For 10 of the last 11 years, the question of who will win the Ballon d’Or has been simple a one: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
But their decade of dominance ended last year when Luka Modric picked up the prestigious individual award, which is organised by France Football magazine and voted on by 176 international journalists.
There could be another first-time winner crowned on Monday, with the Real Madrid midfielder looking unlikely to retain the prize. Here City A.M. looks at the main contenders.
Virgil Van Dijk
This year’s favourite Van Dijk can take huge credit for Liverpool’s defensive transformation and their subsequent on-field success.
The Holland captain’s arrival in January 2018 coincided with a sharp improvement in Liverpool’s defending. Their solitary Premier League defeat this calendar year – away to champions Manchester City – is testament to that, as was their Champions League victory in a second successive final since Van Dijk joined.
Last season they had the best defensive record in the Premier League, conceding just 22 goals, down on 38 and 42 the seasons before. This campaign they have only conceded 10.
The 28-year-old has also been central to the rejuvenation of a Holland side who missed the last two major tournaments but sealed their place at Euro 2020 last week.
While Liverpool have improved defensively, the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino continue to spearhead an attack that is the envy of world football.
This year Mane has stepped out of Salah’s shadow, sharing the Premier League Golden Boot with his team-mate and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and was integral to their European success.
The 27-year-old also reached the Africa Cup of Nations final with Senegal during the summer and took just two weeks off before returning to his club for the new season.
Despite a lack of rest, he already has 11 goals and five assists in 17 appearances.
Messi missed out on the top three last year for the first time since 2006 despite Barcelona claiming a domestic double, with his goals as integral ever: 45 in 54 appearances, plus 18 assists.
The 32-year-old has again underlined his claim to being the best of all time as Barcelona retained their La Liga title and reached the Champions League semi-finals.
His goal involvement – goals plus assists – remains more than one per match, and despite missing the start of the season he has already scored nine and assisted five goals in 11 appearances.
Last season’s football writers’ player of the year continues to improve under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola and has firmly established himself as one of the Premier League’s best players.
The 25-year-old was a standout performer as Manchester City won back-to-back Premier League titles and claimed a domestic treble last season.
His creativity has been just as important as his goal output and in 2019 his contribution of 28 goals and 12 assists in 42 games has made him one of Europe’s biggest attacking threats.
Sterling has also replicated his club form for his country, scoring eight and assisting nine of England’s 30 goals from open play this year.
The serial record-breaker has had his most prolific year with Portugal, scoring 14 goals as they won the Nations League and qualified for Euro 2020, bringing his total to 99 – 10 off the all-time record for international goals.
However there is no denying the 34-year-old’s goal output has decreased since joining Juventus, with just 12 club goals and three assists in 19 appearances in 2019.
While Juve retained their Serie A crown, a Champions League quarter-final defeat to Ajax was major disappointment and this could be just the second time in 12 years Ronaldo is not in the top three.
It is rare to see a goalkeeper in contention for the Ballon d’Or, with Gianluigi Buffon and Oliver Kahn the only to have made the top three this century.
But Alisson has clearly made a difference since joining Liverpool last summer, keeping 21 clean sheets in the Premier League last season as they lost just once and recorded 97 points – the highest total not to win the title.
He also ensured six shut-outs in the Champions League, including the 2-0 win over Tottenham in the final, but has missed much of this season with injury.