Scouting time: 4 U21 players to follow in Bundesliga
By Dario Saltari
Leon Bailey seems like a very determined lad. Despite being just twenty years old, he talks like an adult, with a rhetoric in Cristiano Ronaldo style (“Hard work and dedication lets you achieve your goals“), and there are various rumours surrounding him. Arriving from Jamaica at 14 years of age with the sole objective of making a splash on the European football scene, he already seems to have arrived at his breakthrough season after scoring 6 goals and making 5 assists in Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.
Bailey is a very physical winger who seems to be unstoppable when he is able to gain speed and attack the vertical space ahead of him. In this sense, he seems to be more at ease on the left, where he can run along the line with his left, as opposed to on the right where he naturally tends to move to the centre of the pitch where the spaces are tighter and his dribbling is less effective. Despite the fact that he favours his left, however, Bailey is not afraid to threaten deep with his right foot, with which he has less ball control, but still enough to be dangerous.
The Jamaican winger’s relationship with the ball is in constant vertical tension, almost as if he cannot help but attack the goal once he has possession. In and of itself, this does not make him a selfish player, although he still seems unable to see himself as part of the organised team play and more oriented toward a sole objective. In this sense, he is still very instinctive: Bailey does not seem to have internal plays and he often seems to be improvising once he has possession of the ball.
Bailey shakes off his opponent with an outstanding fake but then, instead of serving up his teammate in the middle of the penalty area, he decides to take a shot from an almost impossible angle, sending the ball directly into the keeper’s hands.
Even though he has already demonstrated many strong points in one of the five major European leagues – a highly accurate left foot in long plays, the ability to very easily destabilise the opposing defence – Bailey still seems to have a large margin for improvement. If his growth continues to be linear as it has been thus far, he will soon be able to be put to the test on even more important stages.
by Daniele Manusia
Amine Harit claims to be ambitious. This is why he left France (Ranieri’s Nantes) after only one year in Ligue 1 to take his chances in Germany on Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke 04 squad. After three matches he made his first assist with a precision pass that cut the Red Bull Lipsia defence in two for Konoplyanka to put in the back of the net. But, more than the pass, the thing about that specific play that was striking is the footwork he used to get past the opposition’s gegenpressing at the centre of the pitch: Harit is just twenty years old, but he has played in every midfield position without ever losing his original quality of attacking midfielder.
Harit has an exceptional right foot that can do anything, both short and long plays. He has an oriented control with his instep that is often the equivalent of dribbling for the way it gets him out from under pressure from his opponents and he plays extremely accurate diagonal through balls to the left with the outside of his foot. Tedesco is using him on the left and on the right, both as a number 8 and as an attacking midfielder. With his back to the goal, he uses his body to protect the ball and turn to the left, but Harit gives his best in vertical plays. Both for the way he reads the play (with the vision of a true offensive playmaker) and with how fast he moves with the ball and serves his teammates in the penalty area. From the left, he can come back to the right, dribble around his direct opponent and choose the best teammate to serve, demonstrating great instinct and maturity in his decisions.
For now, the decision to play in Germany has proven to suit his vertical game very well. Only 4 starters have more playing time than he does and he has already made 3 assists and 2 goals. We’ll see him this summer in the World Cup as well. However, he won’t be wearing the French jersey that he was wearing when they won the European Under 19 along with Mbappé. Harit has chosen to represent Morocco, “because of and thanks to my family”, a difficult decision that he took after a year and a half of consideration. “The most difficult choice of my entire career”, he said. Hervé Renard, on the other hand, did not think twice and put him on the pitch as quickly as possible with the “Atlas Lions”(and Harit already has 2 assists against South Korea).
by Emanuele Atturo
The German school of football never ceases to produce talent in midfield. Behind Leon Goretzka – an attacking midfielder with a sharp sense of space – and Julian Weigl – a playmaker with ultra-precise geometries – Kai Havertz is the new prospect to keep an eye on.
Havertz is just 18 years old and has already played in 41 matches and scored 5 goals among the professionals in a Bayer Leverkusen jersey, where he was the youngest rookie. Here is what they are saying about him: “I’ve never seen such a complete player at his age“, Lars Bender. “He has good technique and speed and he is strong in one-on-one situations. Footballers like him make me happy“, Roger Schmidt.
Havertz is a complete midfielder: dribbling technique, with great awareness in short and long passes and a good off the ball. Although left-footed, he knows how to use is right if he needs to (albeit less naturally). His greatest talent, however, is tactical intelligence, which has led his coaches to line him up in many different positions: playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, left inside forward in the same formation and deep-lying forward in a 4-4-2. Havertz has a sleek build (1.86 cm) and he cannot count on a quick acceleration, so that forces him to always play with his head up in order to anticipate the play.
When receiving, he has quality initial control and he knows how to use his body well to elude pressure. If he sees a teammate moving deep, he has the presence of mind and the vision to serve him. In more static situations, he tries to combine with his teammates, moving into the penalty area when needed.
His complete repertoire is what makes him useful in different positions, but it is also what can limit him at a certain level. Havertz is still a raw talent, not yet having found his area of specialisation. His creativity (already 5 assists this year) and his vision could suggest a future as a creative inside forward, perfect in a 4-3-3 formation or perhaps as an attacking midfielder who starts on the right and then moves toward the centre in a 3-4-2-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation.
by Flavio Fusi
Dayotchanculle Upamecano is a product of Valenciennes youth ranks, a team he left in 2015 to move to Salzburg. The French defender began by playing a season for Liefering, then moving up to the first team in 2016/2017. However, the Austrian Bundesliga was a tight fit for him straight away and this summer he completed his quick ascent in the hierarchy of the RB clubs, arriving at Leipzig.
In Bundesliga, he is confirming all the skills he has shown during his young career. Upamecano is 1 metre 85 tall and possesses an imposing physical build (83 kg), considering the fact that he turned 19 just a few months ago. His height and a good sense of anticipation make him hard to beat in aerial duels, that he wins 68% of the time. He has a great physical strength and an enviable balance, characteristics that give him no small advantage when it comes to tackling.
He has shown that he is adept at reading the opposing teams’ plays, so much that he makes 6.1 interceptions every 90 minutes. He is very quick, considering his height, but he gives the best of himself in long runs, where he is able to cover a lot of pitch thanks to his very long legs, rather than in short burst of acceleration, making him the ideal defender for a team that defends as far forward as Leipzig does.
With the ball at his feet, he is confident and composed (51 passes every 90 minutes with 90% accuracy) and he is not lacking when it comes to dribbling with the ball at his feet, thanks to his above average individual technique. He plays with his head up and often looks for and finds long range passes, whether to switch side of play or to get behind the opposing team’s defensive line.
Physique, strength, anticipation, quickness and accurate passing: Upamecano already possesses all the characteristics of the modern defender and he is destined to improve further.
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