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.
Having recently published our final list of Top 5 Young Goalkeepers in 2014/15, we now move on to our final list of Top 10 Young Defenders in 2014/15. With the end of the season fast approaching, this list along with previous updates that we’ve have throughout the course of the season as well as our weekly Talent Radar Team of the Week articles will serve as a basis for our Talent Radar Young Player Awards. Last year saw Ricardo Rodriguez of German side Wolfsburg run away with the Talent Radar Award for Defender of the Year.
The following are the leading young defenders who have impressed us throughout the season:
10. RICARDO RODRIGUEZ // 22 // Wolfsburg // Switzerland // —
The dynamic young left-back makes his second appearance in the rankings after making the cut in issue 3. The Swiss International had a season to remember last time around and was adjudged Talent Radar Defender of the Season in the Talent Radar Young Player Awards (2013-14). After impressing in the World Cup, much was expected from Rodriguez as Wolfsburg set about their bid to challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga. Kevin De Bruyne’s emergence as the creative hub in the Wolfsburg attack has perhaps lessened the reliance on the 22 year-old but his attacking contribution is not to be underestimated. The left-back has enjoyed a good spell as Wolfsburg look to finish in 2nd place. His penalty also saw the German giants set up a DFB Pokal semifinal against Arminia Bielefeld. Having overcome the surprise package, Wolfsburg will take on Dortmund in the final with Rodriguez set to play a key role.
9. DANIELE RUGANI // 20 // Empoli (On loan from Juventus) // Italy // —
Juventus have a whole host of promising youngsters out on loan in Italy with Empoli defender Daniele Rugani one of the brighter prospects. A new entrant to the previous edition of the rankings, the 20 year-old keeps his spot in 9th place in the final edition of this season. The youngster has been a constant in the heart of the Empoli defence chalking up the minutes and gaining invaluable experience. He hasn’t received a booking yet this season, an impressive statistic for a centre half his age but one that comes as no surprise. The Italian under-21 International displays an intelligence on the pitch far beyond his years and is truly a joy to watch for fans of defending. Set to return to his parent club at the end of the season, Rugani could soon emerge as one of the best young defenders in the World.
8. JETRO WILLEMS // 21 // PSV Eindhoven // Holland // —
Jetro Willems is a young left back who has had a fine couple of months. Maintaining his spot in our Player rankings, Willems has earned this after some dazzling performances in the last few months, to follow up an excellent season in general. PSV Eindhoven have coasted to the Eredivisie title, and many of their young players, led by their fine young manager, have been terrific. The last couple of months have also seen Willems make an appearance for Holland too, against Spain in an international friendly, and play the full 90 minutes. His attacking tendencies have held him in good stead, allowing him to pick up 12 assists in his 28 appearances this season. That’s an incredible number because it’s more than a lot of other creative midfielders across the continent. His work down the left has been an important dimension of the PSV attack. Willems has put himself in contention for the Netherlands’ left back spot with his performances, and will look to step it up next season.
7. CALUM CHAMBERS // 20 // Arsenal // England // 3 ↓
When Chambers was signed by Arsenal, he was probably intended to be used as a back up to the first team players, like Debuchy, Koscielny, and Mertesacker. However, injuries meant that he got a lot of game time, and he performed very well to keep his place in the side for a long time. Of late though, the Arsenal players have recovered from their injuries, and made their way back into the starting 11, which means that Chambers hasn’t been a regular starter.
Moreover, with the emergence of Hector Bellerin, his opportunities at right back have also dried up a little. This has led to him dropping down the pecking order a little bit in our rankings. There’s no reason for any fans of his to be concerned though. he’s just 20, and there will be many opportunities for this super talented defender to establish his spot in the Gunners’ first team.
6. JUAN BERNAT // 22 // Bayern Munich // Spain // 4 ↓
The former Valencia left back has experienced a meteoric rise this season. If the move to Bayern Munich came as a surprise, then his continued presence in the starting line up must have come as a bigger surprise. The defender has justified his inclusion there though, with consistent performances over the course of the season. Bernat has been a regular feature on this list because of his incredible performances for the freshly crowned German champions. He put in an excellent shift in the recent Champions League second leg against Porto as well, but has dropped down the list because of a few indifferent performances. He has the opportunity to rise though, with some big big games coming up in the next few weeks. Bernat is sure to be a mainstay for both club and country in the coming years, with his careful positioning in defence, proving to be the perfect foil to his energy and technical ability going forward. Add his versatility to the mix, and you have a winning combination.
5. JOSE GIMENEZ // 20 // Atletico Madrid // Uruguay // 7 ↑
After breaking in to our Top 10 Young Defenders list in our last issue, Jose Gimenez has continued his rise in the rankings, climbing to 5th place. The 20 year-old has impressed many this season with the Spanish champions, and has been a frequent feature in our Talent Radar Team of the Week articles. After spending much of the initial part of the season watching from the bench, Gimenez has put in stellar performances for the capital club, so much so that they have managed only one defeat in all the games he has featured in. With the defensive unit that Atleti are, it’s nice to see a youngster stake his claim in there for now and for seasons to come.
4. LAYVIN KURZAWA // 22 // Monaco // France // 6 ↑
A muscle strain earlier this season meant that Kurzawa missed a handful of games, causing him to drop in our previous issue of Defender Rankings but since then, the 22 year-old has pulled back and risen from 6th place to 4th. After cementing his place in this Monaco side, 2014 was a break though on the international frontier for the Frenchman, having earned his debut for the senior national team. Over the span of the season, we’ve seen Kurzawa develop a necessary sense of composure on the ball and has upped his attacking game by a significant margin. While work can still be done on his defensive side, he is well on his way to fit the bill for a team that requires a more attacking minded full back who can stretch the opposition back four.
3. RAPHAEL VARANE // 22 // Real Madrid // France // 5 ↑
One of the better known names on our list of Top Defenders, Varane has made great strides in our rankings, having placed 8th two updates go and then climbing to 5th, he has pulled himself up to third place in our final player ranking updates for this season. Since his move from Lens four years ago, this season was the first time that Varane has featured over 40 games for the Madrid outfit across all competitions. Watching Varane teaches you one thing (same as what Maldini taught us), that defending isn’t about putting in bone breaking tackles and clipping ankles; it’s much more efficient if you get your positioning right, a feature that Varane seems to have improved on every time we watch him. It’s rather sad that this year’s Talent Radar is the last one Varane will feature in; he’s been the face of our segment consistently since its inception.
2. SVEN VAN BEEK // 20 // Feyenoord // Holland // 1 ↓
Scout report | Sven van Beek: Feyenoord’s young centre-back
Having previously owned the number 1 spot in our Defenders Rankings, Sven van Beek has slipped down to second spot, which isn’t that bad considering he’s still the highest rated centre-back in our list. The 20 year-old has received an astonishing amount of game time this season; over 3500 minutes in all competitions. Chipping in with 2 goals and 2 assists in the league, what has really been taken note of is van Beek’s improvement over the years as a part of the Feyenoord team. This season, van Beek’s talent was on full display: very composed on the ball, he probably is one of the best in terms of passing in this list. As a centre-back, it’s not all sideways passes for this young fellow, as he is quite fond of getting play started right from the back. A physical specimen, he is quite towering in the air and a hard hitting centre-back, the kind we all love to watch. No wonder Fred Rutten has voiced positive opinions about him quite frequently.
1. JOSE GAYA // 19 // Valencia // Spain // 2 ↑
Scout Report | Jose Gaya: Valencia’s Young left-back
Jose Gaya has consistently risen through our Player Rankings, being placed 3rd two issues ago, 2nd in our last issue and now sits pretty on top of the rankings in our final issue of the Defender Rankings. Still 19 years old, Gaya has managed to seal that left back spot in Nuno Santo’s team all for himself. The youngster has managed to earn over 2600 minutes of game time, and has balanced his defensive role with his attacking contributions: 2 goals and 4 assists, all but one of which were produced in the league. Having been B a graduate of the Valencia Mestalla, securing Champions League qualification with Valencia will mean that much more to him. Over the course of the season, Gaya has improved his in-game concentration, has looked very comfortable on the ball, improved his crossing and clearly shown that he isn’t afraid to put in a tackle. Gaya wraps up our Talent Radar Top 10 Young Defenders Rankings, deservedly so at the very top.