After being cancelled in 2020, the Ballon d’Or is back, with the great and good of the football world again eyeing the biggest individual honour the game has to offer.
The prize will not be handed out until December, meaning that players can still make their cases to succeed 2019 winner Lionel Messi over the coming months, despite most of the major club and international silverware having been won already.
So, by using the performances of the contenders so far, as well as predictions of what is likely still to come in 2021, who holds the most power in this year’s race?
Goal ranks the runners and riders…
#20: Nicolo Barella (Inter)
Last time: NEW ENTRY
In 2021: Five goals, 11 assists. Won Serie A & Euro 2020.
Whether Barella is high-profile enough to earn recognition for the best year of his career come December remains to be seen, but there is no doubt his performances continue to be at an extremely high level.
The Italy international has made at least one direct goal contribution in each of Inter’s first three Serie A games of the season as he continues to emerge as one of Europe’s next best central midfielders.
#19: Pedri (Barcelona)
Last time: 19th
In 2021: Three goals, six assists. Won Copa del Rey & Olympic silver medal.
While Pedri’s epic 2020-21 season may now finally be catching up with him as he nurses a thigh injury, the teenager can still look back on a year where he went from relative unknown to one of the most promising midfield talents to emerge in years.
#18: Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Last time: NEW ENTRY
In 2021: 21 goals, 10 assists.
The early signs are Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are not going to have the same issues at Manchester United as they have when playing together for Portugal, and as such the 27-year-old may well force himself back into the Ballon d’Or top 20 come December.
Fernandes has made a strong start to the season at Old Trafford, with his overall attacking output for 2021 among the best anywhere in Europe among creative midfielders.
#17: Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Last time: 17th
In 2021: Nine goals, seven assists. Won Champions League & UEFA Super Cup.
Like a number of his England team-mates from Euro 2020, Mount has not made the fast start to the new season he might have liked, with his half-time withdrawal against Tottenham on Sunday the lowest point thus far.
#16: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last time: 16th
In 2021: 14 goals, 12 assists. Won Coupe de France & Trophee des Champions.
While the new ‘MNM’ strikeforce at PSG has not quite hit the ground running, the fact Neymar seems to have secured himself penalty duty should be regarded as a win for the Brazil star.
#15: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Last time: 12th
In 2021: 13 goals, seven assists. Won Premier League & Carabao Cup.
Sterling continues to be on the fringes of Pep Guardiola’s preferred line-up at Manchester City, and unsurprisingly reports are now beginning to surface linking the England star with a move away from Etihad Stadium if things continue that way.
#14: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Last time: 14th
In 2021: 28 goals, five assists.
Kane is still waiting for his first Premier League goal of the season, with a summer hangover from Euro 2020 and the reports regarding his future seemingly still effecting the England captain.
#13: Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Last time: 13th
In 2021: One goal, two assists, 24 clean sheets. Won Premier League & Carabao Cup.
Despite the slightly concerning way in which Manchester City conceded three to RB Leipzig in midweek, they continue to look mainly solid thanks to Dias’ continued presence in their back four.
#12: Federico Chiesa (Juventus)
Last time: 10th
In 2021: 15 goals, five assists. Won Euro 2020, Coppa Italia & Supercoppa Italiana.
Chiesa’s importance to Juventus has been laid bare in recent weeks, with the Bianconeri having struggled to get their season going in the absence of the injured Italy star.
#11: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last time: 15th
In 2021: 19 clean sheets. Won Euro 2020.
For now, it seems that Donnarumma will be PSG’s first-choice goalkeeper in Ligue 1, but he may need to wait for his opportunity to impress in the Champions League as he shares duties with Keylor Navas.
#10: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Last time: 11th
In 2021: 28 goals, 11 assists.
Few players have started the 2021-22 season in better form than Benzema, who has five goals and six assists in just five Liga matches so far this term.
Arguably one of, if not the biggest star in the Spanish top-flight right now, the France striker is living up to that billing.
#9: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Last time: 7th
In 2021: 10 goals, 11 assists. Won Premier League & Carabao Cup.
It has been a slow start to the new season for De Bruyne, with niggling injury issues continuing to hold back the PFA Player of the Year for 2020-21.
#8: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Last time: 8th
In 2021: 33 goals, four assists. Won Coppa Italia & Supercoppa Italiana.
If there were any concerns regarding Ronaldo’s ability to still put the ball in the net following his move to Manchester United, they have now been lifted after the Portugal international’s four goals in his first three games back at Old Trafford.
Quite whether other aspects of the team can truly function as they would like with him in it remains to be seen, but so far, so good for United’s returning hero.
#7: Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last time: 6th
In 2021: 33 goals, 11 assists. Won Coupe de France & Trophee des Champions.
After a fast start to the season for Mbappe, fitness issues have begun to creep into the France international’s game as he aims to strike up a relationship with Lionel Messi at Parc des Princes.
The early signs are not so good, but it remains very premature to write them off.
#6: Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Last time: 9th
In 2021: 41 goals, 13 assists. Won DFB-Pokal.
The failure of a number of potential Ballon d’Or candidates to put in strong displays at summer tournaments has played right into Haaland’s hands, with the Dortmund striker now very much forcing his way back to the front of world football’s collective conciousness after a couple of months off.
The 21-year-old has seven goals and four assists in just five Bundesliga games so far this season while he also got off the mark for the Champions League with a strike against Besiktas.
#5: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Last time: 5th
In 2021: 29 goals, eight assists. Won Serie A.
Lukaku’s towering header to beat Zenit in Chelsea’s Champions League opener served as yet another reminder of how much of a game-changer the Belgium striker will be for the Blues going forward.
#4: N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Last time: 4th
In 2021: One goal, one assist. Won Champions League & UEFA Super Cup.
Kante’s emergence off the bench against Tottenham on Sunday swung the game in Chelsea’s favour, and though he got slightly fortunate with a deflection, his first goal of 2021 for club or country was a decent reward for the midfield star.
#3: Jorginho (Chelsea)
Last time: 3rd
In 2021: Five goals, two assists. Won Euro 2020, Champions League & UEFA Super Cup.
It remains controversial for some, but while Jorginho continues to keep things ticking over in the Chelsea midfield his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or remain relatively high.
UEFA’s Player of the Year is a contender – deal with it!
#2: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Last time: 2nd
In 2021: 48 goals, seven assists. Won Bundesliga, Club World Cup & DFL-Supercup.
Lewandowski has 11 goals in just seven games to start the season, and is showing no signs of slowing down as he closes in on a half-century of strikes for the calendar year.
Maintain that form until December, and he could yet pip the current No 1 in these rankings to the biggest individual prize of them all.
#1: Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last time: 1st
In 2021: 36 goals, 14 assists. Won Copa America & Copa del Rey.
Is there a scenario where Messi does not win his seventh Ballon d’Or in 2021?
If there is, then a slow start to life at PSG is probably part of it, with the Argentine’s substitution when Mauricio Pochettino was chasing a winning goal against Lyon on Sunday a sure sign that Messi is not quite hitting top gear in France yet.
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