Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe: 15 Ballon d'Or favourites and how they can win it

  • Kat Lucas
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With the Ballon d'Or ceremony having been axed last year, the 2021 edition is arguably the closest it's been in years. 

We may be seeing a gradual changing of the guard as Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are elevated into the top handful of players in the world. 

Lionel Messi will still be in contention for an unprecedented seventh gong, though. Robert Lewandowski is also being widely tipped to win a first award, while Neymar could finally fulfil his reasons for joining PSG with a Golden Ball if he helps them win the Champions League. 

It's only April. We've got title races, Champions League semi-finals and the final, and the small matter of the European Championships and Copa America to come before it can be decided who's enjoyed the best calendar year. 

In the meantime, Goal have been updating their 'Ballon d'Or power rankings' to judge who's in the running. 

We've taken a look through the top candidates and considered what each of them needs to do to pick up the Golden Ball. 

15. Toni Kroos 

Kroos' position is going to make it very difficult for him to surpass Europe's best goalscorers, but he is getting plenty of credit for his role in Real Madrid's La Liga and Champions League pushes.

14. Mohamed Salah 

Salah is joint-top scorer in the Premier League, but he seems a real outsider due to Liverpool's poor season overall. 

13. Harry Kane 

As much as the Ballon d'Or is supposed to reward individual performances, it's well accepted that trophies are taken into account. It's been a miserable season at Tottenham and if he stays, Kane might not even be playing Champions League football next season. 

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12. Neymar

It could all hinge on the Champions League. While he'll be rivalling teammate Mbappe, if the Brazilian's performances in the final stages see PSG to glory, perhaps he'll finally achieve his dream of stepping out of Messi's shadow. 

11. Bruno Fernandes

Even winning the Europa League wouldn't really put Fernandes in contention. There's no denying what an incredible season he's enjoyed at Manchester United, all the same. 

10. Ruben Dias

Quite possibly the best centre-back in the Premier League and one of the finest in the world. As Philipp Lahm said, though, the Ballon d'Or is essentially a shootout between goalscorers (with the strange exception of Luka Modric in recent years). 

9. Cristiano Ronaldo 

Not this time, Cristiano. How could Ronaldo make up for Juventus' likely surrender of the Scudetto? Perhaps if he guides Portugal to the Euro 2020 title again, and repeats his heroics of four years ago on the international stage, he could be in with a shout.

8. Erling Haaland 

The DFB-Pokal could be the only trophy Haaland has to show for a brilliant first full season at Borussia Dortmund. The Norwegian has scored 16 goals in 2021 so far (correct as of Wednesday, 14 April), so he would need to up his rate considerably to win the Ballon d'Or on his individual efforts alone. 

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7. Karim Benzema 

Benzema has 25 goals already this season and has silenced his critics at Real Madrid this season. Los Blancos could on the cusp of La Liga glory, too. 

6. Ilkay Gundogan 

A real contender for Premier League Player of the Year, at least. Gundogan is only an outsider for the Ballon d'Or, but he's sure to get a few votes, particularly if Germany fare well at this summer's Euros - not that it's looking likely. 

5. Romelu Lukaku 

Lukaku is firing Inter Milan to the Serie A title. The strength of the Italian top flight is going to hinder their front man, but he could stake his claim at the Euros with Belgium. 

4. Kevin De Bruyne 

Like Lukaku, De Bruyne has the chance to set himself apart with the Red Devils across Europe this summer. That, or a clean sweep with Manchester City, could see the playmaker onto the podium at a minimum. 

3. Lionel Messi

We've come to take his genius for granted and the recent defeat in El Clasico has made it a lot harder for Barcelona to win La Liga. It could all hinge on whether he gets his hands on that long-awaited international trophy at Copa America 2021. 

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2. Robert Lewandowski

It's a real pity that injury set him back, because Lewandowski looked a cert for the Ballon d'Or not long ago. With 18 goals for club and country, the Polish international won't be pushing for Messi's record of 91 goals in a calendar year. If he can establish himself as the best striker in the world, he'll still be in the top two, surely.

1. Kylian Mbappe

If Mbappe leads PSG to glory in the Champions League, there's a real chance he could win the first of what many believe will be a collection of Ballons d'Or. While he's already won the lot in France, it's his impact in Europe that will set him above the rest. 

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