Ballon d’Or

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Virgil van Dijk should be serious contender for Ballon d’Or

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The game was boring, they’ll say. The game was dull. The game was putrid. The game was sloppy.

Boring is just the way Virgil Van Dijk likes it.

The Dutch defender was named Man of the Match as he led the back line for Liverpool in a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final to secure the club’s sixth European crown. The game was punctuated by bad passing, poor build-up play, and a general lack of attacking quality, but van Dijk was at the thick of all that, locking down the Tottenham attack and leaving Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, and Harry Kane firmly in his pocket.

Van Dijk donned the Champions League winner’s medal having led the Liverpool defense in one of the most spectacular individual defensive seasons you’ll see. Liverpool conceded just 27 goals across the 38 Premier League matches – not only the best in the English top flight, but the best domestic defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. The Reds conceded just five goals in the Champions League knockout stages against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Porto, and Tottenham Hotspur, with three of those coming in the first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou.

Through it all, van Dijk was a model of consistency and durability, accumulating an enormous 4,465 minutes across all competitions. He missed just three matches all year, sitting out the first leg against Bayern Munich due to yellow card accumulation and resting for the pair of domestic Cup losses to Wolves and Chelsea. Otherwise, van Dijk played every single minute of every single match throughout the entire season, racking up 26 clean sheets in his 50 appearances on the pitch – over half the games he played Liverpool did not concede.

Nevertheless, those are team achievements. That’s where the most unbelievable stat comes into play, proof of van Dijk’s dominance on the season. The 27-year-old did has not been dribbled past in a staggering 64 straight matches, completing 52 straight tackles this season without fail, a perfect personal defensive record.

In fact, as Opta confirms, van Dijk has not been dribbled past since a 5-0 win over Porto in February of 2018, his first Champions League appearance for the club.

All these glittering facts and figures culminate together to make one glaringly blatant argument that might not seem so blatant after all: Virgil van Dijk should be a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or come December, with a real chance to be the first defender to win the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and only the fourth defender to win the award in its history.

Obviously there’s plenty of time to go. Van Dijk will likely be in the lineup for the Netherlands as they take on England in just five days in the Nations League semifinals, and should he lock it down in Portugal, a solid performance on a short turnaround would be yet another feather in his cap this season. If Liverpool starts next Premier League as expected title contenders, van Dijk could even be the frontrunner for the prestigious award headed into the fall.

Still, a modest van Dijk just minutes off winning the Champions League doesn’t think he is the best player in the world. “I think [Barcelona striker Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world,” van Dijk said in his post-match press conference. “I think he deserves [the Ballon d’Or] as long as he plays. The Ballon d’Or isn’t something I think about. But if it happens by any chance then obviously I will take it. I don’t think there is any case. I think he is still the best player in the world. Whether he’s in the final or not.”

Luka Modric won last year’s Ballon d’Or essentially on the back of a fabulous World Cup performance, despite the fact Real Madrid suffered through a dismal October of La Liga play, dropping to ninth in the table and falling out of the La Liga title race. Van Dijk may not have that much room for error in the calendar year, given his status as a defender always puts him behind the curve of the flashier goalscorers and even midfield maestros like Modric. Still, the Dutchman merits serious consideration and potentially even the trophy should he continue to plod along on this stellar pace.

VIDEO: DJ Solveig slammed for Ballon d’Or twerk question

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French DJ Martin Solveig has been slammed for asking the first-ever woman to win the Ballon d’Or, Ada Hegerberg, if she could twerk.

Solveig, who hosted the glitzy France Football event on Monday where Hegerberg won the award, has since apologized (sort of) but his actions have rightly been criticized across the globe.

This was a seminal moment for women’s soccer. For the first-time ever they had a Ballon d’Or winner and instead of treating the player with the same respect as Luka Modric, the male winner for 2018, Solveig instead revealed just how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the game of blatant sexism.

Hegerberg has since said she wasn’t offended by the comment and simply replied “non” in French when asked if she could twerk.

All of this occurred after the Norwegian star had given a wonderful acceptance speech talking about inspiring young girls around the globe to chase their dreams to become a professional player.

Below is a video of the clip of Solveig’s question, while here is his rather meek attempt at an apology.


Ballon d’Or: Modric ends Messi, Ronaldo’s 10-year duopoly

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Luke Modric was named 2018 Ballon d’Or winner on Monday, breaking up the decade-long reign of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — or, is it Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? — who had each won the award five times in the last 10 years.

[ MORE: VAR coming to Champions League in February; Pep “delighted” ]

The 33-year-old midfielder played a pivotal part for Real Madrid as Los Blancos lifted their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy — the first club to win it back-to-back, let alone back-to-back-to-back — and was even more central to Croatia unexpectedly reaching the World Cup final, where they ultimately lost to France.

Messi finished fifth in voting for the 2018 award — the first time he’s been outside the top-three since 2006 — while Ronaldo finished second behind his former Madrid teammate. World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe finished third and fourth, respectively.

Mbappe took home the inaugural Kopa Trophy, given to the best player under the age of 21. American attacker Christian Pulisic finished second.

[ MORE: FA Cup draw: PL giants handed lower-league opponents ]

Lyon and Norway forward Ada Hegerberg was crowned the first-ever female Ballon d’Or winner after someone realized that female players should be celebrated, too. Unfortunately, organizers felt the event needed a DJ and Martin Solveig chose to disgrace himself and Hegerberg’s accomplishment with a hugely inappropriate comment.

Fortunately, Hegerberg was able to impart a great bit of wisdom and inspiration before Solveig intervened and hijacked the moment.

Ballon d’Or: The Case for Messi

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The Ballon d’Or… could it really not wind up in the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Mohamed Salah is polling very well in the fan vote.

Paul Pogba says he’s not deserving, but give it to N'Golo Kante, Raphael Varane, Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann.

And Griezmann thinks it has to be a Frenchman, saying, “In this best team in the World, there must be the best player in the world, right? … But I think that a Frenchman must be Ballon d’Or.”

Then there’s Luka Modric, who won FIFA’s Best Player award.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

This year has seen more talk of a winner not named Messi or Ronaldo since 2010, when Messi pipped Andres Iniesta to the honor, or 2007 when Kaka finished ahead of the pair.

In fact, those are the only two years since 2007 that Messi and Ronaldo didn’t finish 1-2 in some order, with each claiming five Ballons d’Or.

Our esteemed editor, Joe Prince-Wright, has Ronaldo three and Messi four this year, behind World Cup winner Mbappe and World Cup finalist Modric.

And I get that, really I do. But is there any doubt that Messi and Ronaldo remain the two best players in the world? And is there a really an argument that any player had a better season that either one?

Let’s go strictly cosmetic stats to start to separate the goal producers, which leaves Kante, Modric, and others for another discussion.

Outstanding seasons, no doubt. Ronaldo still managed better than a goal-per-game while helping Real Madrid the first Champions League threepeat since the 1970s. Salah was the best part of the most scintillating non-possession based attack in the world. Griezmann and Messi’s numbers speak for themselves, while Mbappe — sorry Joe — for me sits a clear fifth.

For me, it’s 1) Messi, 2) Griezmann, 3) Ronaldo, 4) Salah, 5) Mbappe

For non-scorers, it’s 1) Kante, 2) Modric, 3) Kevin De Bruyne

Yes, we made it this far without mentioning KDB, or Eden Hazard, or Harry Kane!

This is most certainly the dawn of the post-Messi/Ronaldo era, but I don’t see the 10-year run atop the list ending this season.

Why? Because I cannot fathom a world in which the majority of voters don’t eyeball the game, take the smell test, and say two words.

Lionel Messi.

Spending some time comparing my Top Four attackers on advanced stats site Squawka buttresses the gut feeling. While Salah was better than Messi in the Champions League — the road perhaps a bit easier — Messi was far superior to the field in league play.

Messi rates better in possession and defensive statistics, but here’s what I’d ask you to consider in assessing last season. Your favorite club earns a massive win against Barcelona, Liverpool, Real, Atleti, or PSG. Insert each players’ name, and which one feels more of an indictment on your win:

“Yeah, but (insert player here) didn’t play.”

EPILOGUE: For what it’s worth, there’s a huge sentimental part of me that says Griezmann’s continued stardom on an understated Atleti or Kante’s game-changing performance in three different champion midfields (Chelsea, Leicester City, France) should lift the trophy. But it’s going to go to one of the more prolific scorers… and that means Messi.

Ranking the 30 Ballon d’Or nominees

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Which player deserved to be named the best in the world and win the 2018 Ballon d’Or?

[ MORE: Pulisic up for prestigious award ]

France Football released its 30-man shortlist for their award which salutes the top player on the planet each year. FIFA’s The Best award has become a contender for the Ballon d’Or, but this is still the top individual award that the elite want to win.

Cristiano Ronaldo has won five, so too has Lionel Messi as they hold the record for the most Ballon d’Or’s won by a single player.

But it seems that in 2018 their decade of dominance (either Ronaldo or Messi has won the award each year since 2008) will end and there will be a new player lifting the glorious golden trophy. And to imagine the likes of David De Gea, David Silva and Roberto Lewandowski didn’t even make the shortlist.

Below we have a go at ranking the 30 nominees on the shortlist, as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is already absolutely crushing the fans’ vote on the website, with Messi in second.

You can vote online here for the award which is dished out in December, and here’s how we think the top 30 players in the world stack up based on their form in 2018.


1. Kylian Mbappe
2. Luka Modric
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
4. Lionel Messi
5. Antoine Griezmann
6. Mohamed Salah
7. Neymar
8. Eden Hazard
9. Kevin De Bruyne
10. N'Golo Kante
11. Raphael Varane
12. Harry Kane
13. Sergio Ramos
14. Luis Suarez
15. Ivan Rakitic
16. Sergio Aguero
17. Marcelo
18. Paul Pogba
19. Thibaut Courtois
20. Sadio Mane
21. Diego Godin
22. Isco
23. Edinson Cavani
24. Alisson
25. Mario Mandzukic
26. Hugo Lloris
27. Roberto Firmino
28. Gareth Bale
29. Karim Benzema
30. Jan Oblak