Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d’Or returns in 2021.
With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game’s top individual prize.
Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football’s famous award.
Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d’Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month…
Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.
That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d’Or challenge is not out of the question.
71 – Karim Benzema has scored 71 goals in the European Cup/Champions League, at least 21 more than any other French player in the competition’s history. NueveBack. @Benzema @realmadrid pic.twitter.com/Foa5r49eit
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) May 18, 2021
Kevin De Bruyne
A second successive PFA Players’ Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.
Had Pep Guardiola’s men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d’Or might be De Bruyne’s already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.
— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) June 6, 2021
The other prime candidate for City’s player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League’s Player of the Season award.
Defenders’ difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d’Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.
19 – Manchester City kept more clean sheets than any other team in the Premier League last season (19), while Rúben Dias featured in more of these than any other City outfield player (15). Colossus. #PLAwards pic.twitter.com/Orj17EbCZz
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 5, 2021
Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.
However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.
44 – Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 44 goals in 50 Premier League appearances for Man Utd (26 goals, 18 assists); only Eric Cantona (46) and Robin van Persie (45) had a hand in more in their first 50 appearances in the competition for the club. Talisman. #MUNLIV pic.twitter.com/5P50yYCecW
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 13, 2021
The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.
His Ballon d’Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.
14 – Phil Foden was directly involved in 14 goals in the Premier League last season (nine goals, five assists); the most of any player 21 or under during the campaign. Prodigy. #PLAwards pic.twitter.com/I1ZC8UXpCz
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 5, 2021
Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.
Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England’s undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.
1 – Harry Kane finished the season as both the top goalscorer and top assister in the Premier League (23 goals, 14 assists) – only the second time a player has finished with both the outright most goals and assists in the competition after Andy Cole in 1993-94. Multifaceted. pic.twitter.com/04Y7r2m7Oc
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 23, 2021
Arguably the popular choice for the award, N’Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.
France are most observers’ favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it’s one in which he has little interest.
10 – N’Golo Kanté has gained 10 possessions tonight, more than any other player in the #UCLfinal2021. He has won 47 possessions in the 2020/21 Champions League knockout stage, only Ilkay Gündogan (51) has done better. MotM. pic.twitter.com/JPJLwzlxOY
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) May 29, 2021
It’s widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.
How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) May 22, 2021
The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.
With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez’s side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.
4 – Romelu #Lukaku is only the 4th player to score 23+ goals with #Inter in two consecutive seasons in #SerieA, after Mauro Icardi, Stefano Nyers and Giuseppe Meazza. Implacable.#JuveInter #Derbyditalia pic.twitter.com/2SUZNQtnvq
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) May 15, 2021
Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.
Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d’Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.
148 – Kylian Mbappé has found the net after only 148 seconds against Bayern München, the fastest goal for Paris in the UCL since the one scored by Dani Alves (84 seconds) against…Bayern in September 2017. LuckyLuke. pic.twitter.com/yvBEXX5yso
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 7, 2021
The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.
It wasn’t enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d’Or number seven may well follow.
300 – Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has scored in 300 different LaLiga appearances, more than any other player in the competition ever (2nd Raúl González, 186). Milestone. pic.twitter.com/fYdy7rkitr
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 16, 2021
Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world’s most expensive footballer.
He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.
9 – Neymar Jr. has been involved in nine of @PSG_English‘s 10 shots in this match against Bayern Munchen (six shots and three key passes), attempting 13 dribbles in the game (six completed). Exhibition. pic.twitter.com/XptWAMXSz8
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 13, 2021
Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.
Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d’Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there’s little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.
100 – Cristiano #Ronaldo has just become the first player in the history of Juventus to have scored 100+ goals in all competitions in his first three campaigns for the Bianconeri. Legend.#SassuoloJuve #SerieA pic.twitter.com/1U2QK0YJO8
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) May 12, 2021
Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.
Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d’Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.
21 – @atletienglish have collected 21 points thanks to 21 goals scored by Luis Suárez in @LaLigaEN this season, more than any other player in the competition this term. Deciding#AtleticodeMadrid#Atletico pic.twitter.com/PJzSpfq8HJ
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 22, 2021
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