Ballon d’Or 2019 November rankings: Strong start to season cements Lionel Messi as top contender

Just one more month to go! The 2019 Ballon d’Or will be given out in the early days of December, with the nominees already announced. As the year comes to a close, we take a look at how the contenders shape up going into the final month before the award ceremony. 

#5 Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring against old club Southampton

Sadio Mane stepped out of Mohamed Salah’s shadow last year and had a stellar season of his own. The Senegal international matched his teammate’s goal-scoring exploits in the Premier League and finished alongside him as the top scorer. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the pair at the top, completing a historic all-African three-way tie for the top scorer award.

Mane’s exploits weren’t limited to the league. He scored four times in Liverpool’s title-winning UEFA Champions League campaign, one fewer than his teammate Salah. Overall he finished the season with twenty-six goals, once again, only one less than the Egyptian.

The Senegalese winger has enjoyed a good start to the 2019/20 season as well. Mane returned to England as 2019 African Cup of Nations runners-up and picked up straight where he left off. He has since scored five times in the league and is currently the top scorer for his club across all competitions with nine. A Ballon d’Or top-five finish is looking likely for the Liverpool man, especially since an injury ruled out Alisson for the early part of the season.

#4 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Mohamed Salah scored one more goal than Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane in UEFA Champions League last season. As a result of that one goal, the Egypt international pipped his teammate to become the club’s top-scorer for the 2018/19 campaign. It is likely that Salah once again gets the better of Mane to finish ahead of him in the Ballon d’Or final rankings.

A twenty-seven goal season last time around ensured that Salah maintained his extraordinary goal-scoring form since joining Liverpool, despite his tally decreasing from the season before. Nevertheless, the winger scored several important goals during the campaign, including the opener in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Final.

Salah’s 2019/20 campaign has been ‘uneven’ so far, albeit only in terms of appearances. He has missed one Premier League game already but has still somehow managed to keep up his form, scoring five times already. The Egyptian has netted thrice in UEFA Champions League, as well, as the Reds look to retain their title.

#3 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

Cristiano Ronaldo gestures towards Atletico Madrid's fans

It wouldn’t be a complete Ballon d’Or list without the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. While the former takes the third spot in our rankings, the latter is set to appear further down the line.

Ronaldo had a good season of his own last time around but was unable to match the numbers put up by his counterpart, Lionel Messi. A major reason for his relatively fewer returns was injuries which saw him partake in just thirty-one league matches last year. Despite that, he managed to score twenty-one times and bag eight assists in the league. He added six more goals in the UEFA Champions League as Juventus exited the competition in the quarter-finals.

Internationally, Ronaldo came into the 2019/20 season as the inaugural UEFA Nations League winner. He started well too but minor injuries saw him lose pace and excluded from the matchday squad. The Portuguese international still has five goals and one assist to his name in the league this season and has scored once in the Champions League. Nonetheless, a Ballon d’Or win this year is looking unlikely.

#2 Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

Virgil van Dijk celebrates Liverpool's Champions League triumph

Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League in 2017/18 despite Mohamed Salah racking up the goals for the Reds. In the January window of 2018, the Reds bought Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a then world-record fee for a defender. A year and a half after signing the Dutchman, the Merseysiders finished second in the league and lifted the UEFA Champions League.

Van Dijk’s contributions to Liverpool’s 2018/19 season were unprecedented, as he went the entire year without being dribbled past. The defender played a huge role in the Reds’ title challenge across all fronts and even managed to keep a clean sheet in the UEFA Champions League final.

The Netherlands international came into the season as a Nations League runner-up and was looking destined for the Ballon d’Or after his UEFA Player of the Year win. However, Van Dijk’s campaign has since lost a little bit of steam, with the star unable to keep up his defensive statistics. Furthermore, Lionel Messi’s win at The Best FIFA Football Awards sees the Dutchman lose his top spot to the Argentine.

#1 Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Lionel Messi celebrates

Lionel Messi started the 2018/19 season terribly. The Argentina star first got knocked out of the FIFA World Cup, alongside his national team, in the round of sixteen. He was then left out of the 2018 Ballon d’Or top three and allocated the fifth position in the final standings.

One year has passed since and Messi continues to prove his doubters wrong. Despite suffering heartache in the summer with his national team at Copa America, the forward remains the firm favourite to win the Ballon d’Or this year. A big reason for that is his club performance over the last calendar year.

Messi scored a staggering fifty-one goals in forty-nine appearances last season, with thirty-six of those coming in La Liga. He finished as the top scorer in the UEFA Champions League too, despite Barcelona getting knocked out in the semi-finals.

The Barcelona star missed early parts of the 2019/20 season due to injury but has scored four and assisted four since his return to the team. Furthermore, he recently passed Cristiano Ronaldo’s career club goals tally and also netted his fiftieth free-kick. He further improved his year by being named The Best FIFA Men’s Player of the Year for 2019 and look to be on his way to a record sixth Ballon d’Or.