Does Neymar deserve to win the Ballon d'Or ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo remain the main men but does Neymar deserve the Ballon d'Or for 2015?

For each of the last seven years, the Ballon d'Or, awarded to the world's premier footballer, has been a two-horse race between Barcelona's Messi and Real Madrid's Ronaldo.

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Messi has won the award on four occasions; Ronaldo three times, including the past two years.

The great rivals are favourites to scoop the former world player of the year prize once more in 2015 - but would Neymar be a more deserving winner this time around? The stats suggest he should run them close, at the very least.

Barcelona's victory over Villarreal in November, the final game before the votes were cast, was the perfect example of why, particularly given the absence of the injured Lionel Messi throughout that period, he should perhaps be seen as the Argentine's greatest rival for the award.

Watch this piece of skill from Neymar in Barcelona's win against Real Betis

Neymar's second goal of the game against Villarreal - Barca's third - was a moment of magic, flicking the ball over the head of a defender before spinning and firing low into the net. It was an audacious attempt but one that, on current form, the forward was more than willing to take and not surprised to score.

The Brazilian has been in scintillating form for much of the year but really came to the fore for Barcelona with injured Messi unavailable.

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With the voting for the Ballon d'Or commencing on October 26 and ending on November 20, Neymar could have done little more to put himself in the spotlight.

Messi v Neymar v Ronaldo
Image: The stats for the Ballon d'Or nominees during the period on which people vote

The 23-year old earned's man of the match award in each of his three appearances in that time, sandwiching a perfect 10 rating in the Champions League vs BATE Borisov with scores of 8.98 (v Getafe) and 9.76 (v Villarreal) in the league.

His overall rating of 8.73 is the highest in Europe's top five leagues this season, with his 14 La Liga goals as many as Ronaldo and more than Messi. Ronaldo's average rating of 7.65 for the season, in particular, pales in comparison to Neymar.

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Moreover, the Real Madrid man has been unable to inspire his side to any glory last year, while Barcelona completed the treble last season, with Neymar playing a crucial role in their Champions League triumph in particular.

With goals in both legs of the quarter-final and semi-final before a decisive late third in the final against Juventus, Neymar's fine form certainly stretches beyond this season alone.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have been shortlisted for the 2015 Ballon D'or.
Image: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are on the 2015 Ballon D'or shortlist

What may go against the forward was a disastrous Copa America campaign in the summer.

Brazil's captain and poster boy saw his tournament brought to a premature end with a petulant red card against Colombia. Neymar made just two appearances in Chile and, despite scoring and registering a sensational assist in Brazil's first group game, the Selecao exited the tournament in the quarter-finals with their skipper suspended.

That said, while Argentina reached the final of the same tournament in the summer it was another disappointing showing by his astronomical standards from Lionel Messi, whose only goal in Chile came from the spot. Messi, however, does still stake a very strong claim to reclaim the Ballon d'Or.

Image: Could Neymar edge out his Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi?

From November 22 2004 - the period from which this year's Ballon d'Or is judged - Messi scored 45 goals in the league and Champions League for Barcelona, registering a further 16 assists.

Both tallies, along with a remarkable 242 successful dribbles from 43 appearances, were in excess of Neymar's efforts, though the Brazilian's all-round contribution and efficiency has been sensational regardless.

Neymar still completed over 100 more dribbles than Ronaldo at club level over the same timeframe. In short, he is beginning to emulate the standards of Messi and Ronaldo that few thought would ever be possible.

Go on demand for Sky Sports' dedicated Ballon d'Or event box, including video content for each of the nominees and past winners

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