With Marcus Rashford, Gabriel Jesus and Dele Alli dominating the back pages in England, youngsters across Europe are flying under the radar. With clubs using data, video and thousands of air miles to discover the next best thing, here are five players under the age of 23 that are making an impact in their respective leagues.
La Liga: Goncalo Guedes
Having earned his big money move to Paris Saint-Germain in January, the last thing Goncalo Guedes needed to see was Neymar and Kylian Mbappe storm into the club just six months later.
Talented, ambitious and with a vast amount of experience under his belt already, rotting on the bench simply wasn’t an option for the former Benfiquista.
Enter Valencia, who after three difficult seasons were aiming high again under new coach Marcelino. In need of a creative forward presence to match their new found defensive solidity, Guedes looked a perfect fit and he hasn’t disappointed, settling in like a natural at the Mestalla. With three goals and five assists to his name in 578 minutes of football (a direct goal contribution every 72 minutes), the 20-year-old has made an instant impact in La Liga, reminding everybody why his parent club were so eager to secure his services earlier this year.
Bundesliga: Dayot Upamecano
RB Leipzig are one of the most hated sides in Germany due to their lack of footballing tradition and questionable ownership standard, but something they are always open to is affording young players opportunities if they are deemed good enough. Dayot Upamecano certainly falls into that category. Signed from sister club RB Salzburg at the turn of the year, the 19-year-old has become a key figure under Ralph Hasenhüttl already, playing every minute of the current Bundesliga season.
Upamecano possesses all the attributes one might use to define the ideal centre-back. His physique allows him to compete when tasked with marking the division’s top strikers, while his recovery pace offers the chance to atone for errors when caught out. No stranger to playing in defensive midfield, the Valenciennes academy product averages an impressive 3.13 interceptions and 2 tackles per 90. Upamecano is also dominant in the air, winning 66% of his aerial duels which leaves him ahead of Sokratis (59%), Mats Hummels (61%) and Jannick Vestergaard (65%) who are a lot taller than him.
Ligue 1: Houssem Aouar
There must be something in the water at Olympique Lyon, because they look to have produced yet another standout midfield talent in Houssem Aouar. Following in the footsteps of Maxime Gonalons, Jordan Ferri and Corentin Tolisso who have all broken through in recent years, Aouar has slotted into senior football with minimal fuss, outshining established players five or ten years his senior.
The 19-year-old can play a variety of midfield roles, but is most effective alongside a destroyer who affords him the freedom to push forward, take players on and break defensive lines with his passing. In his five Ligue 1 appearances this season, Aouar has completed 18 take ons which averages out to 6.09 (six!) per 90 minutes – a number that dwarfs Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir and Bertrand Traore who sit at 3.89, 1.42 and 1.80 respectively. He may not possess obvious star quality, but his silky first touch and ability to welcome the ball in tight areas are priceless for the modern game.
Serie A: Lucas Torreira
At first glance, Lucas Torreira doesn’t stand out – literally. At 5ft 6in tall he needs to look up to Radja Nainggolan, one of the shorter midfielders in Serie A. However, in spite of his physical limitation, the 21-year-old Uruguayan is considered one of the most exciting players in Italy and shows on a regular basis that intelligence can be just as important as size whilst battling for control.
Following his move from Pescara in 2016, Torreira has become a mainstay for Sampdoria and is at his best winning loose balls in front of the back four. He has made more interceptions (24) than any of his team-mates, while his pass completion percentage is bettered only by Vasco Regini, a player who has had far less time on the pitch. He is a combative, calculating presser of the ball and strong in the tackle with unrelenting stamina, improving consistently from a technical standpoint. Indeed, with his control, decision-making and passing, Torreira is an all-round midfield shield.
Wildcard: Hirving Lozano
For many players, transitioning from the comfort of their domestic leagues to the high standards of European football can be difficult. Similar concerns arose when Hirving Lozano signed for PSV from Liga MX side Pachuca, but the 22-year-old has taken to life in the Eredivisie with ease – scoring in a record-breaking seven of his first eight games for de Boeren.
Starting on the left side of a fluid front three, Lozano is a typically direct winger who enjoys running at defenders before cutting inside in search of goal scoring opportunities on his stronger right foot. In a similar fashion to Alexis Sanchez, he can create as well as score, using his speed and off-the-ball movement to find gaps between the defensive line. The Mexican currently creates 1.85 chances and averages 1.68 key passes per 90 minutes, numbers only Steven Berghuis of Feyenoord can better. If he can maintain his current level, another move will surely be on the cards.
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