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Ballon d'Or 2021: Who are the favourites to win football's biggest individual prize?

Ahead of the 2021 Ballon d'Or ceremony this evening, Sports Mole looks at some of the front-runners to win the coveted individual award.

The world's best player will be crowned this evening as the Ballon d'Or returns after a year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The most prestigious individual award in football boasts a rich history, and any player who wins it is guaranteed an immortal place in the annals of the game.

In recent years the trophy has been dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the duo between them winning 11 of the 12 awarded since 2008.

Both are again on the shortlist for 2021, but as they approach the autumn of their incredible careers, all eyes will be on whether another contender can dethrone them as the best in the world.

Here, Sports Mole looks at some of the favourites to scoop football's most coveted individual honour.

Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their second goal on June 28, 2021© Reuters

The current holder of the trophy and winner of an unparalleled six over the course of his legendary career, Lionel Messi is once again the favourite to add yet another golden ball to his already-ridiculous collection.

The Argentine maestro has undoubtedly had better years; indeed, it has been an enormously turbulent 12 months by his standards with Barcelona hugely underperforming before the unexpected and unwanted upheaval of his enforced Camp Nou exit.

Messi has yet to really click into full gear at new club Paris Saint-Germain either, scoring four goals and registering four assists in his 11 outings so far - a relatively modest strike rate by his usual standards.

The 34-year-old does still boast an impressive record of 24 goals in 28 league games this calendar year - a strike rate of one every 96 minutes - but in a role reversal of the rest of his career, it is his exploits with the national team which perhaps stand him in best stead for the Ballon d'Or this year.

Messi finally ended his agonising wait for glory with Argentina as he led them to the Copa America title in July, scoring a joint-high four goals en route to being named the player of the tournament.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski pictured on September 29, 2021© Reuters

On statistics alone, Robert Lewandowski would be head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the Ballon d'Or voting.

The Bayern Munich striker was hugely unfortunate that last year's award was cancelled given that he was the clear and deserved front-runner to win it for the first time, but he has maintained that sensational form and would be a worthy winner this year too.

No player has scored more goals over the course of 2021 than Lewandowski, who has struck a scarcely-believable 38 times in just 30 league games - an average of a goal every 67 minutes.

Incredibly, that ratio improves across all competitions to a goal every 66 minutes, with Lewandowski finding the back of the net 51 times in just 40 matches - a full 13 clear of his nearest challenger.

Perhaps the striker's most notable achievement was breaking the seemingly-unreachable Gerd Muller record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga season, plundering 41 in just 29 appearances during 2020-21 as Bayern picked up yet another title, also earning himself a first European Golden Shoe in the process.

During that incredible run, Lewandowski scored in 13 straight Bundesliga home games and 19 successive competitive club outings - just two of the records he set throughout a persistently prolific campaign.

Bayern's quarter-final exit from the Champions League and Poland's bottom-placed finish in their Euro 2020 group may count against him, but if the Ballon d'Or truly is an individual award then it is hard to argue against the 33-year-old.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

Italy's Jorginho celebrates after winning Euro 2020© Reuters

The Ballon d'Or may be an individual accolade at its essence, but all too often it is decided by team success rather than individual brilliance.

Few would argue that Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho has been the outstanding player in Europe this calendar year, but it is his trophy cabinet which stands him in best stead during the voting for the Ballon d'Or.

The 29-year-old enjoyed an unforgettable summer as he first helped Chelsea to Champions League glory at the expense of Manchester City, and was then a key part of the Italy side which dashed England's dreams at Euro 2020.

Jorginho played an important role in both triumphs, and was duly named in both the Champions League Squad of the Season and the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

A Ballon d'Or triumph would not be his first individual gong of the year either, having also been named the UEFA Men's Player of the Year for his role in Chelsea's Champions League success.

Other contenders

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France): 34 goals in 45 games; UEFA Nations League winner with France

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain, Italy): Euro 2020 winner with Italy; Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament

Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus, Italy): Euro 2020 winner with Italy

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt): 32 goals in 46 games

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal): 30 goals in 46 games; Serie A top scorer 2020-21

Erling Braut Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway): 38 goals in 38 games; Champions League Forward of the Season 2020-21

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France): 37 goals in 48 games; UEFA Nations League winner with France; Coupe de France winner with PSG; Ligue top scorer and player of the year 2020-21

Full shortlist

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan)
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Jorginho (Chelsea)
Harry Kane (Tottenham)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Simon Kjaer (AC Milan)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Gerard Moreno (Villarreal)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Pedri (Barcelona)
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)

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