The 2019 UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will be the first all-English Champions League final in 11 years. The last one, in 2008, was a mouth-watering clash between Manchester United and Chelsea, with the Red Devils winning on penalties.
With Arsenal and Chelsea setting up an all-English Europa League final, Premier League teams are establishing themselves among Europe’s elites once again.
While both of Europe’s premier club competitions are assured of having English winners, it has been a while since an Premier League player won the Ballon d’Or. The last time a player from the league won was in 2008, when Cristiano Ronaldo bagged his first.
The decline in English football and the Messi-Ronaldo domination means no Premier league player has won the award since.
With Luka Modric winning it last year and the performances of Liverpool, Man City and Spurs this season, it means that the Premier league could have its first winner in over a decade.
It is widely believed that to win the Ballon d’Or, one must win the Champions League as well. With that in mind, we look at 3 players in the Champions league final that may have a shot at laying hands on the most coveted individual trophy in world football.
#3 Mohamed Salah
When Liverpool signed Salah from Roma in 2017 for a then club record transfer, there were high expectations on the speedy Egyptian.
A hardworking and clinical player, Salah’s excellent goal scoring record saw him take the league by storm. Salah hit a stunning 32 league goals, winning the Golden Boot and smashing the record for most goals in a 38 game season.
This season after starting shakily, Salah has recovered to prove that he is not a one season wonder. He has managed to find the net 22 times in the league, providing 11 assists and winning another Golden Boot.
Scoring another 4 times in Europe, Salah has been crucial in ensuring the title race went down to the wire and in securing a spot for the Reds in the Champions League final.
Another good performance in the final against Spurs and Salah will fancy his chances.
#2 Sadio Mane
One of the Premier League players in contention to lift the award, Mane has been in sublime form this season.
Mane has scored 22 times in the Premier League, joint highest with Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In Europe, he was key to Liverpool’s defeat of Bayern Munich in the Round of 16.
A direct winger with excellent finishing, Mane has arguably been the best attacker in the league this season. His exploits have linked him with a major move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, who see him as a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Like Ronaldo, Mane plays on the left flank and is displaying his world-class ability consistently. Should Mane score in the final and lift the trophy, the Ballon d’Or and Real Madrid could come calling.
#1 Virgil Van Dijk
Jurgen Klopp was highly critical of Manchester United spending £89m on Paul Pogba. He was thus widely ridiculed when splashing £75m on signing Van Dijk from Southampton, a world record fee for a defender. The fee however, has been money well spent.
Van Dijk is one of the Premier League favorites to lift the Ballon d’Or. He has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the league and in the world. He was the missing piece to Klopp’s jigsaw and has added much balance to the side.
Winning the PFA player of the year is a testimony to the 27-year-old’s quality. He has been key to Liverpool’s great defensive record, helping goalkeeper Alisson win the Golden Glove and conceding the fewest goals in the league.
A towering presence at 6’4″, Van Dijk averages almost 5 aerial duels won per match and has a passing accuracy of around 90%.
Defenders winning the Ballon d’ Or are a rarity. Raphael Varane came close last season, while Fabio Cannavaro was the last winner, in 2006.
Should Liverpool win a 6th Champions League trophy, Van Dijk will hope to join a list of elites.
The Netherlands are also in with a shout of being the inaugural champions of the UEFA Nations League, when the tournament’s knockout stages begin in Portugal in June, with the Oranje facing England in the semifinal, with one of Portugal or Switzerland awaiting in the final.