higher than Messi this season. He was included in UEFA’s Team of the Year but missed out to Virgil van Dijk on UEFA’s Player of the Year award.
1. Virgil Van Dijk
It’s been over a decade since a defender last won the Ballon d’Or, when in 2006, Fabio Cannavaro came out on top after winning in Serie A with Juventus and in the FIFA World Cup with Italy. Van Dijk’s season has been a dream come true for any defender as nobody was able to dribble past the giant Dutchman. He helped his side maintain clean sheets in 21 out of 38 Premier League games. He even helped Liverpool win the Champions League despite finishing second in EPL, and his run with Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League final was also remarkable.
The 28-year-old has already won the UEFA Player of the Season award last month and is now the strongest contender to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the first time.
Feature Image Courtesy: Jonathan NACKSTRAND, Fabrice COFFRINI, John THYS