A brilliant Xl of players that didn’t make the Ballon d’Or top 10 in 2021

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Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland celebrates scoring against Union Berlin. September 2021.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard that PSG’s Lionel Messi has won his seventh Ballon d’Or award.

Robert Lewandowski and Jorginho also earned a place on the podium, while Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne and Gianluigi Donnarumma made up the rest of the top 10.

But they certainly aren’t the only players that impressed in 2021. We’ve compiled a brilliant Xl of players that didn’t make the Ballon d’Or top 10, arranged in a 3-5-2 formation.

GK: Edouard Mendy

There’s always a lot of controversy surrounding the Ballon d’Or and eyebrows were raised Mendy missed out on the 30-man shortlist.

Fellow goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma finished 10th and also won the Lev Yashin award due to his performances at club and international level.

But Mendy has kept 27 clean sheets for Senegal and Chelsea in 2021, including in the Blues’ Champions League final win over Manchester City.

“It’s something that motivates me and pushes me to work. Honestly, I am wondering,” Mendy told Canal Plus. “If I had played for France and had taken part in the [European Championships], would we have this debate and this reflection?”

CB: Giorgio Chiellini

Despite Juventus’ struggles throughout 2021, Chiellini finished 13th in the Ballon d’Or rankings and was the highest-rated defender.

The 37-year-old proved that age is just a number during the summer, captaining Italy to their second-ever European Championship. 

And his most memorable moment of the year came when he embraced the dark arts to stop a 19-year-old Bukayo Saka during the final against England.

“To do what Chiellini did on Saka… it not easy. If you just think about it, it’s clear that you are a legend,” former Chelsea defender John Terry told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

CB: Leonardo Bonucci

It’s rather fitting that Bonucci, who plays alongside Chiellini with Juventus and Italy, finished just one place lower than his team-mate.

After netting Italy’s equaliser against England and also scoring in the penalty shootout, he became just the second defender to be named Man of the Match in a European Championship final since the introduction of the award in 1996.

The 34-year-old was also responsible for the biggest piece of shithousery in 2021.

CB: Ruben Dias

While Dias endured a difficult Euro 2020 with Portugal, he still had a brilliant year and probably deserved to finish higher than 26th.

The centre-back had a transformative effect on Manchester City’s defence, helping them reclaim the Premier League title and reach the Champions League final.

He was awarded the PFA and Premier League’s Footballer of the Year award in 2020-21 and has maintained that form at the start of this season.

Most City fans would argue that Dias enjoyed a better 2021 than Kevin De Bruyne, who finished eighth in the Ballon d’Or rankings.

RWB: Reece James

Cesar Azpilicueta finished in the Ballon d’Or’s top 30 but we’ve decided to select his Chelsea team-mate for the right wing-back spot in this Xl.

James has gone from strength to strength under Thomas Tuchel, establishing himself as one of the best full-backs in the world.

He played a starring role in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory and has since become a goal and assists machine in 2021-22.

Chelsea and England defender Reece James

READ: ‘Best RB in the country’: Nine quotes about Reece James’ stunning form

CM: Nicolo Barella

One of the most underrated players in world football, Barella finished in joint 26th after receiving as many votes as Gerard Moreno and Ruben Dias.

The midfielder helped Inter Milan win Serie A in 2020-21 and was linked with a move to Liverpool before signing a new contract at San Siro.

He also played a key role in Italy’s success at Euro 2020, making six appearances and scoring a goal in their quarter-final win over Belgium.

CM: Mason Mount

It’s easy to forget that naysayers questioned how much of a role Mount would now have at Chelsea following Thomas Tuchel’s arrival in January 2021.

But the midfielder has silenced his critics this year, cementing himself as one of the first names on Tuchel’s team-sheet and finishing 19th in the Ballon d’Or rankings.

His best moment of 2021 came when he set up Kai Havertz’s winning goal against Manchester City, becoming the first English player to provide an assist in the Champions League final since Wes Brown in 2008.

CM: Bruno Fernandes

Despite being the only player on this list who didn’t win a major trophy in 2021, Fernandes still warrants a place in the Xl due to his individual performances.

The Portugal international registered 18 goals and 16 assists for Manchester United during the calendar year, helping them finish second in the Premier League and reach the Europa League final.

He also created a total of 127 chances in a top-five league and UEFA competitions in 2021, more than any other player. 

LWB: Joao Cancelo

If the Ballon d’Or voting was still open when Cancelo registered this assist against Everton in November, he’d have won the whole thing.

ST: Erling Haaland

Alongside Mendy, Haaland is the only other player in this Xl that didn’t play in a major international tournament during the summer.

But the Borussia Dortmund striker still had a brilliant 2021 and finished just outside the top 10 in Football France’s overall rankings for the Ballon d’Or.

He’s netted 38 goals in 38 club games this year, outscoring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe.

ST: Romelu Lukaku

After finishing one place below Haaland in the Ballon d’Or rankings, Lukaku completes a devastating front two in this Xl.

His goals fired Inter Milan to their first Serie A title in 11 years and convinced Chelsea to pay £97.5million for his services in the summer. 

The Belgium international also beat Ronaldo to a place in the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament after scoring four goals in five appearances.


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