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- The Series
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.
Last week at Outside of the Boot, we published our final issue of our Talent Radar Rankings for Goalkeepers and Defenders. Moving up the field, focus is now turned to the men in the middle of the park. Over the course of the season, we have tracked the progress of the best young midfielders out there. After several periodic updates of rankings, we now arrive at our final issue of midfield rankings before moving on to our end of the season awards.
Here is who has impressed us in recent times:
One of the most highly rated young players in the game today, Paul Pogba’s campaign with Juventus has been enough to get into our Top 10 list, just about making it. Having been around for a while now and having had his talent recognised, much was and still is expected by Pogba. With Allegri taking charge of the ropes at Juventus at the start of the season, Pogba has featured in only 22 of Juventus’ league games (many expecting more). With 9 goals and 9 assists across all competitions, Pogba has managed to deliver when required. The 22 year old’s game is mature beyond his years; composure, physicality, dribbling and a viscous strike, we certainly think Pogba can do much better and if we were given the promo code for William Hill, we’d certainly bet on him doing significantly better..
England’s most highly rated young midfielder at the moment, Raheem Sterling is the youngest to make it to our Top 10 list. In what looks like a season that has seen several ups and several downs for Liverpool, Sterling has been able to perform on the pitch more often than not. To give you a measure of how important he has been, Sterling has amassed 50 appearances in the Liverpool outfit this season across all competitions and the season isn’t even over yet. At 20 and given his playing style of being a small pacey kind of player, both club and country should do well to sustain him as a player rather than burn him out. Sterling’s situation sits precariously, as layers and layers of rumours pile up regarding Liverpool and contract talks.
If FC Twente has positives to take away from this season, one of them is Hakim Ziyech. The 22 year old Dutchman has been involved in a fraction short of 40% of all of Twente’s goals this campaign, scoring 15 and assisting 13. Ziyech has improved his game quite drastically, bringing more to the table; he has worked on his free kick taking, improved on this through balls, hold up play and long range shots as well. For Ziyech to perform this brilliantly in what is a mid table club in the Eredivisie, it’s not hard to see past bigger clubs coming and knocking for his signature. Ziyech has got himself on the Talent Radar Team of the Week on multiple occasions.
The only Brazilian to feature on this list, Felipe Anderson’s performances over the past months have helped him break into our list of Top 10 Young Midfielders. Anderson has been used in as many as 6 positions this season but since the majority of them were as an attacking midfielder, he makes the cut here. He has featured 32 times this season for the Italian outfit, scoring 11 and assisting 9 so far. Anderson has been experimented with this season by being allowed to play out wide but Stephano Pioli has come to see that the Brazilian is a country mile better when let loose in the centre of the field. Excellent at long range shots and dribbling, Lazio has much credit to give to Felipe if they secure the Champions League spot this season.
Still in the race for the Champions League qualification, Leverkusen are another team that have had their campaign fueled by the solid performances of a youngster, in this case, Calhanoglu.
In the news again in recent weeks for scoring a spectacular free kick, the Turk has featured 44 times for Leverkusen this campaign, scoring 12 goals and 10 assists in total. Hakan seems to have quite the arsenal: his ability to cut in and shot, take quality free kicks, accurate long range shots, crossing, etc. all add up to an excellent overall game that he offers, all at the age of 21.
World cup winner at age 22, Mario Gotze has been considered one of the best young players in the world for a significant duration of time now. After moving to Bayern, he may not be getting as many minutes as he did when at Dortmund, but Gotze has been given enough time by Guardiola to work his magic. The 22 year old’s season is often considered a disappointment in many eyes but assessing each situation individually, Gotze has offered far more to Bayern than what meets the eye. Through the entire campaign, the German has been plugged in to a variety of roles to cover up for injuries that have unfortunately frequented the Bayern squad. With this taken into consideration, 15 goals and 7 assists across all competitions is by no means a lesser overall performance.
The second of three Frenchmen in the top 10 midfielders list, Giannelli Imbula’s contributions may not impress someone who just has a look at his numbers but his contribution to Marseille’s Ligue 1 campaign has been immense. With teams across Europe evolving their formations to suit a more flooded midfield, the need for an all out defensive midfielder is well documented. Imbula’s performances this season puts him in the category of one of the best young defensive midfielders out there; a physical presence who is calm on the ball and isn’t afraid to take a shot from distance is much more than a decent package, weighing these and his age into the equation.
Ajax’s season may have been a second best effort in their eyes but a positive they can take from the campaign is how well another one of their many talented youngsters, Davy Klaassen has performed. Klaassen has contributed to Ajax’s performance in all of the competitions they have entered, scoring 8 goals and 12 assists. Over the course of the season, the youngster has improved his already excellent ability in the final third, bringing in the through balls and key passes you’d want your midfielders to deliver. It’s hard not to see him move to a bigger European league in a year or two.
Marco Verratti was at the summit of the Talent Radar rankings in our previous issue but dropping to number two takes nothing away from the fact that he is still the highest ranked defensive midfielder in our list. Through the course of the season, Verratti’s game has been of utmost importance to the French champions and this is largely evident in the few games that he has missed this season. It is genuinely great to see someone this young have such an air of maturity in his game; his tactical and positional sense a joy to focus and watch if you’re inclined to that side of the game. Verratti has clocked over 3300 minutes this season and has contributed with 3 goals and 8 assists across all competition.
It’s been a significantly positive season for Lyon and much of their progress is owed to the efforts of 21 year old Nabil Fekir. The Frechman has impacted his personal rankings as well, rising up our rankings from a previously placed third. After breaking into the first team last season, Fekir has raised his game to a different level, cementing his place in the starting line up, having featured over 35 times for the club. His on field performances have been nothing short of exemplary, with his numbers reading 14 goals and 13 assists (at the time of writing) across all competitions. The youngster has caught the eye of many big clubs and is capable of being the centre of a big money transfer if he can continue his excellent run.
Written by Razim Refai