Uefa will name its Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday with defender Virgil van Dijk up against Juventus forward and ’s Lionel Messi for the award.

Last year, Luka Modric ended Ronaldo and Messi’s dominance of the award – and Van Dijk will be hopeful of leaving the duo empty-handed again after a stellar season with the Reds.

Just how good have the three contenders been over the past year? BBC Sport takes a look.

Familiar foes Messi and Ronaldo up once again

It is a battle as old as time itself – or so it can feel.

When it comes to the shortlists for best player trophies – whether in or the world – Messi and Ronaldo have been on them for the best part of the decade.

Since the inception of the Uefa Men’s Player of the Year award in 2011, Ronaldo has won it three times (2014, 2016, 2017), while Messi has won it twice (2011 and 2015).

The pair are in the running once again after phenomenal seasons. Ronaldo helped Juventus win while Messi led to the title.

But how does their form over the past year compare?

Lionel Messi
Games played5085843447
Minutes played4,0246224,6463,6463003,946
Mins per goal7920786130100127
Total shots2582628423519254
Shot conversion19.8%11.5%19%11.9%15.8%12.2%
Expected goals (xG)35.623.3138.9328.31.2929.59
*All data is from 31 July 2018 to 31 July 2019

Between 31 July 2018 and 31 July 2019, Messi was by far the deadlier finisher for club and country. During that 12-month period he scored 54 goals to Ronaldo’s 31 and boasted a goals-per-minute ratio of 86 minutes, compared to 127 for his Portuguese rival.

Messi also did much better than he would be expected to do with the opportunities that came his way, scoring just under 15 more goals than his expected goals tally (35.62) for . Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored 28 goals, pretty much on par with his expected goals total (28.3).

Widening out the comparison to the rest of , Messi outscored all his rivals – his closest challenger, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, scored 11 goals fewer than the Argentina international with 40.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was outscored by eight players in ’s top five leagues while his total of 21 league goals was bettered by three players in .

You shall not pass

Virgil Van Dijk

Van Dijk has been a revelation for since joining from and was an integral part of the side that won the last season and pushed eventual champions Manchester City all the way.

A defender has never won the award before so for the Dutch international to be in the running against Messi and Ronaldo is already a big achievement.

But can he be crowned ’s best player? Let’s take a look at his statistics from 2018-19.

Van Dijk made a total of 59 appearances for club and country last season, scoring nine goals and providing four assists. He also played more minutes for (4,465) than any other outfield player. In all competitions, meanwhile, he won over 70% of his duels and aerial battles, underlining his importance at the heart of the defence.

Virgil van Dijk
*All data is from July 31st 2018 to July 31st 2019
Games played50959
Minutes played4,4658405,305
Duels won30347350
Duel success %73.7%73.4%73.7%
Aerials won22334257
Aerial success %72.4%77.3%73%

conceded fewer goals (22) than any other side last season and Van Dijk was key to that as he won 76.3% of his duels in the league.

Compare that to other defenders in ’s top five leagues and, of the 293 defenders to be involved in 200 or more duels in 2018-19, no player won a higher percentage than Van Dijk.

Defenders in Top Five Euro Leagues: 2018-19CompetitionDuelsDuels WonDuels Success
*All data is from 31 July 2018 to 31 July 2019
Virgil van DijkEnglish 32124576.3%
MarceloFrench Ligue 132523772.9%
Harry MaguireEnglish 24918172.7%
Salif SanéGerman Bundesliga30721971.3%
Shane DuffyEnglish 34023870.0%

It was only to be expected that boss Jurgen Klopp would be singing his defender’s praises after the Reds brushed aside rivals Arsenal 3-1 on Saturday, but the former boss feels it is the right time for a defender to be recognised as ’s best.

“Modern football should be a bit more open for these things,” he said.

“We don’t have to talk just about Lionel Messi and . If we talk about last season, Virgil deserves it; if we talk about lifetime career then Messi and Ronaldo fight for it.

“It is good for kids to see you can be a superstar even if you only defend.”

Differentiating the awards
Criteria2018 winnerWhen awarded this year
Uefa Player of YearBest performances – domestic and internationally – by a player playing at a Uefa member clubLuka Modric29 August
Fifa Best Player Sporting performance as well as general conduct on and off the pitch by a player anywhere in the worldLuka Modric23 September
Ballon d’OrOn-field performance and behaviour off and off the pitch by a player anywhere in the worldLuka Modrictbc, December


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