Lionel Messi edged out Virgil van Dijk to claim the Ballon d'Or for a record sixth time on Monday.

The Barcelona superstar climbed four places from his 2018 ranking as he beat runner-up Van Dijk and third-placed Cristiano Ronaldo to the most prestigious individual accolade in European club football.

Messi's win, announced at a ceremony in Paris, is his first since 2015 and moves him one ahead of long-time rival Ronaldo.

Luka Modric ended the pair's monopoly 12 months ago but even a Champions League triumph for Liverpool defender Van Dijk failed to keep Messi from reclaiming his crown.

The brilliant Argentina international continues to uphold near-unparalleled standards a decade on from his maiden Ballon d'Or victory.

Messi's winner against Atletico Madrid on Sunday was his 41st goal in 44 club appearances in 2019.

He has added 15 assists in that time and was LaLiga's top scorer last term as Barca cruised to the title.

In September, Messi was named The Best FIFA Men's Player for 2019, with Van Dijk in second spot and Ronaldo third.

That such brilliance at a key moment of a pivotal game felt somehow inevitable underlined how much Lionel Messi has spoiled us for so long.

Needing to dart in-field towards a packed defence on a sodden playing surface, before receiving a bouncing return pass 20 yards from goal, with one of the world's best goalkeepers between the posts.

Those would not represent favourable circumstances for any other player. But when Messi drew back his left boot to caress a side-footed finish, Atletico Madrid number one Jan Oblak knew what was coming. So did the 64,226 fans inside the Wanda Metropolitano and they had about as much chance of averting a 1-0 defeat.

The arc of the ball, low into the left corner, mimicked his last-gasp Clasico winner at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2017. Another showreel moment in a career bursting with them.

As usual, with Barcelona nudging back ahead of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga on the eve of the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris, Messi's timing was impeccable.

"I don't follow these awards galas because they are too long," said Barca boss Ernesto Valverde afterwards, luxuriating in his embattled door-to-door salesman demeanour. "But if you have to give it to the best, let's just give it to Messi and the problem is solved."

Messi = problem solved. It's been the story of Valverde's Barcelona tenure to an even larger extent than it was for his predecessors

Normal service resumed?

The 32-year-old is tipped to collect the sixth Ballon d'Or of his career in the French capital on Monday and once again move ahead of eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the overall standings.

If he does, it will be natural to sympathise with Virgil van Dijk, insofar as the Liverpool and Netherlands centre-back's bravura campaign came the year after Luka Modric was a celebrated recipient of the game's grandest individual honour.

Champions League glory with Real Madrid and inspiring Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, embellishing a career of sustained excellence and artistry, made Modric a worthy candidate. But his cause was helped by a thirst for it simply to be someone else. Those 50-goal seasons had become so run of the mill.

Messi or Ronaldo had taken home the prize every year since Kaka triumphed in 2007. Now Modric has served as a kind of sorbet for that decade of footballing decadence, Van Dijk might suffer for the fact nobody needs their palate cleansed anymore.

It will be Messi's first Ballon d'Or since 2015, which is the only time he has been officially declared as the best player in the word in the past five years. Last year, he failed to make the top three. That same inevitability that served him so well in a damp Madrid on Sunday night has hindered him in this regard.

Messidependencia 3.0

Messi's stellar career can be roughly broken down into three acts.

The prodigious youngster blessed with the easiest touch you've ever seen, phenomenal awareness and blistering acceleration – he didn't walk as much back then – was instantly noteworthy at Barcelona before becoming the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side around the turn of the last decade.

Under Luis Enrique, the emphasis shifted from super-team to superstar forward line and Messi dazzled alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar. MSN swept all before them on the way to a treble in 2014-15, an attack of potent brilliance unlike anything else.

In between those two periods, during the reign of the late Tito Vilanova, talk of Barca's "Messidependencia" really began to grow. He scored an absurd 70 goals in the 2012-13 season.

Guardiola joked that pouring over the tactical intricacies of his Barca side was futile, given the plan was simply to give Messi the ball. Valverde would not laugh that one off so easily because the Blaugrana have never depended on their captain as much as they do right now.

The huge drop-off in standards when Barcelona are without Messi is startling and last season's Copa del Rey offered a clear demonstration. He was rested for the first leg of ties against Levante and Sevilla, they lost both and he was recalled each time to score in comfortable return wins.

Van Dijk has a decent claim to being the next most important player in world football when tying the presence of an individual to the fortunes of a team. The Dutchman's £75million arrival from Southampton transformed a destructive but inconsistent side into a relentless winning machine.

If Liverpool continue their unblinking Premier League form, Van Dijk can expect to be in contention for the Ballon d'Or next year. And why shouldn't they?

Jurgen Klopp can call upon 2019's answer to MSN in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, while their star centre-back is flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – probably the best pair of full-backs any club can boast.

The team-man in the one-man team

Beyond goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose heroics against Atletico laid the foundations for Messi's own, it is hard to make a strong case for any of his Barca team-mates being serious contenders for a world XI. Frenkie de Jong, perhaps, but that would owe much to his body of work at Ajax.

It seems laughable to think one of the arguments made by Messi detractors during those interminable Leo v CR7 debates was that he only succeeded because of the Barcelona team in which he played. Then as now, it was a case of brilliance being taken for granted.

"I'd like to have an explanation about Leo, the talent he has," Valverde said after his key man's latest masterstroke.

"But not just that, because there are a lot of people with talent. Leo's can be seen always. He has an ambition and a sense of obligation with the club, which you see in every game."

Just because Messi does these things all the time doesn't make them any less remarkable. He is a team-man and a one-man team who continues to stand above the rest.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has insisted there will be "no losers" when the Ballon d'Or winner is announced in Paris on Monday.

The Premier League star ranks among the leading contenders to take home the most coveted individual honour in European club football.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi looks most likely to claim the award, but the five-time winner faces stiff competition from Van Dijk.

The bedrock on which Liverpool built their Champions League triumph, the 28-year-old also captained his country to the Nations League final and was named UEFA Men's Player of the Year in August.

"I am going to be there for a reason and there are no losers on the evening," Van Dijk said.

"I am very proud to be in that bracket, to be in there for the way I performed with the team last year and also with the country.

"It is just something to be proud of because not a lot of players go there and are up for these kind of things."

While a win for Van Dijk would be his first, another for Messi would move the incredible Argentinian clear of Cristiano Ronaldo and into outright first on the leaderboard.

The 32-year-old scored the lone goal for Barca in a 1-0 LaLiga win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, his 11th in all competitions this term.

Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez was left exasperated by the attacker's brilliance.

"We played a great game, [Barca] did not have many chances, but then Messi appears and does what he does with terrible ease," Saul said.

"That is why he is the best."

Guillermo Amor praised Lionel Messi's "genius" for helping Barcelona overcome Atletico Madrid in LaLiga on Sunday.

Messi's wonderful 86th-minute goal was enough for Barca to edge to a 1-0 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano and return to the top of the table.

The forward has been in spectacular form and Amor – Barcelona's director of institutional and sporting relations – praised Messi's latest piece of magic.

"Leo has been back to his level again," Amor told Movistar.

"It is a match won by the teams. Atletico is a great team and could have taken the game too. It has been fairly even.

"There have been several phases during the match – a start very strong by Atletico, then we have reacted and we have finished at a good level. In the second half we have controlled and dominated.

"We have not let them out and in the end a genius of Leo has decided it."

Messi has scored nine goals in his past seven LaLiga games, but Barca also needed a good performance from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Amor praised the shot-stopper and said Barca would have been content with a draw away to Atletico.

"Leo gives us a lot and we needed him more than ever because he puts the team in the game when the team is not there. It makes the rest participate more," he said.

"Ter Stegen has also been magnificent... we could have drawn and it would not have been a bad result, but we are very happy with the victory."

Barcelona's next outing is a clash at home to Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said having Lionel Messi "is always a huge advantage" after his match-winning performance against Atletico Madrid.

Messi scored a stunning 86th-minute winner to lead Barca past Atletico 1-0 and back to the LaLiga summit on Sunday.

Barca were far from their best against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano, but another moment of magic from talisman Messi ensured the LaLiga champions leapfrogged Real Madrid in the standings.

Asked about five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi post-match, Valverde told reporters: "In games which are even and hard, to have Leo is always a huge advantage."

While Barca were second best to Atletico for periods of the blockbuster showdown in Madrid, Valverde was happy with his team.

"I liked everything. We suffered at the start and we've got the three points," Valverde said. "We don't have to think about the bad things now."

Valverde added: "You have to suffer here but we have won and picked up three really important points, which is what is important.

"We expected Atletico to start as they did. We had to be strong in the first 20 minutes. They were doing damage on every attack. As the game went on, we got more control and both sides had clear chances. We had the better of the second half." 

Valverde also allayed injury concerns over Gerard Pique, who was forced off with seven minutes remaining in the Spanish capital.

"I think he's OK," the Spaniard said. "He could have carried on, but better not to risk him."

Barcelona defender Sergi Roberto claimed his side's 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid on Sunday could prove a pivotal moment in the LaLiga title race.

The Catalan club were second best for much of the fixture at the Wanda Metropolitano but Lionel Messi scored a dramatic winner four minutes from time.

It helped Barca leapfrog Real Madrid back to the top of the table – albeit on goal difference – but provided a huge psychological boost.

"We knew that their fans were going to pressure us and it was the case," Roberto told Marca.

"Matches like these are where the league can be decided, and we have had to suffer to win.

"But there is a long way to go, and many teams will pose a threat."

Roberto said he could not choose between Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen as Barcelona's man of the match.

Argentina forward Messi scored Barcelona's winner with a stunning curling effort.

However, Barcelona were indebted to Ter Stegen's heroics in goal as he pulled off two incredible saves to deny Mario Hermoso and Alvaro Morata.

"Marc has made two good saves and Messi has decided the game," added the 27-year-old.

"It is a victory for the group. Atletico have pressurised us a lot. They created a couple of very clear chances."

Atletico's Saul Niguez felt Messi was the biggest factor in the Catalan side's victory.

"The one who makes the difference is Leo," Saul said.

"Because he is the one who gets it. Ter Stegen has managed to get a couple of balls, fortunately, although another has been with great quality. For me, the best has been Messi.

"We have played a great game, Barcelona has not had many chances, but when it appears Leo is able to do what he does with terrible ease, that's why he is the best.

"The team has given everything, but what counts is the victory."

Ter Stegen said he was just doing his job when asked about his brilliance between the posts.

The Germany international believes the victory over Atletico will boost Barcelona's confidence for the challenges ahead.

"These matches make us grow as a team and that is what it is about," Ter Stegen added.

"We knew that it is a very difficult game. It is normal that they have made chances, because they have a lot of quality.

"But defensively we have played well and in the end we have scored a goal that helped win an important game."

It was all so predictable. From Lionel Messi's late heroics to Antoine Griezmann's frosty reception and his subsequent stunted display, very little about Barcelona's 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday was even remotely surprising.

If it wasn't already, this had been arguably the most anticipated non-Clasico match in the Spanish football calendar ever since Griezmann's July move was confirmed.

That transfer ended a protracted saga that included one new contract, a 'documentary' and allegations of deception and shady negotiations.

Although Griezmann opted to remain with Atletico last season, documenting in excruciating detail his thought process in 'Le Decision', that contrived and narcissistic video certainly damaged his relationship with Colchoneros fans.

Perception of Griezmann worsened after it was alleged Barca and Griezmann began discussions before his release clause dropped from €200million to €120m, leaving Atletico adamant they were owed a further €80m.

If they didn't enjoy the soap opera that was the transfer saga, Atletico fans may at least have taken a hint of pleasure in Griezmann's early struggles at Barca.

The Frenchman doesn't appear to have improved them in any way, and that was the overriding feeling again after on Sunday.

Perhaps his sheepishness could be put down to the vociferous welcome reserved for him from the home support, some of whom added certain decorations to Griezmann's plaque outside the stadium before the match.

Every player to represent Atletico 100 times is honoured with a plaque outside their new stadium, though toy rats and a red cross were the most prominent new additions to Griezmann's on Sunday.

The abuse and scorn surely would've gone into overdrive had he found the net, though in reality he never looked a threat.

As has been the case for much of his career, Griezmann is at his most deadly when occupying a central position, where he can exploit even minimal spaces and do the unexpected.

Before the interval, however, he only popped up in such a position once, as he took up possession and found Luis Suarez, who lashed just wide from distance.

Otherwise he spent most of his time isolated and offering little on the left flank, the match passing him by.

After a cagey start to the second half, proceedings began to open up around the hour mark and you could be forgiven for expecting that to play into the hands of Griezmann and Barca.

Yet Griezmann remained on the periphery, barely making a squeak as chaos roared around him, the visitors clinging on for dear life.

"You wanted to be a name and you forgot to be a man," read a banner unfurled by Atletico fans, but he's failing to live up to his name at Barca.

He might have seen an opportunity for glory deep into the second half when he appeared to make a great run in behind Kieran Trippier, needing only to be fed by the marauding Messi.

But instead of slipping Griezmann through, which seemed to be the easier option, Messi used Suarez.

There was one exchange of passes and then – whack! Messi found the bottom-left corner, opting to stick to the tried and tested combination of himself and Suarez.

The ineffectiveness of Griezmann's display was entirely in keeping with the rest of his Barca career.

Suarez was the only outfield Blaugrana player – excluding substitutes – who touched the ball fewer times than Griezmann, yet the Uruguayan still proved more effective, teeing up Messi for that winner.

Although a night that began with a chorus of jeers ended with an embrace from Messi, Griezmann is feeling anything but the love after choosing to "be a name" at Barca.

Lionel Messi scored a dramatic late winner as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium to return to the summit of LaLiga on Sunday.

Real Madrid had temporarily claimed top spot on Saturday after a 2-1 win at Alaves but Barca's victory put them ahead on goal difference.

Atletico had enjoyed the best of the chances in an engrossing contest but remain winless in 19 LaLiga games against the Catalans.

Ernesto Valverdes's side were indebted to goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for two breath-taking saves in the first half.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde believes voting for the Ballon d'Or should be easy, saying Lionel Messi deserved to win the award.

Messi, 32, is tipped to win a record sixth Ballon d'Or in Paris on Monday after enjoying another stellar year.

Valverde, whose team visit Atletico Madrid in LaLiga on Sunday, said voting should be no problem as Messi is the world's best player.

"I don't follow these awards galas because they are too long. My vote, well, I guess, is the same as yours," he told a news conference.

"I would vote for the best, obviously. Ever year you always vote depending on how the seasons have gone for the players.

"But if you have to give it to the best, let's just give it to Messi and the problem is solved."

Ahead of their trip to the Wanda Metropolitano, Barcelona are second in LaLiga, three points behind rivals Real Madrid.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has no doubt Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all-time.

Messi, 32, is tipped to win a record sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday after enjoying another fine year.

The Argentina forward is often discussed among the greatest players ever, alongside the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Bartomeu, whose club celebrated their 120th anniversary on Friday, has no doubt.

"Without a doubt Leo Messi is the best player in football history, he has made a huge mark on the world of football," he told the club's website.

"There is no club in the world that has had as much success as Barca, with a player that has won six Golden Boots or has five Ballon d'Or awards.

"He is a different player, who changes the dynamics of a game and creates incredible moments.

"It has helped us to be more global and, compared to other times, has created a very strong era and we will be transformed by this era of the team and Messi."

Barcelona are top of LaLiga ahead of visiting Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Cristiano Ronaldo's decision to leave Real Madrid for Juventus "should be appreciated", Andre Villas-Boas said as the Marseille coach backed the star to win the Ballon d'Or.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is tipped to win the award for a record sixth time in Paris on Monday.

Ronaldo is also a five-time winner of the prize, but has not been as prolific since joining Juve from Madrid in 2018.

However, Villas-Boas backed his fellow Portuguese, although he labelled both Ronaldo and Messi as extraterrestrials.

"It's difficult... I am Portuguese so of course I support Ronaldo more," he said.

"Cristiano took a risk by leaving the best team in the world, with more titles in the world. That kind of risk should be appreciated. Playing in Italy and scoring goals is difficult.

"Messi is still in his club, Barcelona, which is a big club. He is able to make the difference.

"But I am more for Cristiano because I'm Portuguese. Both of them are exceptional, it's difficult to choose. It [Ballon d'Or] will become a competition between them.

"Having these two players in the same generation and watching them is absolutely incredible. They are extraterrestrials."

Hansi Flick lauded in-form striker Robert Lewandowski as he bids to challenge Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or, but the Bayern Munich coach questioned why Philipp Lahm had never won the award.

Lewandowski continued a sensational start to the 2019-20 season with four goals in a 6-0 win at Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League in midweek.

That haul took the Poland international, nominated for the Ballon d'Or, to 27 goals in just 20 appearances since the beginning of the campaign.

But while Flick considered the merits of Lewandowski and Barcelona superstar Messi, he took the opportunity to address Lahm's failure to claim world football's top individual prize in a glittering career.

Former Bayern full-back-turned-midfielder Lahm won eight Bundesliga titles, one Champions League and the 2014 World Cup, yet he ranked only as high as sixth after Germany's triumph in Brazil.

"Lewandowski and Messi are exceptional players," said Flick. 

"[Lewandowski] is one of the most complete strikers around, if not the best number nine in the world. He has everything you need up front.

"He can head the ball, finish and hold it up. His work off the ball is important for the team.

"But I do not understand why a player like Philipp Lahm never won the Ballon d'Or. He won everything [as a team player]."

Bayern, third in the Bundesliga, a point behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach, face Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

"We are still one point behind, so we have to rely on others as well," Flick said. "It is important that everyone gives everything and puts their quality at the service of the team."

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard says Virgil van Dijk "100 per cent" deserves to claim the Ballon d'Or for his "faultless" performances en route to winning the Champions League.

Van Dijk is in the running for football's top individual prize, going up against Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

But Gerrard, now Rangers boss, while claiming to be "Messi's number one fan", is in no doubt that the Liverpool defender should get the award.

Speaking after Rangers' draw with Feyenoord, Gerrard responded when asked by a Dutch reporter if Van Dijk should win: "Yes, 100 per cent.

"I'm Messi's number one fan, for sure. I love the player. Obscene numbers in his game in terms of assists and goals. I'm definitely a Messi fan, in the gang.

"But if you talk about consistency from one player over a year, who wins the European Cup and is absolutely faultless in every performance, that means you deserve to win the Ballon d'Or."

Van Dijk finished second behind Messi in FIFA's The Best awards in September.

Lionel Messi was "simply incredible" for Barcelona in their 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund, according to Lucien Favre.

Messi scored and provided two assists as Barca secured top spot in Group F in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Making his 700th appearance for the LaLiga giants, Messi broke a Champions League record by scoring against a 34th different team.

Favre, who is under pressure at the helm of Dortmund, was mesmerised by the star's performance.

"He played as a false nine and was simply incredible," he told a news conference.

"He waits really well for the ball and moves very well between the lines. And when he gets the ball, it gets pretty complicated.

"You have to commit a foul in order to stop him. Otherwise it's very, very difficult.

"He is speeding up so fast, his dribbling is so good and then his final pass is also very dangerous."

Dortmund are third in the group, level on points with second-placed Inter, and host Slavia Prague on the final matchday on December 10.

Mats Hummels said Lionel Messi is the best footballer he has ever seen after the Barcelona superstar ran Borussia Dortmund ragged in the Champions League.

Messi scored once and assisted two others as Barca eased past Dortmund 3-1 and into the last 16 at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

It was a memorable 700th Barca outing for Messi, who set up Luis Suarez for the 29th-minute opener before his team-mate returned the favour four minutes later.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi then teed up substitute Antoine Griezmann with 23 minutes remaining to cap a stellar display, prompting high praise from Dortmund defender Hummels.

"In top form, Messi is the best footballer I have ever seen – period," Hummels, who gave the ball away for Messi's goal, said post-game.

"We were not good enough to beat Barcelona today. We only created three or four real chances."

Hummels added: "It was not a bad game, but not a very good one. Barcelona were excellent though. Messi is always dangerous, of course.

"We had a really bad spell after that first goal, with my bad pass that led to their second goal."

The result left Dortmund third and level on seven points with second-placed Inter heading into the final matchday in Group F.

Dortmund face Slavia Prague on December 10, while Inter welcome group winners Barca to Milan on the same day.

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