2017 Ballon d'Or Rankings After Opening Quarter of Year

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 5, 2017

2017 Ballon d'Or Rankings After Opening Quarter of Year

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    With one quarter of the 2017 calendar year in the books, it's the perfect time to take an early look at one of football's most prestigious individual prizes: the Ballon d'Or.

    What happens between now and December, when the award is presented to the player perceived to have been the best performing in all of football this year, is anyone's guess, but what we can do is crunch the 2017 data so far and provide an outlook on who is currently in pole position.

    We've ranked the 20 best players of the year so far. Is Cristiano Ronaldo in line to retain his 2016 crown, or has another impressed more so and stolen a march on him? Is 2016's all-La Liga podium (Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann) still the dominant force, or have Bundesliga and Premier League performances broken the glass ceiling?

    International football is countedafter all, it was Ronaldo's success with Portugal at the European Championships that gave him the edge in 2016's editionbut there's only been one international break so far, so the influence isn't too heavy.

    Reputations also count. The Ballon d'Or is partially a popularity contest, inclusive of the biggest names in the sport, and that's been reflected in the names included. It has meant some excellent performers this year who aren't quite as celebrated (such as Leroy Sane of Manchester City) don't feature, but that's par for the course with this award.

    Another tendency of the Ballon d'Or is to largely ignore defenders and goalkeepers. 2016's shortlist included just six players who can be perceived as defensivethree centre-backs, all of whom played in the Champions League final and one of which won the European Championships, and three goalkeepers.

    The populous' vote has little room for that side of the game, so while there is a touch of defensive influence in these rankings, it's 90 per cent attacking.

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    25. Andrea Belotti, Torino

    Belotti's 11 goals in 2017 is an impressive featparticularly when playing for an inconsistent Torino teamand if he were to secure a big move in the summer and continue in this fashion, he'd be in a better position in these rankings.

    24. Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

    Kane's ligament injury, sustained just before the international break, cut down a man on a truly ominous roll. With 14 goals already this year and Champions League football all-but assured for next season, the Englishman's stock is only going to continue rising.

    23. Thomas Lemar, Monaco

    It has taken Lemar just two years to rise from prospect to near-world-class performer. His football IQ is through the roof, and he's scoring and assisting regularly in this brilliant Monaco side.

    22. Edin Dzeko, Roma 

    Dzeko has been on fire in 2017, plundering 15 goals in all competitions, but there are a number of factors working against him making the top order in these rankings. Serie A is seen by UEFA as only the fourth-strongest league on the continent, and Roma have failed in Europe this year, meaning he can't contest a prestigious semi-final or final in 2017.

    21. David Silva, Manchester City

    Silva was pretty good in the first half of the seasonimpressive, but nothing to write home about. Since the calendar flipped, though, he's been nothing short of monstrous, becoming Pep Guardiola's key central midfielder and tearing teams apart. He's also become Spain's fourth all-time highest goalscorer.

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    20. Dries Mertens, Napoli

    The reinvention of Mertens has been one of the best storylines of 2016-17. Stepping in for the injured Arkadiusz Milik up front for Napoli, he's been an assassin in front of goal. Had his seven goals in two games against Cagliari and Torino been in January, not December, he might well have breached the top 10.


    19. Bernardo Silva, Monaco

    Delightful Portuguese winger Silva impresses in almost every outing, has most of Europe's top clubs chasing after him and recently made Manchester City's defenders look rather foolish on the way to a Champions League quarter-final berth.

    18. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

    This calendar year has seen Ramos' defending improve markedly compared to the beginning of the campaign, and he's married that with some crucial goals to keep Real Madrid on course for success.

    17. Toni Kroos, Real Madrid

    Kroos is having his most impactful season in some time, having already breached double figures on assists in La Liga. Real Madrid have endured myriad injuries in central midfield this season, Kroos included, but he's been the glue that's held it together at times.

    16. Casemiro, Real Madrid

    Casemiro's importance to this Real Madrid team is now undeniable. The balance he provides to an ultra-attacking side might even cause Florentino Perez to rethink a few things with regard to recruitment.

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    15. Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich

    Bayern rather stumbled through the first half of the season, and Robben was as much a part of that as anyone, but he in particular has stepped it up noticeably since the turn of the year. Even in a rare defeat, the Dutchman is a bright spark.

    14. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

    Hazard has sparkled all season long, but particularly so since the turn of the year. It's a good job he's picked up Diego Costa's slack, as had they both dipped, Chelsea's Premier League title might well be in jeopardy. 

    13. Paulo Dybala, Juventus

    On the rare occasion Juventus look stodgy and slow, Dybala still whisks around the pitch, sparking interchanges and imbuing the team with speed and purpose. His 10-goal, three-assist haul so far this year adds a bit of statistical weight to his great performances, too.

    12. N'Golo Kante, Chelsea

    Rightly being recognised as one of the best central midfielders in the world, Kante makes the jobs of those who play alongside him significantly easier as he does three people's work on the pitch.

    11. Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus

    Ten goals and two assists is a good return for the year so far, but Higuain has been a little off-colour recently, netting just once in his last six games. That hurts the Argentinian's stock just enough to keep him outside the top 10. 

10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund

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    With a slightly lean post-Africa Cup of Nations period firmly fixed in the rear-view mirror, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has hit form and is firing on all cylinders.

    He's scored 11 goals in his last seven games in all competitions, netting in each of them, and that haul includes a stunning hat-trick against Benfica in the Champions League.

    There are some doubts over whether he's the complete striking solution, as he does have a nagging tendency to miss very similar, close-range chances, but he's passed the 30-goal mark for the second straight season for Borussia Dortmund and has intimated he'd quite like to take Real Madrid up on their interest this summer, per The Independent. Any issues are minor.

    With concentrated interest in him ahead of a potential big transfer, you can expect the Gabon international to maintain his form right the way through the season.

9. Ousmane Dembele, Borussia Dortmund

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    The extent to which Ousmane Dembele has assumed control over this Borussia Dortmund attack is astonishing. Bought as a 19-year-old with limited first-team experience in a weak league, few believed he'd become this important this fast.

    But then again, when you watch the Frenchman fearlessly run down defenders' throats and beat them mercilessly, perhaps we shouldn't have doubted him. His natural talent exceeds most footballers', and he's risen to the challenge of making the difference in lieu of the oft-injured Marco Reus, rather than shrunk in the face of it.

    Dembele's a ludicrous dribbler, a lightning fast counter-attacking presence and a bountiful creator. Any striker would love to play alongside him due to the sheer amount of space and chances he creates, and he's only going to get betterwhat an incredibly scary thought...for defenders.

8. Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Questions aplenty were directed toward Paris Saint-Germain after their epic Champions League collapse knocked them out of the competition at the round-of-16 stage, but Edinson Cavani remained largely exempt from any criticism that followed.

    For the first time in his PSG career, there's little to criticise. He still misses clear-cut chanceshe probably always willbut since being moved to the central striking role post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he's more than carried his weight up top.

    With 16 goals already under his belt this year, including two against Barcelona and two in the Coupe de la Ligue final against Monaco, he's both scoring regularly and netting against top-tier opposition at domestic level.

    His form for Uruguay has seen him shoot to the top of the CONMEBOL scoring charts, though only one of those nine goals have been scored in 2017, as he finally appears to be coming to terms with his "prima punta" role in the side.

7. Thiago Alcantara, Bayern Munich

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    That Thiago Alcantara had the potential to become this good was always plainly obvious, the only question was whether his own fitness would permit him to reach his own ceiling.

    The 2016-17 campaign has been his only one free of major injury for a long timecertainly the one only since moving to Bayern Munichand it comes as no surprise that, with a bit of momentum behind him, he's become the key man in midfield for both club and country.

    In this most recent international break, he showcased to Spain what he has done to Germany all season long: remarkable ability on the ball, a gliding nature to his runs in midfield and arguably the best through pass the game of football currently has to offer.

    He has refreshed La Roja to such an extent there's a legitimate chance he's a cornerstone in another Spanish dynasty to come.

    For Bayern, he's surpassed all expectations in year one under Carlo Ancelotti and is now probably more important to the side than even Arturo Vidal. He picks out passes few others in the world are capable of—much to Robert Lewandowski's delight.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    As it stands, Cristiano Ronaldo has a lot of ground to make up if he's to retain the Ballon d'Or in 2017. 

    It's not that he's been poorin no way can 12 goals and five assists this year be considered anything short of excellent—but there have been times where he hasn't looked quite so indomitable as season's past.

    The long-expected decline in his play might just be happening; it did take him a long time to find his groove this season, recovering slowly from an injury suffered in the Euro 2016 final. 

    That said, crucial moments have always been his forte, and he's already provided several. He stepped up in both legs against Napoli in the Champions League round of 16, failing to score, but playing well and instilling fear into Elseid Hysaj and Co. 

    If Real Madrid continue on their current La Liga war path, securing the title, and do what no team has ever doneretain the Champions League (in its current format)Ronaldo will no doubt be key to both feats and could well vault up these rankings into a prime position.

5. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

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    It took Antoine Griezmann a little while to put the heartache of Euro 2016 in the past, but he has snapped back into form and is attacking 2017 head-on.

    He's scored 13 goals this year, but most impressively, he has netted in 12 different gamesthat means just one brace (against Valencia) has been recorded, as he makes the difference on a consistent basis from week to week.

    There's no doubt that the Frenchman's recovery has been the most instrumental part of Atletico Madrid's own revival. They went through something of an identity crisis during the first half of the season, putting more onus on attacking with more men as Griezmann wasn't hauling in his usual tally.

    Now that he's comfortable being relied upon as the match-winner again, the whole team has settled back into that grinding groove Diego Simeone built his reputation on.

4. Luis Suarez, Barcelona

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    Statistically speaking, Luis Suarez is among the most impressive players in world football in 2017, finding the net 16 times in all competitions and assisting six more. There have been games, such as the recent one against Granada, when he has represented a one-man battering ram crushing poor, ailing defences.

    Suspended against Brazil in Uruguay's recent World Cup qualifier, his importance to the team was truly nailed down when La Celeste fell in convincing fashion, unable to drag themselves up the pitch and offer a double-edged goal threat. 

    Fortunately for Barcelona, it's rare they've had to negotiate a match without him this season. He and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen have the joint-most La Liga appearances (27) in 2016-17, outlining just how ever-present he is for Luis Enrique.

3. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

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    Robert Lewandowski is a striker who simply cannot be halted. He looks better than everand that's saying something, considering he's been an elite-level striker for half a decade.

    His goalscoring exploits in 2017 so far have been incredible, netting 16 in all competitions, 12 of which have come from 10 Bundesliga games this side of Christmas. He's scored four hat-tricks for club and country this season, with his goals paving the way for thrashings in the region of 6-0 and 8-0 at times.

    The Pole is moving as well as he ever has done, imbued with confidence due to the knowledge that no matter which path he takes to goal, his multitude of incredible playmakers will find him.

    If he continues in this vein and his team follow suit, Lewandowski could well find himself contesting a Champions League finaland that, if recent years are to be used as precedent, is half the battle in securing a Ballon d'Or.

2. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    Lionel Messi's 18 goals in all competitions this year can't be topped. There have been times where he has simply taken over, with teams such as Celta Vigo, Valencia and Leganes simply wilting in the face of his mesmeric ability.

    It's a case of so far, so good for him at club level, but on the international stage, things haven't gone his way. Argentina's struggles in World Cup qualifying, and the fact Messi is suspended for three games, means he can only participate in the final qualifier of the campaign.

    Combined international and domestic success can be crucial to securing the Ballon d'Oras evidenced by Ronaldo's victory in 2016and that paves the way for one of Messi's colleagues to pip him to No. 1 in this list.

1. Neymar, Barcelona

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    The best big-name player so far in 2017 has been Neymar, so he tops the first-quarter Ballon d'Or rankings.

    There have been some iffy parts to his seasonsuch as being unable to net a goal at the Camp Nou for an astonishingly long timebut those mostly occurred during the first half of the campaign. Since the calendar flipped over, the Brazilian has been a menace and played some of the best football of his career.

    In particular, his contributions in Barcelona's stunning comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League will likely never be forgotten.

    "It's the best game I've ever played in my life," the forward told Marca after the gamea sentiment met with a universal round of nods.

    Neymar's weaving dribbles and renewed goal threat have come at a crucial time for his club, as there have been times when, systematically, the wheels have fallen off.

    More than ever, the Brazilian is doing his bit to match Lionel Messi's majesty, and he's also relishing a talismanic role for a formidable Selecao side.

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    All statistics via WhoScored.com 

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