Bellingham, Pedri, Saka lead 39 best male soccer players U21

The world’s best male players 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 listing of the sport’s subsequent prime younger stars aged 21 or underneath. Now 22, final 12 months’s No. 1 Erling Haaland is just too previous to be included, whereas some others from 2022’s prime 10 — Phil Foden, Vinicius Junior and Alphonso Davies — are additionally over the age requirement, too.

Many of this 12 months’s crop have made their mark on the large stage already, however who has executed sufficient to land a spot on ESPN’s listing, what are their explicit qualities and the way can they get even higher? Collating the listing for the fourth 12 months working is Tor-Kristian Karlsen, who has labored as a scout and govt 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 listing of 100 players, these remaining are those who best happy my primary standards: appearances on the highest degree, constant efficiency over a sustained interval and the potential to develop right into a future top-level footballer.

What sorts of analysis have been undertaken?

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

Is there a cause that attacking players dominate the listing?

In normal, forwards get extra enjoying time at a youthful age than, say, central defenders, who have a tendency to want extra time to develop tactical consciousness, positioning and understanding of the sport. Beyond 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 Destiny Udogie.

It speaks volumes in regards to the array of attacking expertise that players corresponding 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 hitch Real Madrid in 2024 for €72 million) did not make the ultimate lower.

– Players included should be age 21 or underneath on April 1.
– Transfer 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 List

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

One of essentially the most quickly bettering midfielders in Portugal, Ugarte has seen his inventory rise over current months and was a part of Uruguay’s squad for the 2022 World Cup. Whereas the vast majority of up-and-coming South American expertise habitually originate from prestigious academies, the 21-year-old has made it the onerous method by 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 centered on bettering the weaker facets of his sport. An irrepressible ball winner, he makes an attempt a surprising seven tackles per 90 minutes (at successful fee of 55%) and swiftly appears to be like to press opponents and shut gaps. Technically he is a grasp of the fundamentals with tidy management, a strong short-to-long passing vary and an absence of something flashy. He is clever, usually discovering the precise possibility after regaining possession, and performs to his strengths.

How he can enhance: Despite not being a pure playmaker, his passing within the face of a low block from the opposition could 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.

Club/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 growth. While accidents have performed their half, insecurity and controversies over his standing for the USMNT may additionally clarify Reyna’s start-stop profession trajectory.

Strengths: Before a drop in enjoying time in the midst of February, Reyna loved an impactful spell through which his creativity in entrance of the opposing line of defense was in proof. Along along with his opportunism within the field and glorious right-footed shot when reducing in from the left, he is ready to unlock defences and create probabilities for his teammates.

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

Club/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 instantaneous common at Gladbach. The France U21 midfielder completed his debut season as one of many membership’s prime performers and has since constructed on his constructive first marketing campaign to search out himself within the gossip columns being linked with a transfer to Liverpool and Chelsea.

Strengths: Usually fielded because the extra defensive-minded midfielder in a double pivot, Kone offers stability within the centre of the pitch. With his athleticism, work fee 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. Hard to dispossess, he’s additionally nimble and in a position to efficiently negotiate his method out of congested areas.

How he can enhance: Kone is just not a playmaker, however his passing can seem overly cautious. His aggressive model and full-bodied dedication additionally results in pointless frequent bookings.

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

It has taken Elliott — one of many players most constantly featured by supervisor Jurgen Klopp this season — a while to correctly get stepping into a struggling Liverpool midfield. However, the indicators are constructive 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 house along with his motion. On the ball he provides to the fluidity of the sport by means of instinctive touches, directness in his passing and glorious dribbling skills. His left foot — although underused from set-pieces and long-distance taking pictures — is of a excessive commonplace, too.

How he can enhance: In addition to his inconsistent defensive contribution and his bodily shortcomings by way of energy and top, Elliott ought to be trying 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.

Club/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 lately put in certainly one of his best performances of the season in a 1-0 dwelling win towards Osasuna.

Strengths: Often a sufferer of his personal versatility, Musah has been assigned a extra appropriate No. 8 function within the centre of midfield for Valencia. Never 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 maintain Premier League golf equipment alert to his availability.

How he can enhance: Being such an influential, progressive and energetic 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.

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

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

Strengths: Technically excellent with an array of footwork trickery, fast turns and physique feints, Cherki has usually been thought of a participant who can solely categorical his abilities within the closing third. But 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 important strides in his attacking output, the Frenchman will look to raised his defensive contribution, too. Despite an elevated dedication to regain possession excessive up the pitch, he nonetheless has fewer ball recoveries than his teammate and striker Alexandre Lacazette.

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

Despite 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 to lower it on the highest degree. While he initially struggled to become familiar with larger tactical calls for and higher defenders within the prime flight, his upturn in performances for Forest has been spectacular.

Strengths: With an impressive means to run with the ball at excessive pace, Johnson thrives in transition or when the sport opens up. Regardless of his place vast proper or as a central attacker, he prefers to float and exploit the house between opposing centre-back and full-back. Though 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 executed rapidly, the precision in his quick passing and lay-offs additionally suffers.

Club/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 prone to rule him out till early April.

Strengths: His objective towards Chelsea within the Champions League showcased his robust factors: Pace, 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. In addition to the acceleration, easy working model and advantageous technical means, Adeyemi can be an instinctive finisher — particularly along with his left foot — with a penchant for improvisation (as confirmed a few days later along 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 move, can drive him into blind alleys and he can lose possession.

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

Last season, Yeremy supplied memorable moments aplenty and was rewarded along with his first senior Spain cap. This marketing campaign has been a slower begin and whereas he would possibly wrestle 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 Real Madrid and Atletico.

Strengths: Alternating between beginning positions on both wing, the fast and nimble ahead is able to offering width in assault or setting off on speedy diagonal runs in the direction of central areas. In addition to possessing advantageous attributes for a winger — glorious dribbling abilities, acceleration from a standing place, innate interchanges and good runs — Yeremy additionally has the imaginative and prescient to place in penetrative passes by 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: In quick, he wants to attain extra targets. Considering his mobility and intelligence, he may sharpen his attacking involvement, as he could be susceptible to drift out and in of video games.



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Club/nation: Manchester City/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. While Lewis is just not an undisputed common for Manchester City, 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 house in areas aside from down the touchline.

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

Club/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 unbelievable objective tally at youth degree and his record-breaking entry to the Borussia Dortmund first staff on the age of 16. However, 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 to this point.

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 degree, Moukoko is a quick, penetrative ahead with sharp off-the-ball motion. He involves life when turning his marker and getting into the ultimate third, the place he can bear down on objective and check the goalkeeper.

How he can enhance: His ball management could be barely untidy, which can lead to pointless touches or shedding possession utterly. His hold-up play stays in growth, and he could possibly be extra imaginative and constructive in his alternative of passes.

Club/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. Though he has began round a dozen video games for Stefano Pioli’s underperforming facet, Thiaw has regarded unfazed by being fast-tracked right into a high-pressure setting.

Strengths: Despite standing at 6-foot-4, Thiaw is elegant, strikes with ease and exudes a relaxed authority unusual for a younger centre-back. Along with good timing and interception abilities, he’s significantly dominant within the air (having received practically 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 quality.

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 current away defeats at Fiorentina and Udinese.

Club/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 ought to be a viable short-term objective for the U21 worldwide.

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

How he can enhance: Ramsey must learn to dial again the tempo slightly so as to add extra endurance, creativeness and precision to his passing sport.

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

In his first season as an everyday, 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 might remorse not hanging on to the midfielder, who performs with childlike pleasure when he’s on the pitch.

Strengths: Because of his roaming nature, Simons operates with ease in any attacking formation. He has the nous to search out house between the strains, 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 probabilities created per 90 minutes), even in crowded areas. Not to say 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 prime of the Eredivisie goal-scoring charts.

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

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

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

Strengths: Courtesy of his glorious work fee, the 6-3 Onana offers a persistent, dependable implementing presence in midfield. His dimension does not limit his mobility as he enters duels (a mean of 9 attacking challenges per 90 minutes) and presses with excessive depth. Just as his frequent ball recoveries, aerial dominance and tackling alleviate the stress 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: First and foremost 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 house.

Club/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 speedy rise — he had solely began one league match previous to this season — has sparked curiosity from a number of prime Premier League sides and likewise Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Strengths: Predominantly a roaming No. 8, Veiga has all of the qualities to turn into a prime performer within the function. Not solely is he exceptionally good at discovering the precise attacking areas, however he additionally reveals the boldness, 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 the opposing strains along with his passes and offers passing choices for his personal teammates. Veiga’s willingness to work onerous defensively and good 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 closing third, Veiga may turn into a frequent help supplier.

Club/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 affect substitute, there’s little doubt that the Argentina worldwide is held in excessive esteem by his head coach. As nicely as scoring two Premier League targets, he has additionally made an affect within the Europa League and home cup competitions.

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

How he can enhance: Often 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.


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

Once thought of one of many best younger abilities in European soccer, the midfielder has had a irritating time since shifting to Bayern Munich from Ajax for €18m final summer time. Playing 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 affect. Gravenberch hasn’t hidden his discontent, which in flip has triggered hypothesis about his long-term future on the membership.

Strengths: At his best, the Netherlands worldwide — who was lately demoted to the U21 facet — is a technically excellent, agile and clever central midfielder. Equally in a position to play as a holding midfielder or as a No. 8, Gravenberch can dictate the movement of the sport by dropping deep to choose up the ball and distribute it with well-angled passes. At 6-foot-2, he pairs glorious coordination with the power to seamlessly glide previous opponents with out shedding the ball. Though extra prevalent from his Ajax days, Gravenberch’s taking pictures abilities are additionally of a excessive commonplace.

How he can enhance: The key for Gravenberch to reverse his fortunes at Bayern is prone to come all the way down to his psychological toughness and skill to beat adversity. In 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 steerage of a training staff ready to make him an integral a part of their midfield.

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

Without any prior first-team expertise, Lavia was handed quick Premier League publicity following his transfer to Southampton from the Manchester City academy final summer time. It took the Belgian midfielder no time to search out his ft on the highest degree and, regardless of lacking a dozen video games by damage, he has proven sufficient to draw reported curiosity from Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, whereas City are contemplating utilizing a reported £40m clause in his contract to re-sign him.

Strengths: Typically lined up as certainly one of two deep midfielders, Lavia is charged with the much less glamorous duties of the function. Powerful, cell and disciplined, he closes down house, regains possession, provides receiving choices, covers sizable areas and hassles opponents. Moreover, {the teenager} conducts himself with an aura of authority that belies his age. Equipped with a advantageous shut management and stability to protect the ball, Lavia hardly ever provides away possession.

How he can enhance: The former Anderlecht prospect may add one other dimension to his sport by taking extra dangers in his passing — although simpler mentioned than executed in a struggling facet.

Club/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. However, any doubts about his high quality have been rapidly worn out because the midfielder captained Brazil to a different South American Under-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 means, the 18-year-old can efficiently be deployed as a No. 6 defensive midfielder or as a roaming box-to-box midfielder. In reality, his vigorous model makes him extra suited to the latter as he’s sensible at driving ahead with the ball and timing his runs into the field. Most of his targets originate from selecting up rebounds and studying the place the ball will drop within the closing third.

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

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

Following a constructive 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. However, consistency stays a difficulty, along with his exhibiting 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 staff desirous 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 received, and he’s now being trusted extra on the ball.

How he can enhance: His aggressive model of defending does lead to extreme fouling — he has two purple playing cards this marketing campaign — simply as his high-risk model of defending excessive up the pitch sometimes places his teammates in hassle.

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

A couple of eyebrows have been raised when Atalanta paid a considerable €17.2m to Austrian facet Sturm Graz to signal the comparatively unknown teenager in the summertime. But, 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 current 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. However, he thrives when setting off on deep, incisive runs towards excessive defensive strains and will also be fielded from a place out vast on the precise. Combining his spectacular physique and lightning tempo (in response to his head coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, he completes a 100-meter dash in lower than 11 seconds) with good, assorted motion and a strong left-footed shot, Hojlund is stylistically much like younger Man City striker Erling Haaland.

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

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

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

Strengths: Williams has spectacular upper-body energy, good stability and an electrical flip of tempo. Combined with instinctive management and a capability to time his runs nicely, he’s an unpredictable winger who could 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 fee), whereas the standard of his crossing additionally leaves one thing to be desired.

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

So far, 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 stability to revert to his most popular again three, with out showing fazed by being hurried right into a difficult setting because the Blues received solely 4 of their first 15 video games in 2023.

Strengths: Physically imposing and comfy on the ball, Badiashile appears to be like each inch the fashionable centre-back. Though 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 strategy. Badiashile reads the sport exceptionally nicely, offers assertively with challenges and transmits confidence throughout the again line.

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

Club/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 best 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.) While his tempo has by no means been in query, Ramos has additionally demonstrated advantageous spatial consciousness contained in the field with the vast majority 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 normal 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, through which he scored a brace in January.

How he can enhance: In addition to being sometimes sloppy with flicks and lay-offs within the closing third, Ramos may — as a lot as it could sound unfair given his spectacular numbers — up his scoring effectivity much more (he takes practically three photographs per 90 minutes now.)

Club/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 prime younger full-backs in world soccer. Though accidents have proved disruptive each for himself (his 2022 World Cup with Portugal was lower quick for that cause) and PSG coach Christophe Galtier, he’s nonetheless probably the most constant members of the squad.

Strengths: Whether fielded as a left-back in a again 4 or as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, Mendes is a drive to be reckoned with down the left facet. Providing an outlet for switches of play, he’s exceptionally expert at taking over opponents by speedy turns of course and his 3-plus touches contained in the opposing penalty space per 90 minutes communicate volumes of his need to hitch the assault. He has constructed a advantageous understanding with Kylian Mbappe and can be a tenacious defender who comes out on prime in 55% of his defensive duels.

How he can enhance: Though Mendes is a advantageous crosser of the ball, his effectivity (17%) may enhance. However, 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.

Club/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 might 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 can even play at right-back, remains to be on the watchlist of the elite golf equipment in Europe amid one other advantageous season.

Strengths: Timber has a lot of the attributes required for a contemporary centre-back. Safe 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 stress from which he can escape with a neat contact or sprint of acceleration if choices to move 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 received), so he could also be best suited to a membership that performs a again three (as he strains up for Netherlands.)

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

One of essentially the most naturally gifted abilities of his technology, Ansu is striving to return to the spectacular kind that noticed him burst onto the scene with Barcelona on the age of 16. Whether nonetheless compromised by the knee damage that saved him out for practically a 12 months, burdened by the expectations that include his status, affected by a scarcity of minutes or just going by 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 ideas and technical proficiency ingrained within the Barcelona academy. When that includes in his most popular function on the left wing, he playfully joins swift mixtures and interchanges by instinctive lay-offs and touches. Though accidents over current years might have restricted his bursts of acceleration previous opponents, the 20-year-old nonetheless represents a big attacking menace and stays an professional, composed finisher regardless of the very fact he has solely discovered the web 3 times in LaLiga this season.

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

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

It has been an unbelievable journey for Balde: from Barcelona’s La Masia academy and the B staff to changing into the first-choice senior left-back and a full Spain worldwide in lower than a 12 months. The emergence of such a beautiful prospect who has tailored so rapidly to the very best degree 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 getting into the ultimate third, his one-on-one abilities and fast interchanges with teammates are glorious. While he usually depends on his tempo to take care of defensive conditions, his studying of the sport is getting higher and, as an attacking drive, he’s a hazard in vast 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 could possibly be extra attentive in his marking contained in the field. His crossing may be extra assorted.



Counting down the best U21 players on the earth

ESPN FC analysts give their tackle the highest 10 best players underneath 21 in world soccer.

Club/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 along with his membership over not being allowed to depart, however variations have been rapidly resolved and he lately dedicated to a brand new contract till 2027.

Strengths: Covering giant areas of the pitch with ease, Caicedo is alert to the dynamics of the sport and may make a huge impact when he steps up. In addition to his exceptional consistency, endurance and presence on the pitch, he tackles with precision, presses diligently and constantly scans for interceptions and free balls. Though a pure in his defensive duties, he’s able to carrying the ball ahead, linking nicely with the left full-back and discovering house to reap the benefits of rebounds to fireplace off photographs 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 along with his passing within the closing third.

Club/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 movement — and he has made a huge impact within the Champions League for his membership, getting on the scoresheet and standing out towards Real Madrid and Manchester City (within the first leg). While he’s contracted at Leipzig for an additional 4 years, Gvardiol is attracting curiosity from the largest golf equipment in Europe.

Strengths: Gvardiol is blessed with glorious tempo, stability and bodily robustness that makes him environment friendly in defensive one-on-ones. He has an excellent left foot, with advantageous shut management, and is snug spraying medium- and long-range passes out of defence with accuracy. At 21, he operates with the boldness 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 City, although that was all the way down to a collective collapse fairly than anyone particular person.

Club/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 listing, Wirtz is arguably essentially the most gifted German prospect of his technology and has made a huge effect for Leverkusen, each domestically and in Europe.

Strengths: One of essentially the most 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 superb at gaining house along with his great dribbling skills. Not solely is he able to beating opponents from a standing place, he additionally does one thing scientific afterwards, with cleverly executed passes, well-engineered mixtures or photographs on the right track. In addition to being a technically gifted playmaker, Wirtz’s avid urgent helps him win the ball again.

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

Club/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 probably the most improved players in European soccer. Aided by extra fluency within the staff’s assault and suitable players round him, Martinelli’s confidence has skyrocketed and he has polished the rougher sides of his sport.

Strengths: With his explosive tempo, glorious stability and unpredictable off-the-ball motion, Martinelli poses a continuing menace to opposition defences. Over the course of the 12 months, he has sharpened his abilities, including one other degree 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 means of late, well-timed runs and one-touch finishes with both foot — he possesses excellent timing and appreciation of house. His ever-present depth helps within the press, and his work fee and eagerness to study is excessive.

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

Club/nation: Real 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 Real Madrid midfield however has received on along with his job even when fielded as a left-back for each membership and nation. Recently, 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 house to supply a passing outlet for his full-backs. When distributing from defence along with his left foot, he demonstrates spectacular accuracy in all sides 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 strains with a speedy burst of tempo, presses with intent and reads the sport nicely in an effort to decide up free balls.

How he can enhance: Given his ability set, there is not any cause why Camavinga should not become one of many prime midfield playmakers round. More selection in his vary of passing may assist; nevertheless, he’s on report saying: “I would only change my right foot: it’s very bad.”

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

Just once you thought Gavi’s growth would plateau on the again of an impressive 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 staff in its historical past, he has turn into an important part on the worldwide degree as nicely. In September, he signed a brand new contract at Camp Nou till 2026 however the membership are actually concerned in a authorized struggle with LaLiga to register it and, theoretically, may lose him as a free agent in the summertime if it isn’t sorted out.

Strengths: To discover such a excessive degree of technical, bodily and psychological attributes wrapped up in an 18-year-old midfielder is nothing wanting awe-inspiring. His stylish contact, mixed with fabulous spatial consciousness, cognitive sharpness and memorable command of his physique (when he sends opponents the improper method when receiving the ball on the half-turn), are mostly related to aptitude players like Neymar or Ronaldinho. Yet 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 strains up tactically, his enter is unquestionable and his vitality contagious.

Weaknesses: While he’s tremendous aggressive — he was involved in more fouls for and against (23) than some other participant on the 2022 World Cup — his decision-making round tackles nonetheless wants work.

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

Despite a barely below-par season by Bayern Munich’s excessive requirements, Musiala has delivered a degree of efficiency that exceeds any affordable expectations for the squad’s youngest first-team participant. Thanks to his versatility, he has been utilised in a wide range of positions and whereas former coach Julian Nagelsmann most popular 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 staff lose possession. There are few pointless touches or flashy moments; as an alternative, he aids the staff’s attacking movement 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 prime of his sensible management, playmaking capabilities and linking of midfield and assault by 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 best plan of action.

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

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

The primary artistic catalyst behind Arsenal’s sudden problem for the Premier League title this season, Saka, a transformed left-back, has blossomed into one of many best 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. With his means to make an affect on the highest degree, the down-to-earth Saka has taken each problem in stride.

Strengths: Saka thrives when he finds house vast on the precise as his advantageous 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 selecting 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 facets 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 house has seen him reap the benefits of 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, is just not 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 exhibiting extra alertness to his urgent duties.

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

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

Strengths: Though he already has the profile of a whole central attacking midfielder, the previous Las Palmas star’s ability set goes off the charts in relation to technical means, receiving and distributing the ball. In addition to his passing vary — instinctive, penetrative, needing few touches and on the half-turn — is a rare consciousness to choose the precise house with consistency.

Arguably best in an offensive No. 8 function, Pedri glues the assault collectively along with his rhythmic interchanges. He calls for the ball in essentially 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 staff participant: he presses with diligence and recovers the ball 3 times per sport on common.

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

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

After his distinctive growth 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 staff. The teenage midfielder is on the radar of Europe’s greatest golf equipment — most notably Liverpool, Man City and Real Madrid. The race to signal him for a possible switch charge of round €150m might be one of many greatest 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 larger up the pitch as a beginning place — he’s a generational expertise.

Strengths: Where do you begin? Equipped with athleticism, stamina and shut management, Bellingham is excellent on the ball (practically three progressive carries and 6 dribbles per 90 minutes.) Once a line of defense has been damaged, he is an correct passer too and is ready to create probabilities 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 powerful 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 missed 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 prime at a fee of 55%.

How he can enhance: Though it speaks volumes about his confidence and willingness to take duty, his inclination to take a number of photographs on objective does lead to his accuracy being barely on the low facet (39%).

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