Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar compete for 2015 Ballon d'Or
Last Updated: 01/12/15 3:46pm
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar make up the three-man shortlist for the 2015 Ballon d'Or.
The award is given to the world's best player over the calendar year, and each of the last seven prizes have been won by either Real Madrid's Ronaldo or Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
This year, they face competition from Messi's team-mate Neymar, who is La Liga top scorer so far this season with 14 strikes in 12 appearances.
Ballon d'Or shortlist revealed
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar will contest the 2015 Ballon d'Or
The three-man shortlist was picked from 23 nominees, and the winner will be announced at FIFA's Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich on January 11.
Here, with the help of Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, we examine the three contenders.
Messi has already claimed the award four times and he is Sky Bet's overwhelming favourite to win an unprecedented fifth, having missed out to Cristiano Ronaldo for the last two years. The Argentine led Barcelona to a La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble last season, scoring a remarkable 28 goals in the second half of the campaign.
He was unable to inspire his country to Copa America success in Chile during the summer, but he looks back to his best since returning from injury this month and Balague thinks he deserves to win it.
"Barcelona can still compete against anyone without him but to get the records and the titles that will make them an extraordinary side, they need Messi," he said. "You have to give him the Ballon d'Or again. You have to reward what we're seeing, which is absolutely out of this world."
Ronaldo is aiming for his third consecutive Ballon d'Or after back-to-back successes in 2013 and 2014, although he has his work cut out after ending last season without any silverware. He scored 29 goals in the second half of 2014/15 and became Real Madrid's all-time record goalscorer in October, but his performances this season have come under scrutiny.
'Ronaldo has reached his peak'
Cristiano Ronaldo has reached his physical peak, according to Guillem Balague.
"Ronaldo's influence on games has diminished, there's no doubt about that" Balague told Sky Sports. "The best Real Madrid ended in December after the Club World Cup and 22 consecutive victories. After that, according to [Real Madrid president] Florentino Perez himself, the team went into decay. That affected everybody, especially Ronaldo."
At the same time, Balague also says: "For me, he's the greatest goalscorer in history".
Neymar scored 24 goals in the second half of Barcelona's treble-winning 2014/15 season, and he has become an even more prominent figure during Messi's recent injury absence. The Brazilian tops the Spanish scoring charts with 14 La Liga goals this season, and while Sky Bet make him the third favourite to win the award, Balague thinks he is well placed to usurp Ronaldo.
"I do feel Neymar is more influential these days," Balague said. "It was noted when Messi got injured for two months, but generally in the last 12 months you've got one of the few players in the world who can beat defenders, whose pace is electrifying, and who not only scores but assists as well. He's got everything to be the second best player in the world."