The top ten footballers of 2021

The year of 2021 has almost been and gone, and we’ve seen some incredible footballing performances and moments.

The game’s greats, such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have moved to new pastures. Young starlets like Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Kylian Mbappe have continued to establish themselves at their existing clubs.

There have been champions crowned, trophies won, and new stars have been born. The top of world football is a competitive field – and there have been many players battling it out to be known as the best footballers in the world in 2021.

The Ballon d’Or rankings have, of course, created much debate. We’re going to add to that debate with our own top 10 – and there are some differences.

Here is our list of the top ten best footballers of 2021 – ranked from 10 to one:

10. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

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The year 2021 has further underlined the credentials of Erling Haaland as a world-class striker.

Before the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Monday, the Norwegian had struck at a goal a game for Borussia Dortmund in this calendar year. He has 38 goals from 38 games.

Read: Erling Haaland release clause: Borussia Dortmund CEO sets the record straight

It’s been a year of records for the 21-year-old. In March, he became the quickest player to reach 20 goals in the Champions League. Last month, he reached 50 Bundesliga goals – again, the fastest player ever to achieve the landmark.

9. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

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Kevin De Bruyne ended the 2020/21 season having won his second consecutive PFA Player of the Year award.

The Belgian has enjoyed another excellent year for Manchester City. He ended the last campaign with six goals and 12 assists from 25 games. The 28-year-old has comparatively low figures of two goals and zero assists from eight games this term, but he has played an essential role for Pep Guardiola’s side.

Euro 2020 didn’t end the way De Bruyne wanted. He limped off against Portugal in the last 16 with an ankle injury and missed the start of the domestic season. However, one goal and two assists from four appearances in the tournament were a fair reward for good performances.

8. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)

It has been another incredible year for Chelsea and France midfielder N’Golo Kante. The 30-year-old helped the Blues to win the Champions League in May, receiving the UEFA Men’s Midfielder of the Year award for his efforts.

He started every game for France at Euro 2020, although it was a disappointing tournament for Didier Deschamps’ side. They were knocked out at the last 16 stage.

This season, Kante has again been an important player for Chelsea. He is still an automatic starter when fit and has two goals from eight appearances this term.

7. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

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When discussing Kylian Mbappe, it seems like we’re no longer talking about potential. There’s still plenty of time for the Frenchman to grow, of course, but he has been one of the best footballers on the planet in 2021.

In February, he tore Barcelona to shreds at the Nou Camp during a Champions League fixture, netting a sublime hat-trick.

Over 2021, the Frenchman has 37 goals from 48 appearances. With team-mates such as Lionel Messi and Neymar alongside him, don’t be surprised to see Mbappe lifting a European trophy in 022.

6. Jorginho (Chelsea)

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A dream year for Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho ended with the third-place finish in the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Monday. That many had tipped him to win the prize shows what an impressive year he has had as one of the best footballers of 2021.

This year, the 29-year-old has won three trophies, including the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy. He was particularly vital in the latter, keeping play ticking over whilst also performing defensive duties.

Then there are the penalties. As per Transfermarkt, he has converted eight out of 10 spot-kicks taken this season. But it is his unique run-up that deceives goalkeepers – there aren’t many better takers in the world.

5. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

Having seen his former strike partners, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, exit the club on different arrangements over the past few years, Karim Benzema has taken on an increasingly important role at Real Madrid.

It is undeniable that the Frenchman is now the primary source of goals for Real. He has 34 of them in 45 games in 2021 for the club, whilst he was finally recalled to the French national team for Euro 2020 after over five years away.

He netted four times in four games during the tournament – another indication of the striker’s powers in front of goal.

4. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

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Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t know when to stop scoring. Last night’s brace against Arsenal took him to 32 goals for 2021.

In the summer, the Portuguese icon made a triumphant return to Manchester United from Juventus, 12 years after initially leaving the club. He has six goals from 11 Premier League games and six goals from five games in the Champions League.

Read: Stats show Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored important goals for Manchester United this season.

It is fair to say that, without Ronaldo, United would possibly be bowing out of Europe’s premier competition. On three occasions, the 36-year-old has scored crucial last-minute goals to salvage his side a total of five extra points. The age may be increasing, but his influence and performances certainly aren’t dwindling.

3. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

When Mohamed Salah was named only seventh in the Ballon d’Or rankings, there was an element of shock. After all, the Egyptian is the best player in England right now. He is also one of the best footballers in the world right now over 2021.

Salah’s numbers this season have been simply astonishing. He has 13 goals and eight assists in just 14 league games and six goals in five games in the Champions League. Throughout 2021, he has 34 goals in 47 appearances.

The 29-year-old, it can be said, is at the peak of his powers right now. The one thing that has let him down this year is silverware – he hasn’t won a trophy – but keep an eye out in 2022.

2. Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)

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Lionel Messi is a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner. That much is a fact. What is also a fact is that the Argentinian maestro keeps on producing incredible numbers in front of goal. He has 32 goals and 12 assists in 40 league games this year.

Finally, Messi is able to call himself a Copa America champion with Argentina. Held in the midst of his emotional departure from Barcelona, Messi was the star of the show.

He scored four goals and added five assists in seven games. It was Messi at his absolute best. Did it deserve to net him the award as the best footballer of 2021? The next man on the list may well disagree.

1. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

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By Robert Lewandowski’s extremely high standards, 2021 was off the scale. The Polish marvel has an incredible 51 goals in 40 games for Bayern Munich.

He scored 41 goals across the entirety of last season in the Bundesliga. That broke a historic 49-year record held by Germany legend Gerd Muller.

Lewandowski’s predatory movement and ability to finish absolutely everything has earned him many admirers. The 33-year-old has never particularly relied on rapid pace, so there’s undoubtedly plenty more goals to come over the next few years.

Featured Image Credit: Getty