2013 might only be three months old, but already Lionel Messi is a lock to win the prestigious Ballon d'Or Award for the greatest footballer in the world this year.
The Argentinian international—fresh off an incredible 2012 that saw him break goalscoring records and pick up his fourth Ballon d'Or award—has been in scintillating form through 2013 so far. So much so that we can already pick him out as the winner.
Read on to see the biggest reasons why, despite the year only being three months old, Messi is already nailed in to win the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or award.
We must start here with the acknowledgment that Barcelona are in rare form throughout 2013, and that team success will bode incredibly well for Lionel Messi in his Ballon d'Or bid.
They are a mile clear in La Liga (an improvement on 2012) and stand a great chance to improve on their semi-final loss to Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League this year. Granted, they don't have the Copa del Rey to fall back on this year, but should they win the Spanish domestic title and equal or better their performance in the Champions League, that will definitely fall in Messi's favor.
Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo stand a great chance to rival this, with their Champions League dream still alive. We'll get to this in a later slide, but unless Ronaldo can triumph in the European competition (having already lost to Messi's team in La Liga), he will be hard-pressed to topple the Argentinian.
If Barca can take out the Champions League—which, after watching their 4-0 win over Milan seems a very possible outcome in 2013—Messi will have a huge advantage in the Ballon d'Or race.
Even with half the year still to play.
Yet the Ballon d'Or cannot be solely won by a team's performances—it must come about as a result of an individual's performances within that team success. And so far, Lionel Messi has completely and utterly filled that role perfectly for La Blaugrana.
He has been scoring goals, creating goals, working well with fellow strikers (especially David Villa) and fulfilling his role as the club's go-to player right throughout the season.
His statistics are well noted, and we'll get to them in a minute, but Messi is far more important to Barcelona than just numbers on a page.
His presence makes entire defenses play differently than they would against another opponent, and his ability to open up a game is a skill that few others in world football have.
No other player is as fundamental to a team's success as Messi is, and no other player can create team success as swiftly and decisively as Messi can when he is at his mesmerizing best.
Let's hone in for a minute on Messi and break down just how incredible his performance has been, statistically, throughout the 2013 season for Barcelona and Argentina.
Messi has played 11 domestic matches so far in 2013. He has won eight, lost two and drawn one, and incredibly, has scored in every single one of his 11 games. He has 16 goals and five assists from those 11 games, coupled with an incredible six man of the match awards also.
UEFA Champions League
Messi has played just two Champions League games this year—netting two goals, an assist and a man-of-the-match performance against Milan to bring the Catalan club back from the brink of defeat.
Copa del Rey
Messi has played two Copa del Rey fixtures (both against Madrid) and picked up just one assist from his time in those matches.
Also, Messi has played just one international match—a friendly against Sweden—in which Argentina won 3-2 playing away from home against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co.
As if all of that wasn't enough, Messi's La Liga goalscoring achievements have earned him a record. He has scored in all 11 games this year, and including games last year, has scored in his last 18 games—a record that is as incredibly difficult to achieve.
The most ridiculous part is the fact that he's still going.
All right, it's the game that everyone wants to play—the moment where we examine the statistics between Lionel Messi in 2013 and those of his main Ballon d'Or rivals.
And as much as players like Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Thomas Muller and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would like to be mentioned, the reality is that this is a two-horse race.
Already, three months out.
No other player will even come close to taking the Ballon d'Or from Messi than Cristiano Ronaldo. After all, in the last two years, that duo have combined for 69 and 65 percent of the vote respectively—giving us fair reason to suggest that the only player who can rival Messi is Ronaldo.
And when compared to the Argentinian's achievements, the numbers don't seem to add up for Ronaldo and Madrid—unless they can win the Champions League, that is. It seems that that alone can be the thing to help the Portuguese star triumph over Messi in Ballon d'Or voting this year.
|Lionel Messi (Barcelona)||Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)|
La Liga: 11 games played (8-1-2)
—scored 16 goals, five assists, won six man of match awards
—scored in every La Liga game
La Liga: 10 games played (9-0-1)
—scored 13 goals, two assists, won three man of match awards
—held scoreless in three games
UCL: two games played (1-0-1)
—scored two goals, won man of match award
—sparked incredible comeback at Nou Camp
UCL: two games played (1-1-0)
—scored two goals, one in each leg
—game-winning goal send Madrid to QF's
CDR: two games played (0-1-1)
—held scoreless in both, one assist
—eliminated in semi-finals to Real Madrid
CDR: two games played (1-1-0)
—scored two goals, won man of match award
—sent Madrid through to final
Overall: 15 games played (9-2-4)
—18 goals, six assists, seven man of match awards
Overall: 14 games played (11-2-1)
—17 goals, two assists, four man of match awards
Yet having said all of that, perhaps the most simple point to conclude all of this on is the fact that Lionel Messi—reigning four-time Ballon d'Or winner—is having an even better year so far than in 2012.
You know, the year where he finished with 91 goals and created history. Yeah, that year—Messi is bettering that so far with his incredible performances for Barcelona and Argentina in 2013.
If Barca can go on to win the La Liga title, Messi should win the award. If they can back that up with Champions League success (or even a final appearance that doesn't see Real Madrid win), the little wizard would be in no doubt to claim his fifth straight World Player of the Year Award.
Even without it, he's still the overwhelming favorite—meaning it would take something pretty special from Cristiano Ronaldo to stop the 25-year-old from chalking up another title to his name come next January.
Even if that is still over eight months away.
Who do you think will win the 2013 Ballon d'Or? Messi or Ronaldo?
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All statistics provided via WhoScored.com unless noted otherwise.