The Best Young Players XI

The amount of young talent in Europe’s top leagues is incredibly exciting, so I thought to create my own personal XI of the best of them in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Goalkeeper- Gianluigi Donnarumma  Age-18   Club- A.C Milan

Watching Donnarumma, you would have thought that he had been playing for years, but it is amazing to think that at such a young age, he has become one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A, and is one of the most sought after talents in the world. Reportedly on the radar of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona, Donnarumma was tempted by a move to a bigger club in the summer, but after consideration, he decided to stay at Milan. I believe this is the best move for him, as he is still so young, and has time to develop into one of the best goalkeepers in the world with enough gametime. I highly expect Donnarumma to be at a bigger club in the coming years, but he has to be consistent for A.C Milan, and for the Italian youth side.

Right Back- Benjamin Henrichs  Age-20   Club- Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen have a wealth of talent on their hands, that if managed correctly could potentially turn them into a Bundesliga winning side. Their full back Benjamin Henrichs has been capturing all the headlines, with his impressive performances that have even earned him 3 caps for the German national team. A quick full back, who likes to get forward and take people on, Henrichs is expected to be a regular fixture in the German side soon enough, and has already established himself within the Leverkusen team. With full backs in higher demand these days due to the increase in formations that include attacking full backs, Henrichs is sure to be on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs.

Centre Back- Jonathan Tah  Age- 21   Club- Bayer Leverkusen

Another Leverkusen talent that has become a full German international, Tah is a highly sought after centre back who is commanding and strong in defence. A ball playing defender that will surely catch the eye of Pep Guardiola at Man City, Tah is the sort of centre back that every manager would love, one that is composed on the ball, and can safely play out from the back without leaving the team in any trouble.

Centre Back- Davinson Sanchez  Age-21   Club- Tottenham Hotspur

Davinson Sanchez was part of the Ajax side that reached the Europa League final last season, and was a pivotal figure in that team. Standing over 6 foot, he is an imposing centre half, whilst also being composed on the ball, and being able to find the right pass. Tottenham have made a brilliant signing in Sanchez, and I’m sure he will become one of the best centre backs in the Premier League.

Left Back- Alex Grimaldo  Age- 21   Club- SL Benfica

A Spain under 21 international who came through the ranks at Barcelona, Alejandro Grimaldo has now been making his name playing for Benfica in the Portugese League. If Jordi Alba had not been at Barcelona, it would be almost certain that Grimaldo would have broken into their first team by now. But he showed ambition by leaving the Spanish giants, and joining Benfica for first team football in Portugal and the Champions League. Grimaldo is another full back that is of the attacking mould, and likes to bomb forward, and rack up the assists. In the coming years, I believe that Grimaldo will be at one of Europe’s top clubs once again, and could even challenge Jordi Alba for the left back spot in the Spanish side.

Centre Midfield- Adrien Rabiot  Age-22   Club- Paris Saint-Germain  

During the PSG thrashing of Celtic the other week, there was one player that stood out as being truly head and shoulders ahead of anyone on the Celtic team, and-although they are, it wasn’t Cavani, Mbappe or Neymar. Rabiot controlled the game so perfectly that he looked like the finished article already. A commanding figure in the centre of the park, Rabiot is incredible at winning the ball back from the opposition, and then always picking the right pass. When watching him, I felt that he played so similarly to Luka Modric of Real Madrid. It is amazing that Rabiot was virtually unheard of not so long ago, and how quickly he has slotted into this world class Paris Saint-Germain team and made the central midfield position his own.

Centre Midfield- Youri Tielemans   Age 21   Club- A.S Monaco

Whilst the word was ranting and raving about Renato Sanches and his apparent ability, I have been keeping a close eye on Youri Tielemans who made the switch in the summer from Anderlecht to Monaco. 13 goals in 37 appearances last year for Anderlecht from central midfield shows his ability, and he possesses the talent to strike them from long range, as demonstrated by some of his goals last year being 30 yard screamers. In the side I have picked, with Rabiot as a more deep lying midfielder, it will complement him to have a more advanced midfielder in Tielemans playing alongside him. Monaco have acquired a real gem in Tielemans, and I can’t wait to see how he performs for them this year in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League.

Left Wing- Marco Asensio  Age-21   Club- Real Madrid

In my opinion, Asensio is the best young talent in football right now, and the most likely of anyone on this list to win the Ballon d’or in the future. Asensio is performing so well right now for Madrid, that fans are forgetting that Ronaldo is not playing. Asensio struck two sumptuous strikes against Barcelona earlier this year to bring real light to how big of a star he will surely become. In the Under 21 Euro Championships, Asensio looked miles ahead of any other player there, as he scored goals and racked up assists in the Spain team that reached the final. Asensio possesses an incredible left foot that has seen him score from range and also from inside the box as well to exemplify his finishing ability. There was talk of Arsenal wanting Asensio in the summer, but I can’t see how he would take a step down to there as he is already lighting up the Bernabeu, and La Liga.

Central Attacking Midfield- Thomas Lemar  Age 21   Club- A.S Monaco

France really do have a wealth of talent on their hands, and Lemar is right at the top of the pile of that talent. One of the only remaining players from Monaco’s exceptional 2016/17 campaign, Lemar has started this season in fine form, bagging his first two international goals against the Netherlands. Another player that has a wand of a left foot, Lemar is a set piece specialist, and has a penchant for scoring from long range also. Lemar is equally adept at playing out on either wing, but I believe that he is most effective playing through the middle just behind the striker, where he can score and create goals at will.

Right Wing- Kylian Mbappe  Age-18   Club- Paris Saint-Germain

Mbappe burst onto the scene last year for Monaco, and since then, is set to become the second most expensive footballer of all time, behind his teammate Neymar. When watching Mbappe, you notice that he definitely has the footballing intelligence that so many other wingers lack. He has great close control dribbling, and good composure in the box, but most importantly, he is aware of when to pick a pass or not, as opposed to many other young wingers, who simply have an eye for goal. Mbappe boasts a great scoring record, and that will surely be set to improve as he has joined a free scoring PSG team, with the likes of Neymar, Cavani and Di Maria to accompany him up front.

Striker- Gabriel Jesus  Age-20   Club- Manchester City

4 years ago, Gabriel Jesus was painting the streets of Brazil, and now he finds himself at the centre of attention in European football. He has begun to form a lethal striking partnership at Manchester City with fellow South American Sergio Aguero, and opposition are already starting to fear the Mancunian side because of it. 4 goals to start his first 5 games this season, as well as the 7 in 10 that he bagged at the end of last season after moving to England from Brazil. Jesus is a striker that has sublime dribbling, and fancy footwork, and is a nightmare for defenders in the area. He is also very dangerous in the air, and is a threat from crosses, which he will have an endless supply of at City with the likes of Mendy, Silva and de Bruyne alongside him. Jesus is sure to become one of the leading strikers in the Premier League if not the world, and City will do well to keep him from the clutches of a team like Real Madrid who will no doubt come searching.

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The Art of Passing

When watching a football match, the average viewer will not fully understand the concept of just how the players on each team orchestrate swift attacks, and counter attacks against their opposition. The vital part of a football match, and what can truly epitomise the beautiful game, is the ability to pass and move.

Passing is often one of the most underrated and undervalued traits in football. If you are an amateur footballer playing at a lower level, most of the advice that the coaches will give to you will be the same: “Long ball upfield so the forward can run onto it”. Once the opposition team actually has a defence that can run at a more than decent pace, this thought process does become somewhat nullified.

This is where as a player, you must realise that the way in which you outplay and outsmart the opposition is by passing and moving. Simple. Or not so, as the case can quite often be. It is one thing to be able to pass along the floor to a player on your team and have it reach their feet. What many amateur players struggle with, and it is the most noticeable gap between an amateur player, and a professional player, is passing the ball, and moving swiftly into space, to not only open yourself up to a return ball, but to also possibly drag defenders from the other team into your space, allowing another member of your team to move into a space previously occupied by one of their defenders. It is this level of understanding and being able to apply it that will win you football matches. Many an amateur footballer I have played with, have possessed the ability to pass the ball on the floor no problem (others not so much), but then at the same time do not possess the ability, or as some would put it, the footballing knowledge to then move into space, and be able to read the game as a game of movement rather than just following the ball around, and trying kick it without really thinking.

For a midfielder, time is really the key when you are on the ball. As a midfielder in the middle of the park, you are going to be often closed down, in order to stop you from being able to distribute the ball to an attacking player, which needless to say, means you will have a very short amount of time to make a decision of what to do. This is where as a midfielder who controls and dictates the tempo of the play, you can be smart. Before the ball reaches your feet, you must be constantly looking ahead of you, assessing where your teammates are, prior to you receiving the ball, so that when the ball does reach your feet, you are already one step ahead of the defender on their team, because you will have a clear idea in your head of what your options are, and before the defender can adjust to get into position to close you down, you will already have picked out a pass, or made a run to further benefit your team. It is this footballing knowledge and awareness that will separate you from the other players on the pitch, and give you the confidence to play to the best of your ability. I know from personal experience that when I am playing in the middle of midfield, in more of an attacking midfield role, that I have to adopt this way of thinking if I am to be better than the other players. In the matches that I can remember playing from when I was younger, it would always feel like I was one step ahead of the defender, and that it was them that was playing catch up to me, because I had the awareness of my surroundings when I was not on the ball. Often, when players are off the ball, they drift in and out of their positions staring at the ball, hoping it will land at their feet. Not only is this lazy, but it will also give a simple advantage to the other team. Off the ball, you can anticipate where the ball will go, and more importantly, you can make runs into areas of space, that allow your team to have other options.

Obviously, it is not only the midfielder that bares the responsibility of passing and distributing the ball at a certain tempo to help their teammates. The defence, more specifically the full backs, are pivotal in linking up with the midfield to allow a rhythm of passing to ensue, and to put the opposition on the back foot. When the ball is with the central defenders, ideally they will either play it into a space in the midfield, or they will set it up to one of the full backs. From a full back position, they can press forward, and instead of the usual chipped pass that floats slowly into the path of the other team, which is all too common even in professional games, they can look into the middle of the park, and play central. It is far to common for the full backs to also just send the ball down the wing in hope of a winger running onto it and then making a run from there. This is infuriating to watch, as playing a much more narrow passing style will benefit the team much more. If the full back can pick out a player in the midfield, then the playmaker as it were, can move forward, and will find it easier to not only play the ball through the middle in a narrow passing style, as previously mentioned, but the midfielder will also find it easier to spot and pass the ball to wide men, if it necessary to play out wide.

 

Overall, in my opinion, passing really is what makes up the beautiful game, and one of the main reasons as to why English players are just not as skilled as a Spaniard or a German for example, is because of the complete ignorance to the passing and movement aspect of football by English coaches.