The Ballon d'Or is undoubtedly the most prestigious individual prize in football. French news magazine France Football presents the award to the best performing footballer in a calendar year. The Ballon d'Or winner is chosen on the basis of a combination of votes from media representatives, national team captains and coaches.
With the 2021-22 season drawing to a close, the 2022 Ballon d'Or race is shaping up nicely. We now have a fair idea of who the top contenders are going to be this year. One thing's almost certain and it is that we're definitely going to have a new winner this time around.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the five favorites in the race for the 2022 Ballon d'Or.
#5 Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Liverpool)
Mohamed Salah was in electrifying form in the first half of the 2021-22 season. He was scoring goals and creating chances for fun and looked unstoppable for a good amount of time. However, Salah's form tailed off towards the business end of the campaign and he is likely to look back at this season with a lot of regret.
He had a real shot at winning the AFCON 2021 title but Egypt fell to Senegal in the finals. Salah also failed to lead his national team to World Cup qualification, once again falling to Senegal in the penultimate match.
He won both the League Cup and the FA Cup with Liverpool this term. However, losing the Premier League title by one point and failing to defeat Real Madrid in the Champions League final will come back to haunt him.
Salah scored 31 goals and provided 16 assists in 51 appearances across all competitions for Jurgen Klopp's side in the 2021-22 season.
#4 Vinicius Jr. (Brazil/Real Madrid)
Vinicius Jr. was arguably the most improved attacker across Europe's top five leagues in the 2021-22 season. The Brazilian forward doubled down on his strengths and successfully managed to take his game to the next level.
Alongside Karim Benzema, Vinicius was a menacing presence for Real Madrid in attack. The 21-year-old bamboozled opponents with his trickery, pace and improved finishing.
He scored Real Madrid's winning goal in the UEFA Champions League final and has well and truly established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in Europe.
In 52 appearances across all competitions for Carlo Ancelotti's side, Vinicius scored 22 goals and provided 20 assists. We won't be very surprised if the Champions League 'Young Player of the Year' makes it to the Ballon d'Or podium this year.
#3 Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Bayern Munich)
If the Ballon d'Or winner is decided on sheer individual brilliance alone, Robert Lewandowski will be one of the main contenders for the third season running. However, with just the Bundesliga title to show for at the end of yet another campaign, Lewandowski's numbers might not propel him to Ballon d'Or glory.
The 33-year-old, who is fixing to leave Bayern Munich this summer, has yet again been the most prolific striker across Europe's top five leagues. He has scored 50 goals and provided seven assists from 46 appearances across all competitions for the Bavarians this term.
The Poland international has also won the European Golden Shoe for a second successive season, scoring 35 goals in 34 appearances in the Bundesliga.
#2 Sadio Mane (Senegal/Liverpool)
Just when Sadio Mane was about to get written off as a player who's past his prime, he managed to come up with a response for the ages. Mane guided Senegal to a triumphant run at AFCON 2021 and was named the 'Best Player of the Tournament'.
Shortly afterwards, he also secured qualification to the 2022 FIFA World Cup with his national team. Mane played a critical role in Liverpool's League Cup and FA Cup triumphs. The 30-year-old managed to transition into a centre-forward at Liverpool in the midst of all this and did so with elan.
However, just like Salah, Mane will be gutted to have missed out on the Premier League title and the Champions League title this term after coming so close.
Mane scored 23 goals and provided five assists in 51 appearances across all competitions for Jurgen Klopp's side this season. He is definitely a top contender for the 2022 Ballon d'Or.
#1 Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid)
Karim Benzema is currently the odds-on favorite to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or. He has had arguably his best season at an individual level. The French striker was on top of his game and has never looked this lethal in attack in his already illustrious career.
Benzema was Real Madrid's standout performer as they won the La Liga and the Champions League. The 34-year-old produced a raft of mesmerising performances, particularly in the knockout stages of the Champions League this season.
He scored a 17-minute hat-trick in the second leg of Real Madrid's Champions League Round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain. Benzema followed that up with a hat-trick in the first leg of Real Madrid's quarter-final tie against Chelsea.
He also went on to score the winner for Los Blancos in the second leg against the Blues. Benzema would then score a brace in the first leg of their semi-final tie against Manchester City before providing an assist and scoring Real Madrid's winner in the second leg.
He has had an unforgettable campaign, scoring 44 goals and providing 15 assists in 46 appearances across all competitions for Real Madrid.