Chelsea are finally using their own well to dredge up talent and they’ve found one at centre-back, a familiar face comes back into focus in Germany and a keeper is making waves upon his return to France.
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.
Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea)
Key stat: 100 touches, most of any Chelsea player in 2-0 win v Brighton
Fikayo Tomori vs. Brighton:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 28, 2019
• 100 touches (most)
• 90 passes (most)
• 90% pass accuracy
This Premier League business is easy. pic.twitter.com/9QllleNyWL
What was once a punchline now packs some punch of its own. The Chelsea defence finally recorded a first clean sheet of the season in no small part thanks to Tomori, who has deservedly turfed out Kurt Zouma in Frank Lampard’s thoughts.
While all the attention was on Mason Mount’s Derby connection with Lampard, it was largely forgotten that Tomori was an ever-present in the Rams back-line last season and his partnership with Andreas Christensen has the look of a long-term fix for the Blues.
The 21-year-old made three interceptions against the Seagulls but it also his conviction on the ball, playing the simple stuff well, that helps to alleviate pressure in Chelsea’s third. He doesn’t just score 35-yard screamers.
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Key stat: 6 tackles and 6 interceptions in 2-2 draw at Bournemouth
Declan Rice may not have been able to stifle an often stupefying Bournemouth attack by himself, but it was not for the want of trying.
He won the ball back a quite incredible 18 times against the Cherries to go alongside six interceptions. He’s not just a whirligig of energy – the 20-year-old is cultured in possession, topping 90 per cent pass rate for the third Premier League game in a row.
The England international signed a £30,000-per-week contract last December in a bid to keep his eyes away from Old Trafford. West Ham will know, though, that they must brace themselves for several bids – perhaps from several teams – next summer.
Declan Rice’s game by numbers vs. Bournemouth:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 28, 2019
93% pass accuracy
22 forward passes
18 ball recoveries (most on the pitch)
6 interceptions (most on the pitch)
10 more ball recoveries and 3 more interceptions than any other West Ham player. 👍 pic.twitter.com/L600hGFyXv
Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina)
Key stat: 5 successful dribbles in 3-1 win at AC Milan
Castrovilli ➡️ Chiesa ➡️ Ribery. Like a hot knife through butter! pic.twitter.com/ume2ZwPNEi— . (@hallowedsaber) September 30, 2019
Federico Chiesa was a little too freewheeling for Fiorentina last year and it’s taken a former wild child to channel his fire.
La Viola didn’t play like a team who had gone winless in their last 18 games before beating Sampdoria in midweek – indeed, they haven’t for much of this season. It came together again at the San Siro, as the 21-year-old Chiesa and 36-year-old Ribery combined for an assist/goal combo for the second game running.
Having benefited from Ribery’s final pass against Samp, Chiesa turned Theo Hernandez inside out in some counterattacking trickery before sending through an assist worth its weight in gold for his new French strike partner. It’s a blossoming tandem, and one that can see Chiesa reach full bloom.
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Key stat: 25 goals in Bundesliga career after strike in 3-0 win at Augsburg
A month’s worth of sub-par performances – at least for a player of Havertz’s ability – was consigned to the dustbin on Saturday, though his assist was hardly by design.
His run through midfield set Augsburg defenders backpedalling but the ball’s bounce off the side of his head was rather fortuitous, as it landed into Kevin Volland’s path, whose lob grabbed Leverkusen’s second.
The 20-year-old applied the third goal – and nor will that go down in his personal scrapbook – but the fledgling Germany international somehow controlled the game from his nominal position on the right of a 4-2-3-1.
Alban Lafont (Nantes)
Key stat: 7 saves made in 1-0 win at Lyon
LIGUE 1 | 🇫🇷 Alban Lafont (20) standing on his head today for @FCNantes in a big win at Lyon! 🌟— Football Wonderkidz (@FootWonderkidz) September 28, 2019
🖐🏿 7 saves
👐 5 saves inside the box
❌ 1 clean sheet
FIVE wins out of their last 6 Ligue 1 matches now. Four of those were clean sheets. 😯
Lafont is not messing around. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/JnpKuUZ3s4
Having been unceremoniously turfed out of Fiorentina on loan – in favour of a returning loanee in Bartlomiej Dragowski – Lafont is undergoing a career renaissance in Nantes at the age of 20. Yes, really – it’s not an inaccurate description given that he made his Ligue 1 debut for Toulouse at the age of 16.
Against a high-octane Lyon attack, his save from Houssem Aouar’s close-range header was otherworldly, while he dominated Memphis Depay in what almost became a one-on-one duel.
In total, he performed five saves from shots inside the box, playing the percentages by wisely using his legs for several. If he can keep this up – having compiled four clean sheets in five – there is a certain mega club in the French capital who could do with a long-term option between the sticks…