The kids are alright!
As another season draws to a close, we have yet again been privileged to witness a litany of promising young talent tearing their way through Europe’s top five leagues. There is so much young talent, even across the big leagues, that it demands recognition.
What better way to recognise that talent than by collating it into a best XI? A combined team of the finest players 21 and under from La Liga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1. Who makes the cut? Who misses out? Read on to see!
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma
Club: AC Milan
Key Stat: 11 clean sheets
Only Alban Lafont can compete with the marvel that is Gianluigi Donnarumma, and when you consider that the young Italian is performing in the pressure cooker that is AC Milan, with the national media spotlight placed firmly on him and everyone expecting him to be the next Gianluigi Buffon? There can be no contest. The 18 year-old is supreme.
Right-back: Benjamin Henrichs
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Key Stat: 100 interceptions
Leverkusen’s rocket of a right-back emerged in a big way this season. While the side as a whole struggled under Roger Schmidt’s management, Henrichs went from strength to strength. He created 18 chances but most impressive was his ability to consistently defend (averaging 6 defensive actions) whilst carrying a threat in attack (67% take-ons won) as well.
Centre-back: Niklas Süle
Key Stat: 44/76 (58%) tackles won
This giant of a defender will be joining Bayern Munich next season and it’s not hard to see why the Bavarians chose him to cannibalise from the up-and-coming sides in the Bundesliga. Guided by Julian Nagelsmann’s management, Süle has used his incredible skill-set to be the bedrock of a defence that has seen Hoffenheim qualify for the Champions League for the first time ever.
Centre-back: Andreas Christensen
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Key Stat: 71/107 (66%) aerial duels won
Chelsea’s colossal loanee has been at Gladbach who are struggling in mid-table but the man (well, boy) himself has actually been impressive. Dominant in the air especially, winning a phenomenal 66% of his aerial duels as part of 110 overall duels won. Christensen heads back to Chelsea a warrior.
Left-back: Theo Hernández
Club: Alavés (on loan from Atlético Madrid)
Key Stat: 63/103 (61%) take-ons won
Blistering up and down the left-flank for Alavés, Theo Hernández has been so good that he convinced Real Madrid to break their “no transfer” pact with Atlético Madrid to sign him. An incredibly pacy and creative full-back, Theo’s greatest strength is his incredible dribbling ability.
Central midfield: Rodri
Key Stat: 508/565 (90%) passes completed
This giant defensive midfielder has “good feet for a big man” – playing like a young version of Bruno Soriano. Quality across the board, with 67 total duels won and 53 defensive actions. This 20 year-old has a long and prosperous future ahead of him.
Central midfield: Dele Alli
Key Stat: 17 league goals
17 league goals. As a midfielder. For Spurs. Dele Alli has performed near-miracles this season as he has transformed from a rampaging attacking midfielder into England’s answer to Thomas Müller. 17 league goals. As a midfielder. Seriously. Just think about it.
Right-wing: Ousmane Dembélé
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Key Stat: 103/179 (58%) take-ons won
Dortmund’s deliriously devastating winger has taken to German football like a duck to water. He is an incredible dribbling force, winning over 100 take-ons and creating over 50 chances. His thrilling antics have been the best thing about Borussia Dortmund in a season full of great things. Across Europe’s top five leagues Dembélé has been a shining light and, as he turns 20 today, he is one of the most magical forces in world football with an even brighter future waiting for him on the horizon.
Left-wing: Thomas Lemar
Key Stat: 64 chances created
Monaco’s brilliance in attack owes so much to the creative powers of Thomas Lemar. The 21 year-old who runs that left-flank like his own personal fiefdom. Able to bend delirious crosses and thread wonderful through-balls, Lemar is one of the most creative forces regardless of age.
Striker: Kylian Mbappé
Key Stat: league goal involvement of 23
He’s 18 years-old and he’s come from nowhere, wearing a stupid shirt number (he’s a real life Alex Hunter – which is utterly ridiculous when you think about it), to take Europe by storm. Not just any storm. But a storm the size of Jupiter’s Red Spot. Hurricane winds, thunder, lightning, dogs and cats living together. Kylian Mbappé has saved his greatest heroics for the Champions League (six goals in six Champions League starts) but such is the staggering depth of his talents that he has had enough left over to scored 15 goals and set-up a further 8 to deliver Monaco’s first title for 17 years. He is The Truth.
Striker: Timo Werner
Club: RB Leipzig
Key Stat: 21 league goals
No under 21 player has been as lethal in their league as Timo Werner. The youngster is the only under 21 player to crack the 20 goal barrier this season and moreover is the first 21 year-old Bundesliga player to scored 18+ goals in a season season for 24 years. Powered RB Leipzig’s title challenge.