The Champions League has reached its final stages. By May 28, we will know the winner and there are eight teams left in the running. The quarterfinals are sure to have fireworks, as the marquee matchup will be between Chelsea and Real Madrid. It has really been a great edition of the biggest club competition in the world, and some players have made it their mission to dominate. There are a lot of contenders for the 2021-22 UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award that will be handed out later this year after the Champions League wraps up, so let's look at the top candidates.
Starting off with a bang, Karim Benzema has made this edition of the Champions League his. Even though there was a ton of excitement all around, the most exciting part was the improbable comeback of Real Madrid versus PSG in the round of 16. After Kylian Mbappe's two goals, one in both legs, gave PSG a huge edge, the other French forward on the field took over. He capitalized on a massive Gianluigi Donnarumma error, that he caused in a way, to put one past the Italian keeper. Then, around 15 minutes later, he scored two in quick succession to make sure that Real Madrid completed one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.
However, it is not just about that second leg against PSG or any other singular game for Karim Benzema. His whole Champions League campaign has been breathtaking. Out of Real Madrid's 17 goals scored in this edition of the Champions League, Benzema scored eight of them. He did have some help in the group stages, with Rodrygo breaking the deadlock in Milan versus Inter, but he still managed to have some great moments in that segment of the competition, scoring a 61st-minute winner versus Shakhtar Donetsk in the fourth game of the group stages.
Overall, he has been the outright best player of Real Madrid, and should they go through Chelsea in the quarters, he could be a frontrunner for this award.
If we are talking about goals, there is no better player in the world right now than the Polish striker from Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski. He has made it his mission to become one of the best goalscorers in Champions League history, and 12 goals in this edition of the competition are surely going to help his case.
However, Lewandowski has become so much more than a goalscorer. His synergy with Thomas Muller and his inclusion in the build-up play under new coach Julian Nagelsmann has added a new edge in his game. Of course, he is still a goalscoring forward primarily, but the diversification of his game helped Bayern Munich become one of the biggest favorites to win the entire thing.
With a matchup against Villarreal coming up, Lewandowski will surely have even more chances to score goals and bolster his award case. As said above, he has 12 up until now, just three shy of his record year, where he scored 15 and brought Bayern Munich to a Champions League title. It is widely expected for Bayern to easily go through the Spanish team. With Lewandowski eyeing that Cristiano Ronaldo-held record of 17 goals, there should be no doubts for a Bayern Munich spot in the semis. With that, Lewandowski would have an even better case to win this award.
Coming to the second favorite, Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has not been scoring goals as much as Lewandowski. Salah has the same amount of goals scored as Benzema, with the caveat that seven of his eight goals came in the group stage. However, he did score seven in the group stages, including back-to-back strikes versus Porto and Atletico Madrid. The Atletico Madrid brace was especially impressive, as Salah scored the winner for Liverpool with a 76th-minute penalty. While the two selections above were more in line with the individual might of these two players, Salah's case begins and ends with how dominant Liverpool has been in the Champions League this season.
Liverpool finished the group stages of the Champions League with six wins out of six games. They also scored a whopping 17 goals in that part of the competition, with Salah contributing seven, as mentioned above. It was also Salah's 83rd-minute goal versus Inter Milan that ended up making all the difference, as the Italians pulled one goal back in the return leg at Anfield.
All of these things add up and since most analysts have Liverpool or Manchester City winning the Champions League, Liverpool's possible win could mean the top award for their best player. Salah still has games to prove how amazing he really is. While he does not have an iconic moment like Benzema, or a goalscoring record to catch like Lewandowski, his ability to win games on his own could mean that Liverpool ends up winning the trophy, and by default, Salah winning the award.