Can anyone stop Virgil van Dijk adding the Ballon d'Or to his list of accolades this year? Paul Higham thinks he's a worthy odds-on favourite.
Why should Virgil van Dijk win the Ballon d'Or?
There are stats coming out of our ears about how good Van Dijk has been since making the now well-trodden path from Southampton to Liverpool, and while they're all impressive his real worth is something that doesn't really show up in an Opta report.
He's already being held up as an Anfield icon for bolstering a defence that was the predominant reason why Jurgen Klopp's excitable Liverpool side had previously entertained many but had no trophies to show for it.
Van Dijk was Man of the Match when leading Liverpool to the Champions League trophy, and won the PFA Player of the Year after marshalling the meanest defence in Europe to a record Premier League points tally and just one defeat.
However, it's the way he keeps the opposition at bay, the aura of assured calm he projects and the confidence he visibly exudes, seemingly having every situation under control, that has Liverpool fans already comparing him to Alan Hansen, and pundits proclaiming him as the best in the world.
He's a mountain of a man, but can cover the ground with effortless speed - a Rolls-Royce of a defender that can also perform with the ball, spraying passes around the field at will, while also being a danger in the opposition penalty area.
In short he has everything - and after Luka Modric broke the decade-long Messi/Ronaldo stranglehold of the Ballon d'Or, Van Dijk is well out in front in this year's renewal and it'd be a huge upset if he didn't go on to become the first defender since 2006 World Cup-winning skipper Fabio Cannavaro to scoop the award.
The format is also in Van Dijk's favour - as although it's a calendar year award it's usually handed out as a reward for the previous season, with nominations in October and award winner in December, so it'll take something special for a late run from someone else.
Champions League winners also usually grab the award (nine of the last 12) and that was the main decider between Messi and Ronaldo during their decade of dominance.
Who can challenge Van Dijk for the Ballon d'Or award?
51 goals in 50 games for Barcelona last season tells you Messi is still a goal-scoring phenomenon as he topped the scoring charts in both La Liga and the Champions League, yet it was still seen as a so-so season for the Argentinian wonder.
Two reasons for that really, one being Barca's remarkable Champions League collapse at Anfield, when Messi went missing, and Argentina's failure to win the Copa America. It's another international blank for Messi and that certainly counts against him given the insane levels he's judged on these days.
Ronaldo had his worst goal-scoring return in a decade with a paltry (for him) tally of 28 goals as he swapped Real Madrid for Juventus, but was unable to help the Italians win the Champions League trophy they crave.
He did lead Portugal to Nations League glory and that may help his case, but the odds tell you he's not been able to impress enough during the year to look like troubling market leader Van Dijk.
A lot of Van Dijk's opposition for the award comes from within his own dressing room, starting with his goalkeeper Allison, who followed up the Champions League with a Copa America title with Brazil - where his finest achievement this year may well have been keeping Man City stopper Ederson out of the Brazil starting XI.
He had more clean sheets than anyone else in Europe's big leagues last season and his late save against Napoli kept Liverpool in the Champions League in their final group game. Lev Yashin is the only keeper to win this award, though, and it's unlikely Allison will follow him - this year at least.
Another Liverpool team-mate in the now global superstar that is Mo Salah, who retained his Premier League Golden Boot - to some degree - when finishing in a three-way tie with Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It was another excellent season for Salah but the negative criticism that came about when he fell slightly below his extremely high standards of his debut season at Anfield have hurt his chances here.
Manchester City players are strangely absent from the list of contenders, with Silva being their top representative, but that shows you this award usually favours European success, and City are sadly lacking in that aspect despite dominating in England last season.
Silva beats out Raheem Sterling (33/1) mainly due to Portugal's success in the Nations League - plus he looks like being City's captain of the future with a growing influence in Pep Guardiola's team.
Just a word on the Ajax duo who should perhaps be given a bit more credit for their remarkable Champions League run that came just a few seconds from them making the final. They've both joined bigger clubs so could threaten this award in years to come, though.
Their outsider tag here is a sign of just how dominant Van Dijk has been in the betting market as much as it as about being penalised for playing in the Dutch league.
Odds correct as of 13:55 on 24/07/19
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