With the 2017/18 domestic season behind us, we’ve had some time to reflect on it before the chaotic World Cup period gets underway.
There were some young players who burst onto the scene over the last 10 months across Europe.
Here’s a look at 10 of the best young stars (21 years or under) that emerged over the past campaign.
HOUSSEM AOUAR – Lyon
Ever so graceful on the ball, the Lyon academy product has turned heads in Europe this season owing to his performances in Ligue 1. The attacking midfielder weaves past defenders with ease and with six goals and five assists in France’s top flight this past season, has proved to possess an end product as well.
LEON BAILEY – Bayer Leverkusen
A Jamaican with plenty of pace to burn (who’d have thought, right?). Bailey’s progressed well at Leverkusen after making the switch from Genk. The 20-year-old’s been a real threat in the Bundesliga scoring nine goals, a great return from a young winger. His decision making needs work and there’s still plenty of scope for improvement which is frightening.
FEDERICO CHIESA – Fiorentina
Arguably the brightest young talent in Serie A at the moment. Chiesa, son of Parma legend Enrico, has been a highlight of Fiorentina’s season. The 18-year-old winger directly contributed to 11 goals in the league for La Viola and was called up for Roberto Mancini’s first Italy squad.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT – Ajax
The Dutch 18-year-old has emerged as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe this season. De Ligt is being linked to various clubs, Manchester City and Barcelona among them. He’s tall, quick, good on the ball and has a fantastic positional sense. The Ajax youngster is proving to be the complete package.
TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD – Liverpool
A midfielder by trade, Alexander-Arnold has impressed at right-back particularly towards the business end of the season. The 19-year-old showed composure beyond his years and held his own in the Champions League final against Real Madrid as well. His inclusion in England’s World Cup squad speaks volumes of his excellent displays in his breakthrough campaign.
JUSTIN KLUIVERT – Ajax
It’s only being whispered in the corridors at Ajax for now, but Justin Kluivert has the potential to become one of the world’s best. Every major club in Europe is monitoring the 19-year-old’s progress and having hit double figures for goals in Eredivisie this season, interest in the diminutive winger is only growing.
MALCOM – Bordeaux
The former Corinthians attacker has progressed well at Bordeaux with his third season at the club proving to be his best yet with 12 goals and seven assists in Ligue 1. The 21-year-old is at his best when cutting in from the right flank and attacking the heart of the opposition’s defence.
RYAN SESSEGNON – Fulham
Despite playing over 20 times at left-back, Sessegnon has managed to score 16 goals and provide eight assists this season to help Fulham gain promotion to the Premier League. Even in the play-off final against Aston Villa, it was his assist that set up Tom Cairney for the decisive goal. It’s no wonder the pacey 18-year-old has been the talk of the Championship.
CENGIZ UNDER – AS Roma
With the ability to play on either flank or in behind, the 20-year-old has made an impact at Roma this term following his move from Basaksehir. Under largely played off the bench but scored nine goals in all competitions. He’s considered the most promising Turkish talent since Arda Turan.
ALBAN LAFONT – Toulouse
The Toulouse number one has been so impressive this season that he’s quickly threatening Gianluigi Donnarumma’s tag as the best young goalkeeper around. Lafont has been a mainstay between the sticks for Toulouse over the past two seasons and is seen as Hugo Lloris’ successor for France. The 19-year-old is in the mould of Manuel Neuer though, operating as a sweeper keeper.
Ryan Giggs hailed Gareth Bale as the greatest Welsh player he has seen after the Real Madrid star inspired his club’s Champions League final victory over Liverpool.
Bale came off the bench to score twice in the second half of Real’s 3-1 win in Kiev on Saturday.
The 28-year-old now has four Champions League winners’ medal from five seasons in Spain, equalling the British record of former Liverpool defender Phil Neal.
Wales manager Giggs had been regarded as the finest product of his country, but the former Manchester United winger says that honour arguably belongs to Bale now.
“He’s the greatest Welsh player I’ve seen,” Giggs said.
“Obviously I didn’t see John Charles play and many others around that time.
“But great players turn up at the right moments and make the difference, and he’s done it twice now in Champions League finals.
“And to win four, to go to Real Madrid, and be so successful, he’s got to be the best.”
“He’s made the difference in a Champions League final — whether that has any bearing, I don’t know.”
Reds player of the year Salah left the field in tears in Kiev after damaging his shoulder following a tussle with Real Madrid captain Ramos.
Salah sustained the injury after Ramos kept hold of his arm as they fell to the floor, with some critics suggesting the Spain defender should have been punished for the incident.
It remains to be seen if the Egypt international will be able to feature in this summer’s World Cup, but after his side won the match 3-1 to secure a 13th European title, Ramos hopes to see the 25-year-old back in action soon.
He wrote on his official Twitter account: “Sometimes football shows you its good side and others the bad. Above all we are fellow pros. Get well soon, Salah. The future awaits you.”
El fútbol te enseña la cara más dulce a veces y la más amarga otras. Ante todo somos compañeros. Pronta recuperación, Salah. El futuro te espera.||Sometimes football shows you it's good side and other times the bad. Above all, we are fellow pros. #GetWellSoon @MoSalah— Sergio Ramos (@SergioRamos) May 27, 2018
The early loss of Salah was a huge blow to Liverpool’s hopes of victory in Kiev, with the forward going into the match having scored 44 goals during a remarkable debut season at Anfield.
And it was Madrid who would go on to claim the trophy for a third successive year, with two glaring errors by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius either side of Gareth Bale’s wonder goal.
Amid Madrid’s celebrations, the Bernabeu futures of both Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were brought into question by comments the pair made during post-match interviews.
Bale, who started the final on the bench despite being in rich goalscoring form in recent weeks, said he wants to be playing regularly and would speak to his agent this summer.