The Ballon d'Or 2021 will be awarded on Monday, with three players tipped to win the biggest individual prize in football.
It's been a sensational year for so many, with shock league winners across Europe as well as Euro 2020 and the Copa America. Here, we rank those shortlisted in terms of their chances of winning, and explain why they are among the runners and riders.
15. Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Major titles: Champions League
The embodiment of the modern midfielder, Mason Mount has grown into a talisman for club and country, driving his teams forward with workrate, jaw-dropping control and a tactical intelligence admired by his coaches. The Englishman was key to Chelsea's Champions League success last term, before staring for England at Euro 2020. His star continues to rise.
14. Giorgio Chiellini
Major titles: Coppa Italia, Euro 2020
If it weren't for a cynical shirt pull on Bukayo Saka in July, Italy may not have gone on to win Euro 2020. In that moment, Giorgio Chiellini reminded the world that winning isn't always pretty, and no footballer embodies that more than the granite-faced Juventus man. After also winning the Coppa Italia at the end of last season, Chiellini has barely featured for club or country this term.
13. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Major titles: None
Both the top goalscorer and assist provider in the Premier League last season, many felt Harry Kane was harshly overlooked for the PFA Player of the Year award. Sluggish performances Euro 2020 – before he eventually netted three times for finalists England – have also oozed into the current season. The 28-year-old's wrangling for a move to Manchester City all summer appears to have taken a mental toll.
12. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Major titles: DFB-Pokal
A fixture of future Ballon d'Or ceremonies, without a shadow of a doubt. Erling Haaland's goalscoring prowess at the age of 22 is genuinely jaw-dropping, and was the key reason behind Dortmund's DFB-Pokal success last season. He is average more than a goal a game for the Bundesliga club, both domestically and in Europe. Unfortunately this year has ended on a sour note, with injury preceding Norway's failure to qualify for next winter's World Cup.
11. Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG)
Major titles: Euro 2020
Euro 2020's Golden Ball winner was truly magnificent in the summer, and a worthy recipient of the tournament's best player award. His coolness in the final shootout ensured Italy went home as champions. After swapping boyhood club Milan for PSG in August, the 22-year-old has struggled to impress, and remains a rotation option with the experienced Keylor Navas for now.
10. Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Major titles: Serie A
The Belgian goal machine won Player of the Season as Inter won their first Scudetto in more than a decade, before starring at Euro 2020. But a slow start to life at Stamford Bridge, due to several niggling injury issues, means he will not be threatening to win the Ballon d'Or.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Major titles: Coppa Italia
Five goals in four games at Euro 2020 was enough to scoop the golden boot for a man who turned 36 before the tournament began. CR7 continues to defy time, rocking up at Manchester United over the summer – a homecoming Red Devils fans had been dreaming of for 12 long years – and immediately grabbing headlines.
The Portuguese was also top scorer in Serie A last season – despite Juventus having a meltdown under Andrea Pirlo – and will be hoping to secure the same title in England this season.
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Major titles: Premier League, Carabao Cup
The Belgian was crowned PFA Player of the Year for the second season as Manchester City cruised to the Premier League title. He then starred as Pep Guardiola's side reached the final of the Champions League. Since then, however, everything seems to have gone wrong. A broken eye socket in May's defeat to Chelsea preceded a serious ankle injury at Euro 2020, as Belgium crashed out in the quarters. He's still not back to full fitness.
6. Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
Major titles: Coupe de France, Trophee des Champions, UEFA Nations League
Like France teammate Benzema, Mbappe also won the UEFA Nations League, but can add two domestic cup victories with PSG to this year's haul. However, failure to win Ligue 1 preceded a disappointing Euro 2020, in which the 22-year-old failed to score a single goal before missing the spot-kick that sent his nation home. These setbacks stick in the mind more than his triumphs, sadly.
6. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Major titles: UEFA Nations League
Off-field issues aside, this has been another stellar year for the Real Madrid man, who continues to thrive in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.
A return to the fold with France – after a five-year absence – saw him boss Euro 2020, scoring three goals as Les Blues reached the quarterfinals, before he helped the team to victory at the UEFA Nations League in October. A disappointing year, in terms of trophies, with Real Madrid, will surely cost him, however.
5. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Major titles: Champions League, UEFA Nations League
The classic water-carrier has been at it again this year, helping Chelsea to the Champions League title with a muscular man of the match display in May’s final. Without him, Jorginho couldn’t dictate games for the Blues, and Paul Pogba’s joyful passing range would be seen less regularly for France. He is the ultimate enabler. The creme de la creme of midfield generals.
4. Jorginho (Chelsea)
Major titles: Champions League, Euro 2020
It’s been a year to remember for Chelsea’s midfield metronome, who chased Champions League triumph against Manchester City in May with victory at Euro 2020 with Italy.
The 29-year-old was among the standout players at UEFA’s summer competition, ranking in the top five players for passes made and ball recoveries; evidence of his importance to Italy’s midfield. He also had the bottle to take penalties in the biggest moments – even if he did fluff a potential winner against England in the final shootout. An ever-present, ever-influential cog for club and country.
3. Mo Salah (Liverpool)
Major titles: None
A rank outsider before the Premier League season began, Salah's odds have tumbled following his astonishing performances for Liverpool this term.
The Egyptian has scored 11 goals in 12 Premier League appearances and six in five Champions League outings. What's more, his speed and footwork have proved too much for opposition defences to handle all season and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has labelled him "the best in the world right now". A dark horse with the bookies.
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern)
Major titles: Bundesliga
It is widely believed that Lewandowski is “owed one” following last year’s frankly insane achievements. But, just to vanquish any talk of a gimme, Lewy has ensured the goals have kept raining down in Bavaria. There were 41 in the Bundesliga last season, a total which broke a 49-year-old record set by Gerd Mueller.
Lewandowski's goals inspired Bayern to another title last year – their ninth straight Meisterschale – and he has started this season in typically ruthless fashion. A quiet Euro 2020 may cost him, however.
1. Lionel Messi (PSG)
Major titles: Copa America, Copa Del Rey
The Argentine finally got his hands on a Copa America title, claiming the golden boot and player of the tournament gongs en route to glory. The 34-year-old was also typically talismanic as Barcelona secured a Copa del Rey with a less than impressive squad.
Now at PSG, Messi has struggled with form so far this season, yet he remains the frontrunner thanks to a stellar first half of the year. A seventh Ballon d'Or title will surely be on its way to the little magician.
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