11. Phil Foden, 2000 (England, Manchester City)
by Daniele Manusia

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In this Premier League season, Phil Foden played just the equivalent of an entire game, ninety minutes in 8 appearances. He played all the League Cup games and some FA Cup’s, also scoring in the 7-0 against Rotherham. He has a cap as a starter in the Champions League group stage, the harmless game against Hoffenheim, and one in the Community Shield against Chelsea, in August. Too much? Not enough? It’s hard to say, as he’s one of the three most precious talents in the hands of Josep Guardiola during his time at Man City; the only one of the three that is still at the club: Jadon Sancho is on fire at BVB, while Brahim Diaz has just signed with Real Madrid.

Even with the lack of minutes, Phil Foden has just signed a contract that expires in 2024 and Guardiola ruled and loan in January out. Foden is continuing his apprenticeship with some masters like the two Silvas – David and Bernardo – and Kevin De Bruyne: even if our curiosity may have to wait a little bit longer, this could be the best thing for him. Foden is still one of the most interesting natural phenomenon of a generation that is starting to unveil itself now, with a feeling in his left foot and dribbling skill that could allow him to play as a centre forward, but with a physique that wouldn’t have allowed him to run many times on a long part of the pitch, as asked to offensive wingers in modern football. In the midfield, Foden moves very well vertically, to get the ball behind the opponent’s line or even in the box when the striker opens the space.

Foden is sharpening the tools to become a high-level centre midfielder and he doesn’t lack the intensity to adapt to élite football, also because is less fragile than he looks. If nothing changes, and maybe the circumstances push Guardiola to let him play some important game. Let’s say that is not a proper problem if you’re not a starter at 19.

 

12. Alphonso Davies, 2000 (Canada, Bayern Munich)
by Fabrizio Gabrielli

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Writing about the most promising talents in the MLS, I wrote about Alphonso Davies as an eminently vertical player, gifted with great physical and technical potential. A player that, regardless of his lightness with the ball and the silky touch, has not the soul of the entertainer, but the maturity of whom play football without the frenzy of a stallion, with the head-on and the coldness of whom knows how to play to change a game.

Right after the end of the MLS Season, waiting to become part of the first team this January, Davies trained for a week with Nico Kovac, that saw interesting qualities in him, letting him fight for a place in the first team. “We must not overexpose him”, said the manager, “but you don’t take players like him for the second team”.

His quickness, the rapidity of his runs and Davies’ natural tendency for dribbling (4.2 per game, the best in the MLS) seems to be the natural extension of the Bavarian tradition started by Robben and Ribery and the hype answer to Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson, two of the best players in the Bundesliga in facing 1v1s without any fear. With the benefit, for Davies, of having a structured physical dominance, even at 18.

 

13. Alessandro Bastoni, 1999 (Italy, Parma)
by Alfredo Giacobbe

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Bastoni’s name has been written on authorized personnel’s notes for a while and, in fact, he didn’t even have the time to replace Mattia Caldara at Atalanta that inter immediately bought him, with a massive €22M offer. Bastoni always looked like a modern professional, with intense care for his work, even for aspects that are considered less significant by a player at that age.

Bastoni’s career seemed to have stopped. After buying him, Inter loaned him back to Atalanta for two years, where he grew. Last year, though, Bastoni only played 5 times and 177 minutes between Serie A and Coppa Italia. Maybe Atalanta chooses to give priority to other talents of its academy, (Gianluca Mancini played 850 minutes in the same period) and Bastoni lost a season for his development. So, Inter forced the stop of the two-year loan, then sending him to Parma.

Actually, the loan to Parma looked like a controversial move for Bastoni. He was described by everyone as a modern defender, able to manage the ball, to read the opponents’ position, and with the skills to throw a vertical ball behind the lines. On the other hand, D’Aversa’s Parma asks its players a completely different game: actually, it’s the Serie A side with the lowest possession percentage, with defenders spending most of the time protecting the box, marking opponents, and taking aerial duels more than ground ones.

In this tactical environment, that should’ve been hostile to him, Bastoni is flourishing. He’s been a starter for 8 consecutive games now, taking advantage of his skills in reading the game, alternating forward interventions and deep coverage. Also enjoying, from time to time, a long pass for someone in Parma’s offensive line.

 

14. Ritsu Doan, 1998 (Japan, Groningen)
by Daniele V. Morrone

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Doan decided to speed his career up when, at 19 and with just 20 games played with Gamba Osaka, decided to move to the Netherlands. In a year and a half, he has become Groningen’s star, justifying his choice. What let Doan work in the Netherlands is the combination of his technical skills and a compact physique, with a low barycentre e powerful legs, that allows him a good ball control and, most of all, a out scale kick: he can shoot the ball from any position of the pitch and he can arm his left foot in half a second. For example, he scored 4 goals from outside the box just in 2018 and he already got to 15 goals in Eredivisie playing as a winger.

His good performances with a relegation-zone team have alerted the clubs that are above Groningen in the food chain: from Ajax to Newcastle and also Juventus, Atlético and Manchester City. Groningen’s president already surrendered about this: “we have noticed a rising interest in him from other clubs, a logic thing of course, and it will come the time when we won’t be able to keep him”. Meanwhile, in 2018 Doan debuted with the National Team (also scoring against Uruguay) and has been called to play in the 2019 Asian Cup.

 

15. Carles Aleñá, 1998 (Spain, Barcelona)
by Daniele V. Morrone

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After years of complicated management with youngsters from La Masia, with Aleñá (or Alenya, if you prefer the Catalan version), Barcelona seems to have done things the right way, now reaping the benefits. At 20, Aleñá is a back-up midfielder, also because of Rafinha’s injury, playing some games as a starter in the Copa del Rey and Champions League and coming in several times in LaLiga (he has already scored his first goal, assisted by Messi). After a constant growth, 2019 will be the most important year of his career so far, because it will be the right year to understand if he can really be a player fit for first team’s rotations in a team that wants to win everything season after season.

He’s more vertical and aggressive than he may look at a first glance, and definitely more physically structured than the typical inside-forward grown at La Masia, Aleñá is an electric player, that can light up in a second. A different player than the others in Valverde’s squad, for his way to take advantage of his technique and his ability in reading the plays. Aleñá is always active in everything he does and knows how to find the right position where the football will be. And most of all, he’s not afraid to make mistakes.

Aleñá is one of those players that look adults already, even when they make wrong choices or lack precision in a play, they always try to keep the pace with the older players, eager to take responsibilities on the pitch.

 

16. Francisco Trincão, 1999 (Portugal, Braga)
by Daniele Manusia

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The generation of players born in 1999 in Portugal is particularly prosperous of offensive talent. The U19 European Championship they won against Italy last summer was the perfect confirmation of a path that, for players like Francisco Trincão, is still to be determined. Even if he’s a very young player, that still has to debut with Braga first team, Trincão looks like a tactically and technically mature player. He usually plays on the right flank but he can play all offensive positions. With his left foot, he can basically do whatever he wants, moving the ball with all sides of the foot, cut inside or attack the touchline. When he needs to, he can also use the right foot to protect the ball with his body while running or crossing.

The physical structure is interesting as well (he’s 1.84m tall), he can go shoulder-to-shoulder one second, then running with a 1v1 the second later, and maybe in the future he will be able to play in the midfield as well. He lacks the muscular explosiveness of top-level wingers but he already has a strong dynamism and instinct for the movements without the ball. Alongside with Jota, he’s been one of the European Championship’s protagonists and not only for the 5 goals he has scored (top goalscorer, alongside with Jota himself). Trincão is already referred as a target for the biggest European clubs (Juventus, the closest one, Inter Milan and Chelsea) and it will be interesting to see which one his next stage will be and how his talent will evolve.

 

17. Pietro Pellegri, 2001 (Italy, Monaco)
by Emanuele Atturo

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Even if he’s not even of age, Pellegri already has a long injury list behind him. Last year, when he had just signed for Monaco for the unreasonable amount of €31M, he missed almost the entire second half of the season for a groin injury that seems to still be there this season, as Pellegri injured once again last September, after scoring his first goal with Monaco’s shirt.

The goal scored against Bordeaux at the 60’ minute holds some of the reasons why Pellegri has to be considered as one of the most interesting young players in world football. He presses the defender and wins the ball back, he keeps him away with his body and, while falling, he shoots with his left foot – the ‘weak’ one – on the opposite top corner.

If Pellegri has been an earliness prodigy so far – he’s the youngest player to debut in Serie A, and the youngest one to score a brace – he’s mainly because of his physical power, that put him off the charts at a youth level and still makes the difference among the pros. Do you remember his first goal in Serie A? A counter-attack runs while resisting Manolas’ pressure and speed, and he’s one of the fastest central defenders in the world.

If you missed that time when the National Team’s number 9s crushed the opponents’ defences – like Bobo Vieri, Riva, and Luca Toni – you just have to follow Pietro Pellegri’s evolution in this 2019, the year when he’ll turn of age.

 

18. Reiss Nelson, 1999 (England, Hoffenheim)
by Emanuele Mongiardo

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It’s impossible to be indifferent in front of Ress Nelson’s talent. As for Sancho, which he grew with, another English player decided to cut his teeth in Bundesliga. Nelson is one of the best products of English football, a player with a top-level technical sensibility at a high pace, that allowed him to emerge in a competitive environment, such as Hoffenheim.

Nelson’s qualities are already crystal clear at the first touch with the ball, in the way he strokes it to find the rhythm and set up the 1v1, the true distinctive trait of his game. He can pass his defender with extraordinary speed and he could seem the typical English winger, able to pass over the opponents in open spaces. But Nelson’s touch is smooth even with narrow spaces. His ball control allows him to react at the defenders’ choices quickly. And that’s why he’s not afraid to take the ball towards areas of the pitch with two or three defenders. To give you an idea of how easily Nelson passes his opponents, in the 13 minutes played during Hoffenheim-Shakhtar ha completed 4 dribbling, the best in this stat alongside with Demirbay, that played the entire 90 minutes.

Nelson is an electric player, that Nagelsmann is trying to use in the second half of the matches. He played both as Trequartista in a 3-4-2-1 (on both sides) and as CM in the 3-5-2. He loves to get the ball on the left. From there, he can cut centrally to run towards the goal, both himself with his dribbling or with a teammate near the box. Alternatively, his good touch and speed with the weak foot, the left one, allows him to take the ball to the touchline to cross.

The confidence he has, justified by an uncommon talent for dribbling, sometimes leads him to keep the ball too much; looking for the 1v1 as a first option often denies him with the possibility of simpler but more efficient plays. He’s the third player in the team for lost balls, 2.2 per game.

On the other hand, this data confirms Nelson’s determination to be part of the game. An attitude that has a positive effect when he hasn’t the ball. Like when he has to run vertically to suggest a pass to his teammates; that allows him to often be in the box, explaining some of his goals in the Bundesliga. Or even in the defensive phase, both pressing high and coming back towards his box.

Nelson doesn’t spare himself if he has to run back and his generosity let us guess an attitude towards his teammates that could bring to improve some aspects of his offensive football in the future. But if you love dribblers, Nelson is already the right player to watch.

 

19. Éder Militão, 1998 (Brazil, Porto)
by Emanuele Atturo

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If you are following the transfer market’s rumours and news, you may know that one of the most desired defenders in the last days is Eder Militão: 20 years old, Brazilian, currently playing for Porto.

A very thick list of clubs seems to want him, to name just a few: Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Roma, Tottenham, and Inter. The reason for this attention is in front of our eyes: Militão plays in defence but he has the technique and vision of an advanced midfielder. For Porto, he plays as LCB and when the goalkeeper throws the ball, he moves to the touchline and when he receives the ball he loves to head-up and look for a free teammate on the opposite side of the pitch. His 40-meters-long launches – super precise, shot with golf-ish relax – are definitely his signature move. In Brazil, with San Paolo shirt, Militão used to play on the right wing, where he was able to exploit his offensive traits and his speed, that helps him in covering deep.

In the defensive phase, Militão is still a little bit undecipherable. The soft rhythms of the Portuguese league allow him to play a stuffy game, that right now looks like the main limit in a football that forces defenders to scan what surround them within seconds. To be a modern centre-back, Militão doesn’t have the body for dominating the opponents – he’s 1.86, not explosive – and neither has a sufficient 1v1 technique, also because of his formation not as a central defender. So, his defensive limits have still to be tested. In the Portuguese league, there are few athletic strikers to face and Militão can just wait for his opponents to make their first move, and then face them.

Militão looks like an excellent project of a modern defender, but at what level? Maybe he will play on the wing once again. We’ll know more in 2019.

 

20. Kai Havertz, 1999 (Germany, Bayer Leverkusen)
by Dario Saltari

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Kai Havertz is the Chosen One of German football. After just two seasons with Bayer Leverkusen, the 19-years-old German looks already fit for playing in a top team: now that we entered the winter transfer session, the rumours are intensifying (Bayern Munich, of course, but also PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Inter). On the other hand, in this first part of the season, Havertz proved that the expectations were right: Leverkusen midfielder has already scored 9 goals and served 6 assists between Bundesliga and Europa League, and he debuted with the National Team last September.

Giving his transfer for granted, maybe next summer, 2019 will give us the first indications about how the German is fit for élite football. Havertz is an atypical midfielder, with a unique skill in finding teammates behind the lines and an excellent quality in the cuts into the box. Regardless of his heavenly touch of the football, he’s not particularly fast or physical and he could have more than one difficulty when the times and the spaces for a play will narrow. In any case, the year he’s facing will be only the first step in the adaptation process that his game must have, and it may take some time before that’s will complete.