Two goalkeepers and one Kylian Mbappe make this week’s shortlist as the Frenchman hit a special milestone for Paris Saint-Germain.
The aim of this weekly column is to shed light on the players, aged 21 or under across Europe’s top five leagues, who aspire to lead the game into a bold new era.
Without further ado, here’s our five picks from this weekend’s action.
DECLAN RICE (West Ham) Age:20
Key stat: 7 tackles in goal-scoring display v Newcastle
Gareth Southgate must have been grinning from ear to ear on Sunday after hearing the news that soon-to-be England international Declan Rice scored in another powerful display for West Ham.
With England No2 Steve Holland in attendance at the London Stadium, Rice outmuscled Switzerland defender Fabian Schar and headed home a corner that set the Hammers on their way to a 2-0 win versus Newcastle.
The one obvious area of weakness in the England set-up is central midfield – Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are good, not great.
While Rice won’t be winning any prizes for creativity, his patrols of West Ham’s midfield with just a mediocre Mark Noble for company has helped him build a mightily impressive resume.
Having set aside Ireland for the land he was born and bred in, Rice will surely gain his first Three Lions cap later this month.
Declan Rice tells Sky that ditching the Republic of Ireland for England was the “toughest decision I’ve had to make in my career” pic.twitter.com/uj6vxNotjE— Darren Cleary (@RadioCleary) March 1, 2019
GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA (AC Milan) Age: 20
Key stat: 4 saves on way to clean sheet v Sassuolo
Is it possible for someone to move different directions at the same time? At the very least, Gianluigi Donnarumma gave off that illusion with one of the best saves you’ll see all season against Sassuolo.
Scuttling to the left as Sassuolo worked the ball into the box, Donnarumma – who turned 20 last month – then somehow flung his body the other way to keep out the on-rushing Filip Djuricic’s effort.
Il fenomeno questa squadra lo ha e gioca in porta. Punto. pic.twitter.com/8P0Y9TNA3F— Nino Gucciardi (@nino_gucciardi) March 2, 2019
The Rossoneri have strung together a fine set of results recently but their frailties between midfield and defence were exposed against Sassulo, who at times ran through them with impunity. Without the red card shown to keeper Andrea Consigli on the hour mark, the visitors would easily have equalised.
That Milan have the joint third-best defensive record in Serie A owes much to the exploits of their gatekeeper. The Champions League beckons – with Milan currently in third – but Donnarumma is the man who needs to get them there.
KYLIAN MBAPPE (PSG) Age: 20
Key stat: 50 goals for PSG after brace v Caen
A match against relegation strugglers Caen – you’re clearly thinking that PSG sleepwalked to another Ligue 1 victory on Saturday.
You’re sorely mistaken. Caen, in fact, took a shock lead, though Mbappe swiftly restored parity through the penalty spot on the hour.
Mbappe’s winner, which PSG had to wait until the 87th minute for, was a picture of pure scruff from point-blank range but it was just reward with so few producing any ideas behind him.
Angel Di Maria was his only attacking deputy – he came off shortly after the equaliser – and Mbappe’s contortions in the box should have led to an easier win.
Essentially, everyone had an off-day but him. He’s rarely had those at PSG, as his second brought up his half-century of goals for the Parisians.
AARON WAN-BISSAKA (Crystal Palace) Age: 21
Key stat: 7 tackles and clearances, plus assist v Burnley
On to another Englishman who will be expecting a call-up from Southgate any day now.
Wan-Bissaka faces stiff competition at right-back for England with Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and – an admittedly out-of-sorts – Kieran Trippier for company.
However, the 21-year-old is simply better than all of them at one rather crucial thing. Defending.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the first player in Europe's top five leagues to make 100+ tackles this season.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 2, 2019
Still only *seven* players have successfully dribbled past him. 😳 pic.twitter.com/kJyNoXiBFM
He added seven more tackles in a polished display versus Burnley to his Premier League tally and only Everton wolfhound Idrissa Gueye averages more per game in the division.
Promisingly, at the other end of the pitched, he notched his first assist since opening day. His laser-guided pass onto Michy Batshuayi in the penalty box saw the Belgian drill home in a 3-1 victory.
GREGOR KOBEL (Augsburg) Age: 21
Key stat: 7 saves to deny Bundesliga leaders Dortmund
The least recognisable name made arguably the most impact of all five this past weekend.
7 - Opta's player of matchday 24 Gregor #Kobel had 54 touches and 7 saves against Dortmund, no Augsburg keeper had more touches or saves in a single game in the #Bundesliga 2018-19. Saviour. @FCA_World #FCABVB pic.twitter.com/ocOiYXd1Mr— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 4, 2019
Swiss stopper Gregor Kobel set Borussia Dortmund alarm bells ringing as his one-man show condemned the Bundesliga leaders to defeat – and saw Bayern Munich drag themselves level on points with them at the top.
Kobel, on loan at Augsburg from Hoffenheim, made two jaw-droppings stops from Jacob Bruun Larsen and Paco Alcacer – on his way to seven saves overall.
Dortmund didn’t even play that badly. It was just that 21-yar-old Kobel played so well and, allied with two exquisite finishes from Ji Dong-won, it was enough to take Augsburg two points clear of the drop.
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