An electric Englishman who has surpassed Lionel Messi – in one category at least – and four other hotshots from across three leagues take pride of place in this week’s list.
The aim of 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 last weekend’s action.
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) Age: 19
Key stat: 13 assists, more than Messi, after 2-0 win v Wolfsburg
Comparing Sancho with Lionel Messi? Cue a succession of eye rolls, but the England teenager has jumped the Argentine in the queue in one pretty impressive way.
The winger galloped from his own half, skinning Max Arnold, and teed up Paco Alcacer for his second injury-time goal to put down a gallant Wolfsburg for good.
With that he had racked up his 13th assist of the Bundesliga season, pipping Messi – temporarily at least – as the leading provider across the top five leagues.
In what was a difficult game for the Bundesliga leaders, Sancho dealt damage in fits and spurts. Despite this he still mustered four successful dribbles, and was fouled three times.
Youri Tielemans (Leicester) Age: 21
Key stat: 3rd assist in five games in 2-0 win v Bournemouth
Such has been his impact in three short months, Brendan Rodgers is having to field questions over the 21-year-old’s permanent signing from Monaco amid widespread reported interest.
Rodgers on future of Youri Tielemans: "It’ll be something we will work on. We have to respect he’s not our player, but he’s enjoying being here and we could love to continue to working with him. It's about communication between the two clubs between now and the end of the season.— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) March 30, 2019
Murmurings of Man United and Tottenham will only continue to grow if Tielemans keeps delivering like he did against Bournemouth.
The Belgium midfielder possesses that rare knack of marrying precision with adventure in his passing, an ability no doubt nurtured through his 250 senior games at club level already.
Andy Robertson can claim to have produced the most gorgeous cross of the weekend for Roberto Firmino, but Tielemans was not far behind with his whipped in wonderball for Jamie Vardy.
The question is which English striker will be the beneficiary next season.
Moise Kean (Juventus) Age: 19
Key stat: 40 mins per Serie A goal after 1-0 win v Empoli
Moise Kean’s inclusion is not just for his 20-minute, match-winning cameo over the weekend, but just what he has managed to achieve on such a short supply of minutes with Juventus.
Moise Kean has scored in the last 5 games in which he’s played 20+ minutes:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 30, 2019
⚽️ vs. Bologna (62 mins)
⚽️⚽️ vs. Udinese (80 mins)
❌ vs. Atleti (10 mins)
❌ vs. Genoa (17 mins)
⚽️ vs. Finland (90 mins)
⚽️ vs. Lichtenstein (90 mins)
⚽️ vs. Empoli (21 mins)
Believe the hype. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/BlbEEu5xk7
Italy found out what all the fuss was about following the forward’s first two goals in Azzurri and Bianconeri looks pretty good on him, too.
There was a touch of fortune about his winner against Empoli, his thrashed shot finding the net via a defender, but with that he became the youngest player to score eight goals in Serie A since an 18-year-old Mario Balotelli.
Two goals in his first Juve start against Udinese, and another in his third appearance. One wonders what he could do in the Champions League against Ajax, especially if Cristiano Ronaldo can’t recover in time.
Dwight McNeil (Burnley) Age: 19
Key stat: 1 shot, one goal in 2-0 win v Wolves
England’s surfeit of riches in attacking positions is likely to hinder McNeil’s progression into the spotlight – not that Burnley will mind too much.
The 19-year-old had only made two Premier League starts by the turn of the year, yet he’s doing as much as any January signing could have to keep the Clarets in the big time.
Having scored in what turned out to be a last-gasp loss at Leicester the week before, McNeil made sure the three points were staying at Turf Moor against Wolves with a drilled left-footer just inside the area.
McNeil is nominally a left midfielder but likes to roam, and his relentless work ethic is another reason why Sean Dyche has entrusted him with a key role in the run-in. Having been invited to train with England’s seniors, perhaps Gareth Southgate can envisage a bright future in white, too.
Dwight McNeil, 14 Premier League games 2018/19— Blog of the Net (@BlogOfTheNet) March 30, 2019
⚽⚽⚽ 3 scored
🎯🎯🎯🎯 4 assists
No teenager has more goal involvements (7) this season pic.twitter.com/EL4dTMjDaJ
Suat Serdar (Schalke) Age: 21
Key stat: 6 successful dribbles and a goal in 1-0 win v Hannover
Bundesliga basement club Hannover will wonder how on earth they came away from the game with nothing, and if not for Suat Serdar, they undoubtedly wouldn’t have.
He was hardly the conductor of the midfield, attempting 15 passes overall, instead helping shield Schalke from the cacophony Hannover were making, with 62 per cent possession and 15 shots on goal.
The 21-year-old won the ball three times and generally stymied play. But it was his intervention in the 39th minute that saw him steal the show away from the sorry hosts.
Floating into space on the right-hand side of the box, the German watched the offside line diligently before taking on Benjamin Stambouli’s threaded pass and thrashing home.
With that the former Mainz man arrested Schalke’s horrendous run of form and lifted them six points clear of the drop zone, while Hannover are nine away from safety. On such thin margins relegation battles lie.
The Euro 2020 Qualifiers clash between the Netherlands and Germany on Sunday is among the most anticipated of the international fixtures.
After an impressive midweek victory over Belarus, a young and vibrant Oranje side will command the attention of fans inside the Amsterdam Arena eager to see them in action.
Germany on the other hand have plenty of questions to answer, against an outfit that’s gotten the better of them in recent times.
Rarely has there been a role reversal this notable, or indeed so well timed. From European powerhouse, finishing as runners-up at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Netherlands’ plethora of stars aged quickly and supply from the younger generation struggled to meet demands.
Germany, world champions in 2014, are flirting with a similar fate. Their shocking group-stage exit in Russia last year began a phenomenal fall from grace and relegation in the UEFA Nations League confirmed that their World Cup failings were no mere hiccup, but evidence of deep-rooted concerns.
For Die Mannschaft, this is a crucial encounter. They can’t afford defeat in the opening game of their European championship qualifying campaign. Yet, recent history suggests they might have to brace for precisely that.
Twice they faced Netherlands in the Nations League and were thwarted. A significant 3-0 defeat in Amsterdam was followed by a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture where the visiting Dutchmen salvaged a result in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to book a semi-final clash against England later this year.
The kind of renaissance Oranje have enjoyed under Ronald Koeman must be the envy of German supporters in these uncertain times. After hopelessly failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 under Dick Advocaat, the former Everton boss has turned things around by restoring a style of play and philosophy that has endeared him to fans.
Since his appointment in March last year, the Netherlands have lost just two of their 11 matches – to England and world champions France (who they beat in the reverse fixture).
Germany will hope their own revival is just around the corner but they may only arrive at that juncture after their meeting with the Dutch who enjoyed a convincing 4-0 win over Belarus on Thursday while they toiled in a 1-1 draw with Serbia the day before.
LOW’S NEW FACES
🇩🇪— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) March 20, 2019
- Thomas Muller ❌
- Julian Draxler ❌
- Mats Hummels ❌
- Jerome Boateng ❌
- Sami Khedira ❌
- Mario Gotze ❌
Only 3 players from Germany's 2014 World Cup squad have been selected for the 2020 Euro qualifiers. #GERSER pic.twitter.com/2R5JgSai2A
Managers live and die by their decisions and Low made some massive ones when he announced his squad this month. Not only did he exclude three high-profile members of the national team’s set in Jerome Boateng (30), Mats Hummels (30) and Thomas Muller (29), but effectively ended their international careers – unless of course his potential dismissal in the near future paves the way for their returns.
To nudge players of that calibre into what could be relatively early retirement has invited more pressure on him. Low is now asking the likes of Lukas Klostermann, 22, (who was injured against Serbia), Niklas Sule, 23, and Kai Havertz, 19, to hit the ground running in national colours.
Leroy Sane – a player he didn’t trust enough to take to the World Cup less than a year ago – must play a crucial role in attack. Meanwhile, Joshua Kimmich is being asked to operate in a midfield double pivot and though possessing all the tools to succeed in that role, rarely features there at club level.
Early signs have not been promising with Germany struggling to create chances against Serbia and having to settle for a draw.
MAIN MAN MEMPHIS
Oh Memphis Depay. Lovely assist.— Joe Short (@_jshort) March 21, 2019
Reckon he could play in the Premier League that kid… pic.twitter.com/LF7gekYNx2
Memphis Depay has been the face of the Netherlands’ resurgence over the last year. In his last 14 games, the Lyon attacker has scored 10 times, bagging four assists.
Koeman deserves credit for the 25-year-old’s transformation. Following a hugely disappointing spell at Manchester United, Depay has resurrected his career in Ligue 1 but the Dutch boss made the call to play him up front. The decision may have been aided by the dearth of quality strikers who fit into the system, but it’s paid dividends.
While he isn’t always the most clinical of frontmen, Depay’s creativity is crucial and gets the most out of the mobile attackers around him. His all-encompassing display against Belarus was the ideal showcase of his influence in this set-up. The forward scored twice – one confidently dispatched from the spot – and provided the assists for the other two goals.
World Cup-winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas has expressed his desire to end his career with Porto after extending his contract with the club by another year.
Casillas moved to the Portuguese outfit in 2015 following a lifelong association with Real Madrid, where he won a number of individual and team accolades.
The 37-year-old, capped a record 167 times by Spain, has the option of extending his deal by a further 12 months at Porto.
He said in quotes on the club’s official website: “I feel this club is my home.
“Today is a special day, a very important day for me, because it means I remain linked to a club, a city and a country that has always cared for me.
“I have this desire to end my career here as a footballer.”