Date: 11th January 2016 at 12:56pm
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The 60th annual Ballon d’Or ceremony takes place in Switzerland on Monday evening as one of three superstars will be crowned the world’s best for 2015.

Barcelona strike duo Lionel Messi and Neymar, plus current holder and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, make up the three-man shortlist.

But who deserves to receive the iconic Golden Ball trophy?

We take a look at the trio to see who deserves their place on football’s throne.

Lionel Messi
Club: Barcelona
Ballon d’Or wins: 4 (record – 2009,2010,2011,2012)

6 May 2015 - Champions League - Barcelona v Bayern Munich Lionel Messi celebrates his goal for BarcelonPhoto: Offside / Marca

Messi is on the three-man shortlist for a ninth year in a row

The Argentine is the clear favourite to win the award for a fifth time in seven years, and there’s plenty of reasons why.

Some had doubted the now 28-year-old a couple of years back, wondering if he’d ever return to his best following a series of niggling injuries.

But to even question arguably the greatest player ever was a silly mistake, as he’s proved his critics wrong by coming back as strong, if not stronger, than ever.

Individual Stats

The award is based on a player’s performance over the previous calendar year. In 2015, Messi scored 49 times in 59 matches, including three hat-tricks, for club and country, meaning he’s scored over 40 goals in each of the previous seven seasons.

As well as goals, Messi also created 94 chances for his team-mates, setting up the likes of Luis Suarez and fellow contender Neymar, who make up the most feared front-three in world football.

Team Achievements

The little magician and his club had an incredible 2015, lifting no less than five trophies.

After sealing their 23rd La Liga title, Luis Enrique – in his first season in charge – guided his side to the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

However, Messi failed to add to the hat-trick of winner’s medals in the summer as he fell at the last hurdle in an international tournament once again when Argentina lost to hosts Chile on penalties – one of which he missed – in the Copa America final.

But, just like after the disappointment of losing the 2014 World Cup final, Messi bounced back by scoring a brace to help his club win the European Super Cup, before scoring the opener in a 3-0 triumph over River Plate to secure the FIFA Club World Cup.

These two triumphs came after a defeat against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup, but it still takes Messi’s 2015 honours to five.

Big Games

Something that may count against Messi a tad is his performances in the big, big matches.

His performance and goals in the Champions League semi-final, first-leg against Bayern Munich was outstanding but in the final, despite playing well, he failed to get on the score-sheet.

In El Clasico, he failed to score in the 2-1 win in March, and was only a second half substitute in the 4-0 triumph at the Bernabeu in November, having only just returned from injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Real Madrid
Ballon d’Or wins: 3 (record – 2008,2013,2014)

10 March 2015 - Uefa Champions League - Real Madrid v FC Schalke - Cristiano Ronaldo of Madrid.

Ronaldo is looking to equal Messi’s total of four Ballon d’Or wins

Despite not grabbing all the headlines in 2015, it’s still been another remarkable year in the amazing career of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese is actually the outsider to defend his crown, due to Barcelona’s trophy-filled 12 months, but looking at his individual stats it’s hard to completely rule him out.

To be on the three-man shortlist for an eighth time in nine years is incredible, and if, like so many times in his life, he defies the odds to lift the award, he’ll join Messi on a total record four wins.

Individual Stats

Ronaldo hit the back of the net 57 times in 58 games for club and country in 2015, keeping up his incredible rate of having scored over a goal a game since joining Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2009.

That tally included no less than eight hat-tricks – more than his two challengers put together – and he stuck a record 11 times in the Champions League group stage.

The 30-year-old is said to be more selfish than the Barca duo and that label rings true when you see that he’s set-up 63 chances for his team-mates – 31 less than Messi and a little under half of what Neymar’s created.

Team Achievements

It’s fair to say Real Madrid didn’t have the best of years, and this is where Ronaldo massively trails his two competitors.

The Spanish giants, who won the Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2014, failed to lift any silverware in the calendar year, leading to boss Carlo Ancelotti leaving the club.

However, the former Manchester United star did again play a big part in helping his country progress to a major tournament, scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 win in Armenia to take his tally to five goals in a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Big Games

In the first of two El Clasico matches in 2015, Ronaldo netted Real’s goal in a 2-1 defeat meaning he’s hit the net in a record six consecutive matches between the two sides. However, Barca nullified his threat in the second match and he was left heavily frustrated following a 4-0 home defeat.

In the Champions League, Ronaldo did show up when it mattered, scoring both of his side’s goals in the semi-final, but it wasn’t enough as Juventus progressed 3-2 on aggregate.

Additionally, in the Madrid derby, the forward scored just once in six matches of which Real recorded just a single win.

Three goals in four competitive international matches, all of which came in that win in Armenia, is also below his usual standard.

Neymar
Club: Barcelona
Ballon d’Or wins: 0

5 June 2015 -UEFA Champions League Final 2015 - FC Barcelona Training - Neymar of FC Barcelona - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Neymar is on the three-man shortlist for the first time

The new kid on the block in this trio, Neymar has been included on the three-man shortlist for the first time after an eye-catching 12 months.

Nobody at Barcelona has come close to stealing the headlines away from Messi since the Argentine made his league debut in October 2004, but his fellow South American forward has been able to do just that on more than a handful of occasions.

The second favourite to win the award, the 23-year-old would become the first Brazilian since Kaka in 2007 to be named the world’s best player.

Individual Stats

If you look at his stats, Neymar has a fantastic chance of winning the award.

The forward struck 44 goals in 60 appearances for club and country in the 12 months, including one hat-trick.

Although this is less than his two fellow contenders, the ex-Santos star has created a whopping 135 chances for his team-mates – 41 more than Messi and 72 more than Ronaldo.

Team Achievements

Just like Messi, the silky striker played a massive part in Barca’s trophy haul in 2015, but did win one winner’s medal less than his team-mate after missing the European Super Cup final through injury.

However, the superstar let his country down at Copa America when he was shown a straight red card in the group stage defeat to Colombia. He was subsequently banned for four games and Brazil were knocked out on penalties at the quarter-final stage.

But, just like Messi overcame the disappointment of a final defeat, Neymar bounced back and has been on fire this season, scoring or assisting in pretty much every match.

Big Games

Despite his disappointment with Brazil at Copa America, Neymar’s big game performances are up there with his fellow contenders.

In last season’s Champions League, he scored twice in a 3-2 defeat at Bayern in the semi-final, second-leg, which took Barca to the final, before scoring the third against Juventus to secure a fifth European Cup for the Catalan club.

That strike with four minutes to go also put him level on 10 goals with Messi and Ronaldo in last season’s competition.

In the second El Clasico, the 23-year-old also outshone the famous duo, scoring in the famous 4-0 victory in Madrid.

One goal in four competitive games for Brazil though is slightly below the level he’s set in recent times.

Verdict:

It would be nice to see a new king in Neymar crowned, and his stats give him more than a strong case. However, due to his sheer presence and ability to produce match-winning contributions on a more consistent basis, it’s hard to argue against the odds.

So taking everything into consideration, we feel that Lionel Messi should be given the award for a fifth time, with Neymar second and Cristiano Ronaldo, due to not having won a trophy with Real Madrid, in third.

Winner: Lionel Messi; Second: Neymar; Third: Cristiano Ronaldo

 
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