'Varane is great but Ballon d'Or is Ronaldo's' - Bonucci backing Juventus team-mate for sixth triumph

Leonardo Bonucci would like to see a defender win the Ballon d’Or but concedes that the 2018 award “must go to Cristiano Ronaldo” ahead of the likes of Raphael Varane.

France’s successful World Cup side is expected to provide several leading contenders for the prestigious individual prize.

Alongside Varane, the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are being backed to secure plenty of support.

Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi will also be in contention once more, as he seeks to land a sixth Golden Ball of his illustrious career.

Ronaldo, though, has enjoyed another successful year, having claimed Champions League honours with Real Madrid in 2017-18, and Juventus team-mate Bonucci expects him to become the first man to six Ballons d’Or.

The Italian centre-half said: “It would be nice to see a defender win the Ballon d’Or like Varane but, as much as he gave to Real last year and for all that he has shown, the Golden Ball must go to Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Bonucci was speaking ahead of Juve’s Champions League clash with Manchester United on Wednesday.

That contest will see Ronaldo reunited with his former club, while current Red Devils star Paul Pogba will also be facing some familiar faces.

“Paul and I are still good friends,” Bonucci said of an ex-Bianconeri star who is being linked with a potential return to Turin.

“He's a great player and he told me he was really excited to be coming back to this stadium. I hope he plays very well but Juve win the game.”

Leonardo Bonucci Juventus 2018-19

Bonucci will be hoping to keep Pogba and company quiet at the Allianz Stadium, with one clean sheet having already been secured against United this season.

Jose Mourinho claimed after that contest that Juve’s centre-half pairing, which also includes the vastly experienced Giorgio Chiellini, could teach at Harvard, so adept are they are the art of defending.

Bonucci has welcomed those comments, saying: “It's nice to get a compliment like that from a great coach but the success we've achieved over the years has been obtained thanks to the hard work of everyone.

“Defending is not only done by the defenders, just as attacking is not only down to the forwards.”

He added on Juve’s efforts as a collective in 2018-19: “I think we are more confident and more experienced now than when I was here before and it's thanks to the excellent job done by the coach and the club.”