Generation Next is our regular feature on Just Football profiling the best young talents in the world. And here’s another to keep an eye on – Atalanta’s bustling midfielder Franck Kessie… Last summer, when Genoa former coach Gian Piero Gasperini made the move to Atalanta, after seven wonderful years spent in Liguria (interjected by spells […]
All this season, we have been covering the exploits of our #JF70 best young players in Europe to watch in 2016/17, with regular updates on their performances. Some of the 70 have impressed us more than others, but who has impressed us enough to make our #JF70 Team of the Year (so far)?
Read on to find out, and check back regularly for more #JF70 updates. To remind yourself of who made the prestigious #JF70 cut take a look at our pick of the best youngs talents to watch in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Portugal for 2016/17.
#JF70 Europe’s Best Young Talents of the Season so far
They say having a solid and reliable goalkeeper is the bedrock of any strong team. But I bet they weren’t specific about his age. Every time Gianluigi Donnarumma‘s name pops up, it’s difficult not to think about the fact that he’s just 17 years old! Yes, 17!
AC Milan made a bold call at the start of the season to let experienced goalkeeper Diego Lopez leave and hand Donnarumma the No 1 spot between the sticks. It may just turn out to be one of their shrewdest moves in a long time. The thing is, he can only get better.
Meanwhile, in the short term, AC Milan will need him to keep up his good form in goal if they are to return to Europe.
The Albanian full back has been a constant feature in the Napoli side, churning out impressive and reliable performances – game after game. Hysaj’s consistency has been his greatest asset so far this season.
On the negative side, there have been no goals or assists yet for the 22-year-old. In a world where stats are so important, it would be easy to ignore someone like Elseid Hysaj, but we reward his steadiness with a spot in the JF70 best XI so far.
By September, Nathan Ake had played only 13 Premier League minutes. His only other time on the pitch for Bournemouth (where he was on loan) was the 90 minutes he played in a 2-3 home loss to Preston in the EFL Cup. Then his fortunes changed last November against Stoke City. The 21-year-old got a rare start at centre back and scored the only goal as the Cherries sealed a crucial 1-0 win.
He then started and finished every game for Bournemouth (except the 3-0 loss against his parent club) until he was recalled by Chelsea. He scored a further two goals, including a dramatic winner against Liverpool at the Vitality.
Good to be back 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/vrNRF5uE6G
— Nathan Aké (@NathanAke) January 11, 2017
Nathan Ake’s chances at Chelsea may be limited – that shouldn’t surprise anyone – but he’s made a huge impression with his short loan spell at Bournemouth. He looks ready for the big time – whenever Blues manager Antonio Conte gives him the nod.
After 18 games in the Bundesliga Hoffenheim have only tasted one defeat. One key component of their 17-game unbeaten run was their German centre back Niklas Süle.
Süle, 21, has played 17 of his side’s 18 Bundesliga games. That steadiness has helped unfancied Hoffenheim shoot all the way up to fifth place. He also has one goal to his name – the winner in Die Kraichgauer’s 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin in October.
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist has tackled his way to fame, and it wasn’t surprising that the big clubs were all over him once the January transfer window opened. German champions Bayern Munich – along with Chelsea – were favourites to snap him up. Süle felt a move to England “wasn’t yet right”, and instead he chose “a once in a lifetime opportunity” by joining Bayern Munich on a five-year deal for a reported fee of around €25 million.
Already one of the best centre-backs in Germany, raising his level this season, Hoffenheim will be glad Süle won’t be joining Bayern until the summer. They’ll also be hoping he leaves them in a European position when he leaves.
You may find it difficult to believe that this is Victor Lindelof’s first season as a starter at Benfica. Just about a year ago, he needed injuries to Benfica’s guaranteed centre-back pairing to break into the XI. These days, he’s not only one of the first names on the teamsheet (not just because he’s a defender and wears the number 2 shirt), but also one of Benfica’s most reliable players.
“Iceman”, as his teammates call him, has enjoyed a successful season so far with Liga NOS leaders Benfica. He has spearheaded the second best defence in the league, one that has conceded only 12 goals in 19 games. Cool as ice, and always exhibiting maturity beyond his age, the Swede has already featured in most of his side’s league games so far this season.
A move to Manchester United for Victor Lindelof was one of the biggest rumours of the winter window. Issues regarding how much compensation the defender’s first club Vasteras would get from Benfica for his sale stalled the move, but a summer switch could be back on course.
Tiemoue Bakayoko had a challenging start to the season, which included a sending off in Monaco’s 4-0 Ligue 1 loss against Nice at Allianz Riviera in September. He didn’t drop his head though and was quick to reclaim his place in Monaco’s XI.
He’s not the most flamboyant midfielder, or one to attempt a Hollywood pass, but Bakayoko has been one of the most efficient in the Monaco side, boasting an impressive 88% pass accuracy and averaging almost three tackles per game.
Then the goals have come too. After failing to score (or assist) in his first 14 Ligue 1 games, the 22 year-old has now scored twice, and assisted once in his last five games. He’s another on this list that will only get better.
Though he’s recently been with the Ivorian national team at the Africa Cup of Nations, Kessie has been one of Atalanta’s shining lights as they push for a European place.
The 20-year-old started the season on a high, scoring twice in Atalanta’s 4-3 home loss to Lazio on the opening day of Serie A. He’s scored four further goals in the league, making him his side’s joint top scorer. If he keeps up his current form, it’s very unlikely that the scrabble for his signature will stop – even into the summer.
Last season, Monaco were perceived by many as a defensive side. Leonardo Jardim’s men were quite comfortable with 1-0 scorelines, and weren’t going to give an arm to fortify their “goals for” column. This season, in contrast, they are a goal scoring juggernaut, tearing teams apart time and again. One man has spearheaded this turn around – Thomas Lemar.
Like his idol Andreas Iniesta does at Barcelona, Lemar leads the Monegasques in the middle; superbly linking midfield and attack selflessly, elegantly and with admirable intelligence. Lemar has shown he is comfortable on both wings and indeed every attacking midfield position.
Goals from long range, amazing free-kicks, and a spectacular lob against Marseille are a few of his highlights this season. Lemar’s performances for Monaco, where he’s currently the joint second top scorer (with seven goals) and second in assists (four), have shot his side to the top of the Ligue 1 table.
The 21-year-old also played a starring role for Monaco in the Champions League. He scored twice – both goals coming in the two games against Tottenham – to help his side finish top of their group to set up a knockout stage face-off with Manchester City.
After Alex Iwobi’s break out 2015/2016 season, suffering the dreaded “second season syndrome” would have been one of the worries for Arsenal at the start of this season. But it didn’t take long for those worries to be allayed.
Due to some injury problems and late season start for some of Arsenal’s big Euro 2016 stars, Alex Iwobi was thrown straight into the fray by Arsene Wenger. The winger featured in 14 of Arsenal’s first 17 games. He hasn’t looked back since.
The Nigerian international has proved to be an important member of the Arsenal squad, adding to the Gunners’ attacking play with his trickery, quick thinking, and precision on the ball. He’s not the finished article yet, as his defensive deficiency and fatigue problems have showed, but he’s proven – even midway through the season – that he’s on the right path. Second season syndrome may be a myth after all.
One of the breakout stars of the Eredivisie season in the Netherlands, 19-year-old striker Kasper Dolberg has been a revelation.
A regular feature in our #JF70 weekly wraps throughout the campaign, Dolberg has risen to cement his place in Ajax’s first team, scoring nine goals to attract interest from Europe’s big boys, including Manchester City and Juventus, who have sent scouts to watch the talented forward.
Il Gallo has not just been Torino’s most consistent player this season, he’s also been one of the best strikers in Italy (where he’s joint-fourth top scorer with 14 goals) and in Europe.
From the first two weeks of the Serie A season, when Andrea Belotti scored one against Milan, and three against Bologna, the goals haven’t stopped raining down. Super efficient, menacing, and almost impossible to mark, Belotti has tormented Serie A defences all season long.
Andrea Belotti has 15 goals across all competitions this season:
5 with his left foot
5 with his right foot
5 with his head
Well rounded. pic.twitter.com/auWEJ7BSB9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 16, 2017
Belotti has hardly hit a dry spell all season, and he’s continued to score enough goals to compliment for Torino’s shambolic defence. If The Bulls somehow sneak a European place this season, they’ll owe it majorly to his goals. Whether they will have him next season is another topic entirely; one no-one at Torino will want to contemplate right now.