Road to the UEFA Player of the Year featuring Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo

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UEFA is set to announce the 2018/19 Player of the Year on Thursday with Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo all vying for the prized trophy.

Luka Modric, the current holder, has been replaced by the Liverpool defender while the other two superstars have retained their spots in the top three nominees.

Will Van Dijk claim the award and ensure that the duopoly is truly over or will one of Messi or Ronaldo add to their vast collection?

We take a deeper look at the contenders, list our arguments and help you single out the best.

LIONEL MESSI

Why Messi should win

The Barcelona icon has continued to evolve and unlock new dimensions to his game even at 32. He has now established himself as arguably the best direct free-kick taker in the world, while enhancing his claim to being one of the best playmakers as well.

The Argentine carried Barcelona to yet another league title and secured another Golden Shoe, scoring 36 goals in 29 starts. He also grabbed the most assists (13) in La Liga and scored the most Champions League goals (12).

The two-time UEFA Player of the Year excelled in all areas last season, so much so that the hashtag #onlymessihasmore was trending because there were very few attacking stats which had any player above the Argentine.

Trophies aside, if the award is given to a player solely based on ability, no player deserves it more than Messi

Why Messi should not win

Lionel Messi.

The bar is set so high for Messi that the failure to win the Champions League is seen as a breaking point. Given Barcelona’s heavy investment in the transfer market, a four-year Champions League drought is derisory, particularly given the manner of their exits in the last two editions.

Messi rescued Barcelona several times last season but that he failed to do so when his team needed him most – the second leg of the semi-final against Liverpool – will always be held against him.

It’s also worth noting that Messi had a poor Copa America tournament in which Argentina finished third. Both Van Dijk and Ronaldo bettered this in the Nations League.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK

0303 Van Dijk Focus

Why Van Dijk should win

No one individual has transformed his side quite in the way Van Dijk has Liverpool. The former Southampton defender raised eyebrows when he was acquired for a then world-record fee for a defender at £75 million. But he has done more than enough to justify the price tag.

Van Dijk inspired the Reds to their sixth Champions League success, delivering near-perfect shows in crucial games. With Joe Gomez suffering an injury-ridden season, the Dutchman was not always partnered by a top centre-back but the captain without the armband took the initiative and led Liverpool’s defence to clean-sheets, one after the other.

He also helped Liverpool to 97 points in the league and went the entire season without being dribbled past a single time.

Van Dijk also played a key role in leading the Netherlands to the final of the Nations League, just two years after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Why Van Dijk should not win

The Dutch defender missed out on the double, with Manchester City proving to be just too good domestically as they claimed the Premier League title. That there are top defenders who have managed this feat and yet have failed to win this individual award does not bode well for the Dutchman.

Comparing Van Dijk to the other two would be a classic case of apples and oranges. While stats like goals and assists can make an unfair case for forwards, no tangible stats can quantify the impact a defender has on the game. The opinion that Van Dijk was the best centre-back in the world last season, no matter how convincing, will always be subjective without numbers.

There is no legitimate reason why Van Dijk does not deserve the award, apart from the fact that Messi was, just maybe, marginally better at doing what he does and has the numbers to show for it.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo

Why Ronaldo should win

Ronaldo embraced a new challenge in Italy and adapted very well, scoring 21 goals in Serie A and providing eight assists. The Nations League trophy also diversified his vast collection.

He also won Serie A’s best player and created several records at the European level.

Ronaldo became the first player to reach 100 wins and score 125 goals in the Champions League. The Nations League trophy was his 10th UEFA title, and he became the first player to achieve that feat.

He also became the first player to score in all major international competitions involving European teams – the World Cup, European Championships, Confederations Cup and Nations League.

Why Ronaldo should not win

RonaldoAjaxJuventus (1)

Frankly, it’s surprising that Ronaldo made the top-three ahead of compatriot Bernardo Silva, who won the domestic treble in England and the Nations League with Portugal while being the best player in both teams.

Ronaldo won the Scudetto with Juventus, a title that they’ve faced little competition for even in seasons prior to his arrival. Besides, a poacher’s job is to score goals, which is independent of the system as long as he has good supply – something he has had at Juve and Real Madrid. The real challenge in Turin involves turning them back into a force across Europe, with the Champions League title now eluding them for 24 years – so in that regard, Ronaldo failed.

In the league, Ronaldo was outscored by 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella, who notched 26 times for Sampdoria. In the Nations League, he was outshone by Silva, who walked away with the Best Player award.

Sadio Mane scored more goals (22) in a league of considerably superior quality and helped his team to the Champions League title. The Portuguese was not even the best player in his position.

Sergio Aguero managed the same numbers for Manchester City in the league and played a crucial role in their domestic treble win, implying that Ronaldo was not the best poacher either.

Ronaldo was a level below Messi, Van Dijk and several other players last season and has made the top-three purely based on reputation.

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Arsenal v Spurs and Basque derby among pick of the games from top five leagues

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And we’re back!

The top five European leagues are now well and truly in full flow to bring some colour to our weekends again.

In what will be the final round before the first international break, there’s a lot to enjoy from of La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1.

Derbies, top-of-the-table clashes and opportunities to exact revenge – we take a look at the top games that should be on your list for the weekend.

PREMIER LEAGUE

Arsenal v Tottenham (North London Derby)

After a bright start, Arsenal have stumbled under Emery.

Venue: Emirates

Date: Sunday, 1st September

Time: 7:30PM, GST

Tottenham and Arsenal will reignite one of the fiercest rivalries in Europe when they take the field at Emirates on Sunday

This fixture promises goals, as evidenced by the shaky defences of both sides, quality strikers, the 4-2 scoreline from the last game at this venue and the pure adrenaline that follows such a big derby.

Arsenal arrive at this fixture following a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool while Spurs slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat against Newcastle. Three points and momentum going forward are just added incentives as both teams fight for bragging rights.

It’s almost a case of when, not if, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane both score.

LA LIGA

Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad (Basque derby)

ATHLETIC BILBAO

Venue: San Mames

Date: Saturday, 31st August

Time: 12:00AM, GST

A historic derby captures the attention in Spain as Athletic Bilbao host Real Sociedad on Friday night.

The hosts will be desperate to assert themselves on the fixture and earn their first derby win since March 2017. Their win over defending champions Barcelona makes a good case for why they could walk away with three points on Friday.

Sociedad are also unbeaten in the two games they have featured in this season. They followed a 1-1 draw against Valencia by edging Mallorca by one goal.

Inaki Williams will be Bilbao’s key man while the visitors will look at youngsters Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard for inspiration.

BUNDESLIGA

Borussia Monchengladbach v RB Leipzig

Timo

Venue: Borussia Park

Date: 30th August, Friday

Time: 10:30 PM, GST

Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig feature in the curtain-raiser of blockbuster fixtures this weekend.

The Foals start as underdogs in this fixture, merely based on Leipzig’s rampant form this season. The visitors thrashed Union Berlin 4-0 in the first game before taking all three points against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Gladbach rode on a match-winning performance from Alassane Plea to beat FC Mainz 3-1 after a goal-less opening day draw against Schalke.

Both teams have established quality additions to the squad, but how will the hosts respond to losing star player Thorgan Hazard?

Breel Embolo will attempt to nullify his absence as Marcel Sabitzer and Timo Werner look to build on their fine form for the visitors.

SERIE A

Juventus v Napoli

1023 Ronaldo Focus

Venue: Juventus Stadium

Date: Saturday, 31st August

Time: 10:45 PM, GST

The big one is already here in the Serie A. The top two from last season lock horns as early as the second matchday as Napoli travel to Turin.

Juventus have dominated this fixture in recent times, winning three of the last five games and losing just one. On paper, the Turin side is favourite to build on their 1-0 win over Parma and bag all three points on Saturday.

Napoli were involved in a seven-goal thriller against Fiorentina, with Lorenzo Insigne scoring twice and providing two more to power his team to a narrow win.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo inspire the hosts to a win or will Insigne deliver yet again earn his team a crucial win?

LIGUE 1

Marseille v St Etienne

Marseille's French midfielder Florian Thauvin (L) kicks the ball to score a goal during the French L1 football match between AS Saint-Etienne and Olympique de Marseille

Venue: Stade Velodrome

Date: Sunday, 1st September

Time: 11 PM, GST

Two teams involved in an intense tussle for a European spot last season feature in the most exciting game in Ligue 1 this season. Marseille host St Etienne as they attempt to get their first win of the season.

The visitors will want to avoid their first defeat following a 2-1 win over Dijon and a 1-1 draw against Brest.

Marseille have dominated this fixture at home, winning four of the last five games without conceding defeat. This should be a perfect springboard for them to kick-start their season.

Romain Hamouma and Ryad Boudebouz are key for St Etienne, while Marseille are just hoping they can score their first goal of the season against a notoriously stingy defence.

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Romelu Lukaku scores on Inter debut in comfortable win over Lecce

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Romelu Lukaku scored on his debut as Inter Milan beat Lecce 4-0 in Antonio Conte’s first game in charge.

Striker Lukaku, making his first appearance since a £74million move from Manchester United, helped Inter to a comfortable opening Serie A win at the San Siro.

Marcelo Brozovic and Stefano Sensi put the hosts in complete control in the first half and Antonio Candreva completed the scoring with a long-range strike late on after Diego Farias was dismissed for the visitors.

Brozovic brilliantly opened the scoring after 21 minutes when he curled into the top corner from 25 yards.

Sensi doubled Inter’s lead three minutes later, skipping past two challenges and drilling into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Lukaku added the third after an hour, firing in after Gabriel could only parry Lautaro Martinez’s shot from 18 yards.

Substitute Farias was shown a straight red with 14 minutes left for a tackle from behind and Candreva added a fourth six minutes from time.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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