Messi can have the Ballon d'Or - Van Dijk driven by Premier League title

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Virgil van Dijk Liverpool Brighton
The Dutchman scored two towering headers before then holding the Reds' defence together after Alisson's dismissal in a crucial 2-1 win over Brighton

If the reports emanating out of Spain over the past few days are anything to go by, Lionel Messi will collect his sixth Ballon d'Or in Paris on Monday.

Given his outrageous amount of goals and assists in 2019, coupled with Barcelona's staggering level of dependence upon their captain, it's hard to argue with the assertion that the Argentine is the No.1 player on the planet.

As Gary Lineker once said, "The truth is, if the Ballon d'Or is about being the best, he’d win it every year."

Virgil van Dijk, though, couldn't have done much more to deny Messi another trophy.

They say that these days only goalscorers win the major individual honours, with Luka Modric proving a rare exception to the rule last year.

However, as well as providing the foundation on which Liverpool's Champions League triumph last season was built, the best centre-half in the world has even added goals to his game over the past 18 months, as he underlined in the Reds' 2-1 win over Brighton on Saturday.

The Netherlands international's two towering first-half headers at Anfield mean that no Premier League defender has scored as many goals as Van Dijk (seven) since the start of last season. It wasn't even his first double of 2019 either, as the 28-year-old also netted twice at the same venue against Watford in February.

However, a huge amount of credit must go to Trent Alexander-Arnold, the set-piece specialist who provided the cross for both goals.

The right-back's influence on Liverpool's offensive game is truly remarkable, and extends far beyond his accuracy with a dead ball, but Van Dijk remains the key cog in the Reds' winning machine.

He was – literally – head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch against Brighton.

Virgil van Dijk Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool

"Virgil van Dijk has been the best defender, midfielder and attacker on the pitch," former Scotland international Pat Nevin gushed on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He's been ridiculous."

Nevin wasn't wrong. This was vintage Van Dijk: commanding at the back, supremely comfortable on the ball when stepping into midfield and deadly in the opposition box.

It was a timely return to his brilliant best, too.

Truth be told, while Van Dijk has been good this season, he's not quite scaled the heights of last season, but he was colossal against Brighton.

As well as putting Liverpool in control of the game with two goals in the space of six minutes midway through the first half, he also held the defence together after the dismissal of Alisson with 14 minutes to go.

After the Brazilian had been shown a straight red card for a blatant handball outside the area, Lewis Dunk set up a nervy finish by catching replacement goalkeeper Adrian napping with a quick free-kick.

Brighton bombarded the Liverpool area in the closing stages but the hosts, led by their fantastic No.4, refused to buckle.

This was a massive performance from Van Dijk when the Reds needed it most. It might not win him the Ballon d'Or but no matter, the Premier League is the trophy that he craves above all others.

His decisive double, coupled with Manchester City's draw at Newcastle earlier in the day, edged Liverpool ever closer to realising that dream.

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After 14 matches, the Merseysiders are now 11 points clear of the reigning champions at the top of the table.

It took the genius of Messi to take the Ballon d'Or away from Van Dijk.

At this rate, it's going to take something even more special to deny the Dutchman that coveted Premier League winners' medal.