Lionel Messi massive favourite for third straight Ballon d’Or title

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Lionel Messi’s stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or award shows no sign of loosening this year after being named on the three-man shortlist.

The forward has been imperious once again for Barcelona and is joined on the shortlist by fellow Barca player Xavi and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Xavi and Ronaldo may technically be in the running but it is incredibly hard to see beyond a win for Messi.

He has won another La Liga title and was the architect of Barca’s 3-1 Champions League final win against Manchester United – scoring their crucial second goal after half-time.

His odds of 1/8 show just how heavily fancied he is and Ladbrokes are even considering paying out early.

Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes said: “Messi’s the man of the moment and no one can touch him. He’s so far clear of his rivals we’re tempted to pay out early on the little maestro.”

Meanwhile, Ronaldo is the second favourite in the betting at 11/2 to win but even his incredible 52 goals for Real Madrid last season shouldn’t be enough to usurp the trophy-laden Messi.

Xavi is out at 16/1 to win the title having finished runner-up last year and in third place in 2009 – but it’s hard to see the Spaniard winning despite his brilliance and importance to both Barcelona and Spain.

A win for Messi would see him join Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten as the only players to win the award on three occasions and he would also become just the second player ever – along with Platini in 1983, 1984 and 1985 – to win three consecutive titles.

The 1/8 offered for Messi may not be the longest odds you’ll ever encounter, but it’s starting to look very much like free money.

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