Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the obvious favourites to once again win this year’s Ballon d’Or – but here are 10 other players – based on annual ratings averages – who should challenge them.
With Christmas getting ever closer and the nights getting colder, the race for the Ballon d’Or is beginning to heat up.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the stand out favourites for the individual gong, but what if they weren’t in the equation for the award?
Here, Sportmasta's blog pick out an alternative top-10 to determine who might land the accolade were Messi and Ronaldo not nominated, looking at the best-rated players to make 20 or more league and European appearances this calendar year…
For context, Messi tops the list with a rating of 8.36, while Ronaldo is – by his standards – a lowly fourth, with a 7.96.
Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid (2016 Sportmasta'sblog Rating 7.67)Chelsea fans were relatively unmoved when Filipe Luis departed Stamford Bridge for Atletico Madrid after a solitary season in west London having been routinely overlooked by then-manager Jose Mourinho.
However, his return to the Spanish capital coincided with an upturn in fortunes, with the left-back once again one of the most consistent in his position on the continent. He has made the second most tackles (116) in La Liga this year, reinforcing the belief that he is one of the best full-backs in Europe.
N’Golo Kante – Leicester/Chelsea (7.72)One player who was cruelly overlooked when the 30-man shortlist was announced was N’Golo Kante, who played a starring role in Leicester’s title win. His excellent form for the Foxes earned him a big money move to Chelsea where – after a stuttering start – the Frenchman has since become a key man under Antonio Conte, particularly following the Italian’s switch to a three-man defence. Kante’s limitless energy in the middle of the park means he’s made more tackles and interceptions combined (247) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues in 2016, with his omission one of the more bizarre.
Dimitri Payet – West Ham (7.73)
On the back of a stunning Euro 2016, Dimitri Payet was heavily linked with a move away from West Ham, with Real Madrid a potential destination for the 29-year-old.
The Hammers refused to sell, though, and for good reason. Payet has played more key passes (112) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this year, to reinforce a statistically calculated strength of ‘key passes’.
In what’s been an excellent year for the West Ham man, he certainly deserves his place on the 30-man shortlist, with his rating (7.73) mirroring his fine club form.
Luis Suarez – Barcelona (7.79)
It’s without doubt that Luis Suarez is the most lethal frontman in Europe at present. The Uruguay international has scored 33 league goals in 2016, more than any other player in the top five divisions of European football this calendar year, and remains one of the outside bets to secure the Ballon d’Or.
As the focal point in Barcelona’s famous attacking trident, the 29-year-old is consistently excellent in front of goal with some feeling Suarez warrants the award after another prolific year for the Blaugrana.
Paulo Dybala – Juventus (7.81)
Paulo Dybala’s season has ground to a halt on the back of an injury sustained in Juventus’ 1-0 loss at AC Milan last month, but the Argentine has certainly been one of Europe’s most formidable frontmen in 2016.
The 23-year-old played a key role in the Old Lady’s Serie A title win and started the campaign in fine fettle before a thigh problem arose at the San Siro. While he’s unlikely to be in the final reckoning, if Dybala can continue his impressive development, it may not be long before the striker is one of the favourites for future Ballon d’Or awards.
Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal (7.82)
Alexis Sanchez has looked back to his best having been routinely deployed as the lone frontman for Arsenal this season and he was perhaps unfairly overlooked for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
The Chilean is one of the more consistent performers in his position in Europe with his rating (7.82) highlighting his good form in the final third.
The 27-year-old’s Arsenal future may be in doubt, but there is no denying his ability when it comes to netting and creating for teammates.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – PSG/Manchester United (7.86)
When it was confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would depart PSG over the summer, Manchester United was the logical destination and when it came to pass; supporters were hopeful he could transfer his fine goalscoring form from Ligue 1 to the Premier League.
He may have endured a barren spell in front of goal, but the 35-year-old still has six league goals to his name, contributing to his 29 this calendar year, a fine return for the experienced Swede.
Paul Pogba – Juventus/Manchester United (7.93)
Paul Pogba was the highest rated player in Serie A last season with a rating of 7.81 and while many believe he is yet to hit his stride upon his return to England, the Frenchman features in Premier League team of the season.
His ability to carry possession forward is comfortably one of Pogba’s better assets, with an average of 2.9 successful dribbles per game one of the better returns of central midfielders to attempt 50 more dribbles this calendar year.
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid (7.96)
Interestingly, the player expected to take over Ronaldo’s mantle at Real Madrid also has a marginally better score here, with Gareth Bale’s rating (7.96) the third best in 2016.
Ronaldo is revered for his aerial threat in the opposition box, but his exploits have been bettered by Bale, whose eight headed goals is a return bettered only by Michail Antonio (10) in Europe’s top five leagues this year.
Either way, Bale has enjoyed a fine 2016, with the Wales international tipped to continue his development in a bid to become the best in the world.
Neymar – Barcelona (8.20)
Only team-mate Messi (8.36) has gained a better rating than Neymar (8.20) this year, with the Brazilian excelling for Barcelona under Luis Enrique.
No player has completed more dribbles (119) than the attacker this year, while only Franco Vazquez (149) has been fouled more times than Neymar (116).
Like Suarez, the 24-year-old is an outside bet for the Ballon d’Or award, but were Messi or Ronaldo not nominated for the award, then the Brazil star would undoubtedly be among the favourites to land the individual gong.