Virgil van Dijk has called Ballon d'Or rival Lionel Messi the world's best player many times

Virgil van Dijk & Leo Messi

Pre-season is nearly over and teams all across the world are now starting to shift their focus to the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign.

As the new season develops, one of the things that will intensify is the race to win the 2019 Ballon d'Or - the award designed to recognise the best footballer in the world.

In 2018, Real Madrid's Luka Modric ended Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's ten-year period of dominance by winning the coveted trophy, but Messi is back in the running this year.

The Barcelona captain is one of the two favourites to win the 2019 Ballon d'Or, alongside the other main contender: Liverpool colossus Virgil van Dijk.

With many people currently having Van Dijk ahead of Messi in the pair's head-to-head battle, we've recalled all the times this year alone that he's called the Argentinian the world's best.

Messi vs.Van Dijk in 2018-19

In his first season as Barca skipper, Messi scored a ridiculous 51 goals and provided 19 assists in 50 matches across all competitions.

Messi celebrates one of his goals against Lyon

The little magician finished as the Champions League's top scorer and won the Pichichi, Golden Shoe, Supercopa de Espana and, for the tenth time in his career, La Liga.

Meanwhile, Van Dijk was instrumental in turning Liverpool from an exciting team to a dominant force capable of challenging for trophies domestically and in Europe.

His consistently strong defensive displays earned him the PFA Player of the Year award and helped Jurgen Klopp's men lift the Champions League.

A delighted Van Dijk lifts the Champions League trophy

Van Dijk: Messi is the best

Following Liverpool's 3-0 loss at Barca in the Champions League semi-final first leg, which they miraculously overturned a week later at Anfield, Van Dijk said: "He (Messi) s a fantastic player.

"That's pretty obvious. I think he's the best player in the world - and he's got that little bit extra as well that he's shown over the years."

Then, in his Champions League final post-match press conference, where he was named UEFA's Man of the Match, the Dutchman claimed Messi is deserving of this year's Ballon d'Or.

Van DIjk keeps tabs on Messi during Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool

"I think Messi is the best player in the world," said Van Dijk. "I think he deserves it (the Ballon d'Or) as long as he plays. It doesn't matter if he's not in the Champions League final."

If that wasn't enough, the 28-year-old also praised Messi a few days ago during Liverpool's pre-season tour in America as he picked an all-star XI, in a video which included the "GOAT" term.

Check out the full video below:

Van Dijk is the biggest obstacle between 32-year-old Messi and a sixth Ballon d'Or crown, whilst Portugal icon Ronaldo and goalkeeper Alisson are also in with a shout.

Whoever ends up winning, it's almost certain that Messi will rank considerably higher than his controversial fifth-place finish in 2018.

Do YOU agree with Van Dijk that Messi is the world's best player and should win the 2019 Ballon d'Or? Drop YOUR opinions in the comments box below!

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