The last time a footballer not named Lionel or Cristiano won the Ballon d’Or was way back in 2007.
Messi and Ronaldo have enjoyed a duopoly over the game’s biggest individual prize for the last seven years. The former has been honoured four times, the latter three.
On Monday, Real Madrid’s Ronaldo is in contention to win the Ballon d’Or for a third year in succession – a hat-trick that would draw him level with Barcelona’s Messi on four awards overall.
Messi’s team-mate Neymar is also in the race after he played a key role in Barcelona’s treble-winning 2014-15 season.
So who will walk away from Zurich with the Ballon d’Or under their arm?
Is Ronaldo set to make it three in a row? Will Messi return to the pinnacle of world football after a two-year absence? Or can Neymar upset the status quo by taking top spot on the podium?
Here, we cast an analytical eye over the three contenders’ Opta data for 2015:
After a 2013-14 that was, by his own stratospheric standards, a little subdued, Lionel Messi returned to his very best in 2014-15.
As ever, Messi was Barcelona’s inspiration, as he formed a devastating attacking trident with Neymar and Luis Suarez that swept his side to a La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble.
A brace in the European Super Cup final against Sevilla and the opening goal in Barca’s Club World Cup final triumph over River Plate ensured Messi’s influence was stamped all over his club’s five-trophy haul over the course of the calendar year.
The only major blot on the Argentina captain’s 2015 copybook was his nation’s Copa America final defeat to Chile, but a return of 52 goals and 26 assists in 61 games for club and country over the 12-month period is evidence enough as to why he is, once again, in the Ballon d’Or running.
Messi netted 34 times in 33 La Liga appearances during 2015, with his minutes-per-goal rate of 80 the best of any player across Europe’s top five leagues.
A haul of 15 assists also meant he was directly involved in 49 La Liga goals throughout the year – the joint-most across Europe’s top five leagues, equal with Ronaldo. However, it took Messi 652 fewer minutes to reach that tally when compared to his great rival.
Real Madrid may have ended 2015 empty-handed, but Cristiano Ronaldo was his typically – and incredibly – prolific self throughout the year.
A previously-unthinkable ratio of at least one-goal-a-game has become the norm for Ronaldo and Messi, and the Portugal captain once again hit those heights last year, netting 57 times in 57 appearances for club and country.
Ronaldo outscored Messi in both La Liga (37-34) and the Champions League (16-5) during 2015. His goal-a-game ratio compares favourably to Messi’s calendar-year record, while his overall minutes-to-goal figure (88) is comfortably better than the Barcelona man’s (101).
The Ballon d’Or holder, who also provided 17 assists in 2015, registered 91 shots on target in La Liga during 2015 – more than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues – and reached the landmark of 500 career goals in Madrid’s Champions League win over Malmo in September.
Neymar has long been viewed as a future Ballon d’Or winner, and 2015 was the year when the 23-year-old came of age.
The Brazilian forward was a wonderful sidekick to Messi – in terms of both aesthetics and productivity – and registered 41 goals and 16 assists in 53 appearances for Barcelona across the year.
Neymar displayed his liking for the big occasion by scoring in every Champions League knockout fixture from the quarter-finals onwards in 2014-15, including one in Barca’s 3-1 win over Juventus in the final.
His importance to his club is underlined by the fact he played more Champions League minutes than any other Barca outfield player during the calendar year (1070 out of a possible 1170), and his creation of 34 chances in the competition across 2015 cannot be matched by any other player.
Like his club-mate Messi, the Copa America was a rare low point for Neymar last year, as he was sent off in a group-game defeat to Colombia and banned for the rest of the tournament.
Nevertheless, the former Santos man still scored four goals in nine appearances for Brazil in 2015 and – just like Messi and Ronaldo – now wears the captain’s armband for his country.
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