Are you watching, Jose Mourinho? Two ‘inexperienced’ Chelsea players were a couple of the very best youngsters on show this weekend, a La Masia lad made the most of Barcelona’s injury crisis and there’s the obligatory appearance from a certain Borussia Dortmund maestro.
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.
The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Rashford and Ousmane Dembele are sure to regularly pop up, providing they all stay fit. But as every week passes, we hope to sift out a few starlets who may have gone unnoticed.
Without further ado, here’s our five picks from this weekend’s action.
Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
Key stat: 2 shots on target, first 2 goals in 3-2 win for Chelsea at Norwich
Chelsea have incessantly tried out both young foreign imports and old foreign imports in their N09 shirt, so why not go for one of your own?
Well, they kinda had to – the alternative is try-hard Olivier Giroud and wishing their transfer embargo away. As it turns out, the player(s) from their outrageously successful youth set-up are actually quite good.
The willowy Abraham could have shrunk after the horrendous abuse he received for the audacity of missing a penalty in the Super Cup. Instead he’s put down enough roots to land him an extended stay in the Chelsea squad with two goals against Norwich from the different ends of the spectrum.
The first at a Carrow Road was a wonderfully instinctive half-volley, the second a shimmy and shot from outside the area not seen on a consistent basis from a Chelsea striker since the days of Didier Drogba. The kids are alright.
What a moment for Tammy yesterday. 👏 pic.twitter.com/oSWSP2X65i— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 25, 2019
Key stat: 56 per cent of total duels won in 3-2 win for Chelsea at Norwich
Here’s the second alright kid. Mount has been asked to play as a centre midfielder, an attacking midfielder and on the left wing in his nascent Chelsea career.
It was from ostensibly his least comfortable position, on the flank, that he posted his most accomplished performance thus far.
The 20-year-old didn’t beat many players at the byline, that’s not his game, but he whipped in enough crosses (6) and a pair of key passes to keep Norwich stretched, with the fleet-footed Christian Pulisic on the other side and sharp-shooting Abraham through the middle.
It was United States forward Pulisic who popped up on the left and occupied Norwich bodies to slip in Mount, who had enough patience to wait for the perfect opening and enough power behind his shot to revel in the fearlessness of youth.
Mount is an intriguing option on the left. If he can continue to assert his presence from there, there will be no debate over who to choose from him and fellow creator Ross Barkley – another who impressed – in the midfield three. Now, to work on that defence…
Carles Perez (Barcelona)
Key stat: 5 shots, the most bar Griezmann in 5-2 win for Barca v Real Betis
The team revolves around Lionel Messi. The club then signed Antoine Griezmann and are trying desperately to bring back Neymar.
Luis Suarez is still there, Ousmane Dembele is still there, heck, even Rafinha (who was brilliant against Betis, too) is still hanging around.
That was the competition facing Carles Perez, who surely was beginning to cast an eye on a future away from Camp Nou. The injury gods then conspired to strike down almost everyone but him, granting a dream league start against Betis at home.
It is wrong to say the Catalonian has come from nowhere – he struck a fine double against Vissel Kobe this summer to swipe the red carpet from under the Andres Iniesta reunion show. This was the real audition and he passed it with the ease of someone who was born for the stage.
Though Griezmann was the focal point, the 21-year-old attacked with pace when he did receive the ball and fired off five shots, second only to his mega-money French team-mate. Only one went in but it was a classy goal, with a feather touch to take it away from the defender and slot home.
Perez played on the left, but is equally capable on the right. Barca have a winger who at the very least is more suitable than the one-season-and-gone Malcom.
On this evidence against decent La Liga competition, could he even spell the great man himself, Lionel Messi, when his 32-year-old old legs get heavy later this season?
📸 — Priceless moment. Carles Perez, remember the name. pic.twitter.com/pFILwlci26— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) August 26, 2019
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Key stat: 16 assists since beginning of last season after one in 3-1 win for Dortmund at Cologne
How far behind Kylian Mbappe is Jadon Sancho? A World Cup, for starters, but if you count for sheer production in an arguably superior domestic league – both in terms of goals and assists – baby Mbappe ain’t too far behind.
Sancho, not even 20 until March, became the youngest player to reach 15 Bundesliga goals with his effort against Cologne, a left-footed rifle into the corner (which was bizarrely invited by a lacklustre defence).
Then there was the obligatory assist, the most unselfish you’ll see all season after Sancho finished his lightning run by sacrificing a tap-in for Paco Alcacer.
Many column inches have been and are yet to be written about the English wunderkind. Surely then Real Madrid will set aside their Kylian Mbappe fascination and pursue the far more attainable Sancho before long (and around the world you’ll hear millions of Manchester United hearts break).
Dennis Geiger (Hoffenheim)
Key stat: 2 assists and 91.5 per cent accuracy in 3-1 win for Hoffenheim v Werder Bremen
Julian Nagelsmann has gone and the vultures have taken some choice cuts from Hoffenheim, but Dennis Geiger is one morsel who should only become emboldened by the summer departures.
Shorn of Joelinton, Karem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri – the former now of Newcastle, the latter duo at Bayer Leverkusen – a fair number of goals and creation have departed with them. But if last week’s 1-0 defeat to Frankfurt spoke of a lot of possession but little good use of it, this week’s victory over Bremen screamed ruthlessness.
Central to that was Geiger. His two assists – one of which was the game-winner for Pavel Kaderabek against a 10-man Bremen – both came from corners, the whip, accuracy and pace flummoxing the visiting defence.
It is for his overall work in midfield alongside an often no-frills Sebastian Rudy that he should be praised, however, completing nearly 92 per cent of his passes and leading the team for tackles won (3).
More of the same is needed for Hoffenheim to recapture their top-four form of 2017/18.
Champions Juventus opened the new Serie A campaign with a hard-earned 1-0 win at Parma courtesy of a first-half goal from captain Giorgio Chiellini.
New Juve manager Maurizio Sarri missed the match as he is recovering from pneumonia, meaning assistant Giovanni Martusciello took charge at the Ennio Tardini.
There were no new faces in the visitors’ starting XI, with former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey not included in the squad as the Wales international builds up match fitness. Gonzalo Higuain, back from his loan spell at Chelsea, led the attack.
Juve made a bright start as Cristiano Ronaldo headed over, but goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert as Parma looked to break on the counter through Roberto Inglese.
However, the Bianconeri took the lead in the 21st minute.
Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe failed to clear a corner with his punch, which saw the ball hooked back towards goal by Alex Sandro and defender Chiellini knocked it in from close range.
Inglese continued to look dangerous on the break, and his shot was deflected wide after he beat the offside trap.
Ronaldo’s drive hit the outside of the far post, before the Portuguese thought he had made it 2-0 in the 34th minute after good work from Douglas Costa.
However, following a VAR review, the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside call.
Parma looked to regroup for the second half, with Bruno Alves’ free-kick flying into the wall.
On the hour, Costa set up Ronaldo, but his shot went over.
Sepe then produced a fine save to deny the Portuguese forward before then getting down well at his near post when Ronaldo found space for an angled drive.
As Juve failed to find a second goal, Parma remained very much in the contest.
In stoppage time, Brazilian midfielder Hernani, on a season-long loan from Zenit St Petersburg, drilled a low free-kick just wide from 25 yards.
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Nuno Espirito Santo warned Wolves’ place in the Europa League group stage is not yet secure, despite winning 3-2 away to Torino.
Wolves will welcome the Serie A side to Molineux next Thursday with an advantage carved out in Italy by a Bremer own goal and second-half strikes from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.
But Wolves boss Nuno said at his post-match press conference: “It’s far from being over, it’s a close tie.
“We have to play next week against a very, very tough and a very good team.
“We played good, we were organised, we stayed in shape, we produced some goals but, like I say, there’s still one game to go.
“We have to be really, really good to perform again against a very, very good team.”
This was already Wolves’ seventh game of the season, with their Europa League commitments meaning they have been playing competitive football since July 25.
Nuno, however, retained seven of the side that had started the 1-1 Premier League draw against Manchester United at Molineux on Monday.
Among those who kept their place was Joao Moutinho, the 32-year-old Portugual midfielder who has started every one of Wolves’ seven games.
“He respects himself, he rests, he’s a fantastic player and other players play also,” Nuno said.
It’s a very, very busy schedule – we have to manage that and always try and make good decisions so the team stays compact and organised.
“Moutinho is just one case among others that play two games in a row and three games in a row, then we have to decide for the next one.
“The most important thing is that the players understand that they have to really, really work hard.
“We have to recover well to be able to cope with such a difficult time and such a difficult schedule.”
Wolves opened the scoring just before half-time when Bremer was credited with getting the final touch in a crowded goalmouth to Moutinho’s flighted free-kick.
Jota doubled the lead by finishing the impressive approach work of Adama Traore before Lorenzo De Silvestri immediately pulled one back for the hosts.
Jimenez restored Wolves’ two-goal lead with his fifth Europa League goal of the season, but Andrea Belotti converted a last-minute penalty to give Torino hope heading into the second leg.
On the performance of Traore – whose end product has often been questioned, even if his pace and power has not – Nuno said: “I’m pleased. He helped the team, others did what they had to do.
“It’s about tasks, it’s about rules, it’s about always being a team.
“Knowing that, when you know yourselves better and the characteristic of the player is what they can give to the team is important.”
Torino goalscorer De Silvestri told his club’s website: “We lost, but we have to think about our two goals scored.
“They still give us hope for the return match.
“They’re a very physical team, they put us in difficulty under that perspective.”
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