Football Features

Five La Liga talents who could explode this season

By Matt Clark, from La Liga Lowdown

Published: 13:19, 23 October 2020

Following in the footsteps of Muhammad Butt’s piece on Premier League Breakout Talents, now is the turn of their Spanish equivalents.

While it’s true that transfer spending was far less in comparison to the riches of England, La Liga can still claim to have some of Europe’s potential stars of tomorrow, and they aren’t just at Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Clubs throughout the league have plenty of talent ready to announce themselves to the world, and narrowing the pool down to five was a challenge. Here is the list of the chosen quintet to keep more than half an eye on this season.

1. Ansu Fati

  • Age: 17
  • Club: Barcelona
  • Position: Winger

Ansu Fati emerged at the start of last season and was probably the brightest spark in a disappointing and trophyless campaign for the Blaugrana. He didn’t waste much time shattering records: he is Barcelona’s youngest-ever goalscorer in La Liga at 16 years and 304 days old, and the youngest in the history of the league to score and assist in the same game.

He then announced himself Europe-wide to become the youngest-ever player to score in the Champions League. The talent is undoubted, and the picture of his emotional embrace with Leo Messi evoked memories of a young Messi’s hug with Ronaldinho all those years ago. The prospect of him becoming the heir to the captain’s throne is a tantalising one for Barça fans.

This season he has already started where he left off, winning his first cap for Spain and becoming their youngest-ever scorer in the process. His productivity is astounding, beyond even his ability to take on defenders and force fouls. Last season he scored seven goals and created 19 chances in just 11 starts. So far this campaign he has scored three league goals from just four shots on target. Unerringly clinical for someone so young.

The sky just isn’t high enough for this prodigious talent, and the scariest thing is, he doesn’t even officially become an adult until the end of October. A freakish talent, appropriately born on Halloween. Strap yourselves in for an explosive season.

2. Rodrygo Goes

  • Age: 19
  • Club: Real Madrid
  • Position: Winger

A product of Santos, and wearing the same shirt number as Neymar, it was clear that Rodrygo didn’t lack self-belief. Real Madrid had plenty of faith, too, splashing out a reported €45 million on him in the summer of 2019. Los Blancos have been keen to avoid missing out on ‘the next Neymar’, and together with Vinícius Júnior, Zinedine Zidane has a pair of wingers who have the potential to turn on the samba style.

Just like Ansu Fati, he didn’t take long to showcase his ability, scoring after just one minute off the bench on his debut in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Estadio Bernabéu and becoming the first player born in the 21st century to score for Los Merengues. His bright start was emphatically confirmed when he scored a perfect hat-trick in the Champions League against Galatasaray just weeks later.

It’s true to say that he has had fewer consistent opportunities since lockdown, only starting successive matches once since January. But with the departures of Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez, and the continuing injury problems plaguing Eden Hazard, Rodrygo could feature far more as the domestic season accelerates through autumn and winter.

An accurate passer who has the ability to dribble and beat a man before getting a cross in, Rodrygo has a wide skillset which could appeal to Zidane whenever he wants to tinker with his tactics. Expect to see far more of Rodrygo this campaign.

3. Hugo Guillamón

  • Age: 20
  • Club: Valencia
  • Position: Centre-back

The problems at Valencia have been well documented and if there is one group who could benefit from the lack of reinforcements to the team, it is the academy graduates, including this young Basque centre-back. Guillamón is highly regarded and only made his first-team Valencia debut in February, ironically away to Real Sociedad in San Sebastián, his place of birth. In that short time, he impressed fans and coaches alike, and has continued his rapid rise ever since.

This season, in just three appearances to date, he is averaging 6.67 clearances per match and has won 78% of his aerial duels so far, a percentage comparable with Sevilla’s Jules Koundé (80%). As he gets more playing time and gains experience, Guillamón’s already encouraging performances and defensive stats will continue to improve.

Having been an integral part of the national squads which won the Under-17 Euros in 2017 and the Under-19 Euros in 2019, Guillamón recently made his Under-21 debut. His goal in the last international break against Kazakhstan helped confirm Spain’s qualification for the Under-21 Euros. With La Roja not able to enjoy the depth of quality young talent that France have at centre-back, Guillamón could well graduate to the senior squad in time for their Euro finals next summer.

If he continues to perform well for his club, it is an outside shout worth considering for Luis Enrique. Signing a new contract to keep him at the club until 2023, El Tiburón, meaning ‘The Shark’, will continue to make life hard for opposition attackers and will be a source of pride for Valencians in difficult times.

4. Takefusa Kubo

  • Age: 19
  • Club: Villarreal
  • Position: Winger

To say there is excitement surrounding Take Kubo would be an understatement. After impressing in a relegated Real Mallorca side last season, the race to acquire his services on loan was hotly-contested in the summer. ‘Kubomania’ was in full swing. Villarreal were the winners and despite making other high-profile acquisitions – they were widely regarded to have ‘won’ La Liga’s transfer window. Yet, none of those arrivals were as celebrated as Kubo.

The young Japanese winger with history at Barcelona later joined Real Madrid, turning down the chance to return to the Camp Nou. He showed he was capable of adapting to the top level with his standout performances on loan at Mallorca, particularly in the game against his parent club at the end of last season. He excels at close control and take-ons, carrying the ball with consummate ease. Only four players attempted more dribbles than Kubo in La Liga last season, and only Messi generated more goal-creating actions than Kubo (18).

There has already been some concern that Kubo isn’t getting the minutes he deserves so far this season: he is yet to start a game for Villarreal amid stronger competition for places. Real Madrid are reportedly angry at his lack of game-time, but coach Unai Emery has challenged the view that he must play more, suggesting that accelerating his progress before he is ready would be short-sighted.

What is clear is that with so many games coming up in a short space of time, rotation is inevitable and Kubo will get more time as he acclimatises to his new coach and team-mates. With Villarreal returning to Europe, their Japanese gem will have the stage to showcase how good he can really be. It took him just 13 minutes to score on his first Europa League appearance against Sivasspor earlier this week.

5. Luis Milla

  • Age: 26
  • Club: Granada
  • Position: Central midfielder

Another transfer arrival, but Luis Milla is no youngster, having worked his way up the Spanish football pyramid. His father, of the same name, enjoyed an illustrious career in Spain’s top flight, playing for Valencia, Barcelona and, most famously, making more than 200 appearances for Real Madrid. Now establishing a career for himself, he finally followed in the footsteps of his father by earning a move to La Liga this summer with Granada.

The dynamic midfielder had shone in the Segunda División for Tenerife, scoring 10 goals and contributing 11 assists across the last two seasons in a team which finished 16th and then 12th. At the back-end of last season, he was directly involved in eight goals in his last eight games for the Canary Island club.

Milla was the clear star in the side, and he began life in La Liga in tremendous fashion. He scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Athletic Club, nipping in to intercept a loose pass before driving towards goal and firing home from the edge of the 18-yard box.

If there were any questions about whether he could make the step up required, he has answered them convincingly so far. With his passing (86% accuracy) and dribbling (89% accuracy) catching the eye, his energy and endless running make him the perfect box-to-box midfielder for Granada head coach Diego Martínez.

Much like Kubo, Milla will be playing Europa League football for the first time in the coming weeks, and will be keen to impress at that level too. As Marca’s Guía de la Liga said, he will make people talk this season.

Article produced in partnership by La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown