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Tom Canton brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-19 players to watch out for in La Liga this season.
Spain has always been known for its pool of young talented footballers, from the legendary pairing of Xavi and Iniesta coming from Barcelona’s La Masia academy, to the gems that are discovered at the clubs fighting for survival at the foot of the table. Each season brings us more and more stars, some of whom will go on to become big names in the world of football. It is also the playground of young talent brought in on loan from other top European leagues, the fast attacking nature of the league allows these youngsters to gain valuable experience.
Now the new season is upon us, it is time to look at some of the youngsters who are looking to have their breakout seasons, or even build upon what they have already achieved so early in their career.
Mikel Oyarzabal // Real Sociedad // 19 // Winger
The young left sided winger has been a revelation for Real Sociedad. The Spaniard’s breakout came during the second half of last season, where he nailed down a starting spot for the Basque-based club on the left flank. Oyarzabal finished the campaign with 6 goals; in fact, he finished 3rd highest scorer behind strikers Agirretxe and Jonathas and most notably above Carlos Vela.
It is clear that even at such a young age the Spaniard has bundles of confidence. This is clearly evident from his style, the youngster likes to play with freedom on the field and is often seen making space in more central positions. When he does stick to the left-hand touchline though, his pace and dribbling ability allows him to challenge some of the league’s best right sided full-backs and centre-halves.
Looking to next season, Oyarzabal should retain his place on Sociedad’s left wing and will be joined in attack by new signing Willian Jose from Maldonado. The Brazilian spent last season on loan with Las Palmas where he scored 9 goals; he and Oyarzabal could form a formidable partnership heading into the new season.
Charly Musonda // Real Betis // 19 // Winger / Attacking Midfielder
Charly Musonda was signed by Betis on an 18-month loan deal from Chelsea in January. Since his arrival, the 19-year-old Belgian has become a regular feature for the Seville-based club. Adept with both his feet, Musonda’s low centre of gravity means he can be an extremely difficult player to take the ball from. The ball often is seen very close to his feet so he can pull off the arsenal of tricks and flicks he possesses.
A criticism would be that often he can be too introverted and try too much by himself. The Belgian can often find himself cornered and instead of passing the ball, he is susceptible to losing possession trying to trick his way out.
With 12 months still remaining on his loan deal, I would expect Musunda to continue getting regular game time at Betis as his versatility means he can play in any of the attacking midfield three positions.
Jeremie Boga // Granada // 19 // Attacking Midfielder
Similarly to Musonda, Jeremie Boga is another Chelsea loan player, this time of French nationality. Boga is thought of very highly by his parent club, a regular for his under-21 squad, he has begun his journey into first team football. Spending last season on loan in Ligue 1 with Rennes, the young French attacker impressed, scoring 2 goals in his 6 league starts for the club.
Unlike his Chelsea counterpart Musonda, Boga has a much more muscular frame and dealt with the physical nature of the French top division well. Despite being a broader specimen, Boga is still a very confident dribbler of the ball.
Boga will look to build upon his 6 starts for Rennes with much more playing time in the Spanish League. The loss of both Isaac Success and Ruben Rochina, has meant there is an opportunity to compete for places. As well as Boga, Granada have brought in attacking midfielder Jon Toral from Arsenal and it will be interesting to see how many minutes both youngsters get.
Cristian Rivera // Eibar // 19 // Central Midfielder
The 19-year-old central midfielder moved to the Basque-based club from Real Oviedo this summer. Still very fresh to first team competitive football, a move to Atletico Madrid was blocked in 2013 by Sporting Gijon; the club he graduated from as a youth player. After moving to Real Oviedo the following summer, the young Spaniard earned his breakout last season; the central midfielder started 4 matches and appeared as a substitute a further 8 times.
Rivera is naturally a central midfielder with the attributes to further his career in a more deep-lying role. For Eibar, Rivera will be competing with Dani Garcia for the defensive midfield slot; the 26-year-old has been a regular performer for Jose Luis Mendilibar.
Rivera will hope he gets a chance to show his worth in the Eibar side but may have to wait for his opportunity to shine.
Marlos Moreno // Deportivo de La Coruna // 19 // Striker
Another Premier League loanee, Marlos Moreno has joined Deportivo from Manchester City on a season-long loan deal. The Colombian forward was signed by City from Atletico Nacional for €5.5 million this summer, before immediately flying to Spain to gain valuable first team experience.
Moreno is a player who can draw comparisons with the aforementioned Musonda, he also possesses rapid pace and technical skill as Musonda, although the former has better physical attributes. At his former club Nacional, he played in all three attacking positions, however, during last season he was most successful on the right wing; scoring 2 goals and achieving 2 assists when played in the role.
His performances did not go unnoticed by the national side and he has represented his country 7 times scoring once at just 19-years of age. He will provide good diversity to a Deportivo side who lack pace and skill. It will be interesting to see how he and talisman Lucas Perez perform together, as the club from the North look to have a much improved season.
Adrian Marin // Leganes // 19 // Left Back
The 19-year-old left-back has already had a regular taste of first team football with parent-club Villarreal, however, with Bojan Jokic returning from his year-long loan at Nottingham Forest and the loan signing of Jose Angel from Porto, it was thought a loan move would be the best option for the young Spaniard.
He fortunately got into the Villarreal team when Jaume Costa was injured, but his performances certainly lessened the impact of the left-back’s absence. His inexperience did show in some matches but he certainly has the basic abilities to improve. He is a good reader of the game and his positional play for a young player is certainly at a good level.
He should get many opportunities at newly-promoted Leganes this season, he comes in after both Leganes’ left-backs left on free transfers; Cesar Soriano moving to Huesca and Luis Ruiz off to Cadiz. It seems obvious that Villarreal have earmarked Marin to be Jaume Costa’s eventual replacement but with the established full-back only 28, Marin may have a few more loan moves ahead of him.
Pape Cheikh Diop // Celta Vigo // 19 // Central Midfielder
Diop was a regularly interchanging between Celta’s La Liga team and their B-team counterpart throughout last season. It is clear that Berizzo and his management staff have deemed the young Senegalese midfielder as a player who could find a way into first team plans very soon; this clearly evident as Diop signed a new 5-year deal last summer.
Diop has played in several different central midfield roles but appears most natural in the standard centre midfield position. He has attributes which sway him in the direction a player who could, in the future, become a more attacking styled footballer.
Good with the ball at his feet and with an eye for a pass, Diop could provide some variety to Celta’s midfield for the coming season. Especially considering Celta’s lack of activity in the transfer market, Diop could find himself in direct completion with fellow youngsters Borja Fernandez, 21 and Nemanja Radoja, 23 for a starting spot.
Akram Afif // Sporting Gijon // 19 // Striker / Winger
I’ll admit, I am not the biggest fan of the Qatari league, however, I may have to invest some time in it depending on how new arrival Akram Afif performs this season. Signed by Villarreal from Al Sadd for an undisclosed fee, Afif was immediately loaned out to Sporting Gijon.
Afif is a versatile forward player who can play as either a striker or be shifted over to accommodate the left wing position. A very technical and skilful player, however, unlike several of the other young skilful players covered, Afif is a rather unselfish player and will pass the ball on when it is the best option to do so.
The move to La Liga will be a first, no Qatari player has ever played in Spain’s top flight and Afif has stated his desire to be one of Villarreal’s top performers in the future and hope to encourage more Qatari players to follow in his footsteps. In terms of Sporting, Afif could struggle to get opportunities. Although Sporting lost one of their stars Jony, they have brought in Moi Gomez, Burgui and Duje Cop; all excellent signings I should add.
Matias Nahuel // Real Betis // 19 // Winger
The Villarreal forward has signed a two-year loan deal with Betis and arrives in Seville with a reputation to build upon. After impressing for Villarreal’s B team during 2014/15 and the preseason which followed, Nahuel was promoted to the first team for the 2015/16 campaign and made 20 appearances, starting 11 games.
Nahuel failed to hit the net during his opportunities however, and the club has decided to allow the 19-year-old to leave. The contract includes an option for Betis to purchase him at the end of the deal, with a subsequent repurchase clause just in case Villarreal realise they made a mistake.
The forward was highly rated by the youth setup at El Madrigal, a small nippy player with an eye for goal, Nahuel had all the makings to be another one of Spain’s bright young stars. I have hopes that at Betis the youngster can recapture his previous form and one-day return to a club in same stature as Villarreal.
Diogo Jota // Atletico Madrid // 19 // Attacking Midfielder
I have saved the best for last. Atleti signed Jota from Pacos Ferreira for ~£2.5 million and heads to Simeone’s side with high praise.
I reached out to Football Radar’s Liga NOS expert Jamie Farr to get his thoughts on the player and he was kind enough to divulge the following information. He believes that Atleti have got a bargain for Jota, he is a “fantastic talent, versatile across attacking areas, although his favoured position is behind the striker.” Jamie added he feels a loan move could be sensible for the youngster but said he has all the makings to be a star.
High praise, I have done some extra digging and I can only concur with what Jamie has said. Very tidy and technically gifted player with the ball at his feet. Last season Jota scored 12 goals and achieved 8 assists.
At just 19-years-of-age, Jota looks to have secured the perfect move to be surrounded by the likes of Saul Niguez, Jose Maria Gimenez and Correa, who represent a system at Atleti famed for giving young talented players the opportunity to flourish.
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.