As club football at winds up in Spain, we look back at some of the best young players that have stood out this season. Amongst the many that have impressed, we pick out league’s XI best young performers to create the U-22 La Liga Team of the Year. You can read this to know more about Talent Radar to see who is eligible for this player tracking feature.
Sergio Rico // Sevilla // Spain // 21
The reserve goalkeeper is one of the stranger positions in the squad. Managers don’t tend to rotate ‘keepers unlike the outfield positions. Thus, ‘keepers have to play more of a waiting game and take their opportunity as it presents itself. That is exactly what Sergio Rico has done this season after injuries to Beto and Barbosa thrust him into the spotlight. The 21 year old has been solid in between the sticks and did enough to nail down the starting spot in this XI.
Jose Gimenez // Atletico Madrid // Uruguay // 20
After the kind of season that Atletico Madrid had in 2013-14, any center back in the world would’ve baulked at the prospect of trying to break into the team, with the combination of Miranda and Godin looming large. However, young Gimenez has slowly, but surely, made his mark on the side. Impressive performances have been shown whenever he’s had the opportunity, and with Godin aging, and Miranda constantly being linked to a move, Rojiblancos fans will be relieved to see the emergence of a strong young center back like Gimenez. The Uruguayan is a tough player, much like his senior colleagues, though there are some aspects of his game that still need to be ironed out.
Raphael Varane // Real Madrid // France // 22
France have a number of young centre-backs to call upon and the undisputed leader of the pack is none other than Raphael Varane. The 22 year-old has proved to be an asset for his national side as well as club Real Madrid at the heart of the defence. He ticks most boxes for a defender being more than comfortable on the ball and boasts an ability to read the game well. The 22 year-old also excels at the sliding tackle, an art much appreciated by football fans the world over.
Aymeric Laporte // Athletic Bilbao // France // 20
Partnering his countryman, Varane is none other than 20 year-old Aymeric Laporte. The French defender reads the game well but can use his electric pace to recover if caught out. The left-footed Laporte can slot in at left-back as well but it’s at centre-back his qualities shine through. He is calm and composed on the ball capable of bringing it out of the defence to supplement the attack. However, what stands out the most is his leadership ability. Even at the tender age of 20, the Frenchman has emerged as a leader in the Athletic defence and could well do the same for France.
Jose Gaya // Valencia // Spain // 19
Valencia seem to have some sort of magic formula for producing quality left backs. Following in the footsteps of Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat, we have Jose Gaya. The academy graduate has made that spot of the team his own after steadily improving performances over the course of the season. The player’s work on the ball has only gotten better with game time, and he’s contributed well for Los Che going forward. His position in our Talent Radar Player Rankings also rose as the season progressed, reflecting our faith in his abilities and performances. Playing in the Champions League next season will be a just reward for all the efforts that he, and his team, have made over the season.
Saul Niguez // Atletico Madrid // Spain // 20
Another one of the youngsters being brought through at Atletico Madrid, Saul Niguez is being eased into the side by Diego Simeone. Mostly deployed on the left wing, Saul is a versatile player with an eye for goal. While he hasn’t set La Liga on fire, the youngster needs to remain patient because of the quality in front of him, and work hard to impress when he does get the opportunity. Not that he hasn’t, considering his stable performances. He even scored a great bicycle kick against Real Madrid in the 4-0 win at home in the league, and this, if nothing else, will always endear him to the Rojiblancos faithful.
Sergi Darder // Malaga // Spain // 21
Darder is one of the players who has made his name for his graft and hard work. Playing at Malaga, after having come through their academy, he is a player who is adored by their fans, for his efforts, and his performances in the big games. Darder is an all round talent, able to make contributions going forward and defending. His competitive nature and combative style make it very difficult for the opposition against him, and his performance is always the key for Malaga.
Federico Cartabia // Cordoba (on loan from Valencia) // Argentina // 22
Having spent most of his teens in Valencia’s youth academy, this summer of 2014 seemed a good time for Cartabia to get out there and get some experience. Cordoba manager Jose Antonio Morilla welcomed him with open arms and gave him his fair share of game time where the youngster did not fail to impress. The 4 goals and 5 assists that the 22 year old contributed made up nearly half the goals Cordoba managed to score in the entirety of the past season. Typical South American fashion, Cartabia is one that can provide sparks on the field with his excellent dribbling ability. Cordoba may have gone down but it’s certain the Cartabia can fit the profile of a La Liga club.
Luciano Vietto // Villarreal // Argentina // 21
With several Argentine forwards putting on a good show in the Serie A, Luciano Vietto was the country’s representative in the La Liga. Villarreal may walk away from this season feeling they could have done better but they have certainly unearthed a quality talent in Vietto; in what was his first season at the club, the 21 year old amassed 20 goals and 8 assists, performing consistently in the league as well as in Europe. With the club making the cut for Europe again, next season will be a solid test for the youngster who will have plenty of expectations to deal with this time.
Leo Baptistao // Rayo Vallecano (on loan from Atletico Madrid) // Brazil // 22
Having missed a major chunk of the season due to injury, Leo Baptistao did manage to impress many with what time he had on the pitch. Much of Rayo’s goal threat this season was from Alberto Bueno but Baptistao managed to do a good job to ease the pressure off of his team mate, chipping in with 7 goals and an assist this season. The Brazilian has been through two loan spells now, the latter better than the former in terms of performances and if he wishes to mingle with the best players the sport has to offer, he has to make sure that his progression is steadily on a rise.
Paco Alcacer // Valencia // Spain // 21
Valencia sealed their return to the Champions League by finishing 4th edging out Sevilla by a single point. Jose Gaya has already featured in the list and it’ll come as little surprise to see Paco Alcacer slot in upfront. The 21 year-old has been excellent upfront with a commendable haul of 11 goals and 5 assists. Always on the lookout for space, Alcacer has made a name for himself earning his first senior call up this season and wasted no time in finding the back of the net.