Lionel Messi scored Barcelona’s winning goal at Atletico Madrid on Sunday night. Michael Hincks was at the Wanda Metropolitano to watch the Argentine produce the goods once more on the eve of the Ballon d’Or announcement…
Ballon d’Or frontrunners Virgil van Dijk and Lionel Messi both provided timely reminders as to why they are in contention to pick up France Football’s coveted award on Monday.
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Van Dijk took centre stage on Saturday, with his double of headers against Brighton helping Liverpool maintain their eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
On Sunday, it was Messi’s turn, with the 32-year-old scoring the winning goal at Atletico Madrid in the 86th minute as Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga.
It was a golden goal from the man looking to lift his sixth golden ball, and having pipped Van Dijk to win FIFA’s The Best award in September, there is a growing belief that Messi will be crowned the world’s best men’s player once more.
“If you have to give it to the best, let’s just give it to Messi and the problem is solved,” Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde said ahead of the match. And reports suggest they have done just that.
Has Messi already won?
It is impossible to ignore the noise that Messi has reportedly already been informed of his triumph.
“All roads lead to Messi winning the Ballon d’Or,” read Marca’s headline last week, with the Spanish paper claiming two France Football representatives were in Barcelona to give the Argentine the news.
The meeting was neither confirmed or denied to Marca, but a ‘leaked picture’ claiming to be the results added further fuel to the rumours that Messi has won.
The picture, which was doing the rounds on social media on Sunday, placed Messi first ahead of Van Dijk, with Mohamed Salah third and Cristiano Ronaldo fourth.
Time will only tell whether those ‘results’ are in fact legitimate. However, should the reports be true, then it would mark a record-breaking sixth Ballon d’Or award for the Barcelona forward, moving him one ahead of Ronaldo.
It would add to the ever-growing list of accolades won by Messi, who lifted La Liga earlier this year and marked his 700th Barcelona appearance with a goal against Borussia Dortmund last week.
But having missed out in the Champions League, Messi’s potential Ballon d’Or win would perhaps raise the debate that forwards get a stats-based boost over defenders when it comes to being considered for awards.
The glitz that comes with goals and assists somewhat outshines the clean sheets and dogged work done by defenders, and centre-back Van Dijk – who spearheaded Liverpool’s Champions League victory and 97-point haul in the Premier League – may feel his position meant he was always going to miss out.
Van Dijk was one of five defenders among the 30 Ballon d’Or nominees announced in October, while Fabio Cannavaro was the last defender to win the award in 2006.
Klopp: Best player of last season? That’s Virgil
For Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, the answer is simple. His rock-solid defender deserves football’s most prestigious individual award.
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- Klopp: Van Dijk should win Ballon d’Or
“The best player of all? That’s Lionel. Best player of last season? That’s Virgil. We will see,” Klopp said.
“If you give the Ballon d’Or to the best player of this generation then you should give it always to Lionel Messi. That’s how it is.
“But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk. I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it.”
Rangers boss and former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard echoed these sentiments, stating Van Dijk “100 per cent” merits the award.
Gerrard said: “If you talk about consistency from one player over a year, who wins the European Cup and is absolutely faultless in every performance, that means you deserve to win the Ballon d’Or.”
Van Dijk meanwhile has declared there are “no losers” ahead of Monday’s ceremony in Paris.
“I am very proud to be in that bracket, to be in there for the way I performed with the team last year and also with the country,” Van Dijk said. “There are no losers on that evening.