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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Pre-World Cup Player Power Rankings: Messi vs. Ronaldo: Who's No. 1?

With 100 days to go until the FIFA World Cup, Ian Darke joins a group of ESPN writers and experts for a roundtable discussion about what to expect in Russia this summer.
Join Martin Ainstein on a 12-episode series exploring Russia through the 2018 World Cup host cities, starting this week across ESPN networks.

ESPN FC's global editorial desks nominate their top 10 players who will play at this summer's World Cup based on their club form.

1. Lionel Messi | Argentina

Why he's here: Messi has reached the 25-goal mark in La Liga for the ninth straight season, in what is supposedly a down year for the 30-year-old. The Argentina international is on pace for a decidedly average (by his standards) 34 goals in the league but is on track to assist on 16 more -- tied for the third-most of his career, behind only the marks he set with Barcelona's treble-winning team of 2014-15 and Pep Guardiola's great double winners of 2010-11.

Despite his goal-scoring numbers dipping this season, Messi has arguably never been more influential at Barcelona. If he can pull Argentina's strings in Russia this summer, as he has done for the Blaugrana in 2017-18, he could finally be the player to decide a World Cup.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo | Portugal

Why he's here: Ronaldo didn't score his first goal in La Liga until Oct. 14. By the turn of the year, he had only four. Since, he has potted 18 -- in just 11 appearances. He got similarly hot last season after Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane insisted on regular rest for the 33-year-old, and he led Los Blancos to a second straight Champions League.

Of course, Ronaldo's form wasn't enough to ensure Portugal a successful Confederations Cup in Russia last summer. He scored two goals and an assist in three matches, but the Euro 2016 champions lost to Chile in the semifinals. Leading an aging Portugal that is light on game-changers, Ronaldo will need to be more of a difference-maker than ever for his country.

3. Neymar | Brazil

Why he's here: Neymar has been recuperating from a broken foot for nearly a month and might not return to action until Brazil's training camp begins, but that shouldn't take away from what the 26-year-old has achieved in his first season at Paris Saint-Germain: 26 goals and 16 assists in 29 appearances across all competitions.

With a Brazil team as deep and well-coached as any since their latest World Cup win in 2002, the Selecao might not even need Neymar at his best in Russia. But if the world's most expensive footballer can put on a show worthy of his €222 million price tag, Brazil might just win their sixth title.

4. Kevin De Bruyne | Belgium

Why he's here: Pushed into a deeper role in Guardiola's tactically cutting-edge Manchester City, De Bruyne has become one of the best midfielders in the world. His place in the heart of midfield has necessitated him to add the graft that was missing from his game in the more advanced positions he took under Manuel Pellegrini and at Wolfsburg and Chelsea, but he has still been able to score seven goals and assist on 14 more in 30 Premier League appearances this season.

In a Belgium side littered with attacking talent, De Bruyne will be charged with circulating possession and putting the likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in dangerous positions. If he can do that, then Belgium might finally realise their massive potential.

5. Mohamed Salah | Egypt

Why he's here: Salah might be enjoying the best season of anyone on this list: Since joining Liverpool last summer, the Egypt international has racked up 38 goals and 10 assists in 44 appearances across all competitions. He's already four goals clear of his nearest challenger (the now-injured Harry Kane) in the Premier League Golden Boot race. Did we mention it's his first season with the club?

Believe it or not, Salah was also the joint-leading goal scorer in African World Cup qualifying. His Egypt were the second country from Africa to qualify for this summer's tournament, and drawn into a group with hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, the Pharaohs have every chance of reaching the knockout rounds -- and doing something special if Salah continues his mind-bending goal-scoring form.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the unanimous favourites to be the best players in the World Cup this summer.

6. Harry Kane | England

Why he's here: England's great hope. Kane has 38 goals and four assists in 44 appearances across all competitions for Tottenham this season, leading him to be regularly linked with a world-record transfer to Real Madrid. The 24-year-old suffered an ankle injury on March 11 at Bournemouth, but he could return to action by April 1.

If he can regain his fitness ahead of the season's conclusion, this three-week break could do Kane a world of good in terms of rest prior to the World Cup. The Three Lions will be reliant on the Spurs striker in Russia, and they'll go as far as he can carry them.

7. Luis Suarez | Uruguay

Why he's here: Suarez had just five goals across all competitions in the season's first four months, as a knee injury made it look as though the 31-year-old is entering the backside of his career. He has scored 19 and added nine assists in 23 appearances since, and he trails only teammate Messi by four goals in La Liga's Pichichi race.

Like in Barcelona, Suarez will have help shouldering the goal-scoring load for Uruguay. Edinson Cavani is in peak form for PSG, and the pair will form a strike partnership as potent as any in Russia this summer. Whether they can prop up an aging back line will be the biggest question Uruguay face.

8. Antoine Griezmann | France

Why he's here: Griezmann was another striker in Spain who got off to a sluggish start, in the wake of ultimately fruitless flirtations with a move to Manchester United over the summer, scoring just eight times across all competitions before the calendar turned to 2018. He has amassed 16 goals and six assists in the 18 appearances he has made since.

France will have had two years to get over stumbling at Euro 2016, which they hosted and were favorites for, before they kick a ball at the World Cup. Les Bleus boast a midfield and attackers who can stand up to any in the tournament, both in terms of depth and outright quality, of which the in-his-prime Griezmann is perhaps the crown jewel.

9. Robert Lewandowski | Poland

Why he's here: Bayern Munich are sitting comfortably atop the Bundesliga, 17 points clear of second-placed Schalke. Lewandowski has played a huge role in their form this term, with the striker tallying 33 goals and three assists in 41 appearances across all competitions.

In a group containing Colombia, Japan and Senegal, a Poland at the height of their powers should be aiming to reach the knockout rounds as group winners, but the round of 16 beckons so long as Lewandowski can continue to score at the impressive rate he has with Bayern this season.

10. Willian | Brazil

Why he's here: Willian's form in the past month pushes him into the top 10, more so than anyone else on this list. In his past seven appearances, in the midst of slumps from fellow Chelsea attackers Hazard, Pedro and Alvaro Motata, the Brazilian has registered five goals and an assist. Combined with his tireless work rate and defensive nous, Willian is the sort of indispensable wide man Chelsea and Brazil can't do without.

It's the form and the potential of Willian, as well as Philippe Coutinho, that ease the pressure on Neymar to be Brazil's saviour. The Selecao have such depth all over the pitch, and especially across the attack, that the PSG superstar could have an average (by his standards) tournament and still make an impact on the World Cup through the contributions of players such as Willian.

Also receiving votes: David De Gea (Spain), Marcelo (Brazil), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Thomas Muller (Germany), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Manuel Neuer (Germany), James Rodriguez (Colombia), Toni Kroos (Germany).

Let us know what you think of the countdown by commenting below or on Twitter using #ESPNFCrankings.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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