2017 Ballon d'Or Power Rankings Midway Through the Year
We don't mean to alarm you, but half of the 2017 calendar year has already passed us by. Where did the time go?
Plenty has happened: The 2016-17 season came to a close with Real Madrid doing the double, beating Juventus in the Champions League final, and Germany won the Confederations Cup in Russia by defeating Chile 1-0. Already the transfer window is in full swing, with star names swapping clubs for big bucks.
With all that in mind, it felt like a good opportunity to revisit our Ballon d'Or power rankings. Our first edition dropped in April, taking into account the first three months of the year, and now we've updated it to reflect April, May and June's events.
We've ranked the 20 best players of the year so far. Is Cristiano Ronaldo in line to retain his 2016 crown, or has another name stolen a march on him? Is 2016's all-La Liga podium (Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann) still the dominant force, or have Bundesliga and Premier League performances broken the glass ceiling?
International football is counted—after all, it was Ronaldo's success with Portugal at the European Championship that gave him the edge in 2016's edition—but there's only been one international break so far, so the influence isn't too heavy.
Reputations also count. The Ballon d'Or is partially a popularity contest, inclusive of the biggest names in the sport, and that's been reflected in the names here. It has meant some excellent performers this year who aren't quite as celebrated (such as Leroy Sane of Manchester City) don't feature, but that's par for the course with this award.
Another tendency of the Ballon d'Or is to largely ignore defenders and goalkeepers. The 2016 shortlist included just six players who can be perceived as defensive—three centre-backs, all of whom played in the Champions League final and one of which won the European Championship, and three goalkeepers.
The popular vote has little room for that side of the game, so while there is a touch of defensive influence in these rankings, it's 90 per cent attacking.
20. N'Golo Kante, Chelsea (-8)
Scooped up almost every domestic award under the sun, but the one blemish on his (and his team-mates') resumes was a poor performance in the FA Cup final.
19. Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur (New!)
Kane scored 21 Premier League goals in the second half of the season alone. That's a tally most strikers would be delighted with over the course of an entire season.
18. Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus (New!)
The only centre-back on the list, and it was tough choosing between him and Giorgio Chiellini. Juventus' stubborn run to the Champions League final impressed many, and Bonucci was at the heart of some serious performances—most notably against Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
17. Luka Modric, Real Madrid (New!)
Edges Toni Kroos for a spot in the top 20, but both did similar jobs towards the end of the season. Modric shone in the semi-final first leg against Atletico Madrid and glued everything together in the final.
16. Isco, Real Madrid (New!)
Isco's 2017 has been tough to judge. January and February didn't bring much in the way of playing time, but he then fixed his claws into the starting XI and refused to budge. He scored a huge goal at the Vicente Calderon in the Champions League semi-finals to stymie Atletico Madrid's comeback, and he also delivered the pass that Cristiano Ronaldo tucked home to secure the La Liga title.
15. Marcelo, Real Madrid (New!)
Marcelo's performances in 2017 have been almost incomprehensibly good. If life was fair and the Ballon d'Or voting brought parity to positions, he'd be right in among the top five...but that's not the case. What he did to Philipp Lahm and Bayern Munich in the quarter-final will live long in the memory of those who watched the game.
14. Casemiro, Real Madrid (+2)
Casemiro is essentially the exception to the Ballon d'Or rule: Defensive midfielders don't usually get credit in these stakes, but this Brazilian has to be heralded as one of the key men under Zinedine Zidane and scored some crucial goals en route to Champions League glory.
13. Ousmane Dembele, Borussia Dortmund (-4)
It was a remarkable first season for Dembele at Dortmund; he joined as an intriguing prospect but quickly developed into the team's finest creative threat. Watching him and AS Monaco's fine youngsters trade blows in the Champions League quarter-finals was a real treat.
12. Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain (-4)
Cavani already has 25 goals in all competitions for PSG this year, and those strikes have led the club to two domestic cups. The 2016-17 campaign saw him fall just one goal shy of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's seasonal record of 50.
11. Thiago Alcantara, Bayern Munich (-4)
Drops out of the top 10 for two reasons: Firstly, Bayern's lack of progress in the Champions League naturally hinders their players, and he didn't play particularly well against Real Madrid in the last eight—a match they really needed Thiago firing on all cylinders for.
10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund
Last Round: 10th
Robert Lewandowski looked a shoo-in for the Bundesliga's top scorer award in 2016-17, but he was pipped at the death by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. His remarkable tally of 31 for the campaign bettered the Pole's own effort of 30 by one, and it goes down as the best haul since Dieter Muller netted 34 in 1977.
Aubameyang's 2017 has consisted of ups and downs, but the good far outweigh the bad. The Africa Cup of Nations (hosted in his native Gabon) was a real low point as they exited at the group stage, but the DFB-Pokal victory, a hat-trick against Benfica in the Champions League round of 16 and nicking Lewandowski's crown on the final Bundesliga matchday are all memorable in their own right.
9. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid
Last Round: 10th
What threatened to be the most excruciating transfer saga of the summer has, thankfully, been nipped in the bud early. Griezmann will not be trading Atletico Madrid for Manchester United, and that means manager Diego Simeone gets to keep hold of one of the best 10 players on the planet.
The Frenchman does drop a little in our rankings despite a reasonable 2017, and that's because he struggled to deliver in the Champions League. Over the course of four games in the quarter- and semi-finals, he was restricted to just two penalty goals—and the one against Real Madrid just about went in.
Ultimately, we were left waiting for Griezmann to step forward in those games and have his say, but that moment never materialised.
8. Paulo Dybala, Juventus
Last Round: 13th
It didn't quite happen for Paulo Dybala in the Champions League final. Usually so bright and bubbly on the ball, he looked as if the occasion may have got to him a little, with his touch heavy and his confidence severely lacking.
But don't let that take anything away from a spectacular 2016-17 season. He and Gonzalo Higuain have formed a wonderful partnership, and it was Dybala who drove Juventus past Barcelona in the quarter-finals with two sublime, stunning finishes.
Statistically, he looks a touch light on goals and assists this year, with just eight and five in Serie A, respectively. But he's a player who has to be watched in order to have his impact measured because he brings so much to his team's performances.
7. Luis Suarez, Barcelona
Last Round: 4th
Five goals in his last four La Liga games saw Luis Suarez end the season in fine fettle, and he did his utmost to ensure Barcelona would be in a position to capitalise if Real Madrid messed up.
His haul of 22 league goals this year has been bettered by few, but in terms of silverware, he contributed to little. That shouldn't necessarily matter too much but it does, and he even missed the Copa del Rey final against Alaves due to injury.
6. Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus
Last Round: 11th
No one doubts Gonzalo Higuain's quality or predatory instincts, and he put together another phenomenal season in 2016-17. He scored 14 of his 24 Serie A goals this side of the calendar flip, and he netted two important strikes against Monaco in the Champions League semi-final.
The problem is this: He just doesn't seem to show up, or play to anywhere near to the best of his abilities, in finals. Both the Champions League and Coppa Italia showpieces passed him by without netting, and until he marks those occasions with defining actions, he'll always be battling naysayers.
5. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Last Round: 3rd
Forget the notion of a 20-goal-per-season striker being a success—Robert Lewandowski has 23 club goals already this year. Eighteen came in Bundesliga play, helping Bayern Munich ease to the title, with the rest coming in cup competitions.
He scooped the Bundesliga Player of the Year award, attracting an astonishing 25 percent of votes from his peers, after putting a number of unstoppable, dominant performances you can't help but admire.
At international level, he's also doing the business; he is joint top of the UEFA goalscoring charts with Cristiano Ronaldo on 11 goals, and he nabbed a hat-trick in June against Romania to strengthen Poland's place atop Group E.
4. Neymar, Barcelona
Last Round: 1st
The statistics perhaps don't do it justice, but Neymar's enjoying a very good 2017. Nine La Liga goals since the calendar flipped is hardly astonishing, but the football that has complemented it has been at times.
His heroics against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 are still pretty fresh in the memory, and it was that night at the Camp Nou which originally led to him being ranked first in these standings in March.
The issue, however, is that he wasn't able to conjure anything remotely similar against Juventus in the quarters, as Barcelona bowed out in limp fashion. He also missed the definitive high point of Barca's 2017, as he was forced to watch his colleagues secure a last-gasp win at the Bernabeu due to suspension.
These two moments of inaction have seen him knocked off top spot and down to fourth. The latter stages of Europe's prime competitions is what separates Ballon d'Or protagonists from antagonists, and Neymar must be filed as the latter after what April and May brought.
3. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco
Last Round: Unranked
What a remarkable, almost incomprehensible 2017 Kylian Mbappe has had. He's shot from nowhere to become one of the world's most sought-after players, and there's every chance he will become the first £100 million player in world football.
In January he was stuck behind the dependable Valere Germain in Monaco's striking pecking order, but received the starting nod for the Champions League round-of-16 game against Manchester City. It was a gamble by Leonardo Jardim, but it paid off handsomely.
Mbappe made mincemeat of that City defence, scored in both quarter-final legs against Borussia Dortmund, and he then became the first player to beat Gianluigi Buffon in the Champions League knockout stages.
His form from February to May saw him land a France call-up, and he also bagged the first league title of his career.
2. Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Last Round: 2nd
It hasn't quite been Barcelona's year on the pitch. They lost the La Liga title race to Real Madrid by just three points and fell at the quarter-final stage to Juventus in the Champions League; a Copa del Rey win in May sent Luis Enrique out on a high, but it doesn't make up for a disappointing season.
All that said, Lionel Messi did his best to change things for the better. Twenty-five La Liga goals in 2017 led the Blaugrana in their hunt to capitalise on any Real Madrid collapse, and he scored a wondrous effort in the dying seconds at the Santiago Bernabeu to win El Clasico 3-2. He also netted five en route to lifting the Copa del Rey, scoring once in the final as Barca emerged 3-1 victors.
The problem Messi faces in this year's Ballon d'Or stakes is that his team came nowhere close to winning the Champions League, and that's the key competition in question. Juve dumped them out in the last eight, and although Messi produced some jaw-dropping moments across both legs, the fact is he and his colleagues were held scoreless over 180 minutes.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
Last Round: 6th
The general rule of thumb over the years has been that whoever of Ronaldo or Messi wins the Champions League will also win the Ballon d'Or in the same year.
And given Ronaldo led Real Madrid to Champions League victory in Cardiff last month, he's the man who shoots to the top of our Ballon d'Or power rankings.
There's little anyone will be able to do now to knock him off.
A brace in the Champions League final against Juventus—including the vital opener—took him to 12 goals for the campaign, with hat-tricks against Atletico Madrid (in the semi-final) and Bayern Munich (in the quarters) paving Los Blancos' way to the grand event.
He also netted twice as Portugal achieved third place at the Confederations Cup in Russia, taking him to a tally of 75—good for joint-second on the list all-time European international top scorers.
Big goals in big games; that's what Ronaldo's about, that's what brings success, and that's what hauls in the Ballon d'Or.
All statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk