The revelation of the 23-man Ballon d’Or shortlist never tends to throw up any great surprises, with many uninterested due to the continuity of an eventual two-horse race. The likes of Ivan Rakitic, Kevin de Bruyne and the Chilean pairing of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal have all made the shortlist for the first time this year, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are once again the leading candidates to pick up the award having claimed the last seven between them.
There is still plenty of football to be played between now and the November 20 voting deadline, but Messi looks unlikely to be in action in that time due to a knee injury. However, the fact that Barcelona enjoyed an all-conquering campaign last time out, in which Messi played a pivotal role, means the 28-year-old will remain the clear favourite to regain the illustrious crown.
Meanwhile, having won the top gong in each of the last two years, Ronaldo’s claim for this year’s title has no doubt weakened despite his remarkable goalscoring feats. For all of his efforts last season the Portuguese was unable to lead Real Madrid to a single trophy, which often has the greatest impact on voting.
As a result there are a handful of players that will be hoping break up the top two for the first time since 2010.
The outstanding candidate to claim what looks likely to be the final place in this year’s top three is Neymar. The Brazilian fell from fifth in 2013 to seventh last time out but looks certain to secure his strongest finish this year. Like Messi the 23-year old had a sensational campaign last time out, with his role in Barcelona’s Champions League glory surely making him a close rival to Ronaldo. Neymar achieved the sensational feat of scoring in both legs of the quarter and semi-finals of the competition before completing the set with the last gasp third goal of the game to kill off the finale against Juventus in Berlin.
WhoScored.com‘s statistically calculated ratings since the start of the year back up the suggestion that Neymar could be his team-mate’s closest rival for the crown this year. With Messi head and shoulders above his competitors in the league and Champions League combined, with an average rating of 8.81, Neymar is next on the list, with a rating of 8.19 some way in advance of Ronaldo (7.97) in third.
With Messi one appearance shy of Neymar and Ronaldo’s 37 in the league and Champions League in 2015, it just so happens to be the perfect time to compare the trio’s statistics.
While the Madrid forward has had a direct hand in the most goals in that time – 51 to Messi’s 49 and Neymar’s 33 – the Barcelona duo excel when delving deeper into the figures. Indeed, it’s Neymar that leads the way for the three in terms of conversion rate this year, needing just 4.8 shots to score to Ronaldo’s 6.3, while the latter ranks bottom of the three in terms of dribbles – with Messi (205) completing almost four times the number of dribbles as the Portugal skipper.
The Blaugrana pair are both ahead of Ronaldo in terms of chances created, with Neymar (89) just pipping Messi (83) to the top in that regard, while the Brazilian’s defensive contribution should also be considered. While Messi (26) has made just over twice as many tackles as Ronaldo this year (12), Neymar has managed considerably more than the duo combined, with an impressive 56. Of course none of the three are there to do the dirty work but Neymar’s willingness to help out in that regard deserves great credit.
The closest challenger to the power three here is James Rodriguez, with a score of 7.88 from WhoScored.com in 2015, though he, like Neymar, won’t be helped by the fact that he endured a disappointing tournament at the Copa America this summer. Moreover, having made just 21 appearances for his club in the league and Champions League the Colombian is perhaps not as worthy as a handful of other candidates.
In terms of the outsiders then it is perhaps Alexis Sanchez that most deserves to be in the reckoning. The Arsenal flyer has secured a WhoScored.com rating of 7.81 from 31 league and Champions League appearances for the Gunners this year, while netting a goal in Arsenal’s FA Cup final rout over Villa and the decisive penalty as Chile secured Copa America glory in their own back yard, lifting the trophy for the first time ever.
Elsewhere, the recent remarkable form of Robert Lewandowski (7.60 rating) is perhaps too recent, while a lack of consistency in comparison to the favourites from Luis Suarez (7.73) – not to mention his international ban – will likely mean he is out of the running. The remainder of WhoScored.com’s top 10 players to have made at least 20 appearances in the league and Champions League in 2015 also includes the shortlisted de Bruyne (7.78 rating) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (7.80), but there’s little question as to the front three in our book.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their free app