The awarding of the prize was cancelled in 2020 and the world’s best players are again making their cases to claim the coveted individual honour
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.
Though the prize will not be handed out until December, performances over the coming weeks will go a long way to deciding who will and won’t be in contention to succeed 2019 winner Lionel Messi.
With the European season being dominated by surprise title contenders and delayed international tournaments to come this summer, the chances of there being a new winner are high.
So by using their performances so far as well as predictions of what is likely still come in 2021, who holds the most power in the early stages of this year’s race?
Goal ranks the runners and riders…
#20 Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Last week: 15th
In 2021: 11 goals, three assists.
Tottenham went into last week as one of the favourites to win the Europa League, and by Friday morning they were out after their disastrous defeat against Dinamo Zagreb.
Kane could still end the season with silverware at both club and international level, but there’s no doubt being out of Europe in the final months of the campaign hurts his chances of winning individual prizes.
#19 Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last week: 15th
In 2021: Four goals, one assist. Won Trophee des Champions.
Neymar made his return to action on Sunday evening in PSG’s win over Lyon, but he now faces having to play catch up while plotting the downfall of last year’s Champions League winners Bayern Munich.
If he manages it, expect the Brazil international to shoot up towards the top 10.
#18 N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Last week: NEW ENTRY
In 2021: Two assists
After knocking out Atletico Madrid in the last 16 and earning a favourable draw for the rest of the Champions League, this list felt incomplete without some Chelsea representation.
A host of players were considered, but Kante gets the nod because a) he played a starring role in the high-profile win over Atletico, and b) he will be a key man for the Euro 2020 favourites this summer.
#17 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Last week: 16th
In 2021: Eight goals, seven assists.
The newly-crowned Bundesliga Player of the Month for February remains on the sidelines as he continues his recovery from injury, and he now knows that upon his return he will face a reunion with Manchester City.
As such, Sancho’s chances of making it much further in the Champions League look slim, while Dortmund also face an uphill battle to qualify for next season’s competition after dropping more points in the Bundesliga over the weekend.
#16 Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
Last week: 17th
In 2021: Four goals, eight assists. Won Club World Cup.
Yet another assist for Muller in Bayern’s latest Bundesliga win, and the calls for him to be recalled by Germany for this summer’s Euros continue to grow louder.
Bayern face a tough path to the Champions League final, but with Muller in his current form, they certainly have a playmaker who can be a difference-maker at the very highest level.
#15 Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Last week: NEW ENTRY
In 2021: Four assists
Luka Modric’s raw numbers in terms of goal involvements do not tell the story of just how impressive the Real Madrid veteran has been this season.
The Croatia international’s renaissance seems to be reaching a peak right now, with Modric having provided assists in three of Madrid’s last four matches.
#14 Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
Last week: 12th
In 2021: 11 goals, one assist.
This may have been the week that Suarez scored the 500th goal of his illustrious career to keep Atletico in control of the Liga title race, but his season is likelier to be remembered for his anonymous outing at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
The sight of the Uruguay international being substituted before the hour mark with Atleti needing two goals at Stamford Bridge told its own story, and now only a league title is likely to lift Suarez into contention for individual prizes in 2021.
#13 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Last week: 13th
In 2021: Nine goals.
Are Liverpool back? Not yet. But after victory over Wolves on Monday, the Reds at least look capable of launching a late-season push for a top-four finish.
Liverpool were also handed a Champions League draw that could have been a lot more difficult, meaning Salah may still have chance to make his case in front of the biggest audience possible before the campaign is out.
#12 Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
Last week: 10th
In 2021: One goal, four assists, 11 clean sheets.
Cancelo drops, but only because he has been leapfrogged by players whose roles allow them to grab more headlines than the full-back.
The quadruple is still on for City, and there is no doubt that Cancelo has played a huge role in that being the case.
#11 Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Last week: 9th
In 2021: Nine goals, five assists.
Two cup games with two very different results for Manchester United over the course of the past seven days, with Sunday’s FA Cup loss against Leicester City particularly hard to take for Red Devils supporters.
#10 Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Last week: 8th
In 2021: One goal, 13 clean sheets.
Like his international team-mate Cancelo, Dias only slides down because ‘sexier’ players have begun to make their moves in recent weeks.
The former Benfica man played his part in keeping two more clean sheets across the course of the week, and is the outstanding candidate among defenders to challenge for the Ballon d’Or this year.
#9 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Last week: 11th
In 2021: 11 goals, one assist
In his four games since returning from injury, Benzema has added six goals and an assist, and has scored Madrid’s first goal on each occasion to boot.
That the Blancos remain in the Liga title race and with a shout of making the Champions League final is almost solely down to the French striker, and there are few individuals anywhere in Europe who can claim to be as irreplaceable as Benzema right now.
#8 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Last week: 7th
In 2021: 14 goals, three assists. Won Supercoppa Italiana.
With Inter not playing, this was meant to be the week that Juventus and Ronaldo ramped up the pressure on the Serie A leaders as they played their game in hand against out-of-form Benevento.
Instead the Bianconeri were beaten at home by the newly-promoted side, with their Portuguese talisman drawing a blank. It has been a fortnight to forget for one of the game’s greatest ever forwards.
#7 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Last week: 14th
In 2021: Five goals, five assists.
After his long-range screamer put any hope Borussia Monchengladbach had of turning their Champions League clash with Manchester City around to bed, De Bruyne then stepped off the bench against Everton on Saturday to put in another match-winning display.
The Belgium international is warming up nicely ahead of the run-in. Right now, he looks the likeliest of the chasing park to vault himself into true contention in the coming months.
#6 Romelu Lukaku (Inter)
Last week: 6th
In 2021: 10 goals, four assists.
With Inter suffering through a Covid-19 outbreak, Lukaku was forced to sit the last week out, but with Juventus losing, Inter’s grip on the Serie A title race only tightened.
#5 Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Last week: 4th
In 2021: 16 goals, five assists.
He may have scored twice in Saturday’s draw with Koln, but it was clear at full-time that Haaland was far from happy.
The striker knows Dortmund’s chances of a top-four finish are slipping away, and with the toughest draw possible facing them in the Champions League, a return to the competition next year now looks unlikely.
#4 Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
Last week: 5th
In 2021: 12 goals, four assists.
Two games, two goals, and perhaps the unlikeliest contender for this year’s Ballon d’Or continues to put together quite the portfolio for the judges to mull over.
The Germany international could yet lift five pieces of silverware between now and August. If he does, does he become the overwhelming favourite?
#3 Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Last week: 3rd
In 2021: 19 goals, eight assists.
Messi might not have the Champions League to fall back on in his quest for a seventh Ballon d’Or, but his all-round domestic displays are probably unmatched at this moment.
#2 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last week: 1st
In 2021: 16 goals, two assists. Won Trophee des Champions.
How does a player score four goals to move his team to the top of Ligue 1 and into the next round of the Coupe de France and still slide a place in the rankings?
They draw the defending champions in the next round of the Champions League, that’s how.
Sorry Kylian – beat Bayern Munich, and we can talk about you re-taking the lead again…
#1 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Last week: 2nd
In 2021: 22 goals, three assists. Won Club World Cup.
With summer tournaments to come, Lewandowski faces a tougher fight to win the prize he should have got his hands on in 2020 than some might believe, but right now his record speaks for itself.
Bayern are likely going to have to beat PSG and Man City just to reach the Champions League final. It is a tough route, but in Lewandowski they have Europe’s most in-form striker to lean on.