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Judging the calibre of a young player is often a tricky task. Perceived potential has an important bearing in any consideration and is just one of the many parameters to consider when trying to quantify the ability of football’s young stars. To add a basis to what may be a leap of faith, it is useful to look back and trace the growth, or indeed lack thereof, in young players.
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.
[Eligibility: As of 1st June 2016 – 21 years old and below]
With the final international break of the season now behind us, teams are well and truly on the final stretch of the season, and on the road to sweet success, or bitter disappointment, based on how performances and results pan out from here on. Let’s look at how the defender rankings look as we move towards crunch time.
While many believe that the prominence of full backs as participants in the attack and defence makes them the pre-eminent force in these rankings and their importance to teams, recent times have seen them moved into midfield, with many teams opting to go with 3 at the back. As a consequence, this list is dominated by many center backs.
The first four from the bottom are all center backs. Benfica’s star man Victor Lindelof is the one starting off this list, and retaining his place at the bottom of the rankings. Aside from the disappointing loss to Dortmund in the Champions League, Lindelof and Benfica have enjoyed good results, keeping clean sheets in 3 of their last 4 league games. Also retaining his spot is Andreas Christensen. The Chelsea loanee has been crucial to Gladbach’s defensive hopes, with some solid performances helping stabilise their league position. He’ll be important to the hopes of whichever team he does end up at next season.
Above the two defenders who have retained their spots are two new entrants. Firstly, from Bilbao, Yeray Alvarez. The Ernesto Valverde led side have as always, proven to be a tough proposition for their opponents, and are in a heated race for a European football place. Alvarez has been a terrific addition to the team this season, and has slowly risen to stake his claim for a starting place alongside Laporte. His reading of the game has been important to his rise. Just above him is Emanuel Mammana. The Argentine has slowly and steadily improved his performances and grown in importance. The Argentine has only made 14 appearances this season due to the injuries he’s suffered, but is now making his presence felt now.
Continuing his drop, sadly, is Hector Bellerin. The Spanish right back started the season very well, but injuries laoid waste to large parts of his season. Even after his return, his form hasn’t exactly been inspirational, and Wenger will be hoping for a swift return to usual service to sustain Arsenal’s top 4 hopes. Like Bellerin, Benjamin Henrichs too, has seen his star fall a little bit, along with his team’s performances. The versatile full back has shown his defensive capabilities, though they haven’t always been displayed during the horrid last month that ended up costing Schmidt his job.
We have branded Ramy Bensebaini as inconsistent in the past, and for good reason. However, the Algerian has improved over the course of the season, and become a rock at the back for Rennes. The mid table outfit conceded just 2 goals in all of March, and have 2 clean sheets in their last 2 games. Bensebaini, along with Joris Gnagnon, another young defender, is emerging as a prime prospect to take the crown as one of the top defenders in the league.
The top 3 have a new entrant, but one man stays put. The future Bayern Munich defender, Niklas Sule, drops 1 spot to third place. Hoffenheim certainly weren’t favourites to be in the top 3 at this point of the season in August, but their long unbeaten run sees him in the Champions League spot. Sule has been a solid presence in this tight defensive unit, and his individual form and skills have earned him global recognition.
In second place is the topper from last time, Davinson Sanchez. The ball playing defender sees a small drop in his ranking, though this hasn’t got as much to do with him, as it does the man above him. The ball playing defender has been a central force as Ajax have slowly cut Feyenoord’s lead at the top of the standings to just 3 points after a great win at the Arena. Sanchez remains a solid part of their build up play, and his overall play keeps him close to the top.
The man atop the tree though is Benjamin Mendy. The Monaco left back has worked very well in tandem with his wingers all season, especially Thomas Lemar. This last month has seen Monaco emerge as a genuine dark horse across multiple competitions. The full back has 5 assists to his name, and made it to the France squad as well for the recent friendlies. His performance down his wing against the likes of De Bruyne will be fondly remembered by Monaco fans for a very long time.