The 30 Ballon d'Or nominees were released on Monday, sparking conversation as to who should win the most coveted individual prize in football.
The award recognises the best male player over the course of the calendar year—so, the back half of the 2018-19 season, any summer international tournaments and the first portion of the 2019-20 campaign.
It's a tricky period to capture and doesn't really make much sense. It makes it quite hard to evaluate players' cases for the award, as you can only judge specific segments of different seasons.
But, as always, we've given it a go.
30. Hugo Lloris, Goalkeeper, Tottenham Hotspur
How he's bagged a nomination we're not quite sure.
29. Heung-Min Son, Forward, Tottenham Hotspur
Son's 2018-19 season was brilliant, but he got most of his great work done in the first half of it. Since February, he's returned to normal at club level, although he has continued to produce for South Korea.
28. Joao Felix, Forward, Atletico Madrid
Felix burst onto the scene with Benfica this year and earned a whopping €126 million move to Atleti this summer. His production has slowed while he gets to grips with his new reputation and a stronger league.
27. Kevin De Bruyne, Midfielder, Manchester City
De Bruyne played more games in the back half of last season than most probably realise (17 starts), and he's begun 2019-20 in blazing form. He has 19 assists on the year!
26. Kalidou Koulibaly, Defender, Napoli
Koulibaly is one of best centre-backs in the world and shines on an individual basis fairly regularly. You get the feeling he's hit the glass ceiling in Naples.
25. Riyad Mahrez, Forward, Manchester City
Mahrez's trophy haul with City in 2019 is very impressive, though it's fair to suggest he didn't play the most pivotal role in it. His Africa Cup of Nations victory with Algeria likely sealed his nomination, though.
24. Marquinhos, Defender/Midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain
2019 saw Marquinhos remoulded into a commanding holding midfielder for PSG, but he still dropped into the defensive line for Brazil with ease for the Copa America victory.
23. Georginio Wijnaldum, Midfielder, Liverpool
There are times when certain moments propel players to new heights and estimations, and Wijnaldum's crucial role in Liverpool's famous Barcelona comeback is certainly one of them.
22. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Forward, Arsenal
Arsenal looked pretty dysfunctional last season, changing formations and personnel a lot, but whatever they did, they could rely on one constant: Aubameyang scoring goals. He has 24 this year with five assists to boot.
21. Karim Benzema, Forward, Real Madrid
Real Madrid fell apart at the seams last season, and if it weren't for Karim Benzema, they might have missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification altogether.
20. Antoine Griezmann, Forward, Barcelona
Transfer moves aside, it's not been Griezmann's most productive year. He carried Atletico Madrid to some Liga results early in the year but came up empty against Juventus in the Champions League and has had a mixed start to life at Barcelona.
19. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Goalkeeper, Barcelona
As any fan will point out to you, Barcelona have their flaws and issues, but many of them were papered over on the pitch by their superb goalkeeper.
18. Kylian Mbappe, Forward, Paris Saint-Germain
For any PSG player, their big chance to stake their claim for the Ballon d'Or comes in the Champions League. The shock round-of-16 knockout at the hands of Manchester United was so damaging to Mbappe's stock.
17. Donny van de Beek, Midfielder, Ajax
As the praise poured forth for Ajax's magical Champions League run last season, Van de Beek's brilliance got a little lost because of the focus on other players. It's pleasing to see him scoop a well-deserved nomination.
16. Robert Lewandowski, Forward, Bayern Munich
Once again, Lewandowski spent his year bullying the rest of Germany; he's on a ridiculous 34 goals this year, with 16 coming this season. He suffers a little bit in the Ballon d'Or stakes because of a lack of European impact.
15. Sergio Aguero, Forward, Manchester City
Aguero has been a goalscoring machine in 2019, currently standing on a tally of 27 plus eight assists. It's arguable he's never looked as good, combining that classic poacher's instinct with improved fitness and durability.
14. Matthijs de Ligt, Defender, Juventus
No player under the age of 21 had a better 2019 than De Ligt, who captained Ajax to the precipice of a Champions League final and earned a big move to Juventus off the back of it.
13. Eden Hazard, Forward, Real Madrid
A slow start to life at Real Madrid—partially because of injury—keeps Hazard out of the top 10, but his brilliant performances for Chelsea last season land him in the top half of the ranking.
12. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Defender, Liverpool
You could nominate Alexander-Arnold for that corner against Barcelona alone. Even with full-backs now basically attackers in modern football, he's redefining what to expect from a player in his position.
11. Roberto Firmino, Forward, Liverpool
The Brazilian is maybe the least eye-catching of the Reds' fabled front three, but only by a smidge, as respect for Firmino and the influence he has on games continues to grow.
10. Dusan Tadic, Forward, Ajax
The most surprising aspect of Ajax's magical Champions League run last season was the fact that it was spearheaded by Dusan Tadic, a man who the previous summer had called time on a so-so Premier League career with Southampton.
Fast-forward seven months and there he was, at the home of Real Madrid, breaking out (again) at age 29, spinning around a helpless Casemiro in the buildup to a sensational team goal.
He found a manager in Erik ten Hag who understood him and extracted the best from him. With 28 goals and 23 assists this year and with two months till the calendar flips, he could set records.
9. Frenkie de Jong, Midfielder, Barcelona
The world fell in love with Frenkie de Jong this year.
He was the mesmeric feet and smiling face at the heart of Ajax's dominant midfield, and in moving to Barcelona, he reignited the path Johan Cruyff created between the two clubs.
Watching the Dutchman step around a flailing Luka Modric at the Bernabeu in February was like witnessing a changing of the guard. Modric doesn't feature on this year's shortlist, whereas De Jong is a top-10 candidate.
Given he was applauded off the pitch by opposition fans last weekend as Barcelona beat Eibar, it's fair to say life in his new surroundings is going well.
8. Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward, Juventus
2019 is the year Cristiano Ronaldo hit the 700-goal mark in his career.
Seven hundred goals. Just think about that for a second.
For Portugal, in particular, he's been a dominant force this year, scoring a hat-trick in the UEFA Nations League semi-final against Switzerland and netting seven in his last four UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers.
For Juventus he was a touch quieter, though, both in front of goal and on the trophy front, only hauling in Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana as the Old Lady failed to make a splash in the Champions League.
Falling at the quarter-final stage, plus being rested for league duty in and around those knockout fixtures, hurts his stock in the Ballon d'Or stakes. It has been his least impactful club year in some time.
7. Mohamed Salah, Forward, Liverpool
Salah has been machine-like in 2019 for Liverpool.
The 2018-19 season was packed with goals and assists, some coming at crucial moments (like the Champions League final), and 2019-20 has followed a similar trend, with the winger already just shy of 10 goal contributions.
There have been some disappointments; missing out on the Premier League hurts, while Egypt's round-of-16 exit in the Africa Cup of Nations to South Africa was something of a shock. Turns out being triple-marked makes things difficult at times!
Still, we're into season five of Salah producing regularly at the top level. There can't be many doubters left.
6. Raheem Sterling, Forward, Manchester City
Sterling matured as both a player and person in 2019, becoming someone to look up to as a role model.
His on-pitch contributions for Manchester City have been incredible, tallying a combined 30 goals and assists so far, and marking himself out as the go-to man in Pep Guardiola's attack when the game, or perhaps a title, is on the line.
He's mastered the far-post run and reaped the benefits, finishing off so many of his team's slick moves, but he has also produced incredible moments when he ducks and weaves between tackles before curling home.
5. Alisson Becker, Goalkeeper, Liverpool
Alisson had an incredible 2018-19 for Liverpool, securing the Premier League Golden Glove with 21 clean sheets and coming up big in several key games, including the Champions League semi-final and final.
He took that momentum into the summer and channelled it into a series of lights-out performances in the Copa America, helping Brazil to the trophy for the first time since 2007.
With five total clean sheets, including one against Argentina in the semi-final, zero goals conceded in the group stage and some penalty heroics against Paraguay to top it off, he was the only consideration for the tournament's Best Goalkeeper award.
Goalkeepers don't often get a lot of love in these stakes, but Alisson's blend of consistency, playing style, big moments and trophy wins puts him in the top-five range.
4. Sadio Mane, Forward, Liverpool
Mane's summer disappointment went a step further than club-mate Salah's, with his Senegal side falling in the final of the Africa Cup of the Nations to Algeria.
But like with Salah, that's not what defines his 2019. Winning the Champions League, contributing to an incredible Premier League title race and producing a bucketload of crucial moments and goals along the way does.
With 19 Premier League goals in 2019, and with 11 games to go before the calendar flips (if the postponed West Ham match is played before the year ends), he's in with a chance of posting 30 for the year—despite playing as a winger. These are absolutely ludicrous numbers.
3. Bernardo Silva, Midfielder, Manchester City
No other player in world football won as many trophies as Bernardo Silva did in 2019.
With a whopping five under his belt, the crowning achievements being the Premier League and Nations League titles, his case for the 2019 Ballon d'Or is strong.
He was named the Nations League Best Player, signifying the influence he had on Portugal's victory on home turf, and was perhaps the driving influence in Manchester City's run of 14 straight wins to top the Premier League table.
A whirring mix of technique, creativity and work rate, he's a true blessing to his managers on the pitch.
2. Lionel Messi, Forward, Barcelona
La Liga winner, Best FIFA Men's Player, European Golden Shoe
Messi's role in the 2019 Ballon d'Or conversation is a touch paradoxical. Commonly accepted logic and historical voting patterns dictate that he should not be in contention for the award because Barcelona underperformed in 2018-19 and he failed to inspire Argentina to glory in the Copa America.
But the sheer quality of his year punctures those tropes and reminds us that individuals probably shouldn't be judged solely by their team's achievements when the award in question is an individual one.
His individual awards accrued so far speak to the brilliance with which he's performed, and while 44 combined goals and assists up to this point is some way off his best-ever total (he had 91 in 2012), it's a tally bettered by precisely no one in 2019.
He has a shout for the award; unlike third through to 30th, he's in contention.
1. Virgil van Dijk, Defender, Liverpool
Champions League winner, European Super Cup winner, UEFA Best Men's Player, PFA Player of the Year
The Ballon d'Or hasn't been lifted by a defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. It took an incredible performance at a World Cup finals to swing that, and no others have been deemed worthy since, but perhaps 2019 is the year that changes.
Van Dijk's consistently superb performances this year have already earned him a string of accolades, both personal and team-related, and could yet lead to the shiny, golden trophy Messi and Ronaldo have become so used to chucking back and forth.
A transformative presence at the heart of a Liverpool defence that took no prisoners and set a platform for their attacking wonders to deal damage, he changed the tone of an entire club when he signed in January 2018. Eighteen months later, they reaped the rewards.
He went over a year without being dribbled past by anyone—not even Messi when he had two bites at the cherry!—and came up with a huge performance in the Champions League final to guide the Reds past Tottenham.
There's a strong case for either Van Dijk or Messi to win it, and it's a very tight call, but Van Dijk's is marginally stronger.
All statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.