Messi, Ronaldo and Lewandowski lead the charge for Ballon d'Or glory
The Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual award of the calendar year.
Since 2008, the famous accolade has been won by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on all but one occasion — when Luka Modric broke their stranglehold in 2018.
After last year's edition was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, a plethora of talent is in contention to scoop the prize on November 29.
With 30 players making up the shortlist, LiveScore run the rule over the most likely contenders to carve their name into football history.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
The current favourite to win the Ballon d'Or, Robert Lewandowski appeared nailed on to lift the award last year.
At 33, the striker remains deadly in front of goal.
He ended last season with 41 goals in the Bundesliga and has started this term in typically prolific fashion, scoring hat-tricks in both domestic and European competition.
The Pole has already won the Bundesliga and European Golden Shoe this year and there would be no complaints if he added the Ballon d'Or to his collection.
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
Messi has featured in the Ballon d'Or top three on 12 occasions and won it six times, most recently in 2019.
Despite a slow start since joining Paris Saint-Germain during the summer, it would be foolish to count the Argentine out of the race.
The 34-year-old striker scored 30 LaLiga goals and secured a seventh Copa del Rey in his final season with Barcelona — before winning the Copa America with his country for the first time in July.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Mohamed Salah has arguably been the best player in the Premier League over the last year.
He has broken numerous records this year, including overtaking Didier Drogba to become the highest scoring African player in Premier League history.
The Egyptian, 29, has taken his game to a new level this season and could now be in line for a spot on the Ballon d'Or podium for the first time.
Where other candidates are noted for their personal performances, no player can boast a better trophy haul in 2021 than Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.
Having won the Champions League with the Blues in May, the 2021 UEFA Men's Player of the Year went on to lift the Euro 2020 trophy after starring in Italy's triumph.
The former Napoli man, 29, has carried his fine form into this season and is eyeing a Premier League medal to add to his impressive collection.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Since Ronaldo left Real Madrid in 2018, Karim Benzema has been the man to step up to the plate for Los Blancos.
The Frenchman scored more than 20 league goals for the third consecutive season in 2020-21 and also fired his country to a Nations League final victory last month — his strike in the 2-1 win over Spain was voted goal of the tournament.
Already finding his groove under Carlo Ancelotti this season, the 33-year-old striker is a dark horse to pick up the trophy.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain)
Gianluigi Donnarumma made the switch from AC Milan to PSG during the summer and is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.
The young Italian was in phenomenal form during his country's Euro 2020 campaign, helping his side to penalty shootout success against Spain in the semi-finals and England in the final at Wembley.
Donnarumma, 22, is looking to become the first goalkeeper to win the award since Lev Yashin in 1963.
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
At 22, Kylian Mbappe is almost certain to win the Ballon d'Or at some stage in his career.
The dynamic forward starred alongside Benzema in France's Nations League victory and added a Coupe de France to his trophy collection in 2021.
But despite finishing last term as Ligue 1's top scorer with 27 goals, PSG's failure to retain the title and conquer the Champions League may mean he misses out this year.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Ronaldo can never be overlooked when it comes to personal accolades.
The Manchester United forward, 36, already has five Ballon d'Or trophies to his name along with countless medals for club and country.
Before returning to Old Trafford in August, the Portuguese marksman ended the 2020-21 campaign as the top scorer in Serie A, netting 29 goals in his final season at Juventus.
His second spell at the Red Devils has already provided some scintillating moments, including winning goals against Villarreal and Atalanta in the Champions League.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Since his arrival in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has been one of United's most reliable performers.
Last season saw the Portuguese playmaker accumulate 18 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League, helping Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side finish second.
The former Sporting Lisbon midfielder, 27, has already shown signs of a formidable partnership with countryman Ronaldo and is an outside bet for a spot in the top three.
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Another of Chelsea's Champions League heroes, N'Golo Kante played a key role alongside Jorginho as the Blues conquered Europe.
A defensive midfielder's work often goes unnoticed but Kante, 30, has stood out from the rest for his exceptional interceptions and fantastic ability to read the game.
Now in his sixth season at Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman remains an integral part of Thomas Tuchel's team.
The other 20 players on the shortlist
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Simon Kjaer (AC Milan)
Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)
Gerard Moreno (Villarreal)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)