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Power Rankings for the Ballon d’Or 2023: Messi, Neymar, and the Favorites Head to the World Cup as Haaland Stays at Home


Karim Benzema may have only recently won the 2022 prize, but the battle to be named the world’s best player in 2023 will heat up in Qatar.

Are you ready to do it all over again? One Ballon d’Or battle has just ended (congrats, Karim Benzema! ), and another is about to begin. Indeed, the game’s top players are already making early claims to win the vote next year.

It promises to be a one-of-a-kind Ballon d’Or, with the World Cup taking place in the middle of the 2022-23 season, which means it may be a distant memory by the time votes are cast in just under a year.

There is no doubt that starring in Qatar will improve a player’s chances of winning the Golden Ball, so as GOAL continues to track the race with our Ballon d’Or Power Rankings, we must keep the possibility of a tournament-defining performance in mind.

Who, then, has put themselves in contention with their early-season performances, and who has some catching up to do?

Join us as we continue our 12-month Ballon d’Or Power Rankings journey…

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Nkunku, Christopher (RB Leipzig)

Leipzig’s slow start to the season threatened to derail Nkunku’s chances of receiving more individual recognition during his final season with the club.

Their comeback under Marco Rose, on the other hand, has seen them climb to third in the Bundesliga table while also securing a place in the Champions League knockout stages, with Nkunku providing much of their attacking thrust once again.

All of this makes his injury devastation on the eve of what should have been his first World Cup all the more difficult to bear, and he will be a huge loss for France in Qatar.

Fede Valverde, 19
Valverde is still not respected as much as some of his Real Madrid teammates, but this could be the year that he is finally recognized as an integral part of one of the world’s greatest teams.

The midfielder has been in superb form in the early months of the season, with his match-winning performance in the Clasico victory in October being a particular highlight.

He will now be a member of a Uruguay team that many believe has a chance to go deep in the World Cup.

William Saliba, 18 (Arsenal)
Previously: NEW ENTRY

Two goals, one assist, and nine clean sheets in 2022-23.

The last time these rankings were updated, we chose Gabriel Jesus as the face of Arsenal’s outstanding start to the season, but that mantle appears to have been passed to Saliba.

After finally breaking into the Arsenal starting lineup, the centre-back has been outstanding, with many considering him the Premier League’s best defender through the first few months of the season.

A starting spot for France at the World Cup is now unquestionably within his grasp, with Qatar 2022 providing him with an additional opportunity to establish himself on the global stage.

Sane, Leroy (Bayern Munich)
Last time: the 16th

In 2022-23, he had 10 goals and seven assists. DFB-Supercup was won.

When we last updated these rankings, there was some concern that Sane would miss the World Cup due to a recent injury, but he was only out for a couple of weeks.

He hasn’t quite regained the form he displayed in the first few weeks of the season for Bayern, with Serge Gnabry instead starting to fire in front of goal.

As a result, a battle between the two wingers for a starting spot for Germany in Qatar is possible.

Jude Bellingham, 16 (Borussia Dortmund)
Last time: the 20th

In 2022-23, he had nine goals and four assists.

Bellingham’s selection as Dortmund captain just a few months after his 19th birthday demonstrates the respect that his teammates clearly have for the English midfielder.

The battle to sign him next summer promises to be one for the ages, as he has been a standout performer in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League so far in 2022-23.

Next up, expect him to be a starter for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions as they go for glory in Qatar.

15Cody Gakpo (PSV) Last appearance: 18th

14 goals, 18 assists in 2022-23. The Johan Cruyff Shield was won.

Despite a scoring slump over the past month, Gakpo’s attacking numbers through the first half of the season remain astounding.

It remains to be seen whether he will play for PSV again, as vultures from Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues circle ahead of the January transfer window.

A strong World Cup for the Netherlands, on the other hand, will raise his asking price even higher.

Rafael Leao 14 (AC Milan)
Last time: the 17th

In 2022-23, he had seven goals and ten assists.

Though his title as Serie A’s most exciting young attacker may have been taken this season (more on that later), Leao remains an electrifying presence on Milan’s left flank.

He may not have had the Champions League breakout that many expected of him in the group stages, but it is still possible that he will in the knockout rounds.

But first, he has the World Cup for Portugal, and Diogo Jota’s unfortunate injury means his chances of starting in attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo have increased.

Phil Foden (13th) (Manchester City)
Last time: October 10th

In 2022-23, he had eight goals and three assists.

Throughout his brief career, Foden has tended to play his best football in the second half of seasons, but he’s set himself up nicely this time around.

His chemistry with Erling Haaland is improving by the week, and he is contributing goals from the left side.

Now, England fans must wait to see if Gareth Southgate can fit him into his World Cup squad.

12Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) Last appearance: August 8th

Six goals and one assist in 2022-23.

Given that the first few months of the new season have not been his best, we’re going to give the defending Ballon d’Or champion the benefit of the doubt in terms of what we know he can still achieve.

To be fair, he has struggled with fitness, and it remains to be seen how physically prepared he is to lead the French line in the coming weeks.

If Benzema is at his best, he still has time to put himself in contention for back-to-back Ballons d’Or.

11 Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane (11th)

14 goals, three assists in 2022-23.

Kane will travel to Qatar in search of a second consecutive World Cup Golden Boot, and the England captain is rightly among the favorites to finish as top scorer after a strong start to the season.

Only Erling Haaland has scored more goals in the Premier League this season, and his goals have propelled Spurs into the Champions League knockout stages.

Is his first career trophy on its way to the international stage?

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia 10 (Napoli)
Last time: the 15th

In 2022-23, he had 10 goals and 11 assists.

‘Kvaradona,’ the European season’s breakout star thus far, has helped Napoli to a commanding lead at the top of Serie A, as well as a Champions League group win that positions them nicely for a deep run through the knockout rounds.

No stat captures the winger’s impact better than the fact that, despite missing Napoli’s final three matches before the break due to injury, he currently leads Serie A in combined goals and assists.

Georgia’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is obviously a setback for his Ballon d’Or hopes, but he now has a couple of months to rebuild.

9 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) Last appearance: September 9th

In 2022-23, he had 16 goals and five assists. The Community Shield was won.

Salah has returned to form in recent months, with the Egyptian’s goals just about keeping Liverpool’s head above water after a poor run of form.

Salah’s match-winning goals against Manchester City and Tottenham were classic Salah, and even though he won’t be competing in the World Cup, he could still have a say in the Ballon d’Or race.

Liverpool can’t possibly be that bad in 2023, can it? And if they do start firing again, Salah will be at the helm.

Musiala, Jamal (Bayern Munich)
Last time: December 12th

12 goals, 11 assists in 2022-23. DFB-Supercup was won.

Musiala, the Bundesliga’s best player in the first half of the season, has defied his lack of experience to become a key figure for both club and country.

Almost no game goes by without the 19-year-old scoring or assisting at least one goal, and it is clear that he is Thomas Muller’s heir apparent at the Allianz Arena.

If he maintains his club form into the World Cup for Germany, the Ballon d’Or hype around him could reach previously unheard-of levels for such a young player.

7Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) Previous appearance: 7th

In 2022-23, he had four goals and 14 assists.

De Bruyne, the best creative midfielder in the world right now, is still at the peak of his powers, and his assist totals for the season could skyrocket if Erling Haaland can stay fit.

Playing for Manchester City probably makes life pretty easy for De Bruyne, so he might not get the Ballon d’Or recognition he deserves unless he can lead Belgium’s fading golden generation to World Cup glory.

With Romelu Lukaku out of the tournament due to injury, De Bruyne will have to carry the attack.

6Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid) Previous appearance: 6th

In 2022-23, he had 10 goals and seven assists.

With Benzema out due to injury, Vinicius has stepped up to lead Real Madrid’s attack in Benzema’s absence and has maintained his form from last season.

His finishing has improved immeasurably since his first years at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he is now one of the most dangerous wide players in world football.

That is likely to be confirmed in Qatar, where he is expected to start for Brazil among what is arguably the strongest group of forwards at the World Cup.

5Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona) Previous appearance: 5th

In 2022-23, he had 18 goals and five assists.

Lewandowski’s dream of winning the Ballon d’Or was dashed when Barcelona were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage for the second season in a row, but his individual campaign can still be memorable.

He has 13 goals in 14 La Liga games to help Barcelona to the top of the table, and he will undoubtedly be the best individual player in the Europa League when it resumes in February.

Prior to that, given how important he will be for Poland in Qatar, he has a real chance of winning the World Cup Golden Boot.

4Erling Haaland (Manchester City) Previous appearance: 4th

In 2022-23, he had 24 goals and three assists.

With any doubts about his ability to succeed at Manchester City dispelled in a matter of weeks, Haaland now has a month to rest before attempting to maintain his record-breaking goalscoring pace at the end of December.

Because of Haaland’s talent, he can easily win the Ballon d’Or without competing in the World Cup, but we won’t know how difficult that task will be in 2023 until the tournament is over.

If there are no tournament-defining players in Qatar, the big Norwegian could suddenly become the hot favorite for the Golden Ball.

3Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) Previous appearance: 3rd

20 goals, five assists in 2022-23.

France enters the World Cup in poor form, with their starting midfield decimated by injuries, which means Mbappe will need to be at his best if Les Bleus are to defend their title in Qatar.

He has shown signs of approaching that in recent weeks for PSG, but the soap opera surrounding his future could still rear its ugly head and derail his entire tournament.

This feels like the month that will determine whether Mbappe will be able to win the Ballon d’Or in 2023, or if his wait will be even longer.

2Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) Previously: 2nd

In 2022-23, he had 16 goals and 14 assists. Won the Trophy of Champions.

Few predicted this at the end of last season, but Neymar’s dream of winning the Ballon d’Or has been resurrected in recent months.

Unquestionably in the best shape he’s been in since his world-record transfer to PSG, he now heads to the World Cup as the attacking lynchpin around whom the tournament favorites, Brazil, revolve.

Expect Neymar to be at the heart of the Selecao’s success in Qatar.

Messi, Lionel (Paris Saint-Germain)
The first time:

In 2022-23, he had 16 goals and 14 assists. Won the Trophy of Champions.

Is the Argentine genius set to win his eighth Ballon d’Or?

Messi has been at his best this season, deafening those who thought his time at the top was over after a disappointing first year at PSG.

Everything now appears to be in place for him to complete his trophy collection with a World Cup victory in Qatar. If you do that, the race for the Golden Ball could be over before the end of the year.

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