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.
But who holds the most power in the early stages of this year’s race? Goal ranks the runners and riders…
#20 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)
In 2021: Five goals.
While AC Milan’s chances of claiming the Serie A title seem to be slipping away, the Rossoneri’s resurgence should not be overlooked, with Ibrahimovic undoubtedly the face of Stefano Pioli’s project.
A strong end to the season from the Swede would do his chances of individual recognition no harm, while there is still silverware to win in the shape of the Europa League.
#19 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
In 2021: Six goals.
Though Benzema is one of a number of Madrid players to have been hit by injuries so far this year, the French striker has still been in excellent form in front of goal when he has been on the field.
That the defending Liga champions are still in the title race this time around is down to the efforts of their top scorer, whose return to fitness will also be key to their Champions League chances.
#18 Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
In 2021: Four goals, nine assists.
Tottenham may have struggled for consistency since their bright start to the season but Son has maintained his excellent form from the early weeks of the campaign and carried it into 2021.
Jose Mourinho’s side still have a Carabao Cup final to come and are one of the favourites to win the Europa League, so Son will have plenty of high-profile games in which to prove his Ballon d’Or worth.
#17 Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
In 2021: Four goals, five assists. Won Club World Cup.
Just over a year ago, it seemed that Muller’s time as a Bayern Munich player was coming to an end, so few and far between were his starts under Niko Kovac.
But the World Cup winner has been reborn under Hansi Flick and has again become one of Europe’s most feared attacking players, with his form this season almost as impressive as it was last term.
#16 Harry Kane (Tottenham)
In 2021: Eight goals, three assists.
Though Son has more goal involvements than Kane in 2021, the Tottenham striker finds himself ahead of his team-mate in these rankings for one key reason.
As captain of England at this summer’s Euros, the World Cup Golden Boot winner has the chance to yet again perform on the international stage in front of a global audience. Just having that opportunity, combined with his fine form, boosts his chances.
#15 Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
In 2021: Four goals, one assist. Won Trophee des Champions.
Injuries have meant that Neymar is yet to properly get going in 2021, but the impact a player of his ability could still make for both PSG and Brazil means that he cannot be ruled out of the running for individual honours.
PSG being in a strong position to advance in the Champions League helps his chances, with the more top-level European games the contenders can play in, the better.
#14 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
In 2021: One goal, five assists.
Like Neymar, De Bruyne has not played as many games since the turn of the year as he would have liked due to injuries, but ruling him out of the running at this early stage would be foolish.
The Belgium playmaker is set for a huge end to the season as City chase the quadruple while he is also likely to be a key figure as Roberto Martinez’s side head into Euro 2020 as one of the favourites.
#13 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
In 2021: Eight goals.
While Liverpool are enduring a nightmare 2021, Salah has at least been finding the back of the net with some regularity, with the Egypt international currently the front-runner in the Premier League’s Golden Boot race.
The Reds also look set to advance into the Champions League quarter-finals, and though they will need to improve their form to get much further, if they do then Salah will likely be at the heart of it.
#12 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
In 2021: Eight goals, seven assists.
The final months of 2020 were some of the most underwhelming of Sancho’s career so far, but he is more than making up for it after returning to his best form since the turn of the year.
Dortmund look well placed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League while the 20-year-old will hope to play a key role for England come this summer’s European Championship, meaning if his form continues he should be recognised by the Ballon d’Or voters.
#11 Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
In 2021: Nine goals, one assist.
There is a reason why Barcelona did not want Suarez to join Atletico Madrid last summer, and their worst nightmare is playing out at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The Uruguay international’s goals have put the Rojiblancos in control of the Liga title race, and if they can hold off the Clasico duo as well as turn around their Champions League tie with Chelsea then the veteran forward’s chances of individual honours will only grow.
#10 Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
In 2021: One goal, three assists, nine clean sheets.
You would have got good odds on Cancelo being in the running for individual prizes at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, but the Man City defender has been a revelation having been handed a new role by Pep Guardiola.
Part-full-back, part-playmaker, the Portugal international is set to play a key role for club and country over the next six months. If his teams are successful, expect him to stay in the running all the way through until December.
#9 Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
In 2021: Nine goals, four assists.
The Premier League’s player of 2020 continues to shine in 2021, with Fernandes still one of the most influential players in the English top flight.
United remain in the hunt for both the Europa League and FA Cup, while the ex-Sporting playmaker will also play a key role for Portugal in this summer’s European Championship, meaning he has plenty of opportunities to claim both collective and individual honours.
#8 Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
In 2021: One goal, 10 clean sheets.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when Manchester City paid £62 million ($79m) to sign Dias from Benfica over the summer, but the centre-back has been hailed as having a Virgil van Dijk-esque influence on Pep Guardiola’s defence.
With defending champions Portugal among the favourites to win this year’s Euros, Dias could yet win as many as five trophies between now and the start of next season. If he does then he could go one better than 2019 runner-up Van Dijk and claim the biggest individual prize of them all.
#7 Romelu Lukaku (Inter)
In 2021: Nine goals, four assists.
Inter seemingly being on the cusp of a first Serie A title in 11 years owes much to the form of Lukaku, who at the age of 27 is playing his best football of an already impressive career.
The former Manchester United man has been unstoppable at times for Antonio Conte’s side, and though he does not have European football to boost his hopes of winning, he will be leading the line for Belgium at Euro 2020 this summer.
#6 Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
In 2021: 12 goals, five assists.
Any concerns that Haaland was a one-season wonder have been put to bed over the course of the current campaign, with the Norway international continuing to destroy opposition defences with regularity.
The 20-year-old’s goals have put Dortmund on track to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, and though he won’t be in action at this summer’s Euros, his goal record at club level should keep him in contention regardless.
#5 Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
In 2021: Nine goals, four assists.
The fourth Man City player to make these rankings, Gundogan’s rise from useful utility midfielder to Pep Guardiola’s key attacking outlet over the course of just a few months is remarkable.
That City are so far ahead in the Premier League table owes much to the form of the Germany international, who will also likely start for Joachim Low’s side at the Euros this summer.
#4 Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
In 2021: 14 goals, six assists.
If these rankings were based on raw statistics alone, then Messi would be at least one spot higher, but when it comes to ‘power’ in the Ballon d’Or race, there is no doubting that Barcelona’s failures this season hurt his chances.
Missing out on the latter stages of the Champions League will limit the number of times he has to impress a worldwide audience while Ronald Koeman’s side face a fight to even win La Liga.
Messi is in excellent form, but his opportunities to prove himself worthy of winning individual honours are dwindling.
#3 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
In 2021: 11 goals, two assists. Won Supercoppa Italiana.
Messi isn’t going away, and neither is Ronaldo, though he too is playing for a team who could end the season without either of the two trophies they covet so much.
The only reason the Portugal star is ahead of Messi is that they have a better chance of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals. Lose to Porto, though, and expect Ronaldo to slide down the rankings.
#2 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
In 2021: 17 goals, three assists. Won Club World Cup.
The man who surely would have won the 2020 Ballon d’Or had it not been cancelled is very much in the hunt to actually get his hands on the prize this time around too.
Lewandowski and Bayern are again looking in ominous form as they enter the final months of the campaign, with the Poland international’s hat-trick in Saturday’s Klassiker a further illustration of his big-game pedigree.
#1 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
In 2021: 11 goals, two assists. Won Trophee des Champions.
Mbappe might not be able to compete with Lewandowski when it comes to raw output in front of goal, but in terms of what is required to win the Ballon d’Or, the PSG star has made the perfect start to 2021.
A hat-trick in the most high-profile Champions League game of the season so far kick-started his year perfectly, and he is certainly playing for a team capable of winning Europe’s premier club competition.
He will also be the leading man for France as they head into Euro 2020 as favourites, meaning that if everything goes to plan, he should be regarded as the leading contender right now.