For many years, the Ballon d’Or has been dominated by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Two legends of the game made the individual award their own by winning it year after year. However, this season the dominance of the two football giants appeared to be coming to an end. Both have not played at their usual level and most importantly their respective teams have failed to shine in European competition. This more or less denied him the chance to win that award. As a result, this presents an opportunity for other players to get their hands on the coveted prize.
This season, several candidates are competing for individual glory. At the start of the season, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland were expected to be favourites, along with Robert Lewandowski. However, one by one they started falling down the pecking order. Then Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah emerged as the favorite following his exploits with the Merseyside club. However, since the start of the year, his team-mate Sadio Mane has become a strong contender, while his rival has been Real Madrid’s charismatic forward Karim Benzema. Let us take a look at the two top contenders and their chances of getting the award for the first time in their careers:
The Frenchman has long lived in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu. With the rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi intensifying, the media spotlight was largely on these two players compared to their teammates. As a result, the remarkable performances of several members of his team went unnoticed. Benzema was one such victim. Since joining Real Madrid from French club Lyon in 2009, Benzema has often played second fiddle to Ronaldo. Despite starting as a centre-forward, the Frenchman would drop deep or wide to allow the Portuguese star to score. Benzema forged a good bond with Ronaldo, but relied mainly on the Frenchman’s assists and the Portuguese forward’s scoring.
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Karim Benzema came out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow
The 34-year-old striker is finally getting the media attention he deserves in recent years. He scored 30 goals in all competitions last campaign, 27 in 2019–20 and 30 in 2018–19. However, this is the season Benzema has soared to astronomical heights. So far he has scored 43 goals in 43 matches in all competitions. 15 of these goals have come in the Champions League. 10 of those strikes reached the knockout stage, equaling Ronaldo’s record during the 2016–17 season. Having already won the La Liga title with Real Madrid, the Ballon d’Or will go to Benzema if his club wins the Champions League final against Liverpool.
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At the start of the season, Sadio Mane was not even in the reckoning for the Ballon d’Or award. It was his Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah who was making headlines every week with impressive performances. There was a time when Mane also found it difficult to find his footing, due to which his form was criticized by the experts. Fast forward to the end of the season, the tables have turned and it is the Senegal international who is one of the leading contenders for the prestigious award.
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Sadio Mane ahead of Mohamed Salah
The numbers could be in favor of Salah this season and rightly so. The Egyptian has scored 30 goals in all competitions so far, eight of which have come in the Champions League. Mane, on the other hand, has 20 goals and only four have come in Europe’s premier competition. However, Mane’s success is not judged solely by his club form. He helped Senegal overcome Egypt in the penalty shootout to win the African Cup of Nations in February. Then, he scored the winning penalty in another shootout to send Senegal into the 2022 World Cup at the expense of Mohamed Salah’s Egypt. If Liverpool win the Champions League, or even better, the quadruple, Mane will be the heavy favorite for the Ballon d’Or award.
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