by Jack Rathborn
Stephan El Shaarawy
(AC Milan, 20 years old)
Having recently graduated to Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri, El Shaarawy – who enjoyed a sensational loan spell with Padova in Serie B – has adapted immediately to life in Serie A since his move from Genoa 18 months ago and is currently the league’s top scorer in his brilliant breakthrough season.
The 20-year-old’s most natural position is from a wide berth in a 4-3-3, but given Massimiliano Allegri’s preferred formation is the diamond 4-4-2, El Shaarawy’s opportunities in this role have been rare, until now.
After a summer of turmoil which included the departures of the club’s two best players, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan’s form spiralled to the point where the club were at one point closer to relegation than the title. This forced Allegri to experiment with alternatives tactics, including a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and even a 3-4-3 in the 1-0 Champions League defeat to Malaga.
El Shaarawy has scored sixteen goals this season and they come in numerous forms. From long-range blockbusters (against Udinese) to slalom runs (against Zenit St. Petersburg) or predatory finishes inside the penalty area, Il Faraone has become Milan’s next superstar.
Mattia De Sciglio
(AC Milan, 20 years old)
It all started in the summer when Paris Saint-Germain were tentatively linked to Ignazio Abate and although a deal failed to materialise, there was talk among various Milanistas that the €20 million valuation of the 25-year-old could be smart business.
Such a thought process was only logical when you consider the prodigious talent of Mattia De Sciglio was waiting to become a prominent member of the first team. The 20-year-old, who predominantly plays as a right back, can perform equally as well on the opposite flank.
Allegri has entrusted the Azzurrini international to feature regularly this term, often preferred to seasoned professionals such as Luca Antonini, Djamel Mesbah
De Sciglio is a balanced full-back who is capable of venturing forward when afforded the opportunity, but can ultimately be trusted to defend properly due to a canny ability to intercept the ball.
(Napoli, 21 years old)
Eyebrows were raised in the summer when Ezequiel Lavezzi was allowed to depart for pastures new despite El Pocho being the heartbeat of a side that rose from Serie B to the Champions League in the space of four seasons.
Napoli’s owner Aurelio De Laurentiis – a shrewd businessman outside of the world of football – appeased the fans by encouraging Walter Mazzarri to promote the exciting, young prospect of Lorenzo Insigne to the first team.
After impressing in a loan spell for Pescara – who claimed the Serie B title thanks, in part, to Insigne’s inspired performances – the Neapolitan was always destined to break into the first team of his parent club.
Seen as a trequartista, capable of unhinging the most stringent of defences, Insigne is the next great hope for the Partenopei. Insigne is not the most typical Italian player you will find; perhaps only FrancescoTotti in recent memory can compare in style.
The player is deadly when allowed to run from deep, often dropping into wide areas to start moves. He possesses quick feet and tight control in order to dribble effortlessly past defenders, unselfishly involving his team mates with a series of one-twos.
Insigne’s finishing will need to be worked on as the Azzurrini starlet is a more instinctive finisher than a penalty area predator, but he seems destined to become a key figure for the Partenopei soon.
(AS Roma, 21 years old)
Roma opted to throw the baby out with the bath water again this summer after all hope was lost in the Luis Enrique project. Zdenek Zeman – who constructed such a splendid Pescara side last season – stepped in to replace the Spaniard in an attempt to reignite the Di Benedetto regime that has failed to inspire the Giallorossi thus far.
Zeman, a staunch supporter of developing young talent, has unearthed a gem in Alessandro Florenzi to become Roma’s next home town hero after Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.
Florenzi’s impact has been so great that Cesare Prandelli even called him up to the Italy squad for the November friendly against France. At Under-21 level the 21-year-old is shining and helped the side to secure a place at the 2013 European Under-21 Championships in Israel, topping group seven with the Roman playing a pivotal role, scoring 3 times in 10 appearances.
Florenzi began the season as trade bait for Chievo’s Michael Bradley, but Zeman insisted on keeping the youngster, instead sending Adrian Stoian in part-exchange for the US international. Initially a regular substitute, Florenzi was handed his first start away at Inter Milan, shining in a 3-1 victory and scoring a superb goal.
Florenzi’s impact has been so unexpected – even though he showed glimpses of promise at Crotone in Serie B last season – that Roma were still paying him just €30,000 per year. Such maturity and discipline in midfield has forced the Giallorossi to hand the youngster a new €600,000 per year contract until 2016.
Given that Zeman has shown incredible faith in Florenzi, enough to leave Daniele De Rossi on the bench in some games, his future is tremendously exciting.
(Udinese, 21 years old)
Udinese have one of the most impressive scouting networks in world football, which has led the Zebrette to hold contracts with over 50 professionals.
Udinese’s policy is always to buy low and sell high, which means that new stars emerge each season to replace those that established themselves enough to earn a big-money transfer the previous summer.
Roberto Pereyra was recruited from River Plate a year ago, without much fanfare in truth, as Erik Lamela sealed his move to Roma. The 21-year-old was not seen as one of La Banda’s next world stars, but arrived with great excitement amongst the Udinese staff nonetheless.
Originally a wide player, it seemed that Pereyra would be a perfect fit in Francesco Guidolin’s 3-5-2 formation. But Guidolin has opted to use the Argentine more centrally than in either wide role.
There has been a pattern in recent seasons whereby Guidolin has transformed wide players into central-midfielders; Mauricio Isla has proved to be the most successful player to adapt, but Pablo Armero and Dusan Basta
With a lovely balance and ability to dribble past opponents, both inside and outside, Pereyra has utilised these skills to good effect in his new position.
Udinese enjoy counter-attacking and Pereyra perfectly suits this tactic due to his tremendous drive and energy, making the Friulani such a potent threat in transition.
Giuseppe De Luca
(Atalanta, 21 years old)
De Luca has burst onto the scene at Atalanta this season as an extra attacking option after Gabbiadini was sold to Juventus, eventually joining Bologna on loan.
De Luca won himself a starting place for La Dea early in the season and the challenge for him is to become a regular next to German Denis when Guido Marilungo returns to full fitness.
His style is almost identical to Sebastian Giovinco, with added pace to be able to glide past defenders, as well as bamboozle them with quick feet and trickery.
The 21-year-old is only on loan from Varese, which might prove problematic next summer when Atalanta aim to finalise a permanent deal. More lively performances like those already witnessed, combined with increased exposure by his growing presence in Denis Mangia’s under-21 side and Italy’s biggest clubs will come calling in the near future.
(Sampdoria, 20 years old)
Spain have dominated world football in recent years from their senior side down to the youth sides. With the competition higher than ever, it has forced certain players to move abroad in search of opportunities to develop their careers.
Pedro Obiang is a fine example of this. The Spaniard of Equatoguinean descent left Atletico Madrid four years ago to join Sampdoria as a 16-year-old.
Having now graduated from Samp’s academy, he has become a crucial part of the first team – perhaps benefitting from the rebuilding phase last season in Serie B – contributing power and strength to the midfield.
An all-action centre-midfielder who is physically blessed with pace, power and strength – characteristics not normally associated with La Furia Roja in the modern game – this allows the 20-year-old to wrestle control of matches in Samp’s favour.
Having represented Spain at under-17 and under-19 level, it will not be long before Obiang graduates to senior international football, either with Gabon, who have expressed an interest, or perhaps with Spain further down the line.
(Parma, 20 years old)
Ishak Belfodil’s first action in Serie A came in the shape of sporadic substitute appearances for struggling Bologna last season, so it was a surprise when Parma, a side that narrowly missed out on qualifying for Europe, opted to swoop for the former Lyon striker.
The Crociati also signed veteran striker Amauri, along with one of the stars of last season’s Copa Libertadores,
To the surprise of most, Belfodil seized a starting role as Amauri began the season injured and Pabon struggled to adapt to the league after his move from Atletico Nacional.
With an uncanny physical resemblance to Karim Benzema, Belfodil has shown glimpses that his game might not be too dissimilar to the Real Madrid star’s either. The French under-20 striker enjoys working between the lines, drifting down the channels and darting in toward goal.
Only 20, Belfodil’s finishing is often frustrating, with the Frenchman tending to snatch at his shots, but this is something that will develop with continued game time.
Perhaps his best quality right now is his ability to link the play, often holding the ball up, finding a team mate and dragging opponents out of position with his off-the-ball movement.
(Internazionale, 21 years old)
Andrea Stramaccioni has successfully introduced the 3-5-2 formation to Inter this season and Juan Jesus has been thrust into the limelight. In a surprising move, the young manager has opted to bench one of the summer’s bigger recruits in former Catania centre-back Matias Silvestre, in favour of the young Brazilian.
Juan has been positioned on the left side of the back three, due to his previous experience at playing left-back for Internacional (Porto
The 21-year-old has vastly improved since being overwhelmed at the Olympics, struggling particularly against Mexico in the gold medal final – which prompted the Nerazzurri to consider loaning the defender out given his inexperience.
Ultimately Juan has proven this season that he is already primed to emulate his idol Lucio, successfully adapting to the European game after arriving from the Nação Vermelha. Potentially an outside chance of dislodging David Luiz as Thiago Silva’s partner for Brazil at the next World Cup.
(Pescara, 20 years old)
Mattia Perin has been assigned the unenviable task of keeping goal for Pescara this season, where the Azzurrini international can expect to be kept busy for the Serie A newcomers.
Perin, on loan from Genoa, is a terrific shot stopper and is replicating the fine form that he produced in Serie B with Padova last season.
The 19-year-old has often been exposed by the Delfino defence, but his speed and anticipation to read the situation has been remarkable for such a young goalkeeper.
Having represented Italy at five separate age groups and finally tasting life in Serie A, Perin could be the Azzurri’s best goalkeeping prospect to succeed Gianluigi Buffon down the line.