It has been another captivating year in the world of football, which will no doubt make the 2021 Ballon d'Or ceremony a compelling watch.
The biggest individual prize going, organised and awarded by France Football, returns after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lionel Messi was the winner of the last edition in 2019, and could well take home the golden trophy again this evening.
However, several players have strong cases to triumph at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. So who will prevail? Here, we predict the top 10 from this year's shortlist.
10. N'Golo Kante
Although injuries have occasionally reduced his playing time, it was another stellar year for the Chelsea and France midfielder. The Blues were surprising Champions League winners, but anything is possible when you have Kante in the centre of the park.
The 30-year-old was a vital member of the squad throughout the tournament, playing in all 13 matches, and he was even awarded the Man of the Match award following his dominant performance in the final against Manchester City. Often defined solely as a defensive midfielder, Kante has illustrated his underrated attacking prowess this term, scoring twice in eight Premier League outings.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo
This has been a disappointing year by the Portuguese's standards, which only goes to show the incredible level he has performed at throughout his career. Still, as age starts to catch up with him, Ronaldo remains as deadly in front of goal as ever.
Juventus could only finish fourth in Serie A last season, and they would have ended up even further down the table had it not been for the 36-year-old's league-leading 29 goals in 34 matches. Portugal, too, were underwhelming at Euro 2020, exiting in the Round of 16, but not before Ronaldo netted five times to take home the tournament's Golden Boot award. Manchester United have also struggled this campaign, but their star man has still popped up with 10 goals in 15 appearances. No matter how old he gets, you will never bet against Ronaldo finding the back of the net.
8. Ruben Dias
Last season, Manchester City were runaway Premier League winners as they scored the most goals and conceded the fewest. While Kevin de Bruyne was named PFA Players' Player of the Year, Dias picked up the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year gong for his role in the Cityzens' defence.
Pep Guardiola's defence has been even more miserly this campaign, shipping just seven times in 13 outings in the top flight, and Dias has missed just one of those matches. Aged just 24, he has also picked up experience as captain, taking the armband on three occasions. With the former Benfica man at the heart of the back four, no striker will have a leisurely afternoon against City.
7. Giorgio Chiellini
Chiellini managed just 17 appearances in Serie A last season as Juve's season fell apart, but it seems he was saving himself for Euro 2020 with Italy. The centre-back was monstrous throughout the Azzurri's march to the trophy, making five appearances, and deserved all the praise he received on the back of the tournament.
Aged 37, you would think he would be contemplating hanging up his boots, but the warrior still has eyes on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Given his influence on the side, he could still be a starter for Roberto Mancini's outfit if they manage to qualify for international football's showpiece event.
6. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Another member of Mancini's victorious squad, it is crazy to think Donnarumma is just 22 years of age. His 40 caps for his national side show just how important he is, and he too played a huge role in the Euro 2020 run. Named in UEFA's Team of the Tournament, the shot-stopper saved two crucial penalties in the final shoot-out with England and was a rock between the sticks throughout the competition.
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His displays earned him a big move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer after he refused to sign a new contract at AC Milan. With Keylor Navas also at the Parc des Princes, he has so far failed to nail down a starting spot, but he has a big future ahead of him both at club and international level.
5. Mohamed Salah
The Egyptian King looks back to his best this season. In 18 matches in all competitions, he already has 17 goals, and has even found time to provide nine assists. That follows 22 goals in the Premier League last time out, taking his tally to 142 strikes in 221 matches for Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp's men are on fire this campaign and are back in the top-flight title mix – without Salah, they would surely be further down the table. Quite frankly, only a lack of silverware over the past 11 months prevents him from featuring higher up on this list.
4. Karim Benzema
Benzema has spent the majority of the last decade billed as the most underrated striker in European football, and it seems he is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Although Real Madrid narrowly missed out on the La Liga title in May, Benzema was the division's second-top goalscorer behind Lionel Messi with 23 strikes.
After years in the international wilderness, his club performances earned an unlikely recall to the France squad for Euro 2020. Even though his three goals were unable to help 'Les Bleus' progress beyond the Round of 16, Didier Deschamps' decision was vindicated and, with 16 goals in 18 matches this term, it seems Benzema is in no mood to rest on his laurels.
Goals usually lead to strong Ballon d'Or showings, but Jorginho can hardly be called prolific. Instead, his calm and composed passing ability sees him take up third place in our prediction. Chelsea looked out of ideas under Frank Lampard, but the arrival of Thomas Tuchel unlocked the vast potential in their squad, including the midfielder's. Jorginho was essential to the London outfit's Champions League success, often controlling games from the middle of the park.
He did the same for Italy at Euro 2020 and, although his spot-kick was saved in the penalty shoot-out with England, he more than deserved his place in the Team of the Tournament. As Chelsea sit top of the Premier League and their Champions League group this campaign, Jorginho remains the 'Blues'' understated metronome.
2. Robert Lewandowski
Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic and France Football's decision to therefore cancel the ceremony last year, Lewandowski would have been a shoo-in for the Ballon d'Or trophy. That disappointment only seems to have spurred him on, with him breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of most goals in a Bundesliga season. His 41 league strikes were boosted by seven in other competitions to take his season tally to an astonishing 48.
Already this time around, he has found the back of the net 27 times for Bayern Munich. The Poland international now has Muller's all-time Bundesliga record in his sights – he is just 74 goals behind, after all. Lewandowski is undoubtedly one of the best strikers of the century who is now at the peak of his powers.
1. Lionel Messi
Barcelona struggles since Messi's shocking departure in the summer only show the cracks the Argentine's performances papered over. The Blaugrana were within seven points of La Liga winners Atletico Madrid last season, and that was largely down to Messi's 30 goals, which made him the division's top scorer, and 15 assists. He even helped Barca win the Copa del Rey, the final trophy before his exit.
The 34-year-old's lack of success on the international stage has often provided ammunition to his critics, but he finally stood on the top step of the podium with Argentina during the summer's Copa America. For arguably the first time in his career, his influence for his country is stronger than at club level given his muted start to life at PSG. Just in time, perhaps, for a real stab at the World Cup next year, where victory could genuinely cement his status as the greatest player to ever take the field.News Now - Sport News