From the rise of Anthony Martial to the exploits of Paulo Dybala,the world of football has not stopped experiencing the rise of young players who contribute greatly to the success of their clubs at a young age.This season has definately not been different, with young players coming through the ranks and showing what they can do on the big stage.In this article thus,we examine the top ten players (in no particular order) who have so far shot themselves to reckoning this season, and are destined to have great futures if they continue with their current performances.
1. Renato Sanches – Benfica, Midfielder
Known for his tireless running and inspiring energy level, Sanches typically plays in a box-to-box midfield role. The remarkable confidence and self-belief that Sanches has is quite astonishing. Not one to hide in a game Sanches is the type of player that is always calling for the ball as well as willing to get stuck in and do the dirty side of the game.One of Sanches’ most prominent features to his game is his stamina and work rate. Despite playing at such a high intensity, the young midfielder somehow manages to continue at such high level throughout the game. As the game progresses, the level of pace and intensity usually starts to decline due to lack of energy, but this is quite the opposite for Sanches as his ‘second wind’ starts to kick in, he is able to outrun his opponents and drive his team forward.Standing at roughly about 176 cm, Sanches may not be the tallest player on the pitch, but he still possesses an imposing physique that leaves defenders struggling to push him off the ball. As expected aerial duels are one of his most noticeable weaknesses to his game. Sanches is not a player that is afraid of having a shot from distance, the Benfica midfielder is occupied with a powerful shot that gives goalkeepers little to no chance of stopping when in full force. You only need to check out Sanches’ goals against Académica Coimbra and Vitória to fully see what he is capable of doing.
2. Paulo Dybala – Juventus, Striker
The comparison made by Zamperini, that Dybala was the new Aguero is not totally of point. Playing up front like his fellow Argentinian, Dybala might just be the next Argentinian superstar. Dybala posses a lot of qualities, but what first comes to mind when you watch him play is his flair with the ball at his feet. He just seems to run past defenders like they weren’t even there. The reason for his beautiful flair with the ball can be found in his amazing speed and dribbling repertoire, which makes him deadly in the offensive 1v1 game. This is definitely one of his greatest attributes, and the thing that makes him a threat to every defence in the Serie A.
Another one of his great attributes is his finishing. He has a great left foot, which he likes to curl the ball into the corners of the goal with. He often finishes with a great amount of power, and from various angles giving him a total of 12 goals so far this season. The great left foot also makes him a great threat from set pieces and he has scored from both free kicks and penalties this season. His movement on and off the ball added with the addition of a great first touch, makes him the player with 3rd most shots per game in Serie A, and for a man with such great finishing skill and composure he’s likely to keep on scoring.Besides having great individual abilities, Dybala is also a great team player. With a great vision and a unique understanding of the game Dybala has managed 7 assist this season for Palermo, and he has especially linked great with his striking partner Franco Vazquez. In the first part of the build up he is often used to lay of the ball, to keep the flow moving, but further up the field he’s used as a playmaker, taking on defenders and spreading around key passes and assist. Dybala is player with a lot of qualities, and the weaknesses can be hard to find.
3. Anwar El Ghazi – Ajax FC, Winger
El Ghazi’s style of play of being an offensive winger who runs straight at the opposition’s defenders and being a threat at the final third of the pitch has made him fit perfectly in De Boer’s 4-3-3 fast paced and offensive-minded style.The first thing that caught my eyes when I first watched him was his spectacular dribbling technique. His ability to do one or two effective tricks with the ball and his deceitful feints makes life hard for defenders. As a winger, he isn’t afraid of running down the line into defenders as he has the capacity to find solutions in nearly every scenario, like the assist he offered in the Vitesse game wherein he ran directly to the defensive line without any team mate’s support.This also shows his ability to create chances out of thin air.
Another thing to mention is his pace, the youngster is really quick despite his height. He possesses reasonable strength that often prevents defenders who try to bully him off the ball to be successful. Another aspect that one certainly cannot miss out on is his excellent ball control. El Ghazi’s ball control makes it extremely difficult for defenders to put tackles in, earning a foul from the situation more often than not.His unpredictability is something that cannot be ignored. He doesn’t always go for only one route to the goal by running down the flanks. He is often seen drifting inside to find better solutions. This unpredictability of either running down the flank or cutting in to shoot combined with his fast foot work makes him all the more lethal. El Ghazi has the tendency to position himself behind defender to receive through balls. His attacking positional sense makes him perpetually ready for counter attacks. He is a good crosser of the ball, often delivering low driven crosses into the box, earning him more than 4 assists so far this season with such deliveries and a total exceeding 25 successful crosses overall.Standing at 1.88 metres, El Ghazi is definitely an aerial threat, winning more than 25 headed duels this season. Being the one who is usually the supplier, he doesn’t get many chances to head in a lot of goals. It is fair to say that he strives to find a spot in the box when the ball is on the other flank waiting for a cross or a tap-in . El Ghazi’s shots are always a threat: the aforementioned knack of cutting inside and shooting from the edge of the box, such as the one he took against PSV, is a recurring theme. He certainly shows no mercy when left with space to take a shot. He has an average shot accuracy of 54 percent and is capable of shooting with both feet.
4. Leroy Sane
Sané’s style of play is exciting to say the least and the sense of anticipation around the Veltins Arena is clear to see when the young winger has the ball at his feet. Despite being just nineteen, the frizzy haired forward can simply make things happen when an opportunity may seem scarce due to his natural ability and air of self-confidence. Operating mainly from the right wing, but quite capable of playing anywhere along the front three behind the striker, Sané often looks to cut in onto his favoured left foot, with an eye for goal as Real Madrid know all too well.“I trust my instincts, it has worked every time so far.”
Sané is quite fearless with the ball and is constantly looking to engineer a yard of space to attack the opposing full-back, but when the game is tight and space is hard to find, he displays the maturity to retain possession when other players of his age group would not. As well as his lightening speed, perhaps inherited from his father Souleymane, Sané possesses wonderfully quick feet and the subsequent ability to dribble past his opponents – his winner versus Eintracht Frankfurt demonstrates this perfectly.To a degree, Sané demonstrates some of the qualities of an old school winger. At times he is very direct and has the potential to be a defender’s nightmare, frequently looking to beat his man. His strength on the ball should also not be underestimated. Despite standing at six feet, Sané is rather light framed and still has the potential to bulk up, but has the intelligence to know where to place his body making it difficult to shrug him off the ball. Coupled with his raw speed and ability to dribble with the ball, Sané can hustle and bustle his way past a defender or through the centre of a defence.
Although Sané is not limited like an average winger may be. Rather than an orthodox winger who is restricted to using his pace in wide areas, Sané is both adaptable and versatile. He has the awareness to drift inside and find space in between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defence, where he can utilize his attacking qualities including his speed and dribbling.
5. Anthony Martial
While his future is almost certainly as a center forward, the position where he has been used most often, Martial is also able to operate on either wing, despite generally preferring his right foot. Much like his fellow Lyon academy product, Alexandre Lacazette, whose development also included stretches of being deployed in wide areas, Martial is an instinctive finisher who makes good use of his upper body strength to put himself in good positions. Also willing to battle defenders to the last, it would be unfair to label him a poacher, as more than a few of his goals were down to a doggedness to find the back of the net. Certainly a confidence player, Martial blossomed once he was given a consistent run in the side and was able to better establish a rapport with his teammates.Balancing a fine mix of pace and strength, Martial doesn’t necessarily need the ball put on a platter for him as a striker, as his determination to get a shot away has boosted the assist totals of his teammates on more than one occasion this season. When looking to pass the ball, Martial is a better and more inventive presence than often given credit for, despite a fairly low completion percentage.
At his best when creating interchanges in close areas along the ground, Martial is also able to mix in the odd cross from wide areas, something which, while not always successful, is enough to make opponents worry.Possessed with enough drive to want to score but also enough consideration to know when to lay the ball off, (see his assist for Dimitar Berbatov against Arsenal) his decision making is strong in terms of ideas, even if it is somewhat lacking in execution at times. Also with solid, if not outstanding ability as dribbler, Martial is, even now, a fairly well-rounded attacking player, even if his first touch can be a bit disappointing. He has also sometimes seemed at odds with Jardim, especially early in the season when used on the wing or as a substitute, and he could do better tracking back, but all in all these are the types of things that can be learned.Martial’s natural talent is apparent, and he is a fine prospect in the Lacazette/Henry mold, the bottom line being that his scoring record at 19 is tremendous, and he has a real chance to be on their level, provided he continues to burnish the rough areas of his game.
To say a player is a good finisher may seem overly simplistic, but it is truly an apt description for Martial. Not only good, but versatile, this is easily the strongest part of his game, a primal skill that shows a tremendous amount of creativity on the player’s part. Lobs, thunderbolts into the top corner, tap-ins from set pieces, a brief review of Martial’s goals for Monaco this season shows a player who has an inveterate nose for how to get the ball from his foot into the net, a lively and unpredictable blend of creativity and accuracy.Also a fairly strong dribbler, especially considering his rather lanky frame, Martial uses this not only to create opportunities for himself but also seeks to involve teammates. When, as he generally has been at Monaco, surrounded by pacy players, this is a tremendous asset. Despite being just 19, Martial has also demonstrated a fairly high level of physical strength, which when coupled with his acceleration, make him a tough customer for burly center backs and fleet-footed fullbacks alike.
6. Kingsley Coman
A typical modern day winger, Coman has exceptional pace. This year Pep Guardiola has focused his attack through the wings, and Coman has benefited from this. The young Frenchman has the ability to play on either side- something that seems to have died out in football. The modus operandi for most wingers, in most teams now, is to cut inside. Kingsley Coman can easily do this, and when he cuts inside from the left, he is incredibly good at squaring up defenders in one on one situations. When playing on his natural right hand side, he is adept at beating a defender, getting to the byline, and crossing the ball. When he does do this, his delivery is usually superb.
Coman’s crossing is usually superb, but as per Squawka, Koman only has five assists in the Bundesliga, combined with only 26 key passes. When he plays on the right his crossing is better, as he excels at beating a player and getting to the byline, sometimes however, he does hold onto the ball for too long. His ability to assess the situation is one of the biggest among his strengths. Although he is exceptional at one on one situations, against better defenders, or when teams double up on him, he holds onto to the ball and tries to beat them many times. He needs to decide what he’s going to do before he gets the ball, rather than automatically trying to take the defender on. This can be solved through two options, better movement off the ball, or quicker ball recycling.Coman’s movement off the ball could be better, as most of the time he usually hugs the touchline in the opposition’s half- something which Pep likes him to do, in order to stretch the pitch.He has 4 goals from 20 appearances in the Bundesliga, and needs to add more to his game. Due to his position, he doesn’t have many chances to shoot, but when he does, they’re not the most devastating shots, and has only 46% on target. Inside the box his finishing could improve, and will over time as he has the talent.
In terms of defence, Coman will work hard, and like most Guardiola teams, he is willing to press the player in ball possession. He is also incredibly dangerous in defence, as he can lead the counter-attack on his own, as seen against Juventus. Not only is he quick without the ball, but he seems just as fast with it, moreover like his teammate, Douglas Costa, he is surprisingly strong on the ball. Defenders find it very hard to bully him off the ball, and he quite often can wriggle through multiple challenges. His dribbling is so devastating, that he could quite well end up playing the middle, to utilise his ability to beat players.
7. Dele Alli – Tottenham, Midfielder
Alli is a tall, skillful and balanced midfielder. Capable of playing as a CM or CAM, Alli possesses great quality going forward.Despite being 6’2”, Alli is surprisingly balanced. He doesn’t have a huge build, but seems strong enough on the ball to be able to stay on his feet from tackles. Moreover, he has good speed to be able to run past defenders. Combine these with his ability to use tricks and his use of angles makes Alli a very good dribbler.
As I mentioned earlier; Alli can either play as a deep CM or a CAM driving at defenders. Due to his technical ability, Alli is comfortable picking the ball from his defenders or goalie. What I do have to mention however is that if he plays as a part of a within a 4-2-3-1, he’ll need someone next to him to help with the defensive side. Alli is not a defensive player, he can at times intercept passes, but isn’t the best tackler.Because of his height he does head the ball well and has a good spring in his jump. Alli can finish outside the box, inside or play passes to his teammates. His shot isn’t the strongest, he can still shoot from outside or finesse the ball into the net. He isn’t afraid to use his left foot, but does have an evident preference; his right foot being far more technical.
While Alli does have an eye for goal, his passing is quite impressive too. On the ground, Alli is a very good passer and seems to have a good range.Overall, his passing ability is top notch. He also has great vision and can make cutting passes easily. He knows when to pass to feet and into space, but crucially he has good intelligence to go with his technical ability. Quite often he has made the pass in his head before actually receiving the ball. He also doesn’t rush with the ball- he lets players move around before making the pass or shooting.Along with his good decision making, Alli is very neat and tidy. He rarely has a poor first touch and doesn’t seem to lose the ball easily. Furthermore, he has the ability to travel with the ball without seeming to exert much energy. He glides past players and makes dribbling seem easier. Everything he does seems casual and effective. He does use his left sometimes, but his right is very strong. He can shoot well and seems a cool finisher in the box. When you watch him it seems like everything is easy and moving slowly around him.
8. Hector Bellerin, Arsenal – Defender
Héctor Bellerín is still a winger at heart. He is blisteringly quick – supposedly quicker than both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – and he routinely beats opposing players for pace across the pitch. Speed is commonly thought of as an attacking trait but Bellerín uses it to great effect when defending and quick defenders are becoming increasingly common. Trying to turn the Spaniard high up the pitch is fruitless, as he can close the gaps attackers open up in the blink of an eye. Of course, his speed also allows him to be a ruthless attacker himself. His days as a winger may be long gone but he can still quite comfortably beat an opposing full back to the byline and hit a cross.It’s his tendency to come inside when attacking which is his most intriguing attribute, though. Despite possessing lightning speed Bellerín is not necessarily a fan of the age-old overlap which has been the staple of full back play for decades. Instead he likes to drift inside, taking on defenders on their weaker side and often shooting with his left foot. His years as a Barcelona boy have left him with a peerless technicality and the ball sticks to his feet like glue.
His offensive talents have never been more evident than during Arsenal’s 4-1 rout of Liverpool in 2015. Aaron Ramsey, leading an Arsenal counter spots Bellerín breaking forward at breakneck speed and rolls the ball back to him – the Spaniard’s momentum carries him into the box. What happens next is a perfect personification of what makes Bellerín so unique. He glides past compatriot Alberto Moreno – previously considered the future of Spain’s full back position – and caresses the ball past Simon Mignolet with a sweep of his left foot. It’s a curving, delightful effort made for the front page and it secures Bellerín’s position as a fan favourite.
But you’d be mistaken in thinking that Bellerín is little more than a converted winger – he is now a full back through and through. His natural intelligence has meant that he has taken to defending like a fish to water. His positioning is assured and confident (despite the overwhelming temptation to unleash his attacking talents he must constantly wrestle with) and he is a solid tackler. Arsenal’s right side of defence – consisting of Bellerín and Laurent Koscielny – must be amongst the quickest flanks in the world and this means the entire side can push up, safe in the knowledge that two of their defenders cannot be beaten in a foot race.
9. Ruben Neves, Porto – Midfielder
Rúben Neves’ biggest strength is definitely the mental part of his game. For an 18-year-old he’s extremely mature and he’s probably more level-headed than most footballers around the world, which is likely why he’s Porto’s 3rd choice captain at the age of 18, behind club legend Helton and Brazilian centre-back Maicon. Wearing the armband is nothing new to Neves, who has been skipper for several youth teams at Porto and for Portugal. Earlier this year the Portuguese international became the youngest captain in the history of Champions League when he wore the armband vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Like the natural born leader he is, leading one of Europe’s biggest club in Europe’s biggest tournament looked like the most natural thing in the world to young Neves.
Rúben Neves can play as a defensive and central midfielder and he’s mastered both positions equally well. In Portugal he’s often referred to as a “Trinco” (a lock in English), which is often described as a ‘pivot’ or ‘number six’ in England. He has also been used more in the central part of the pitch this season as a dynamic and energetic number eight, much like former Porto player João Moutinho. He thrived in that position vs Chelsea earlier this season and he has showed on several occasions that it’s a role that suits him well.
Neves’ positional awareness is one of his best attributes, along with his consistency and accurate passing. Rúben Neves is a thinking footballer, who doesn’t need big muscles to win back the ball from his opponents. He’s by no means weak, but his intelligence and reading of the game is enough to make him excellent at retaining position. You’ll never see the 18-year-old make a hasty decision and there’s a deliberate though behind every move he makes. Rúben Neves went from playing U17 football to get his debut in the Primeira Liga and play Champions League football in a few weeks. He adapted to the level with ease and so far no task has been too difficult for the Porto starlet. He’s still just a teenager, but he’s everything you expect from a far older and well-established midfielder.
10. Ousmane Dembele, Rennes
There certainly is a reason that so many top clubs have been after Dembélé, and by the looks of it any club would be very lucky to pick the young Frenchman up on a contract. What immediately sticks out is the impressive goal scoring record Dembélé has managed so far in France, with 10 goals. Goals aside, he offers quite a bit on the attacking side of the game.
Dembélé has five assists, which is pretty good for a forward of his age. He has also managed to create 30 chances over the course of the season and 1.7 key passes per game. Creating for others is not even the main weapon in his arsenal. Dembélé averages a stunning 4.4 dribbles per game which indicates he is more than capable of creating his own chances or at least drawing defenders to create an opening for another player.One thing that is important to emphasize is that he is incredibly dynamic up front. Most media refers to him as a striker or a centre-forward and while he has certainly played as a striker, that is not where most of his goals or even most of his performances have come from. This is something that any club can use to their advantage.
Most of his goals have come from the middle, but more as an attacking midfielder or supporting striker. He has made five appearances as an attacking midfielder where he has scored five goals and made two of his assists. Over the course of the season, he has also played as a right-winger and a left-winger where he has scored and created chances from either side.The fact that Dembélé excels in so many positions would certainly be an asset to any club, who constantly seem to need to rotate their attacking front due to injuries.