Real Madrid v Liverpool: Salah has foundations in place for Ballon d'Or challenge

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It was always going to take something special to break the stranglehold of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the Ballon d'Or.

The pair have shared the last 10 prizes equally and have only failed to occupy the top two spots together once during that period of dominance.

Fortunately for Liverpool as they prepare to take on Real Madrid - and Ronaldo - in the Champions League final, they have someone a bit special at their disposal.

Mohamed Salah has been a revelation on Merseyside, scoring 44 goals in all competitions this season and forming part of Liverpool's fearsome attacking line-up alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

The trio have combined for 29 goals during the club's run to Saturday's final in Kiev and, in a climate where the world's best players are changing hands for nine-figure sums, the £36.9million paid by Liverpool to sign the Egypt international looks like an improbable bargain in hindsight.

Salah's sublime form - which has softened the blow of losing Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January - has come as something as a surprise given his previous failure to make a mark in the Premier League during a brief stint at Chelsea and his solid if unspectacular spell in Serie A.

The 25-year-old's scene-stealing performances have propelled him into the conversation when it comes to breaching the impenetrable top two with regard to individual honours.

Such is the obsession with the Ballon d'Or in the era of Ronaldo and Messi, that simply savouring the birth of another global star is not possible without comparing him to the current standard-bearers.

Neymar, for example, is reported to have considered his own bid for the prize when completing his €222m move to Paris Saint-Germain, hoping to step out of the shadow of Messi at Barcelona and further his own personal cause.

Salah's rise to prominence has come less by design, but something clicked for him at Anfield and he is now a player well aware of his elevated position in world football.

Talking to reporters on Monday, team-mate Dejan Lovren claimed to have spoken to Salah about the Ballon d'Or and said Liverpool would "help him to achieve this dream".

Lovren also described Salah as "definitely" the best player in the world at this moment time - the kind of plaudit that will only add to his growing status as Africa's biggest footballing star and fuel the inevitable rumours that will link Liverpool's main man with the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and Europe's other mega-rich super powers.

How Salah copes with those added pressures will be key to whether he can maintain the lofty standards he has set this season, but the fact is this: anybody hoping to unseat Ronaldo or Messi for Ballon d'Or honours is going to have to excel domestically, continentally and on the international stage.

With a superb Premier League campaign already in the bag, a Champions League final fast approaching and a World Cup on the horizon, Salah has laid firm foundations for a credible challenge to football's untouchables.