Has Messi Done Enough to Win the Ballon d’Or for a Fifth Time?

In a year in which his club side kept falling short and his country fell at the final hurdle in the World Cup, Lionel Messi’s performances have been no less remarkable than in previous years.

Since 2008 the title of the world’s best player has been the property of two of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the beautiful game, with Lionel Messi holding the title for four consecutive years between 2009 and 2012 and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 and 2013.

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In 2014 these two remarkable performers are once more battling for the Ballon d’Or title, along with Germany’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

At the end of the 2013-14 season Barcelona replaced manager Tata Martino with former club legend Luis Enrique. The new manager has gradually begun reducing the club’s reliance on the tiki-taka style with which they have been synonymous in recent years and at the same time relying far less on the Xavi-Iniesta-Messi partnership.

The purchase of Luis Suarez to play alongside Messi and Neymar, means that Barcelona have incorporated three of the world’s best attacking players in the same starting 11, with Messi gradually evolving his style of play to suit this new reality.

Despite all of these changes, Messi’s performances have been just as impressive as he continues smashing one record after another. He scored a hat-trick against Sevilla in November, which saw him become the all-time leading goal scorer in La Liga, beating Telmo Zarra’s 251 goals. Three days later he beat Raul’s 71 Champions League goals, with another hat-trick, this time against Apoel Nicosia and he is still only 27 years old.

He may be playing alongside two of the best forwards in the world, but Messi remains the key to Barcelona’s success. 16 games into the season he and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo are the only members of the team to have played every minute of every game.

Statistically Messi’s performances have not been significantly different to those of 2013 and despite all of the changes, he remains top of the goal scoring and assists charts for Barcelona.

Based on the data, during 2014 Messi was more heavily involved in the club’s build-up play, performing 13% more dribbles than in 2013, even though the percentage of good dribbles dropped by 8% to 49%. He also broke beyond the opposition defensive lines 22% more frequently than in 2013, in his role not only as a goal scorer, but also as a provider.

With two world class forwards on the pitch, he reached slightly fewer chance opportunities in 2014, managing fewer shots on goal; however if anything the quality of his shooting improved with more shots on target and a slightly higher percentage of dangerous shots on goal.

During the 2013-14 season Messi scored a little more than 29% of Barcelona’s league goals. 16 games into the 2014-15 season his contribution has increased to nearly 37%, despite the presence of Neymar and Suarez.

Even with his remarkable goal record, the data surprisingly reveals that his percentage of goals to shots fell from 23% in 2013 to 19% in 2014, with the number of goals scored from chance situations falling from 1.4 to 0.8 per game.

But in almost every parameter of chance creation, shooting and dribbling, Messi’s statistics for 2014 are truly exceptional.

In any ordinary year this would ensure another Ballon d’Or title for the Argentinean; but in the year which saw Manuel Neuer help Germany win the World Cup and in which Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid win achieve La Décima, with a record 17 Champions League goals, it is almost impossible to separate the contenders.

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