Messi, Ronaldo or Van Dijk: Who should be crowned Europe’s best?

Van Dijk, Messi, Ronaldo: Can the Dutch defender do what Luka Modric did a year ago and beat the game’s two superstars to the award?

Uefa will name its Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday with Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk up against Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for the award.

Last year, Luka Modric ended Ronaldo and Messi’s dominance of the award – and Van Dijk will be hopeful of leaving the duo empty-handed again after a stellar season with the Reds.

Just how good have the three contenders been over the past year? BBC Sport, with the help of sports analysts Opta, takes a look.

Familiar foes Messi and Ronaldo up once again

It is a battle as old as time itself – or so it can feel.

When it comes to the shortlists for best player trophies – whether in Europe or the world – Messi and Ronaldo have been on them for the best part of the decade.

Since the inception of the Uefa Men’s Player of the Year award in 2011, Ronaldo has won it three times (2014, 2016, 2017), while Messi has won it twice (2011 and 2015).

The pair are in the running once again after phenomenal seasons. Ronaldo helped Juventus win Serie A while Messi led Barcelona to the La Liga title.

But how does their form over the past year compare?

Between 31 July 2018 and 31 July 2019, Messi was by far the deadlier finisher for club and country. During that 12-month period he scored 54 goals to Ronaldo’s 31 and boasted a goals-per-minute ratio of 86 minutes, compared to 127 for his Portuguese rival.

Messi also did much better than he would be expected to do with the opportunities that came his way, scoring just under 15 more goals than his expected goals tally (35.62) for Barcelona. Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored 28 goals, pretty much on par with his expected goals total (28.3).

Widening out the comparison to the rest of Europe, Messi outscored all his rivals – his closest challenger, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, scored 11 goals fewer than the Argentina international with 40.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was outscored by eight players in Europe’s top five leagues while his total of 21 league goals was bettered by three players in Serie A.

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