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]
The best teams in the world of football are stepping up their game and making sure they achieve their objectives as the end of the season draws near. While some usual suspects populate the top of the league tables of Europe, a few pleasant surprises like Monaco also find themselves near glory. While there’s no telling how things will end, there are players who will influence outcomes. Here are 10 of these influencers, pulling the strings from midfield.
Making an entry to this list for the first time this season, quite surprisingly, is Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese winger has been excellent for Monaco, with his silky skills marking him out as a talent to really watch carefully. Silva can play on either wing, and has been useful in conjunction with Thomas Lemar. The wingers have formed a great attacking unit, scoring at almost 3 goals a game in the league.
Moving up a spot in the rankings is Franck Kessie. The Ivory Coast midfielder has been critical, alongside Freuler, as Gasperini and co are mounting an unlikely challenge for the European spots. Playing as part of what is generally a midfield duo, Kessie has adapted very well to become a master of all trades. He’s scored 6 goals (joint 2nd highest for his team), and also has 3 assists to his name. His defensive game is quite developed too, though he often leaves that responsibility to his midfield partner.
Dropping a spot is Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City youngster has definitely improved under Guardiola, but still hasn’t found the consistency to realise his world class potential. Another drop in form recently has seen him drop out of the side. Sterling might want to take a cue from his teammate Leroy Sane to aid City’s development into a deadly counterattacking threat.
Sassuolo aren’t a team that really make waves near the top end of the table, but have made a great impact on Serie A ever since making it into the big league. Their faith in young players like Pellegrini and Berardi has paid off well, and Sassuolo look set to extend their stay in Serie A for at least 1 more season. The creative midfielder has been the go to guy for Sassuolo going forward this year, with 6 goals and 6 assists placing him near the top of both lists for his side.
While Pellegrini has risen in the rankings, a man who has seen his star fall a bit since the start of the season is Corentin Tolisso. Lyon were the last team to make a real title challenge for PSG’s crown, but since then, Monaco seem to have overtaken them. Tolisso and Lyon will have their chance to take on Monaco very soon, but until then, we can reflect on a fairly successful season for the midfielder. He’s got 8 goals and 4 assists from a slightly deeper midfield position. His athleticism has been on show, and a real complement to the skills of players like Lacazette and Fekir.
Staying put is Ousmane Dembele. Dembele has genuinely been a consistent performer over the course of the season, staying near the top of these rankings. Dembele has been a real asset for Tuchel, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that he’s still a teenager. His pace, skill, and creativity have been utilised across the pitch. He proved to be a strong goal threat when played in behind Aubameyang, a good counter attacker in wide areas, and a fine creative presence when used in a deeper role. Dembele might rise all the way to the top by the time we see this list again.
2 of the top 4 names on this list are from Monaco, proving the dominance of their young players. At 4 and 3 are Lemar and Bakayoko. The duo made their international bows for France in a friendly against Spain last month in a match that will be better remembered for the use of video technology. While Bakayoko of course, didn’t have a great game, the focus will probably stay on the pair’s achievements at club level. Lemar has mostly played down the left, combining with the rampant Mendy to supply the likes of Falcao and Mbappe. His teammate, Bakayoko, has run midfields in Ligue 1 all season long, and a great goal against Manchester City did nothing to harm his burgeoning reputation. The physically dominant midfielder will be key to their title hopes, in both France and Europe.
Making the move up all the way from 6th to 2nd on our list is Dele Alli. The Spurs midfielder has been incredible since Christmas, drawing comparisons to names like Lampard and Gerrard. Spurs have dragged themselves into a title race that looked dead and buried a month ago, with goals and assists from Alli galore. The young Englishman, alongside an old favourite of ours, Heung Min Son, filled a Kane shaped hole very well indeed. It should be interesting to see him for the rest of the season with some big games coming up.
The top man though is Naby Keita. Those that have followed these rankings, openodds.com and our TOTW feature know all about Naby Keita. He started the season off as a deep lying midfielder, whose job was to protect the back 4, but 8 goals 7 assists later, it’s safe to say he’s exceeded expectations. Energy, physicality, technical, and tactical brilliance are the hallmarks of his game. Keita has been Leipzig’s best player and driving force. Led by him, Leipzig have surprised the football world, and find themselves ahead of teams like Dortmund in 2nd place in the Bundesliga.