The Ballon d’Or voters managed to whittle down the world’s supply of football talent to 23 names when the shortlist was announced at the end of October.
But since then, a handful of players have emerged as favourites to take home the coveted individual prize.
Here is a look at five of those footballers touted as potential winners and their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths: If you built a great footballer from lots of spare parts, then the end result would probably be Ronaldo. He ticks all the boxes. Speed? Check. Athleticism? Check. Composure? Check. Control? Check. Accuracy? Check? Determination? Check.
He has been phenomenal in front of goal this year, rattling the net 66 times, which is two more than Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery combined.
Weaknesses: Deficiencies are few and far between in Ronaldo’s game, but it could be argued that his selfishness on the ball can sometimes hinder his team. This season he has averaged almost 10 shots per game—per ESPN—whereas someone like Messi averages just four.
If Ronaldo is having a rare off day, this incessant need to take matters in front of goal into his own hands can often leave teammates frustrated.
Strengths: Ribery has been the standout player in 2013’s standout team. As the Frenchman said himself—per the Independent—he has been “setting defences on fire” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
Ribery has always possessed the talent, but the 30-year-old really delivered on his promise this year. His composure on the ball, confidence to take on players and end product—whether it be goals or assists—are remarkable.
His contribution of 16 goals and 23 assists played a major role in Bayern Munich’s unprecedented treble.
Weaknesses: Again, it’s difficult to find fault in perfection. Ribery did everything that was asked of him this season, and more.
The only real weakness to his game, it could be argued, is his work behind the ball. He benefited from being part of a solid and organised unit, with teammates that could fill in the space behind him when he got caught high up the pitch.
Strengths: Unlike many of the 23-man shortlist, Schweinsteiger’s form can’t necessarily be measured in numbers. You need to see the German in action to get a real sense of his talent.
He is a combative centre-midfielder, with great feet, who simply makes those around him better. He creates space in tight and dangerous areas, and once he gets his head up his passes—both simple and ambitious—are dripping in accuracy.
But his skills don’t begin and end with the ball at his feet. Schweinsteiger plays a vital role in front of the back four for Bayern Munich, limiting the opposition’s space and breaking up attacks.
Weaknesses: When it comes to the Ballon d’Or, voters love the wow factor. And with that in mind, Schweinsteiger’s weakness is in his numbers.
We don’t yet have the statistics to accurately describe how brilliant the German has been, and until then it is unlikely that someone in the Schweinsteiger mould will win the Ballon d’Or.
Strengths: Messi is technically brilliant. His close control and touch are second to none, and he can create space where there is none. For a small guy, he has a bullish strength that helps him boss the world’s best defenders.
But arguably his biggest strength is his explosiveness off the ground. His turn of pace, speed over the first couple of yards and agility leave many an opponent rooted to the spot.
Weaknesses: Messi’s viewed weaknesses this year are a direct result of the stratospheric precedent he set himself last year. His numbers may still impress, but they’re not as high as last year.
Messi is being compared not with fellow players, but with his former self, and that’s a pretty difficult person to better.
Strengths: The German captain was a rock at the back for Bayern Munich during their Champions League winning run. He was part of the back four that shut out both Juventus and Barcelona over two legs in the quarter-final and semi-final.
His ability to read the game is second to none, as is his positional awareness. He is equally as effective going forward. He assisted a remarkable 19 goals from full-back last season, and he has already notched six this year—per ESPN.
Weaknesses: If we’re to get technical, the only real weakness in Lahm’s game is his height, which can sometimes be an issue when defending set plays. But he more than makes up for that with his contribution both with and without the ball.
Lahm is the best defender in the world bar none. But the key word in that sentence is “defender” and voters aren’t too fond of them.
He will be a victim of his position come voting time, with 52 of the 57 former winners all plying their trade in the opponent’s half of the pitch—per FIFA.com. If Lahm was to buck the trend then he would join the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Matthias Sammer and Fabio Cannavaro.