Our Talent Radar Player Rankings, along-with our Talent Radar Team of the Week documents the progress of youngsters across Europe, with those featuring in these regular pieces, eventually being recognised in our end of season Talent Radar Young Player Awards and 100 Best Young Players to Watch list. Read this document for all your queries on Talent Radar and explanation of the features under it.
The Talent Radar Player Rankings took a bit of a sabbatical for about a month, which means we’ve had plenty of games to take into consideration before publishing the latest version. With plenty of action, there has been a lot of chopping & changing in the rankings. First place has been displaced, lack of action and injuries have forced a lot of players to drop places and there are still ‘newcomers’ joining the top 10 young defenders ranking list.
10. MARQUINHOS // 20 // Paris Saint-Germain // Brazil // 2 ↓
After initially having made huge progress at the start of the season and establishing a place in Laurent Blanc’s starting XI, Marquinhos has lost his place following Thiago Silva’s return from injury and concerns over the 20-year-olds own fitness. He did however put in a good shift in PSG’s 3-2 win over Barcelona in the Champions League, particularly making that block from Jordi Alba’s shot and following it up with a passionate celebration.
But besides that game, Marquinhos has only started one other since the previous issue and made a late cameo in Le Classique. A fall from 2nd place in the rankings may only be the start of his drop in place, with Silva and David Luiz potentially cementing the centre-back partnership. Read a detailed Scout Report on Marquinhos here.
9. TIN JEDVAJ // 18 // Bayer Leverkusen (on loan from AS Roma) // Croatia // 4 ↓
Tin Jedvaj had it all at the start of the season, he was scoring goals, conceding own goals, playing in the centre of defence and getting forward (very forward) from his right back position. This versatility continued since the last issue of the rankings, shifting flanks to left-back and even coming on as a substitute to play as a defensive midfielder against Schalke. Not the brightest move by coach Roger Schmidt, he never looked at home in that role and 5 minutes before time, was shown a straight red for an awful challenge.
The suspension has halted his run of regular starts, but his performances have been far from ideal as he looks to fit into the gegenpressing approach. Read a detailed Scout Report on Tin Jedvaj here.
8. RAPHAËL VARANE // 21 // Real Madrid // France // new entrant
Varane is arguably the best young centre-back in the world, and will likely feature in most enthusiasts list of best defenders irrespective of age based purely on his ability. But it’s unlikely the Frenchman will ever reach the top of our rankings. Playing for a club of Real’s stature, games are hard to come by with Pepe & Sergio Ramos the preferred starters.
But Varane has shown his exceptional talent and defensive intelligence in the games that he has played. His performance in the 5-0 win over Villarreal showed just how valuable a defender he is, while two clean-sheets in the two Liverpool games further documented just how good a footballer he is, particularly for his age.
7. ERIC DIER // 20 // Tottenham Hotspur // England // 6 ↓
The Spurs man started off the year as the only defender in the history of the Premier League to have scored two goals in his first two games. But ever since his early season performances propelled him towards the top of these rankings, it has since pretty much been down-hill.
Seemingly permanently pushed to the right-back role, Dier has struggled to find his early season form with Spurs themselves in a poor run of games. A string of similar performances saw Dier dropped from the squad, with no direct benefit to Spurs’ results which has seen them earn a mere 14 points from 11 Premier League games.
6. DAVID ALABA // 22 // Bayern Munich // Austria // new entrant
We still seem pretty stupid calling David Alaba a ‘talent’ don’t we? The Austrian international is the most experienced player in this list of top 10 young defenders, having played massive games at the top level, winning plenty of accolades and all this at the age of 22, arguably making him the best player in his age group. Like another team-mate of his who we will see feature in a bit, we were unsure as to the right ‘position’ of Alaba, given Pep Guardiola’s versatile & flexible formations.
For convenience sake, he remains in defence despite having played in the centre. His usual role has been at centre-back in a three-man defence, or left-back when there are four; either way, runs forward, into the box, through the centre and into channels are still a regular feature.
5. SVEN VAN BEEK // 20 // Feyenoord // Netherlands // 10 ↑
Since the last version of these rankings were issued over a month back (yeah, we’ve lacked consistency), Sven van Beek has played seven games with Feyenoord and conceded just one in that period. Though those games include two Europa League fixtures which we don’t take into consideration, that is a remarkable feat that has seen the club linger around top spot.
Sven van Beek, partnered by fellow youngster Terrence Kongolo (who just missed out on entering this list) have put in a string of solid performances. Having had to replaced another youthful partnership of Stefan de Vrij & Bruno Martins Indi this season, the new young duo have more than filled the boots seeing van Beek rise five places up from 10th.
4. JUAN BERNAT // 21 // Bayern Munich // Spain // 9 ↑
Another one of Pep Guardiola’s players that has left us pulling our head over judgements of his actual position, comes in at #4. The Spaniard’s meteoric rise from serious Valencia potential to a confident mature Bundesliga player is largely down to the coaching of the ex-Barca boss. With Bayern varying between 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations (which never remain once the game proceeds, they morph and transition into something completely different), Juan Bernat has taken up roles in the centre of midfield, as a wide midfielder and his preferred left-back role.
Having followed the youngster closely since last season, the development has been incredible and light years ahead of what one would have expected. He is yet to miss a single Bayern game, having made appearances in each of their Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB Pokal and even the Super Cup fixtures. Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Juan Bernat.
3. JOSÉ GAYÁ // 19 // Valencia // Spain // 8 ↑
When Jordi Alba left for Barcelona, Juan Bernat stepped up, and when he left for Bayern Munich, the role has been thrust upon Jose Gaya. While his predecessors too took up the position at a young age and impressed, Jose Gaya has been no different, as showcased by his exceptional start to the season. Although the level of performances have dropped a bit since the earlier issues in terms of attacking prowess, defensively he continues to develop well, growing into a good all-round full-back option.
His performance particularly away to Real Sociedad was praised, where he managed to keep the explosive Carlos Vela from getting into the game. Along with his fellow Spaniard in Juan Bernat, Jose Gaya leads another season of quality young left-backs, after so many impressed last season. Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Jose Gaya.
2. LAYVIN KURZAWA // 22 // AS Monaco // France // 1 ↓
Another one of those young left-backs to have impressed incredibly last season, has continued his good form this season. While he too has been incredible in an attacking sense (as regular readers of this website and the Talent Radar feature will know of our love for his cross against Nantes), it’s his defensive improvement that has further highlighted his overall development and kept him sticking high up in the top 10 young defenders rankings, despite relinquishing first place.
While Monaco has had an inconsistent start, many have noted their defensive showings thus far, partly helped by Kurzawa’s development. In addition to Ligue 1 games, the left-back has played every minute of all four of the sides’ Champions League fixtures, where they’ve conceded just 1 goal.
1. CALUM CHAMBERS // 19 // Arsenal // England 3 ↑
A newcomer to top spot is Arsenal’s 19-year-old right-back Calum Chambers. Though Arsenal have been unconvincing in their performances, dropping winnable points, Calum Chambers (along with fellow new signing, Alexis Sanchez) has been a rare shining light in the season. Arsenal’s lack of defensive options has been widely highlighted, and Calum Chambers has had to alternate between central defence and at full-back, but it’s his favourable position out-wide that has seen him consistently be deployed in.
Rising from third spot in the previous rankings, the ex-Southampton man has only gone from strength to strength. Unlike the full-backs before him, Chambers was always noted for his defensive solidity that allowed him to play centrally, but at the Emirates, it’s his attacking play that has improved. Recently against Burnley in what was shaping up to be a poor 0-0 draw, he turned the game, setting up the first and scoring the second in an eventual 3-0 winner. Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Calum Chambers back when he burst onto the scene with Southampton.
MORE READING: Talent Radar Player Rankings across all positions and Talent Radar Team of the Week.
Written by Sami Faizullah
Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
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