It’s that time of year again when Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi battle it out for the Ballon d’Or, while the other nominees fight to finish third.
The Portugal and Real Madrid forward is the favourite to take home the honour for the second year running (which would be his fifth overall) in the awards ceremony t the end of the year.
Along with the aforementioned favourites, there are 28 other nominees looking to cause an upset, including the likes of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Philippe Coutinho,Toni Kroos and Antoine Griezmann (though there was, surprisingly, no place for any of Sergio Aguero, Gareth Bale, Manuel Neuer, Dani Alves or Alexis Sanchez).
From that 30, we have constructed a best xi of the players that stand out ahead of the others in their field.
David De Gea (Manchester United). The Manchester United goalkeeper has been in a long-running battle with Neuer and Gianluigi Buffon to determine the world’s best goalkeeper, but the Spaniard might just have the edge now. De Geav is the key to the defensive solidity at Man United, and there’s a reason Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is so desperate to sign him.
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid). A walking red card he may be, but Ramos has still established himself as one of the most consistent defenders in Real Madrid’s history. The Spanish international has made over 500 appearances for Real in his 12 years at the Bernabeu, scoring scoring some massively important goals along the way.
Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich). Hummels made a somewhat controversial move from Borussia Dortmund back to Bayern Munich in summer 2016, but hasn’t let it affect his form. The German centre-half has been as reliable as ever as Bayern comfortably retained the Bundesliga last season, though how the managerial disruption this year affects the team remains to be seen.
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus/AC Milan). A vital cog in Juventus’ watertight defence, Bonucci decided he needed a change in scenery in the summer (having helped Juve to another Champions League final) and so joined AC Milan in a €42m deal. Although the Rossoneri haven’t made the best start to the new Serie A season, Bonucci will still be key to any success they ultimately have.
Marcelo (Real Madrid). The Brazilian is now finally being recognised as one of the best defenders in the world. His ability to bomb forward and assist down the flank in attack, combined with his defensive contribution (which isn’t often needed at Real) make him stand out above others in his position.
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid). The German stuttered a bit under Rafa Benitez, but really found his rhythm again when Zinedine Zidane took over. Kroos is capable of dominating and dictating the midfield on a whim, with concentration and awareness levels that are seemingly at full blast at all times.
Luka Modric (Real Madrid). A gifted player at Tottenham, Modric has truly elevated himself to world class status since joining Real. The Croatian international is, at times, almost like a hybrid of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and where those two were vital to Barcelona’s success, Modric is key to Real’s.
Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid). But for Atletico Madrid’s transfer ban, Griezmann could well be a Manchester United player right now. Still, United’s loss is Atleti’s gain and the converted midfielder-to-forward continues his rise up the footballing ladder with each passing month. Just about shades Kevin De Bruyne on this lineup, however, and that could have all changed by this time next year.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid). One of the best players of his generation – of any generation in fact.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona). See Ronaldo, Cristiano.
Luis Suarez (Barcelona). The toughest position to choose given the fact that these awards are tailored towards forwards (and with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang and Harry Kane providing strong competition), but Suarez still shades it. The Uruguayan hasn’t made the best start to the new campaign as Barca still adapt to the post-Neymar era, but his natural finishing ability should never be in doubt.
The full 30-man list of Ballon d’Or nominees:
Neymar (PSG), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Marcelo (Real Madrid), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), David De Gea (Man United), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Edin Dzeko (Roma), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Edinson Cavani (PSG), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Leonardo Bonucci (AC Milan), Isco (Real Madrid)