Ballon d'Or: Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Benzema? Examining the credentials of the favourites

By Sports Desk November 26, 2021

Robert Lewandowski can consider himself hard done by. The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, world football's most prestigious individual accolade is back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony set to take place on Monday.

Lewandowski, who scooped The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 and has had another sensational year for Bayern, is among the favourites on a 30-man shortlist.

Will it finally be his time, or will old voting habits die hard to put Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in pole position? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses the credentials of the Ballon d'Or favourites.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Has anybody outperformed Bayern star Lewandowski in 2021?  While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of the 2019-20 campaign, he has been in astounding form and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign.

With 25 to his name already across all competitions this term, Lewandowski leads the way for goals from players in Europe's top five leagues, nine clear of anyone else. When taking the whole year so far into account, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 41 games, putting him 16 clear of nearest challengers Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Unsurprisingly, his scoring rate – a goal every 65 minutes – is comfortably the best of any player to net 10 or more in 2021.

 

Lionel Messi (PSG, Argentina)

It has been a momentous year for Messi. He finally achieved success on the international stage, leading Argentina to a Copa America triumph. Following that, he was expected to sign a fresh deal at Barcelona, but we all know how that turned out. Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old marked his final season in Spain with one last trophy, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. 

Across 39 appearances in 2021 for Barca and PSG combined, Messi has 32 goals, nine assists and 81   chances created. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina that really puts him in the running for a seventh Ballon d'Or.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)

Like Messi, Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – made a big move of his own in 2021, returning to Manchester United after three seasons at Juventus. The 36-year-old has already scored 10 goals in his second spell at Old Trafford. While the team's struggles are well known – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after last week's dismal defeat at Watford – Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal on Tuesday took him to 799 career goals for club and country, a remarkable feat.

While it has not been the finest year at club level for Ronaldo, with Juve missing out on the Serie A title, albeit winning the Coppa Italia, he did become the record goalscorer in men's international football, scoring his 110th and 111th goals in a double against the Republic of Ireland in September to overtake Ali Daei (109); the forward now has 115. His agent, Jorge Mendes, told France Football: "All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time."

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)

Since Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in 2018, Benzema has stepped up to become Los Blancos' talisman. Although a LaLiga title evaded Madrid last season, it has been another fantastic year for Benzema. He earned a recall to the France squad for Euro 2020 and, despite the team's disappointing campaign, his stellar performances caught the eye, before he excelled again in World Cup qualifying and the Nations League Finals.

Indeed, Benzema's goal against Finland last week made him the first France player to score in four successive matches since he did so himself in five games between November 2013 and June 2014. There is no doubting he is a serious contender for this year's award.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)

Liverpool star Salah cannot be ignored. Jurgen Klopp has labelled the Egypt forward as the world's best player and, based on the season so far, it would be hard to argue too much with that suggestion, with Lewandowski the only player across Europe's top five leagues to be directly involved in more goals (27) than Salah (24) to this point.

Only four players have topped Salah's goals tally of 32   in 2021, although Liverpool's failure to retain their Premier League crown last season probably counts against the 29-year-old when it comes to this prize.

 

Kylian Mbappe (PSG, France)

While players in their thirties dominate the bookmakers' list of favourites, could this be the year that Mbappe steals the crown? The 22-year-old could well have left PSG in August, but the Ligue 1 giants held firm despite three bids from Madrid, who seem likely to get their man on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

In the meantime, Mbappe is forming a formidable front three with Messi and Neymar, whose own Ballon d'Or hopes seem extremely slim. Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France slipped out of Euro 2020, but his 37 goals from 47 appearances for PSG across all competitions in 2021 tell their own story, while his shot conversion rate of 24.3 per cent betters that of Salah, Benzema, Messi and Ronaldo.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

An outsider for the award, perhaps, but nevertheless a player who has been widely tipped, Chelsea midfielder Jorginho played a pivotal role the Blues' Champions League triumph and then Italy's Euro 2020 success, although he did miss a penalty in the final shoot-out against England. In fact, he has now missed his past three spot-kicks for Italy, after having scored each of his first six taken for the Azzurri.

Jorginho has already scooped the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, and it is not too long ago that another deep-lying playmaker in Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or, even if the competition this time around seems a little too stacked.

 

N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Might Jorginho's Chelsea midfield partner have a shout? Kante is still dominating midfields with his boundless energy five years on from his title triumph with Leicester City. He was already an elite performer before Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he seems to have gone up another level since the German coach came in.

Across all competitions in 2021, Kante boasts a tackle success rate of 63.2 per cent and has made 193 recoveries. Freed by a box-to-box role in Tuchel's system, Kante has won 151 of 277 duels and registered an impressive 42 interceptions.

Related items

  • Let’s protect the players – Mikel Arteta criticises scheduling after Arsenal win Let’s protect the players – Mikel Arteta criticises scheduling after Arsenal win

    Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta stood in unison with Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola in condemning the fixture schedule.

    Guardiola said it was “unacceptable” that his side had to play an FA Cup semi-final less than 72 hours after being in action in the Champions League on Wednesday night as they beat Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday tea-time.

    The Gunners’ plight was arguably worse as they were also in Europe on Wednesday night but had to travel back from Germany on Thursday following their Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.

    They made light of that quick turnaround as they beat Wolves 2-0 on Saturday to go back to the top of the Premier League before they play again on Tuesday night against Chelsea.

    “It’s not about us, Pep or myself, it’s about the well-being of the players,” Arteta said after Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard goals sent his side one point above City.

    “Especially when you are competing in European competition, everything has to be competed in the same way.

    “You cannot have a team that hasn’t played for seven days or three days before and has more recovery time and you have to play in the Premier League or the FA Cup.

    “It is not right. If you look at it any angle it’s not right. If you want to protect and you always talk about the players and the protagonists, let’s protect them and think about them and do everything we can to give them the maximum time so they can recover and they can maintain the show they put on every week.

    “We stayed in Munich, I think we had two hours sleep, wake up and we started to talk about Wolves first of all and then understand what we had to do to win the game.

    “The boys were unbelievable. You look at the amount of games we have played in the last few weeks, the type of games we have played and the attitude and the way they have run today is top.”

    It was a good recovery from the Gunners after a horror week where their title hopes were damaged by a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa last week before their Champions League exit in Munich.

    But they could be four points clear of City by the time Guardiola’s side next play as they try to wrestle control of a thrilling title race.

    Arteta added: “It was really good, I really liked the performance, the result, the clean sheet but also the way individually and a team they showed they still have a step forward to make.

    “We realised we want to be involved in big competitions, fighting for the Champions League, fighting for the Premier League, the level it requires, we have to do something special. You have to have that love to compete.”

    Wolves battled hard but are crippled by injuries, with the majority of their key attacking players sidelined.

    They are now six games without a win, but boss Gary O’Neil was proud.

    “I thought it was an incredible performance, it exceeded my expectation of what we were able to produce today,” he said.

    “We didn’t deserve to lose 2-0, losing 1-0 and not quite being able to break them down is probably as bad as it should have been for us.

    “We came up just short against one of the best teams in world football so there’s no disgrace in that.”

  • Virgil van Dijk still believes Liverpool can win title race Virgil van Dijk still believes Liverpool can win title race

    Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk insists “anything is possible” as the Reds seek to overhaul Manchester City and Arsenal in what could be a thrilling season finale.

    Jurgen Klopp’s side dropped to third last weekend after defeat to Crystal Palace and the initiative is now with their rivals.

    However, Van Dijk remains optimistic about their chances over the final six games.

     

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Virgil van Dijk (@virgilvandijk)

     

    “Big six. Anything is still possible. We have to give it everything and we will give it everything,” said the Netherlands captain.

    “We have to focus on each game as they come.”

    A Europa League exit to Atalanta in midweek was another blow to confidence but Van Dijk does not see the point in dwelling on past results.

    “We have all the reasons to be disappointed. But it’s our own fault,” he added.

    “It’s not one factor, it’s multiple. We’re all human beings, we all want to do well, keep clean sheets and score goals.

    “But we are where we are and the situation is what it is. When the games don’t go well – obviously didn’t happen many times this season – we all have to switch it back on.

    “We have to focus on ourselves like we always have been doing and that never changes.”

  • Harry Kane hits 40-goal landmark as Bayern Munich storm to victory Harry Kane hits 40-goal landmark as Bayern Munich storm to victory

    Harry Kane scored his 40th Bayern Munich goal of the season in a 5-1 Bundesliga thumping of Union Berlin.

    After reaching the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, Bayern took a step towards securing second place in the league with an emphatic victory.

    Leon Goretzka opened the scoring and Kane curled in a free-kick just before half-time to take his league-leading tally to 33.

    Thomas Muller scored twice in the second half, either side of a goal from Mathys Tel, with Union limited to a late consolation effort from Yorbe Vertessen.

    Fourth-placed RB Leipzig needed a late winner from Lois Openda to claim a 2-1 victory at Heidenheim.

    Benjamin Sesko put the visitors ahead late in the first half but Nikola Dovedan levelled before Openda secured the points five minutes from time.

    Robin Hack’s hat-trick was not enough to prevent Borussia Monchengladbach from falling to a 4-3 defeat at Hoffenheim.

    Hack thought he had earned a point for the visitors when he scored twice late on after Hoffenheim had taken a 3-1 lead with goals from Wout Weghorst, Grischa Promel and Ozan Kabak.

    But Anton Stach found the winner for the home side in the first minute of injury time.

    Koln’s hopes of survival were dealt a major blow by a 2-0 loss to bottom side Darmstadt, who appear doomed to relegation, while Bochum remain in trouble after a 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg.

    Girona’s 4-1 victory over relegation-threatened Cadiz in LaLiga ensured they will be playing European football next season.

    Early goals from Eric Garcia and Ivan Martin set the tone, with Artem Dovbyk and Portu making sure of the points in the second half.

    Real Betis boosted their hopes of joining Girona with a 2-1 victory away at Valencia.

    Ayoze Perez scored twice for the visitors – who sit eighth, two points behind Real Sociedad – either side of a Pepelu penalty.

    Celta Vigo went behind at home to Las Palmas but responded brilliantly to claim a 4-1 victory that lifts them six points clear of the bottom three.

    Juanma Herzog opened the scoring but Iago Aspas netted twice for Celta along with one each from Williot Swedberg and Anastasios Douvikas.

    Rayo Vallecano also eased their relegation fears, Pep Chavarria and Isi Palazon scoring in the final 10 minutes in a 2-1 win over Osasuna.

    In Serie A, struggling Empoli stunned defending champions Napoli 1-0, Alberto Cerri scoring the only goal in the fourth minute.

    The big match at the bottom had a dramatic finish as Diego Coppola struck in injury time to earn Verona a 1-0 win over Udinese.

    Rennes kept alive their hopes of sneaking into the European places in Ligue 1 by beating lowly Nantes 3-0 but they remain four points behind Lens, who defeated bottom side Clermont 1-0 thanks to an early penalty from Florian Sotoca.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.