A player who can lay claim to being the world’s best in his particular trade, and a few more who have the potential to be right up there all feature in the latest edition of Weekend Wonderkids.
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.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) Age: 20 Position: RB
Key stat: 12 – record EPL assists for defender after 2-0 win v Wolves
If you were starting a new team from scratch and had the pick of any player in world football, is there any doubt who you’d select at right-back?
The thing with Trent is that he’s not just a full-back. The 20-year-old seemingly spends as much time in the attacking third as he does deep in his own half, while his routine switches of play over to partner-in-crime Andy Robertson out on the left casts him as a playmaker as much as anything else.
Against Wolves, both these aspects combined. It was his speed of thought that saw him set up a one-two with Jordan Henderson as he bombed on before picking out Sadio Mane in the middle.
Liverpool may have finished second to Manchester City in the title race, but Trent at least has the make-up of a serial winner.
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen) Age: 19 Position: CM
Key stat: 7 – goals in nine games as winger after 1-1 draw v Schalke
Here’s another stat for you. Even though Kai Havertz has been playing on the right of a 4-3-3 for the best part of three months, in each of his last three matches he has attained more than a 90 per cent pass completion rate.
A traditional touchline hugger he certainly isn’t, but it speaks for how influential he is having taken nearly as many touches (86) as the central playmaker Julian Brandt (87) against Schalke.
His nominal position change has allowed Leverkusen to become a little more rugged in midfield with usual right winger Karim Bellarabi out of action.
The 19-year-old certainly likes to drift in, but it’s no surprise he is finding joy there – he has the complete arsenal for a modern footballer. He is 6ft1 with lightning feet, has the vision of an architect and has reached a top speed of 21.76 mph this year. The German can evidently score goals too, lashing home his 14th of the Bundesliga season on Saturday.
What a guy.
Ander Barrenetxea (Real Sociedad) Age: 17 Position: LW
Key stat: 1 – first goal of his career in 3-1 win over Real Madrid
There can’t be many 17-year-olds to have scored against Real Madrid before, yet Ander Barrenetxea’s exploits went relatively unnoticed during the weekend.
Much of the focus was of course on Real Madrid’s demise – but onlookers may have been fooled by the fact that Barrenetxea looks like a fully grown man.
The Basque, who became the first player born in the 21st century to play in La Liga last year, is also pretty mature between the ears.
Sociedad’s homegrown left flank has been impressive. Munoz (21), the left back, has played well all season. His season compared to Theo’s is night and day difference. Looks a good player. Meanwhile LW, Ander Barrenetxea, is 17y/o, and causing Carvajal so many problems.— Matt Wiltse (@MattWiltse4) May 12, 2019
His simple passes back in the build-up for two goals – when he could have run at a defence weakened by the red card to Jesus Vallejo – deserves as much applause as his six successful dribbles.
Then came his crowning moment, smartly tucking away a rebound for his first-ever senior goal. Real Sociedad have a talent on their hands.
Louis Beyer (Borussia Monchengladbach) Age: 18 Position: RB
Key stat: 7 – successful tackles in 4-0 win v Nurnberg
The Bundesliga’s answer to the Premier League’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka? Louis Beyer has been remarkably sturdy whenever he has appeared for Gladbach this season.
It was nowhere more evident than at Nurnberg on the weekend, where the 18-year-old made a pressure-relieving seven successful tackles, as well as three interceptions.
BUNDESLIGA | Solid performance from Gladbach fullback 🇩🇪 Louis Beyer (18) today vs. Nürnberg ⤵️— Football Wonderkidz (@FootWonderkidz) May 11, 2019
✅ 90 minutes
❌ Clean sheet
🎯 91.4% pass completion
⚔️ 11/15 duels won
💪🏻 7/8 tackles won
🚫 4 interceptions
🔀 2/2 take ons
At 18, one of the top young defensive prospects in 🇩🇪! pic.twitter.com/mQZ5ckRlMp
In only his second appearance of the season, with Gladbach have recently reverted to a 4-4-2, the teenager has capitalised on recent injury problems for the experienced right-sided option in Michael Lang.
Houssem Aouar (Lyon) Age: 20 Position: CM
Key stat: 87% – Ligue 1 pass success rate for season after 3-0 win v Marseille
It was one of the goals of the weekend. Houssem Aouar extricated himself from the clutches of two Marseille players and found Tanguy Ndombele, whose outrageous flick reached Moussa Dembele in the box – and the ball proceeded to arc into the net.
That no one would bat an eyelid if the trio don’t play for France speaks for how deep the talent runs in those parts. All have been linked with moves abroad, and Aouar’s link to Liverpool makes the most sense.
If Liverpool lack anything it is genuine creativity from midfield and the 20-year-old is Adam Lallana at his peak – and then some.
Ingenuity, high work ethic – as he has shown in a two-man midfield – and a certain craftiness on the move, as exhibited again in Lyon’s trouncing of Marseille, mark him out as a name to watch in the transfer window.
The only thing in football more contentious than a dubious refereeing decision is a rankings system.
There are plenty of them out there – though many are deliberately divisive – but given the tribal nature of football they do drum up some interesting debates among supporters.
We’re going to add our twist to the list. Each week we pick out the 10 best teams from Europe’s top-five leagues (minus cup competitions).
It’s not cumulative, the rankings is based on a team’s performance in that particular game week.
So, who makes the top-10 this week? Check out below.
1. Roma (beat Juventus 2-0)
Milan and Atalanta had already won by the time Roma took to the field on Sunday night – and Claudio Ranieri’s side had the toughest task of all, hosting champions Juventus. The returning manager’s defensive tactics have brought a mixed reaction from the Roma faithful but they worked perfectly at the Stadio Olimpico on this occasion, and vindication could have arrived sooner had first-half chances been taken. Instead it took until the 79th minute, but after Roma had soaked up some pressure from Juventus, Alessandro Florenzi, captaining the side, found the back of the net – minutes after he had seemingly been mocked by Cristiano Ronaldo for his lack of height – and Edin Dzeko sealed the points in injury time to ensure they stayed in the hunt for a Champions League spot.
Florenzi got the revenge for Ronaldo mocking his height pic.twitter.com/3ZSYn92Iti— Juniuer (@juniuer) May 12, 2019
2. Man City (beat Brighton 4-1)
The title was slipping away. Liverpool scored at Anfield to take the lead in the as it stands table, then Manchester City conceded a shock opener to Brighton and it seemed like the twists and turns of a dramatic title race were set to claim Pep Guardiola’s side as their final victim. What followed was typical City, however. Sergio Aguero levelled the scores almost instantly, Aymeric Laporte put his side back in the driver’s seat before half-time, and the second half ended up being a procession as club-record signing Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan both scored wonderful goals to seal the title. 100 points last season, 98 points this, it’s been a remarkable two-year spell from City and they show no signs of slowing down.
3. Lyon (beat Marseille 3-0)
This was the toughest assignment left for Lyon in their bid for a top-three finish in Ligue 1, and the Champions League spot that comes with it. Saint-Etienne had lost earlier in the weekend to give Bruno Genesio’s side the advantage in the race and they didn’t waste the opportunity. Maxwell Cornet opened the scoring in the first half and after Marseille went down to 10 men, Lyon held all the cards and they duly wrapped up the win, with Moussa Dembele scoring and Cornet grabbing a second, to go four points clear of Etienne with two games to play.
4. Atalanta (beat Genoa 2-1)
Atalanta’s dream of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history remains on track. The side, which has thrilled Italy in recent years with their promotion of youth and free-flowing football, are three points ahead of nearest challengers AC Milan after a 2-1 win over Genoa. Gian Piero Gasperini’s team have been guilty of not taking their chances in recent games but on Saturday they did just enough, scoring two goals in seven minutes after half-time through Musa Barrow and Timothy Castagne before holding on. The result vaulted Atalanta into third place prior to Inter Milan’s game on Monday night, ahead of a momentous week for the club: on Wednesday they play Lazio in the Coppa Italia final, before facing Juventus on Sunday in their last major hurdle in the top-four race.
Atalanta now need JUST 4 points from their last 2 games to guarantee Champions League football...— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) May 11, 2019
The dream in Bergamo is truly within reach 😍 pic.twitter.com/uJj9Muujan
5. Real Sociedad (beat Real Madrid 3-1)
Zinedine Zidane may believe that Real Madrid‘s performance didn’t deserve a loss, but for Real Sociedad this was a worthy win. They bounced back from conceding an early goal, and ended the game with more possession (55 percent – 45 percent), more passes (535 – 452), better passing accuracy (85 percent – 82 percent), and far more shots (19-7) and shots on target (6-2). Mikel Merino, Joseba Zaldua, and Ander Barranetxea scored for the hosts, who are still in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League. They need to win next weekend against Espanyol and hope Athletic Bilbao lose to Sevilla.
2 - Real Sociedad have completed the league double against Real Madrid for the third time and the first since 2003-04. Party. pic.twitter.com/1NOjfsxcyR— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 12, 2019
6. Milan (beat Fiorentina 1-0)
Fiorentina away is never an easy game and for a team which had lost three of their last 10, a run of form that saw Milan’s top-four hopes fade while they also lost the Coppa Italia semi-final, this was a crucial result. Hakan Calhanoglu’s goal sees Gennaro Gattuso’s men stay within three points of Atalanta, and they’ve closed the gap on Inter as well to just one point, though their derby rivals will play later on Monday. That all-important Champions League qualification remains up for grabs.
YESSS! Another three solid points for the boys in Florence thanks to @hakanc10's header / FINISCE QUI! I rossoneri espugnano il Franchi grazie alla rete di Calha#FiorentinaMilan 0-1 #ForzaMilan pic.twitter.com/BGaqcpQIWE— AC Milan (@acmilan) May 11, 2019
7. Borussia Dortmund (beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-2)
A topsy-turvy day in Germany saw the title race stay alive for one more week. Borussia Dortmund, as has become their norm, dominated but nearly threw the game away against Fortuna Dusseldorf. Christian Pulisic opened the scoring on his final home game for the club, but Dusseldorf equalised and then, after Thomas Delaney put Dortmund back in front and Mario Gotze grabbed an injury-time goal to seemingly seal the points. The visitors – by this point down to ten men – got one back and nearly found an equaliser that would have handed the title to Bayern Munich. But Dortmund held on and now go into their final game, against Borussia Monchengladbach, needing a win and a Bayern loss to win the Bundesliga.
Bayern—75 points— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 11, 2019
For the first time since 2009, the Bundesliga title race is going to the final day 🍿 pic.twitter.com/ZqpE1Op9Mw
8. Cardiff City (beat Manchester United 2-0)
It’s been a poor end to the season for Manchester United, but a relegated side showing up to Old Trafford and winning comfortably? Cardiff’s victory, courtesy of two goals from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, was perhaps made even sweeter because it came against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their manager when they were last relegated from the Premier League. It’s one of the biggest results in the Welsh club’s history.
9. RB Leipzig (drew with Bayern Munich 0-0)
That the title race isn’t over in Germany has a lot to do with Bayern’s own stumbles, but it’s hard to classify this particular result as one. Third-place Leipzig on their home turf were always going to be tough opponents and they had their chances to beat the Bundesliga leaders, who might feel hard-done by when an incredibly tight offside call went against them, courtesy of VAR, when it looked liked Leon Goretzka had given them the goal that sealed the title. But Leipzig fought tooth and nail against the top-placed side, as one would expect, and ensured a nervous, dramatic finale to the season is still possible in Germany.
Leipzig 0-0 Bayern FT— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 11, 2019
The Bundesliga title race will go to the final day after VAR denies the defending champions a second-half goal. pic.twitter.com/LXt0cbeX6w
10. Stuttgart (beat Wolfsburg 3-0)
Nursing a six-point lead over Hannover for the dubious honour of playing in a relegation playoff rather than heading down to 2. Bundesliga automatically, Stuttgart needed a win to be mathematically safe from that possibility. But with a Wolfsburg side chasing a Champions League spot coming to town, there was a danger that this particular race could also come down to the final day. Instead, Stuttgart pulled off a stunning 3-0 win. They saw far less of the ball but matched Wolfsburg for chances, sealing their spot in the playoff.
Unai Emery said Arsenal will do everything possible to allow Henrikh Mkhitaryan to play a part in the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku later this month.
The playmaker missed an earlier match in the Azerbaijani capital in the competition this season because of fears for his safety amid ongoing political tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia, whose national team he captains.
Speaking after Arsenal ended the Premier League season with a 3-1 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor, Emery said: “I don’t know really how is the solution but we want to play with every player, with Mkhitaryan.
“Today he worked very well and we are going to do all possible to play with him.”
Emery was speaking for the first time since it was revealed Arsenal and Chelsea supporters will only be given 6,000 tickets each for the match at the 68,000-capacity stadium.
Comparing the situation to his experiences with Sevilla, Emery said: “I played one final with Barcelona in the Super Cup in Georgia three years ago and it was the same, two teams from Spain travelling to Tbilisi. And the problem was for the supporters.
“I prefer to play closer to England. Three years ago we played in Switzerland against Liverpool and the stadium was full with our supporters and Liverpool supporters and it was amazing.
“It’s going to be only 6,000 supporters for us, for Chelsea, but the stadium has a capacity of 70,000. I think it’s going to be full but not with our supporters and Chelsea supporters.”
Arsenal went into the game at Turf Moor with a very outside chance of finishing fourth but Tottenham’s draw with Everton snuffed that out.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s two goals meant he shared the Premier League’s Golden Boot with Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane while Ashley Barnes pulled one back before Eddie Nketiah’s very late third.
Emery ended the domestic season with mixed feelings, saying: “These three points give us 70 points. It’s not enough to be in the top four but I think we were progressing and we were being consistent.
“We can be not 100 per cent happy but the players, like today, worked all the season for progress and to be closer to the top four. We finished a very big distance with Liverpool and City but closer to Tottenham and Chelsea.”
Burnley’s main target of safety had already been achieved, with Sean Dyche’s side ending the campaign in 15th a year after celebrating seventh place and European qualification.
“We’ve had a lot going on this season,” said Dyche. “It’s been a big challenge and I think from where we were at Christmas to where we are now, it’s fantastic.
“We’ve all seen sides that have starts like that who disappear. Every season’s a tough season and this one definitely has been but it’s been strangely enjoyable.”
Dyche confirmed 33-year-old left-back Stephen Ward will be leaving the club at the end of his contract this summer after five years at Turf Moor.
Provided by Press Association Sport