Tom Canton lists out the 10 young players to watch in the 2017-18 La Liga season, who could have a breakthrough campaign.
Enzo Zidane // Deportivo Alaves // 22 // Versatile Midfielder
Enzo Zidane was allowed to leave his father’s club after making just one appearance with the senior squad – an appearance in which he scored. Now though, he has signed a 3-year deal with Deportivo Alaves. The Basque club had a sterling season last term finishing 9th as well as reaching the Copa del Rey final and will look to achieve similarly this year. Enzo should get many more opportunities and with a strong record playing both left, right and central midfield for Real’s Castilla side scoring five and assisting five more, the Frenchman may find a release from the unfortunate stigma of being a footballing icon’s son away from Los Blancos.
Asier Villalibre // Athletic Bilbao // 19 // Centre Forward
It is becoming an increasingly worrying prospect for Athletic Bilbao fans as the time at the top for Aritz Aduriz reaches its conclusion. The 36-year-old club talisman is nearing the end of his career and the fate of the Basque country’s top club’s striking role remains a mystery. Asier Villalibre could be the man to fill that gap. Although fellow youngster Inaki Williams has been played in the centre forward role on a number of occasions, Villalibre is a much more natural central player. The 19-year-old spent the majority of last season at Athletic’s B team, there he scored eleven goals and assisted a further four. Furthermore, he played eight times for the first team and recorded an assist on his senior competitive debut in both the Europa League and Primera Division. Time will tell if the Spaniard can be Bilbao’s next number one striker.
Enes Unal // Villarreal // 20 // Centre Forward
“If his development continues according to plan, he has every chance to become the best in the world.” read Outside of the Boot‘s Scout Report on the Turkish youngster. Very high praise indeed but Unal’s rise has been, as predicted, stunted by his move to Manchester City and subsequent loan moves. Now though, Unal finds himself permanently situated in Spain at one of their top clubs Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine forked out over £12 million for Unal’s signature which is certainly a statement that they will give the Turk plenty of opportunities. To compete with Bakambu, Sansone and newly joined Bacca will be a tough task but one he’ll surely relish. Keep an eye on this one.
Alvaro Odriozola // Real Sociedad // 21 // Right-Back
The right-back situation at Real Sociedad has always been a position that has seen a strong amount of change over recent years. It has been mostly battled out between Aritz Elustondo and Joseba Zaldua with both having their flaws. However, the second half of last season saw a young full-back from the club’s second string take up occupancy in the right-back position – Alvaro Odriozola. A very pacey and quick thinking full back, this season will be pivotal for the young Spaniard to show he has the ability to be a Primera Division starter for a top half club – he certainly has the quality and potential to do so.
Maxi Gomez // 20 // Celta Vigo // Centre Forward
Celta Vigo made up for their lower league finish in 2016/17 with excellent cup runs, reaching the semi-final of both the Copa del Rey and Europa League. The success was hugely down to the performance of star striker Iago Aspas who scored twenty-six goals in all competitions last season. Vigo though have begun looking to the future with Aspas turning 30 this summer. New manager Juan Carlos Unzue, who was formerly assistant manager to Luis Enrique at both Celta and Barcelona, has brought in highly rated Uruguayan Maxi Gomez from Defensor. In his homeland, the youngster scored fifteen goals in twenty-seven games in all competitions last season. Quick, clinical and commanding in the air, Gomez is a different dimension to Aspas and with John Guidetti failing to take several first team opportunities, this aspiring South American is sure to have a say in the season’s proceedings.
Nemanja Maksimovic // 22 // Valencia // Central Midfielder
Another season, another chance for Valencia to try and recover from their fall from grace. However, this time, Valencia have got a manager with bags of league experience – former Villarreal coach Marcelino. The Spaniard has already made several changes and looks to have the club playing good football again, if preseason is anything to go by. One addition has been to bring in 22-year-old Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic. Formerly of Kazakhstan giants Astana, the central midfielder is a direct replacement for the outbound Enzo Perez. He is most known for scoring the winning goal in the 2015 U-20s World Cup to gain Serbia its first international footballing honour as an independent nation. Maksimovic looks to be a good signing for the troubled Mestella dwellers, his technical ability and strength will be a breath of fresh air to the previously fragile midfield. It is now down to him to show the new boss his qualities to get him into the team.
Joaquin Correa // 22 // Sevilla // Winger
After signing from Sampdoria in the summer of 2016, Joaquin Correa was not expected to feature so soon under Jorge Sampaoli. The manager however saw plenty of match minutes as a bit-part player during the first half of last season, minutes which became more frequent towards the season’s conclusion. This year is a huge one for Correa; now 22 and at a big European club with senior squad members such as Vitolo leaving the team, Correa must show new manager Eduardo Berizzo that he should be consistently starting. He has impressed in preseason and with Sevilla’s acquisitions of experienced internationals such as Nolito and returning fan favourite Jesus Navas, he needs to continue that form into the season and begin to add to the 8 goals and 3 assists he achieved last year; a feat his quality certainly sets him up to achieve.
Jordi Calavera // 22 // Eibar // Right-Back
Of our 10, Jordi Cavalera is most likely to be our ‘long-shot’ option. Eibar have been a revelation since their gargantuan rise to Spain’s top tier. Several players can be picked out as key stones of this success. In particular, is the attacking full-back Capa. This is the player which our ‘one-to-watch’ must supersede to achieve first team selection. Calavera spent last season on loan at CD Lugo, playing forty games in the league scoring two and assisting two more. Imaginative coach Jose Mendilibar has the opportunity to release Capa further forward and let Calavera continue his fine form into the new season as the starting full-back – he has earned it based on last season’s performances.
Federico Valverde // 19 // Deportivo de la Coruna (on loan from Real Madrid) // Central Midfielder
In the ever-growing evidence that Real Madrid’s first team is becoming the more dominant Spanish side, their youth setup is even beginning to overshadow the famous La Masia of Barcelona. Another player which is stepping out of the Castilla side and looking to get Primera Division experience is 19-year-old Federico Valverde. The young Uruguayan has been sent off to Deportivo this season where he wants to be a “protagonist” for the Branquiazuis. He is a dynamic player who plays very central and enjoys threading through incisive passes, setting up plenty of chances. In addition to this, he recycles and spreads the play really well, keeps a calm head whilst in possession and looks to have the qualities, if harnessed correctly, to take him far in his career even at this early stage.
Gerard Gumbau // 22 // CD Leganes // Central Midfielder
La Masia, once famous for producing the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, two midfield maestros which will go down in footballing folklore. Now, it appears that times have changed and the players developing are simply deemed not good enough to be in and around the first eleven. Another casualty has been 22-year-old Gerard Gumbau, the Spaniard signed for Leganes on a free transfer until 2020 and should feel hard done by his exit from the Catalonian giants. 8 goals from midfield in the league for Barcelona B last season (an improvement on his 3 during the 2015/16 campaign) Gerard has been deemed surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou. However, joining Leganes could be an excellent chance for Gerard to finally cut his teeth in Spain’s top tier. Reaching nearly 6’2, Gumbau is a commanding Spanish player who can be deployed as a central midfield or in a deeper role.
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