Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2020 Ballon d'Or | B/R Football Ranks

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 3, 2019

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 02: Lionel Messi (ARG / FC Barcelona) poses onstage with after winning his sixth Ballon D'Or award during the Ballon D'Or Ceremony at Theatre Du Chatelet on December 02, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)
Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Lionel Messi was crowned the 2019 Ballon d'Or winner on Monday night in Paris, capping an incredible year during which he won La Liga, was crowned The Best FIFA Men's Player and finished as the Champions League top scorer with 12 goals ahead of holding aloft this golden globe.

With the ceremony done and dusted, it's time to turn our attention to who might lift the 2020 Ballon d'Or.

It's impossible to say at this stage, as only actions in 2020 will count toward each player's case for the award. But still, it's fun to project.

We did so last year with mixed results. Although we correctly identified Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling's rise, we fell foul of Neymar's ankle injuries and hugely overestimated David Silva's staying power at the top.

So, let's try again.

Based on potential achievements and the awards at stake, who is primed to be a Ballon d'Or candidate in 2020?

10. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

BELGRADE, SERBIA - NOVEMBER 26: Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Muenchen celebrates after scroing his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Crvena Zvezda and Bayern Muenchen at Rajko Mitic Stadium on November 26, 2019 i
TF-Images/Getty Images

No team at the top level of football is as reliant on one player as Bayern Munich are on Lewandowski right now.

His relentless goalscoring has kept the German giants in the Bundesliga title hunt despite the team crumbling around him, and his 10 Champions League goals have secured a knockout stage berth for next year with a game to spare.

He's netted 27 goals in 21 games in all competitions this term, blowing the traditional striking average out of the water. As a result, he's catching the eye of every fan in the game.

If that continues into 2020—and why wouldn't it?—Lewandowski will enter Ballon d'Or contention. If Bayern Munich achieve anything, it will be because of him, and the same argument probably applies to Poland at the European Championships.


9. Eden Hazard, Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 02: Eden Hazard of Real Madrid celebrates his goal with team mates during the Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompie at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 2, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty I
TF-Images/Getty Images

Hazard has gotten off to a slow start at Real Madrid, as fitness issues are preventing him from taking flight. But he may be starting to find his groove, and once he does, Real Madrid will be deploying one of the best players in the world at full throttle.

La Liga is wide open this year. Barcelona are showing frailties, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they fail to defend their crown. Real Madrid have looked like the best side in the division this year and are the team primed to end Barcelona's streak of successive wins.

If Hazard was able to pair a La Liga win with Belgian glory at Euro 2020—again, a distinct possibility—his Ballon d'Or claim would start to look legitimate.


8. Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 26: Neymar Jr of PSG celebrates the goal of Pablo Sarabia of PSG tying the game during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on November 26, 2019 in
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

This award is the reason Neymar left Barcelona, per ESPN. Being recognised as the best player in the world is right at the top of his priority list, and it's something he didn't feel would happen while playing alongside Lionel Messi.

In 2020, he'll be looking to mount a serious challenge.

Successive ankle injuries hampered him in 2019, and as such, his name fell out of the conversation regarding the top players in the sport. He didn't even make the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or this year. Every time he looked like he was about to get going, he got hurt, stunting his momentum.

But if Neymar stays fit (which is a big "if" these days) and finds the right track, he'll remind everyone of just how devastating he can be.

He might need Champions League success with PSG and a Copa America win with Brazil next summer to land the Ballon d'Or, as achieving only the former leaves the door open for, say, Kylian Mbappe to out-do him. But given how well put-together PSG are and how dominant Brazil are in South America, it isn't out of the question.


7. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring their first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Etihad Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo b
Visionhaus/Getty Images

Even if you believe Manchester City's Premier League title defence is already spent, there are still feasible routes for De Bruyne to take to put himself in Ballon d'Or contention.

The clearest and perhaps most likely involves Belgium winning Euro 2020, a feat which would heavily involve their midfield string-puller.

Couple that with a Champions League victory with City—something De Bruyne would also be critical to—and he could have a case that outweighs all others.

Given the state of Man City right now, it's hard to believe in that second part. But it's also silly to believe a team that has recorded 100 and 98 points in their last two Premier League seasons can't sort themselves out and mount an assault at the top level in 2020.


6. Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Dijon Football Cote-d'Or (DFCO) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on November 1, 2019, at the Gaston Gerard stadium in Dijon. (Photo

Mbappe is already at a point where his star power commands that he enters this conversation—he's that big of a name. He also boasts the chance to win all of the trophies required to lift the Ballon d'Or at the end of next year.

Paris Saint-Germain are already out ahead in Ligue 1, and it's reasonable to expect domestic cup success. They're also well-built for the Champions League run they've been craving, though Mbappe himself will need to make his impact felt more regularly in big games to turn that dream into a reality. Additionally, he's one of the poster boys of a France side primed for a run at the Euro 2020 crown.

His brilliance at the 2018 World Cup helped him earn 347 points in that year's Ballon d'Or voting, per Marca, which put him fourth. If he repeats those heroics for Les Bleus next year, he has a real chance of standing where Lionel Messi did on Monday. 


5. Antoine Griezmann, Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 27: Antoine Griezmann of FC Barcelona celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between FC Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund at Camp Nou on November 27, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eurasia Sport I
Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Given how Griezmann's Barcelona career has played out so far, it may seem like a bit of a leap to suggest he's a serious contender for the 2020 Ballon d'Or. But he'll be primed for a run if a few not-inconceivable dominos fall his way.

First, he'll need to up his game at the Camp Nou and fully mesh with Lionel Messi and Co. Considering he's an elite-tier player, it isn't a stretch to suggest he'll eventually slot in and things will click.

Second, he'll need to play a prominent role in a Euro 2020 victory for France. Again, that's hardly implausible seeing as they're the reigning world champions and will likely contend for another title next year.

Griezmann's role in World Cup and Europa League wins earned him 414 points in 2018 Ballon d'Or voting, the third-most. A Champions League win and/or La Liga win, plus more success with France, would place him in a similarly strong position.


4. Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool

Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk and his wife Rike Nooitgedagt (L) arrive to attend the Ballon d'Or France Football 2019 ceremony at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris on December 2, 2019. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Ge
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Second place this year, first place in 2020?

Despite Van Dijk's past comments that Messi "deserves [the Ballon d'Or] as long as he plays," the fire inside him will be burning brighter than ever after this near-miss, and he'll rightly feel he can produce an even stronger case for the award next year.

That's because he's found a real sweet spot. He's recognised as a global football star, which is the first part of the battle, and he's playing for what is arguably the strongest team in Europe, which is the second.

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"Last season was fantastic. I've raised the bar". @VirgilvDijk spoke to @stighefootball after the #BallondOr 🗣️ https://t.co/71pZxLkBuc

Liverpool are heavy favourites for the Premier League title, could easily add a domestic cup to that haul, and are the reigning European champions looking to defend their crown.

Van Dijk also captains a strong Netherlands side who have been given a great group and a nice route through the knockout stages at Euro 2020, which further bolsters his recipe for potential Ballon d'Or glory.


3. Sadio Mane, Liverpool

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Sadio Mane of Liverpool FC looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park on November 23, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Mane's case for the Ballon d'Or has the foundations of Lewandowski's—namely, the man is on an incredible goalscoring tear and is carrying his team to results at times—but it's boosted by the fact that his team are in contention to win it all.

He's been Liverpool's MVP so far this season without a doubt, netting eight times in the Premier League. Those goals have often been the difference-makers in terms of points.

In that sense, he's replaced Mohamed Salah, whose influence in key moments and games has waned over the course of 2019. 

Mane has shown the talent and mettle to deliver on the stage required to hoist himself into Ballon d'Or contention. If he keeps it up, he'll be in the discussion.


2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Sassuolo on December 1, 2019, at the Juventus Allianz stadium in Turin. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO

If he wasn't already aware, Monday night's events made it clear that Ronaldo's only hope of winning the 2020 Ballon d'Or is to win the Champions League with Juventus and/or Euro 2020 with Portugal.

A Serie A crown with the serial Italian champions just won't cut it.

If that were to happen, he'd shoot right into contention, as he'd undoubtedly be right at the heart of that achievement. If you're looking for a man for the big moment and the big stage, he's the one.


1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 02: Lionel Messi (ARG / FC Barcelona) poses onstage with after winning his sixth Ballon D'Or award during the Ballon D'Or Ceremony at Theatre Du Chatelet on December 02, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)
Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Just like last year, we've resisted the temptation to overthink things at the top.

Given this is all projection—all guesswork, really—the sensible thing is to name the best player in the world as the No. 1 contender for next year's Ballon d'Or. That's Lionel Messi.

If his early-season form is anything to go by, he means business in 2019-20. Nine goals and five assists in only eight starts in La Liga is a truly ridiculous stat line.

Messi is still the beating heart of Barcelona's attack, the one they look to, and the one who always delivers—as he proved again on Sunday against Atletico Madrid.

As has been the case for the last two years, Messi will be itching to bring the Champions League trophy back to the Camp Nou, and he'll also have another shot at international glory with Argentina at the Copa America 2020.

Unlike most players, who may need a domestic-international trophy double to win it, Messi might need only one.

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