Who will win the 2022 Ballon d’Or? Benzema leads top-five power ranking after Champions League heroics
The Champions League semi-final line-up being settled means the runners and riders for the 2022 Ballon d’Or are already jockeying for position.
The battle for world football’s most coveted individual prize will be leant an extra layer of intrigue by a World Cup late in the calendar year.
But recent history shows that Champions League success can often hold the key to finishing on top of the podium, with the winners from 2014-2018 all being a reigning champion of Europe.
With that in mind, here’s The Sporting News’ power rankings of the early frontrunners.
5. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain & France)
Mbappe has 31 goals across all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain this season and has scored a further nine for France.
He will not be able to add to that tally in the Champions League, although he was unsullied by PSG’s latest farce in Europe – scoring in both legs and excelling against Real Madrid, before the whole house of cards came down on Mauricio Pochettino’s mismatched band of superstars.
He might have swapped the colours of those clubs by the time 2022/23 rolls around and Mbappe will be key to France’s hopes of retaining the World Cup in Qatar. On the other hand, he might not be the leading light for Los Blancos or Les Bleus.
4. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool & Egypt)
Salah had a very strong claim to being the best player on the planet towards the end of 2022 but he has tailed off from those very lofty heights. In his past 11 outings for club and country, the Liverpool forward has scored only once.
The latter part of that equation has caused some anguish, with Egypt suffering a penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations final, before missing out of the World Cup via a play-off defeat in the same manner to the same opponents. At AFCON, Salah did not get to take his penalty, and then blazed over with a place at Qatar 2022 on the line.
All that said, Liverpool are chasing a historic quadruple. If they get over the line in either or both of the Premier League and Champions League, he will surely be prominent enough to remain in this conversation.
3. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City & Belgium)
Knockout ties against Atletico Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano are occasions to be endured rather than enjoyed, something Manchester City’s ugly goalless draw with La Liga’s reigning champions on Wednesday demonstrated emphatically.
De Bruyne had departed to ice his ankle way before Atleti’s players instigated an unseemly melee and Pep Guardiola will hope the damage to his star playmaker is not too serious.
The two-time defending PFA Players’ Player of the Year has partly been denied a run at major global gongs due to untimely injuries, but he has been in full flight lately. His goal in the first leg proved the difference against Atletico, sitting alongside a winner versus Chelsea and the opening goal against Liverpool last weekend.
He is City’s ultimate big-game player, and there are a few more of those occasions on the horizon.
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich & Poland)
Many cried “robbery” when Lionel Messi beat Lewandowski to the Ballon d’Or last time around and the Bayern Munich great has continued his phenomenal form unchecked.
His 47 goals in 41 outings for Bayern this season put him in a class of his own – the sort of absurd levels Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo used to set a decade ago.
But No.47 in that haul proved to be bittersweet – the opener before Julian Nagelsmann’s side were pegged back to a 1-1 draw by Villarreal to crash out of the Champions League 2-1 on aggregate.
Given you would not expect Poland to make a significant impression in Qatar, it could harm his hopes when others on this list remain vying for the biggest cub prize.
1. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid & France)
As Real Madrid dragged Chelsea into extra-time at the Santiago Bernabeu after being soundly beaten 3-1 in the 90 minutes, it just had to be him. Benzema made it 38 goals in 38 games this season with a tie-settling header against the defending champions.
Madrid were in the ascendancy in the first place because of the 34-year-old’s sublime hat-trick at Stamford Bridge. They were only in London because of his stunning treble to improbably sink PSG in the previous round.
He is also driving Madrid to domestic dominance, having a hand in 35 of Los Blancos’ 63 goals so far to take Carlo Ancelotti’s men to the top of the table, with an emphatic 12-point lead over Barcelona.
Benzema is in the form of his life and is also out of international exile. If he can maintain these levels for another seven months, then he will spearhead France’s charge for back-to-back World Cups.