The awarding of the prize was canceled in 2020 and the world’s best players are again making their cases to claim the coveted individual honor
After being canceled in 2020, the Ballon d’Or is back, with the great and good of the football world again eyeing the biggest individual honor 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 Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Last week: 18th
In 2021: Four goals, nine assists.
Son hangs onto his place in the top 20 because it is, as yet, unclear just how long the Spurs star will have to spend on the sidelines after limping off in the early stages of Sunday’s north London derby.
Any longer than a few weeks and he can kiss his slim chances of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or farewell.
#19 Lautaro Martinez (Inter)
Last week: NEW ENTRY
In 2021: Nine goals, four assists
Though Romelu Lukaku has rightly been grabbing the headlines when it comes to Inter’s Serie A title challenge, quietly his strike partner Lautaro has also been putting together an eye-catching 2021.
The Argentina international, who will likely lead the line for the Albiceleste at this summer’s delayed Copa America, won a penalty before heading home the winner against Torino on Sunday to keep the Nerazzurri on course for the Scudetto.
#18 Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last week: 15th
In 2021: Four goals, one assist. Won Trophee des Champions.
While Neymar is back in training, he is being held back by Mauricio Pochettino and his medical team, with the PSG staff aware that with a Champions League quarter-final berth secured, they need the Brazil international to be at peak fitness for the season’s finale.
Expect the ex-Barcelona man to fly up these rankings if he does show form upon his return.
#17 Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
Last week: 17th
In 2021: Four goals, seven assists. Won Club World Cup.
Another week, another two assists for Muller as Bayern strengthened their grip on the Bundesliga title race with a win over Werder Bremen.
Rumors continue to swirl regarding a potential international recall for the attacker. If that comes to pass, expect the 31-year-old to be a key figure at Euro 2020.
#16 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Last week: 12th
In 2021: Eight goals, seven assists.
Though Dortmund spent their week booking a spot in the Champions League quarter-finals and closing the gap on the Bundesliga’s top four, they did so without the injured Sancho, who looks set to be out until early April at the latest.
The sooner he comes back, the better his – and Dortmund’s – chances of success will be.
#15 Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Last week: 16th
In 2021: 10 goals, three assists.
Despite a forgettable display in the north London derby, Kane still enjoyed a decent week after scoring both goals in Spurs’ Europa League win over Dinamo Zagreb.
With one foot in the quarter-finals already, Jose Mourinho’s side will take some stopping in the continent’s secondary competition.
#14 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Last week: 14th
In 2021: Three goals, five assists.
Two goals in City’s midweek win over Southampton got De Bruyne back up and running following his injury lay-off, with the Belgium international beginning to show signs that he is slowly clicking back into gear.
Being the playmaker-in-chief for (arguably) the Champions League favorites means the only way is up for the ex-Chelsea man in these rankings.
#13 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Last week: 13th
In 2021: Nine goals.
While Liverpool remains in the Champions League, there remains a possibility that their players could make a run for individual honors as well as team silverware.
Salah looks the most likely to be in contention right now, with the Egypt international having scored in both legs of the last-16 win over RB Leipzig.
#12 Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
Last week: 11th
In 2021: Ten goals, one assist.
It is not unfair to suggest that Atletico Madrid is feeling the pressure at the top of La Liga, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both threatening to reel the Rojiblancos in.
Suarez did score the winner from the penalty spot against Athletic Club in midweek, but the Uruguay international needs to be at the top of his game if Diego Simeone’s side is to see this title push to a conclusion.
#11 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Last week: 19th
In 2021: Eight goals.
In the last eight days, the goals of Karim Benzema have earned Real Madrid four points, with the striker’s return from injury coinciding with improved results for Zinedine Zidane’s side.
The Blancos’ performances still fail to excite, but while Benzema is playing up front, they have a chance of a memorable end to the campaign.
#10 Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
Last week: 10th
In 2021: One goal, four assists, 10 clean sheets.
Man City needed another Cancelo intervention to see off Fulham on Saturday, with the full-back’s cross finding John Stones to break the deadlock at Craven Cottage.
While there are more creative players available to Pep Guardiola, there is no question that Portugal international is playing a decisive role in 2020-21.
#9 Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Last week: 9th
In 2021: Nine goals, five assists.
His exquisite assist for Amad Diallo against AC Milan aside, this was a relatively quiet week for Fernandes as United again struggled to create opportunities from open play.
With the Red Devils’ chances of silverware resting on two games across the next seven days, the Portugal international’s chances of winning individual honors likely rest on how the next week pans out.
#8 Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Last week: 8th
In 2021: One goal, 11 clean sheets.
Dias remains the rock at the heart of City’s defense, with Pep Guardiola generally now rotating between John Stones and Aymeric Laporte alongside the Portugal international.
City’s drive towards the Premier League title is built on their backline, and the ex-Benfica man is now the unquestioned leader of that unit.
#7 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Last week: 4th
In 2021: 14 goals, three assists. Won Supercoppa Italiana.
He may have scored a perfect hat-trick on Sunday in Serie A to silence those who believed Ronaldo was finished at the top level, there is no doubt that Juventus’ early exit from the Champions League will hit the forwards Ballon d’Or chances hard.
Aside from netting a hat-trick every week between now and the end of the season, Ronaldo has two routes left to individual glory: help Juve haul in Inter to win the Scudetto, or defend the European Championship with Portugal.
Neither outcome is nailed on, and as such he tumbles down the rankings… for now.
#6 Romelu Lukaku (Inter)
Last week: 7th
In 2021: 10 goals, four assists.
Two more wins for Inter over the past seven days have moved them nine points clear at the top of Serie A, and though Lukaku only provided a solitary goal from the penalty spot across the pair of games, he continues to be the outstanding performer in Italy’s top flight.
A lack of European football will only see him climb so high in these rankings ahead of Euro 2020, but he can certainly get himself in position over the coming weeks to threaten the leaders this summer.
#5 Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
Last week: 5th
In 2021: 10 goals, four assists.
With Gundogan rested for Saturday’s win over Fulham, he was only able to contribute a solitary goal to City’s cause over the past week, tapping home from close range against Southampton.
He remains, however, the favorite to be named the Premier League’s Player of the Year – a deserved accolade should the Germany international triumph.
#4 Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Last week: 6th
In 2021: 14 goals, five assists.
It was a Champions League week where Dortmund was in action, so of course, Haaland was bang in form, scoring twice against Sevilla to send the Bundesliga outfit into the quarter-finals.
With no Euro 2020 this summer, this might be as high up the rankings that the young Norway international will be able to reach, though putting any kind of ceiling on his ability will likely be made to look foolish if the last 18 months are anything to go by.
#3 Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Last week: 3rd
In 2021: 15 goals, six assists.
He may have missed a penalty on the night when Barcelona went crashing out of the Champions League, but all anyone will remember from the last-16 second leg against PSG is Messi’s stunning long-range strike, and as such his Ballon d’Or hopes remain intact.
Attentions now turn to domestic matters for the Blaugrana, and with Atletico faltering at the top of La Liga, a league and cup double suddenly does not seem too far-fetched for Ronald Koeman’s side.
#2 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Last week: 2nd
In 2021: 18 goals, three assists. Won Club World Cup.
Lewandowski strengthened his grip on the European Golden Shoe award with yet another goal in Bayern’s win over Werder Bremen on Saturday, and he is certainly the most feared goalscorer on the continent right now.
Several fans believe the Poland international will yet again be deserving of the Ballon d’Or in 2021 after being denied last year, but it is worth remembering there are still eight months until the prize will be handed out, and plenty can still change.
#1 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last week: 1st
In 2021: 12 goals, two assists. Won Trophee des Champions.
Though it was not a vintage week from Mbappe, he still scored as PSG reached the Champions League quarter-finals by knocking out the once-mighty Barcelona.
His first-leg hat-trick, however, remains the main reason for him currently sitting at #1. He can certainly be caught, but right now there is no player with as much credit in the bank combined with the potential for future success as Mbappe in this year’s race.