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Bellingham, Pedri, Saka lead 39 finest male soccer gamers U21

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The world’s finest male gamers are getting youthful, however is it lastly time to crown successors to the legendary Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

For the fifth straight 12 months (learn 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 right here), ESPN brings you our record of the sport’s subsequent high younger stars aged 21 or underneath. Now 22, final 12 months’s No. 1 Erling Haaland is simply too outdated to be included, whereas some others from 2022’s high 10 — Phil Foden, Vinicius Junior and Alphonso Davies — are additionally over the age requirement, too.

A lot of this 12 months’s crop have made their mark on the massive stage already, however who has completed sufficient to land a spot on ESPN’s record, what are their explicit qualities and the way can they get even higher? Collating the record for the fourth 12 months working is Tor-Kristian Karlsen, who has labored as a scout and government for golf equipment throughout Europe, together with Monaco, Zenit and Watford. He explains his methodology earlier than revealing his picks.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)

Why 39?

For the previous two years, 39 has labored nicely, and from an preliminary lengthy record of 100 gamers, these remaining are those who finest glad my essential standards: appearances on the highest stage, constant efficiency over a sustained interval and the potential to develop right into a future top-level footballer.

What forms of analysis had been undertaken?

I used a sounding board consisting {of professional} scouts and sporting administrators from a number of high European golf equipment earlier than deciding on the ultimate rating, in addition to some on-line scouting platforms. Private desire additionally performed a job.

Is there a purpose that attacking gamers dominate the record?

Basically, forwards get extra enjoying time at a youthful age than, say, central defenders, who have a tendency to wish extra time to develop tactical consciousness, positioning and understanding of the sport. Past those that did make it, different defenders thought of included Benfica‘s Antonio Silva, Atalanta‘s Giorgio Scalvini and soon-to-be Tottenham full-back Future Udogie.

It speaks volumes concerning the array of attacking expertise that gamers similar to RB Leipzig‘s Benjamin Sesko, Arsenal‘s Folarin Balogun, Leeds United‘s Wilfried Gnonto, Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon, and 16-year-old Palmeiras prodigy Endrick (who’s to affix Actual Madrid in 2024 for €72 million) did not make the ultimate minimize.

– Gamers included have to be age 21 or underneath on April 1.
– Switch values are taken from Transfermarkt.

– Positions are: GK (goalkeeper), LB (left-back), RB (right-back), CB (centre-back), DM (defensive midfield), CM (central midfield), AM (attacking midfield), FW (ahead), ST (striker.)

The Record

Membership/nation: Sporting CP/Uruguay
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €25m

Some of the quickly bettering midfielders in Portugal, Ugarte has seen his inventory rise over latest months and was a part of Uruguay’s squad for the 2022 World Cup. Whereas nearly all of up-and-coming South American expertise habitually originate from prestigious academies, the 21-year-old has made it the onerous manner by way of smaller golf equipment (Uruguayan facet Fenix and Famalicao in Portugal) earlier than becoming a member of Sporting CP in August 2021.

Strengths: His profession provides some clues about Ugarte’s mentality: he is decided, hard-working and targeted on bettering the weaker elements of his sport. An irrepressible ball winner, he makes an attempt a surprising seven tackles per 90 minutes (at a hit price of 55%) and swiftly appears to press opponents and shut gaps. Technically he is a grasp of the fundamentals with tidy management, a stable short-to-long passing vary and an absence of something flashy. He’s clever, usually discovering the fitting choice after regaining possession, and performs to his strengths.

How he can enhance: Regardless of not being a pure playmaker, his passing within the face of a low block from the opposition might be on the predictable facet. As a by-product of his tenacity, his frequent fouling (2.2 fouls per 90 minutes) results in quite a few bookings and he might want to curb that to keep away from suspension.

Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/United States
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €35m

Three years on from making his Bundesliga debut on the age of 17, many would have anticipated the American to be additional down the road by way of improvement. Whereas accidents have performed their half, insecurity and controversies over his standing for the USMNT can also clarify Reyna’s start-stop profession trajectory.

Strengths: Earlier than a drop in enjoying time in the course of February, Reyna loved an impactful spell by which his creativity in entrance of the opposing line of defense was in proof. Alongside together with his opportunism within the field and wonderful right-footed shot when reducing in from the left, he is ready to unlock defences and create possibilities for his teammates.

How he can enhance: Whereas Reyna’s ability set hasn’t evaporated, what was beforehand demonstrated on a weekly foundation now tends solely are available moments. The daring dribbles within the remaining third and sharp mixture play that set him aside early in his profession are but to completely return. Whether or not it requires a elevate in vitality, perspective or self-belief, Reyna should regain the belief of his membership head coach, Edin Terzic.

Membership/nation: Borussia Monchengladbach/France
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €25m

Having signed from then-Ligue 2 facet Toulouse for €9m in 2021, “Manu” instantly settled into the highest tier of German soccer, changing into an immediate common at Gladbach. The France U21 midfielder completed his debut season as one of many membership’s high performers and has since constructed on his optimistic first marketing campaign to search out himself within the gossip columns being linked with a transfer to Liverpool and Chelsea.

Strengths: Often fielded because the extra defensive-minded midfielder in a double pivot, Kone gives steadiness within the centre of the pitch. Along with his athleticism, work price and self-discipline, he covers giant areas, presses and protects his centre-backs. In possession, he’s adept at advancing with the ball with each pace and dexterity. Laborious to dispossess, he’s additionally nimble and in a position to efficiently negotiate his manner out of congested areas.

How he can enhance: Kone isn’t a playmaker, however his passing can seem overly cautious. His aggressive type and full-bodied dedication additionally results in pointless frequent bookings.

Membership/nation: Liverpool/England
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €35m

It has taken Elliott — one of many gamers most constantly featured by supervisor Jurgen Klopp this season — a while to correctly get moving into a struggling Liverpool midfield. Nevertheless, the indicators are optimistic that the 19-year-old, who started his profession as a winger, is adapting to his function as an attacking No. 8.

Strengths: Energetic, full of life and light-footed, the England U21 worldwide presses with intent and opens up area together with his motion. On the ball he provides to the fluidity of the sport by the use of instinctive touches, directness in his passing and wonderful dribbling talents. His left foot — although underused from set-pieces and long-distance taking pictures — is of a excessive normal, too.

How he can enhance: Along with his inconsistent defensive contribution and his bodily shortcomings by way of energy and top, Elliott must be making an attempt to beat opponents in central areas to a better diploma — particularly since he is so good at it. Given his creativity and intelligence, one expects a better enter than his 5 targets and two assists from 40 video games this season.

Membership/nation: Valencia/United States
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €25m

A key participant for the USMNT on the 2022 World Cup, Musah has lacked consistency in a struggling Valencia facet in LaLiga. On the entire, although, he is making progress: his enjoying time has been growing and he not too long ago put in one in every of his finest performances of the season in a 1-0 dwelling win towards Osasuna.

Strengths: Usually a sufferer of his personal versatility, Musah has been assigned a extra appropriate No. 8 function within the centre of midfield for Valencia. By no means wanting utility, his elevated effectivity has been predominantly seen on the defensive facet of his sport (3-plus recoveries per 90 minutes.) His pace of dribbling with the ball and eagerness to press opponents are different attributes that preserve Premier League golf equipment alert to his availability.

How he can enhance: Being such an influential, progressive and lively midfielder — particularly from his central place — upping his attacking sport would add one other dimension, as he has but to attain in LaLiga this season.

Membership/nation: Lyon/France
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €18m

The prodigal expertise is experiencing his finest run of kind after breaking into the Lyon first group two years in the past. Now, underneath Laurent Blanc’s stewardship, Cherki tends to remain on the pitch in the course of matches and has added maturity and consistency to his sport.

Strengths: Technically very good with an array of footwork trickery, fast turns and physique feints, Cherki has usually been thought of a participant who can solely specific his abilities within the remaining third. However this season there’s much more finish product to his sport: he releases the ball to teammates faster, his passing sport has turn into extra progressive and, with some additional muscle, seems more durable to knock of the ball. Equally expert with both foot, the playmaker (who manages 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes) can create issues in any function behind the centre-forward.

How he can enhance: Having made vital strides in his attacking output, the Frenchman will look to higher his defensive contribution, too. Regardless of an elevated dedication to regain possession excessive up the pitch, he nonetheless has fewer ball recoveries than his teammate and striker Alexandre Lacazette.

Membership/nation: Nottingham Forest/Wales
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €30m

Regardless of a gradual begin to his Premier League profession, the Wales worldwide is beginning to reply his critics who doubted whether or not he’d be capable of minimize it on the highest stage. Whereas he initially struggled to become familiar with greater tactical calls for and higher defenders within the high flight, his upturn in performances for Forest has been spectacular.

Strengths: With an excellent capacity to run with the ball at excessive pace, Johnson thrives in transition or when the sport opens up. No matter his place huge proper or as a central attacker, he prefers to float and exploit the area between opposing centre-back and full-back. Although he’s naturally right-footed, he is ready to tackle opponents with each ft and end with energy.

How he can enhance: Johnson can go for a person transfer as an alternative of taking an additional second to search for a better-placed teammate. In his enthusiasm to get issues completed rapidly, the precision in his quick passing and lay-offs additionally suffers.

Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/Germany
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €35m

It took the Germany worldwide a while to settle into the Bundesliga following his €35m transfer from FC Salzburg in the summertime, however he has proven his potential. After scoring in 4 consecutive matches for the title chasers, he picked up a muscle damage in mid-February which is more likely to rule him out till early April.

Strengths: His objective towards Chelsea within the Champions League showcased his robust factors: Tempo, dribbling and ability in one-vs.-one conditions. Breaking from a defensive nook, Adeyemi set off on a run from the sting of his personal field, picked up the ball with 65 meters left to cowl earlier than bursting previous Enzo Fernandez with a fast change of tempo and enjoying the ball calmly behind an outmanoeuvred Kepa within the Chelsea objective. Along with the acceleration, easy working type and superb technical capacity, Adeyemi can be an instinctive finisher — particularly together with his left foot — with a penchant for improvisation (as confirmed a few days later together with his backheeled opener towards Hertha Berlin.)

How he can enhance: At instances his super tempo can come on the expense of ball management. His insistence on taking over opponents, even when the scenario requires a supportive go, can power him into blind alleys and he can lose possession.

Membership/nation: Villarreal/Spain
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €38m

Final season, Yeremy supplied memorable moments aplenty and was rewarded together with his first senior Spain cap. This marketing campaign has been a slower begin and whereas he would possibly battle to match final time period’s six-goal haul (he has three on the time of writing), he is proven himself to be a big-game participant by getting on the scoresheet within the wins towards Actual Madrid and Atletico.

Strengths: Alternating between beginning positions on both wing, the short and nimble ahead is able to offering width in assault or setting off on fast diagonal runs in the direction of central areas. Along with possessing superb attributes for a winger — wonderful dribbling abilities, acceleration from a standing place, innate interchanges and sensible runs — Yeremy additionally has the imaginative and prescient to place in penetrative passes by way of the center. He does not fall asleep when out of possession both; he’s dedicated to his urgent and, regardless of his 5-foot-8 body, is surprisingly robust in aerial duels.

How he can enhance: Briefly, he wants to attain extra targets. Contemplating his mobility and intelligence, he might sharpen his attacking involvement, as he might be vulnerable to drift out and in of video games.



Why Jude Bellingham needed to be named ESPN FC’s high U21 star

Julien Laurens explains why there was just one alternative for ESPN FC’s high U21 star.

Membership/nation: Manchester Metropolis/England
Age: 18
Estimated switch worth: €10m

To the shock of many, the England U19 worldwide has seen loads of enjoying time this season after making his Premier League debut in August. Whereas Lewis isn’t an undisputed common for Manchester Metropolis, the truth that supervisor Pep Guardiola let a world-class full-back in Joao Cancelo be a part of Bayern Munich on mortgage in January provides a clue as to how extremely {the teenager} is rated at his membership.

Strengths: A cultured, well-schooled academy product, Lewis is neat on the ball, dribbles nicely and has the composure and intelligence to answer Guardiola’s tactical calls for. His agility on the ball additionally means he can shift inside to function in midfield, participate in swift one-touch mixtures and discover area in areas aside from down the touchline.

How he can enhance: Whereas his tempo usually involves his rescue, Lewis’ decision-making and incisiveness in defensive one-on-ones are areas to work on. Including extra aggression to his sport would even be a good suggestion.

Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/Germany
Age: 18
Estimated switch worth: €30m

Moukoko’s early profession has not taken off in the way in which that was predicted following his unimaginable objective tally at youth stage and his record-breaking entry to the Borussia Dortmund first group on the age of 16. Nevertheless, the Germany worldwide has seen elevated enjoying time this marketing campaign (initially due to Sebastien Haller‘s sickness) with six targets in 18 Bundesliga video games up to now.

Strengths: Predominantly recognised for his spectacular left-footed shot (his first objective towards Bochum was a objective of the season candidate) which made him so prolific at youth stage, Moukoko is a quick, penetrative ahead with sharp off-the-ball motion. He involves life when turning his marker and coming into the ultimate third, the place he can bear down on objective and check the goalkeeper.

How he can enhance: His ball management might be barely untidy, which may end up in pointless touches or shedding possession fully. His hold-up play stays in improvement, and he might be extra imaginative and optimistic in his alternative of passes.

Membership/nation: AC Milan/Germany
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €6m

A €7m summer time signing from Schalke, the German’s introduction to the AC Milan facet — and their reshaped again three — has coincided with an upturn in outcomes for the reigning Serie A champions. Although he has began round a dozen video games for Stefano Pioli’s underperforming facet, Thiaw has seemed unfazed by being fast-tracked right into a high-pressure setting.

Strengths: Regardless of standing at 6-foot-4, Thiaw is elegant, strikes with ease and exudes a peaceful authority unusual for a younger centre-back. Together with good timing and interception abilities, he’s significantly dominant within the air (having gained almost 80% of his challenges for the reason that flip of the 12 months) and stays alert for clearances and essential tackles. When enjoying out from the again, he avoids dangers and his lengthy passes are of top of the range.

How he can enhance: Unsurprisingly for a 21-year-old defender, there have been lapses of focus in each the passing and man-marking departments, as illustrated within the latest away defeats at Fiorentina and Udinese.

Membership/nation: Aston Villa/England
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €32m

The Villa academy graduate — now enjoying underneath his third head coach — has established himself as an integral a part of the primary XI. His upward trajectory signifies that a senior England call-up must be a viable short-term objective for the U21 worldwide.

Strengths: Adapting to a extra attacking function (additional huge, however with the licence to chop inside) underneath supervisor Unai Emery, Ramsey has been given the liberty to make use of his unimaginable spatial consciousness in attacking areas. Stuffed with vitality and enthusiasm, the dynamic midfielder is among the many finest dribblers within the Premier League. He instances his runs into the field nicely, is a superb finisher and does not shirk his defensive duties to assist regain possession.

How he can enhance: Ramsey must discover ways to dial again the tempo a bit so as to add extra persistence, creativeness and precision to his passing sport.

Membership/nation: PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €30m

In his first season as a daily, the Barcelona academy graduate has handled the PSV followers to some shows of particular person high quality. Having left PSG in the summertime — ostensibly due to restricted sport time — the French giants could remorse not hanging on to the midfielder, who performs with childlike pleasure when he’s on the pitch.

Strengths: Due to his roaming nature, Simons operates with ease in any attacking formation. He has the nous to search out area between the traces, a low centre of gravity and elegant ball management that makes him onerous to dispossess. In a Martin Odegaard-esque method, he picks out teammates with completely weighted passes (1.26 possibilities created per 90 minutes), even in crowded areas. To not point out there’s finish product too; his 13 targets — various from flamboyant chips and well-timed runs off the shoulders of defenders to curled efforts from the sting of the field — have positioned him at joint high of the Eredivisie goal-scoring charts.

How he can enhance: His playfulness can result in him shedding the ball an excessive amount of, whereas he might make much more use of his left foot.

Membership/nation: Everton/Belgium
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €42m

Struggling Everton could have confronted criticism over their latest switch spending, however the €35m summer time signing from Lille is a uncommon success story. Beneath former supervisor Frank Lampard (who was sacked in January), Onana carried out nicely even in that dysfunctional group and has been one of many essential protagonists of the membership’s latest mini-revival.

Strengths: Courtesy of his wonderful work price, the 6-3 Onana gives a persistent, dependable implementing presence in midfield. His measurement does not limit his mobility as he enters duels (a mean of 9 attacking challenges per 90 minutes) and presses with excessive depth. Simply as his frequent ball recoveries, aerial dominance and tackling alleviate the strain on Everton’s defence, Onana can be onerous to dispossess — particularly when he units off on a ahead burst with the ball.

How he can enhance: Initially a defensive-minded midfielder who is especially tasked with ball-winning and retention, Onana can enhance his first contact and be much less predictable when he has time and area.

Membership/nation: Celta Vigo/Spain
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €40m

Veiga is the breakout story in LaLiga this season, serving to Celta Vigo climb up the desk. The midfielder’s fast rise — he had solely began one league match previous to this season — has sparked curiosity from a number of high Premier League sides and likewise Actual Madrid and Barcelona.

Strengths: Predominantly a roaming No. 8, Veiga has all of the qualities to turn into a high performer within the function. Not solely is he exceptionally good at discovering the fitting attacking areas, however he additionally displays the arrogance, precision and method to hit the goal from the sting of the field, which has seen him rating 9 LaLiga targets this season.

His forceful drives ahead are a necessary facet for a participant in his function, whereas he breaks by way of the opposing traces together with his passes and gives passing choices for his personal teammates. Veiga’s willingness to work onerous defensively and sensible off-the-ball positioning to regain possession add one other dimension to his sport.

How he can enhance: With much more sharpness and accuracy from his passing within the remaining third, Veiga might turn into a frequent help supplier.

Membership/nation: Manchester United/Argentina
Age: 18
Estimated switch worth: €25m

Garnacho has been one of many beneficiaries of recent Man United supervisor Erik ten Hag’s youth-focused management and, though he tends for use as an influence substitute, there’s little doubt that the Argentina worldwide is held in excessive esteem by his head coach. In addition to scoring two Premier League targets, he has additionally made an influence within the Europa League and home cup competitions.

Strengths: Often deployed as a left winger, Garnacho can flip the dynamics of a sport by way of mesmerising, intuitive dribbles. His excellent steadiness, coordination, burst of acceleration and talent to tackle defenders on both facet make him onerous to learn. He attracts defenders to him, serving to create area for his teammates, whereas his confidence within the first-team setting has grown.

How he can enhance: Usually too egocentric in possession, his decision-making wants work. His off-the-ball motion is changing into much less predictable, however some added upper-body energy would make him much more efficient.

Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Netherlands
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €30m

As soon as thought of the most effective younger abilities in European soccer, the midfielder has had a irritating time since shifting to Bayern Munich from Ajax for €18m final summer time. Enjoying time has been scarce — he has solely began one Bundesliga match — and when approaching from the bench, he has usually been unable to make the specified influence. Gravenberch hasn’t hidden his discontent, which in flip has triggered hypothesis about his long-term future on the membership.

Strengths: At his finest, the Netherlands worldwide — who was not too long ago demoted to the U21 facet — is a technically very good, agile and clever central midfielder. Equally in a position to play as a holding midfielder or as a No. 8, Gravenberch can dictate the move of the sport by dropping deep to choose up the ball and distribute it with well-angled passes. At 6-foot-2, he pairs wonderful coordination with the flexibility to seamlessly glide previous opponents with out shedding the ball. Although extra prevalent from his Ajax days, Gravenberch’s taking pictures abilities are additionally of a excessive normal.

How he can enhance: The important thing for Gravenberch to reverse his fortunes at Bayern is more likely to come all the way down to his psychological toughness and talent to beat adversity. Within the quick time period, it is a matter of asserting himself when given the possibility or, if that fails, kick-start his profession underneath the steering of a training group ready to make him an integral a part of their midfield.

Membership/nation: Southampton/Belgium
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €25m

With none prior first-team expertise, Lavia was handed fast Premier League publicity following his transfer to Southampton from the Manchester Metropolis academy final summer time. It took the Belgian midfielder no time to search out his ft on the highest stage and, regardless of lacking a dozen video games by way of damage, he has proven sufficient to draw reported curiosity from Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, whereas Metropolis are contemplating utilizing a reported £40m clause in his contract to re-sign him.

Strengths: Sometimes lined up as one in every of two deep midfielders, Lavia is charged with the much less glamorous duties of the function. Highly effective, cellular and disciplined, he closes down area, regains possession, provides receiving choices, covers sizable areas and hassles opponents. Furthermore, {the teenager} conducts himself with an aura of authority that belies his age. Outfitted with a superb shut management and steadiness to defend the ball, Lavia not often provides away possession.

How he can enhance: The previous Anderlecht prospect might add one other dimension to his sport by taking extra dangers in his passing — although simpler stated than completed in a struggling facet.

Membership/nation: Chelsea/Brazil
Age: 18
Estimated switch worth: €12m

Santos was signed by Chelsea from Brazilian second-tier facet Vasco da Gama for round €12m in January. Nevertheless, any doubts about his high quality had been rapidly worn out because the midfielder captained Brazil to a different South American Beneath-20 Championship, ending as joint-top scorer with six targets. Santos would have figured for Chelsea this season however, due to work allow restrictions, needed to return to his former membership on mortgage earlier than he can play in England.

Strengths: With nice vitality, energy and excessive ranges of technical capacity, the 18-year-old can efficiently be deployed as a No. 6 defensive midfielder or as a roaming box-to-box midfielder. In truth, his vigorous type makes him extra suited to the latter as he’s good at driving ahead with the ball and timing his runs into the field. Most of his targets originate from choosing up rebounds and studying the place the ball will drop within the remaining third.

How he can enhance: The Premier League’s depth means he could have much less time on the ball. He might want to adapt to its physicality, too.

Membership/nation: Bayer Leverkusen/Ecuador
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €25m

Following a optimistic debut season in European soccer, the 21-year-old has additional cemented his standing as the popular left-sided centre-back (or left wing-back) in Leverkusen’s again three. Nevertheless, consistency stays a problem, together with his displaying for Ecuador on the World Cup providing a good snapshot of his tendencies: composed and alert towards Netherlands, he struggled towards Senegal and gave away a penalty with a rash problem.

Strengths: Proactive, assured, fast and technically proficient, Hincapie is nicely suited to a group eager to dominate possession and defend excessive up the pitch. Slotting in on the left of a again three, he enjoys the liberty to push ahead to create numerical benefit in midfield and possesses the contact, imaginative and prescient and passing abilities so as to add an attacking X-factor. His regular development has included extra interceptions and extra tackles gained, and he’s now being trusted extra on the ball.

How he can enhance: His aggressive type of defending does end in extreme fouling — he has two pink playing cards this marketing campaign — simply as his high-risk type of defending excessive up the pitch sometimes places his teammates in bother.

Membership/nation: Atalanta/Denmark
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €15m

Just a few eyebrows had been raised when Atalanta paid a considerable €17.2m to Austrian facet Sturm Graz to signal the comparatively unknown teenager in the summertime. However, after an preliminary interval of adaptation, Hojlund has imposed himself on Serie A — in addition to for his nation, the place he scored 5 targets through the two latest Euro 2024 qualifiers — and is on the switch shortlist at a few of European soccer’s elite golf equipment.

Strengths: At first look it is tempting to count on the 6-foot-3 striker to function like an out-and-out centre-forward. Nevertheless, he thrives when setting off on deep, incisive runs towards excessive defensive traces and can be fielded from a place out huge on the fitting. Combining his spectacular physique and lightning tempo (based on his head coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, he completes a 100-meter dash in lower than 11 seconds) with sensible, diverse motion and a strong left-footed shot, Hojlund is stylistically much like younger Man Metropolis striker Erling Haaland.

How he can enhance: With added composure in entrance of objective, a extra targeted hold-up sport (he has round 9 ball losses per 90 minutes) and higher timing together with his headers (he wins simply 30% of his aerial duels), Hojlund might develop right into a top-level ahead.

Membership/nation: Athletic Membership/Spain
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €25m

Williams has elevated himself from influence substitute to key participant within the Athletic facet. To underline his sharp improvement, the winger has earned a spot with the senior Spain group and made 4 appearances on the 2022 World Cup.

Strengths: Williams has spectacular upper-body energy, good steadiness and an electrical flip of tempo. Mixed with instinctive management and a capability to time his runs nicely, he’s an unpredictable winger who might be onerous to defend towards. His capability to show, dribble, shoot and end with both foot (he is naturally right-footed) makes him adept at tormenting full-backs on both facet of the pitch, usually reducing infield to create havoc.

How he can enhance: Williams has to up his effectivity in defensive challenges (solely a 40% success price), whereas the standard of his crossing additionally leaves one thing to be desired.

Membership/nation: Chelsea/France
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €40m

Up to now, Badiashile represents a uncommon success story of Chelsea’s €350m January spending spree. A €38m signing from Monaco, the left-footed defender has introduced coach Graham Potter the required steadiness to revert to his most well-liked again three, with out showing fazed by being hurried right into a difficult setting because the Blues gained solely 4 of their first 15 video games in 2023.

Strengths: Bodily imposing and comfy on the ball, Badiashile appears each inch the trendy centre-back. Although he can stroll a tightrope with the extreme confidence he shows when bringing the ball out of the defence, the France worldwide has toned down his risk-taking for a extra safety-first method. Badiashile reads the sport exceptionally nicely, offers assertively with challenges and transmits confidence throughout the again line.

How he can enhance: Badiashile wants to indicate extra of what we noticed from his Monaco days: evading opposing strain and enjoying the primary, incisive go out of defence.

Membership/nation: Benfica/Portugal
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €60m

Ramos took Cristiano Ronaldo‘s beginning spot for Portugal towards Switzerland on the World Cup, scored a hat trick and has gone from energy to energy since. His objective scoring within the Portuguese league, with over 20 this season, has firmly positioned him among the many finest younger centre-forwards within the sport and he will certainly turn into Benfica’s subsequent high-profile export.

Strengths: Ramos has sharpened his sport in all departments after being trusted with the centre-forward function this season (he was beforehand additionally used as a left winger.) Whereas his tempo has by no means been in query, Ramos has additionally demonstrated superb spatial consciousness contained in the field with nearly all of his targets (his anticipated targets per 90 hovers round 0.75) coming primarily from one-touch finishes from shut vary. His psychological toughness, aerial efficiency and common involvement within the build-up section have additionally seen enchancment. Ramos has demonstrated he can elevate his sport for giant events such because the World Cup or a derby towards Sporting CP, by which he scored a brace in January.

How he can enhance: Along with being sometimes sloppy with flicks and lay-offs within the remaining third, Ramos might — as a lot as it could sound unfair given his spectacular numbers — up his scoring effectivity much more (he takes almost three pictures per 90 minutes now.)

Membership/nation: Paris Saint-Germain/Portugal
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €60m

In his second season at PSG, Mendes has confirmed his standing as one of many high younger full-backs in world soccer. Although accidents have proved disruptive each for himself (his 2022 World Cup with Portugal was minimize quick for that purpose) and PSG coach Christophe Galtier, he’s nonetheless some of the constant members of the squad.

Strengths: Whether or not fielded as a left-back in a again 4 or as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, Mendes is a power to be reckoned with down the left facet. Offering an outlet for switches of play, he’s exceptionally expert at taking over opponents by way of fast turns of route and his 3-plus touches contained in the opposing penalty space per 90 minutes converse volumes of his need to affix the assault. He has constructed a superb understanding with Kylian Mbappe and can be a tenacious defender who comes out on high in 55% of his defensive duels.

How he can enhance: Although Mendes is a superb crosser of the ball, his effectivity (17%) might enhance. Nevertheless, this is not essentially all all the way down to him — it is also the job of his teammates to get on the top of the crosses.

Membership/nation: Ajax Amsterdam/Netherlands
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €42m

Having been linked with an enormous switch for the previous 12 months or so, one could have anticipated Timber to have departed Ajax by now, particularly since half the facet that fared so nicely within the Champions League final season have secured profitable strikes themselves. The extremely rated central defender, who also can play at right-back, remains to be on the watchlist of the elite golf equipment in Europe amid one other superb season.

Strengths: Timber has a lot of the attributes required for a contemporary centre-back. Secure in possession — a passing accuracy of 93% (per 90 minutes) is spectacular for a defender who likes to construct from the again — his shut management permits him to attract opposing strain from which he can escape with a neat contact or sprint of acceleration if choices to go are missing. His lightning tempo makes him nicely suited to enjoying a excessive line in defence, whereas his anticipation permits him to get his physique in entrance of opponents and time his tackles nicely.

How he can enhance: Being comparatively quick for a defender at 5-10 impacts his aerial effectivity (55% of duels gained), so he could also be finest suited to a membership that performs a again three (as he traces up for Netherlands.)

Membership/nation: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €50m

Some of the naturally gifted abilities of his era, Ansu is striving to return to the spectacular kind that noticed him burst onto the scene with Barcelona on the age of 16. Whether or not nonetheless compromised by the knee damage that saved him out for almost a 12 months, burdened by the expectations that include his popularity, affected by an absence of minutes or just going by way of the pure ups and downs of a younger participant, he’s nonetheless but to succeed in his full potential.

Strengths: The Spain worldwide has had his attacking rules and technical proficiency ingrained within the Barcelona academy. When that includes in his most well-liked function on the left wing, he playfully joins swift mixtures and interchanges by way of instinctive lay-offs and touches. Although accidents over latest years could have restricted his bursts of acceleration previous opponents, the 20-year-old nonetheless represents a major attacking menace and stays an knowledgeable, composed finisher regardless of the actual fact he has solely discovered the web thrice in LaLiga this season.

How he can enhance: Staying injury-free and discovering extra consistency on the highest stage is vital. However a mortgage transfer to an setting away from the demanding Camp Nou might see Ansu receive the required enjoying time to kick-start his profession.

Membership/nation: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €15m

It has been an unimaginable journey for Balde: from Barcelona’s La Masia academy and the B group to changing into the first-choice senior left-back and a full Spain worldwide in lower than a 12 months. The emergence of such an exquisite prospect who has tailored so rapidly to the very best stage is a dream come true for financially stricken Barcelona.

Strengths: Balde possesses a lot of the qualities you need from a younger full-back. He instances his runs nicely, his positioning when enjoying out from the again is bettering and when coming into the ultimate third, his one-on-one abilities and fast interchanges with teammates are wonderful. Whereas he usually depends on his tempo to take care of defensive conditions, his studying of the sport is getting higher and, as an attacking power, he’s a hazard in huge areas in addition to when he cuts inside.

How he can enhance: He wants a better diploma of focus to trace opponents’ runs off his shoulder and might be extra attentive in his marking contained in the field. His crossing may be extra diverse.



Counting down the perfect U21 gamers on the planet

ESPN FC analysts give their tackle the highest 10 finest gamers underneath 21 in world soccer.

Membership/nation: Brighton & Hove Albion/Ecuador
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €55m

Caicedo has established himself as one of many elite defensive midfielders within the Premier League even earlier than finishing a full season at Brighton. He additionally impressed for Ecuador on the 2022 World Cup. Arsenal and Chelsea tried to signal him for £70m in January and the 21-year-old fell out together with his membership over not being allowed to go away, however variations had been rapidly resolved and he not too long ago dedicated to a brand new contract till 2027.

Strengths: Overlaying giant areas of the pitch with ease, Caicedo is alert to the dynamics of the sport and may make a big effect when he steps up. Along with his exceptional consistency, endurance and presence on the pitch, he tackles with precision, presses diligently and repeatedly scans for interceptions and unfastened balls. Although a pure in his defensive duties, he’s able to carrying the ball ahead, linking nicely with the left full-back and discovering area to benefit from rebounds to fireplace off pictures from the sting of the field.

How he can enhance: Caicedo virtually unfailingly performs to his most capability each sport, but he has the standard and imaginative and prescient to take extra dangers together with his passing within the remaining third.

Membership/nation: RB Leipzig/Croatia
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €75m

The Croatia defender hardly put a foot improper on the 2022 World Cup — no less than till he encountered Argentina’s Lionel Messi in full move — and he has made a big effect within the Champions League for his membership, getting on the scoresheet and standing out towards Actual Madrid and Manchester Metropolis (within the first leg). Whereas he’s contracted at Leipzig for one more 4 years, Gvardiol is attracting curiosity from the most important golf equipment in Europe.

Strengths: Gvardiol is blessed with wonderful tempo, steadiness and bodily robustness that makes him environment friendly in defensive one-on-ones. He has an important left foot, with superb shut management, and is comfy spraying medium- and long-range passes out of defence with accuracy. At 21, he operates with the arrogance of a defender 10 years his senior.

How he can enhance: He must pay extra consideration when monitoring opponents on crosses and in high-intensity defensive conditions. His sporadic lack of focus was highlighted within the 7-0 Champions League defeat at Manchester Metropolis, although that was all the way down to a collective collapse somewhat than anyone particular person.

Membership/nation: Bayer Leverkusen/Germany
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €85m

Following a nine-month damage absence due to a ruptured cruciate ligament, Wirtz has managed to get himself again to the extent he was at earlier than catastrophe struck. Alongside No. 4 on this record, Wirtz is arguably probably the most proficient German prospect of his era and has made a huge effect for Leverkusen, each domestically and in Europe.

Strengths: Some of the full attacking midfielders in European soccer, Wirtz — who’s equally dominant in a central place behind the striker, reducing in from the left and even as a false 9 up entrance — is great at gaining area together with his great dribbling talents. Not solely is he able to beating opponents from a standing place, he additionally does one thing medical afterwards, with cleverly executed passes, well-engineered mixtures or pictures on the right track. Along with being a technically gifted playmaker, Wirtz’s avid urgent helps him win the ball again.

How he can enhance: Staying away from damage shall be key in his improvement however he wants to focus on double figures in targets and assists subsequent season. Making a constant influence on video games all through the 90 minutes will guarantee he steps as much as the following stage.

Membership/nation: Arsenal/Brazil
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €70m

Not solely has the Brazilian ahead been a significant contributor in Arsenal’s spectacular Premier League season, however he has additionally been some of the improved gamers in European soccer. Aided by extra fluency within the group’s assault and suitable gamers round him, Martinelli’s confidence has skyrocketed and he has polished the rougher sides of his sport.

Strengths: Along with his explosive tempo, wonderful steadiness and unpredictable off-the-ball motion, Martinelli poses a relentless menace to opposition defences. Over the course of the 12 months, he has sharpened his abilities, including one other stage of precision which has seen him make 1.33 key passes per 90 minutes. On the proof of his 13 Premier League targets from place on the left wing — usually by the use of late, well-timed runs and one-touch finishes with both foot — he possesses very good timing and appreciation of area. His ever-present depth helps within the press, and his work price and eagerness to study is excessive.

How he can enhance: Martinelli might stand to enhance the accuracy of his quick passes, mixture touches and lay-offs, and he can be liable to lose momentum or run out of concepts when dealing with a wall of defenders.

Membership/nation: Actual Madrid/France
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €60m

A €31m signing from Rennes, Camavinga’s significance continues to develop. The France worldwide has some stiff competitors within the Actual Madrid midfield however has received on together with his job even when fielded as a left-back for each membership and nation. Lately, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has entrusted him with an prolonged run of video games in his favoured function as a midfield pivot and Camavinga has impressed.

Strengths: Calm in possession and comfy on the ball, Camavinga performs his deeper function in midfield expertly. He drops again to gather the ball from his centre-backs and actively roams in area to offer a passing outlet for his full-backs. When distributing from defence together with his left foot, he demonstrates spectacular accuracy in all aspects of his passing, whereas he is usually the initiator of strikes that finish in goal-scoring alternatives. Versatile sufficient to function as a No. 8, too, he can break opposition traces with a fast burst of tempo, presses with intent and reads the sport nicely with a view to choose up unfastened balls.

How he can enhance: Given his ability set, there is no purpose why Camavinga should not grow to be one of many high midfield playmakers round. Extra selection in his vary of passing might assist; nonetheless, he’s on document saying: “I’d solely change my proper foot: it is very unhealthy.”

Membership/nation: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 18
Estimated switch worth: €90m

Simply if you thought Gavi’s improvement would plateau on the again of a powerful debut season, he retains getting higher and higher. The 18-year-old is a primary alternative in Barcelona’s midfield and, after changing into the youngest participant to debut for the Spain nationwide group in its historical past, he has turn into a significant element on the worldwide stage as nicely. In September, he signed a brand new contract at Camp Nou till 2026 however the membership at the moment are concerned in a authorized combat with LaLiga to register it and, theoretically, might lose him as a free agent in the summertime if it isn’t sorted out.

Strengths: To search out such a excessive stage of technical, bodily and psychological attributes wrapped up in an 18-year-old midfielder is nothing wanting awe-inspiring. His elegant contact, mixed with fabulous spatial consciousness, cognitive sharpness and noteworthy command of his physique (when he sends opponents the improper manner when receiving the ball on the half-turn), are mostly related to aptitude gamers like Neymar or Ronaldinho. But Gavi backs that up with an unyielding need to get on the ball and an unwavering dedication to win it again. His aggressive nature actually stands out and, no matter the place he traces up tactically, his enter is unquestionable and his vitality contagious.

Weaknesses: Whereas he’s tremendous aggressive — he was concerned in additional fouls for and towards (23) than another participant on the 2022 World Cup — his decision-making round tackles nonetheless wants work.

Membership/nation: Bayern Munich/Germany
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €110m

Regardless of a barely below-par season by Bayern Munich’s excessive requirements, Musiala has delivered a stage of efficiency that exceeds any affordable expectations for the squad’s youngest first-team participant. Because of his versatility, he has been utilised in quite a lot of positions and whereas former coach Julian Nagelsmann most well-liked him as an attacking midfielder on the left facet, it stays to be seen what new boss Thomas Tuchel will do.

Strengths: A technical star on the ball, Musiala applies himself with maturity and is fast at reverting to urgent mode when his group lose possession. There are few pointless touches or flashy moments; as an alternative, he aids the group’s attacking move with constructive, progressive involvements, illustrated by his admirable judgement of when and the place to utilize his great dribbling abilities (64% profitable dribbles per 90 minutes.)

On high of his good management, playmaking capabilities and linking of midfield and assault by way of his passing, he brings the top product too. With 11 targets this season, making him Bayern’s main scorer within the Bundesliga, Musiala exudes calmness in his ending and, even at pace, ensures he scans the play earlier than deciding on the perfect plan of action.

How he can enhance: With a flexible ability set in each assault and defence, completely made for the trendy sport, Musiala has few shortcomings. Nevertheless, he has a slight tendency for his affect to drop in the direction of the latter phases, so finishing extra video games to the total 90 minutes shall be useful in his improvement.

Membership/nation: Arsenal/England
Age: 21
Estimated switch worth: €110m

The principle inventive catalyst behind Arsenal’s surprising problem for the Premier League title this season, Saka, a transformed left-back, has blossomed into the most effective proper wingers within the sport. He has hit double figures for targets and assists, whereas additionally proving an inspirational presence for England on the World Cup. Along with his capacity to make an influence on the highest stage, the down-to-earth Saka has taken each problem in stride.

Strengths: Saka thrives when he finds area huge on the fitting as his superb command of both foot provides him the choice to both proceed at excessive pace for a fast one-two mixture or advance on the surface of the marker to place in a cross or shot. Adept at choosing up the ball on the transfer and carrying it with tempo, he has elevated the depth of Arsenal’s assaults and disrupts opponents’ defensive organisation.

Saka has improved all components of his sport over the previous 12 months, with the technical and tactical elements the obvious. This season he has considerably polished his taking pictures method — his efforts are sometimes executed rapidly and with selection — whereas his understanding of area has seen him benefit from low crosses on the again submit.

How he can enhance: There are moments when he goes lacking and fails to impose himself on a sport which, in equity, isn’t uncommon for such a younger participant. Saka can enhance his defensive contributions, but he’s already profitable extra challenges in each space of the pitch and is displaying extra alertness to his urgent duties.

Membership/nation: Barcelona/Spain
Age: 20
Estimated switch worth: €110m

Indispensable for membership and nation, the gifted midfielder has constructed on his sky-high popularity with an excellent 2022-23 marketing campaign. He excelled for Spain through the World Cup and confirmed his standing as one of many high midfielders on the planet no matter age or function. Pedri’s affect on Barcelona has additionally grown underneath Xavi’s management. Very similar to final season, nonetheless, accidents have been a disrupting issue.

Strengths: Although he already has the profile of a whole central attacking midfielder, the previous Las Palmas star’s ability set goes off the charts relating to technical capacity, receiving and distributing the ball. Along with his passing vary — instinctive, penetrative, needing few touches and on the half-turn — is a rare consciousness to choose the fitting area with consistency.

Arguably finest in an offensive No. 8 function, Pedri glues the assault collectively together with his rhythmic interchanges. He calls for the ball in probably the most advantageous areas earlier than shifting it on with precision to a teammate. Off the ball, his distinctive spatial consciousness and timing of runs sees him get on the top of assaults with one-touch finishes or fast mixtures to create an opportunity. What makes Pedri much more particular is that he is a group participant: he presses with diligence and recovers the ball thrice per sport on common.

How he can enhance: Performing constantly on the higher limits of what might be anticipated of a 20-year-old, he does have one space of enchancment — changing into extra sturdy in bodily duels.

Membership/nation: Borussia Dortmund/England
Age: 19
Estimated switch worth: €120m

After his distinctive improvement for membership and nation over the previous 12 months, Bellingham is not an up-and-coming expertise: he has arrived and is an elite participant who can carry a group. The teenage midfielder is on the radar of Europe’s largest golf equipment — most notably Liverpool, Man Metropolis and Actual Madrid. The race to signal him for a possible switch price of round €150m shall be one of many largest tales to observe this summer time.

The England worldwide options an distinctive array of bodily, technical and psychological attributes, and because the good box-to-box midfielder — with the flexibility to function deeper or greater up the pitch as a beginning place — he’s a generational expertise.

Strengths: The place do you begin? Outfitted with athleticism, stamina and shut management, Bellingham is excellent on the ball (almost three progressive carries and 6 dribbles per 90 minutes.) As soon as a line of defense has been damaged, he is an correct passer too and is ready to create possibilities with exact touches and spectacular imaginative and prescient. From deeper positions, he spreads the play routinely and picks out the attacking runs of his teammates early.

As seen on the World Cup with England, Bellingham is robust within the air and, when arriving within the field, shows composure in entrance of objective. For all of the technical and tactical mastery, it may be ignored that he’s each meticulous and proficient in his defensive sport too. From a formidable 19 challenges per 90 minutes within the Bundesliga, he comes out on high at a price of 55%.

How he can enhance: Although it speaks volumes about his confidence and willingness to take accountability, his inclination to take a lot of pictures on objective does result in his accuracy being barely on the low facet (39%).

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