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The best under-21 players in Europe’s top 5 leagues

10 – Kai Havertz, 20-years-old:

A player that really flourished under Peter Bosz’s new implemented system. Haverz, like Dele Alli and Antoine Griezmann, is a rare kind of player as he plays as a second striker. Due to his position being very rare within football at current, his price has been inflated from an already high price due to his attacking qualities at such a young age. Kai is coming off a season in which he scored 17 and got 3 assists which meant he ended the 2018/19 season as the equal third top goal scorer. The German took 2.6 shots with 0.8 from outside the box which highlights his maturity especially at such a young age however, his xG was 11.99 which either highlight he got the rub of the green or he is a clinical finisher. As in his last 2 seasons/his first 2 seasons he’s been in line with his xG, it would suggest he got luck but due to his age, it might have been his breakthrough season.

Havertz is not just a goal scorer, he also had 1 key pass and 1.4 successful dribbles per 90 showing good awareness and variety to his game. Kai is also a good passer as he has a pass accuracy of 87.2% which is very high for an attacking player especially in the Bundesliga as most sides play with high intensity and whilst applying a lot of pressure to the opposition. Another key attribute for him is his fitness as during 2018/19, he made 34 appearances which included 33 league starts and he played 94.8% of the league minutes available which could be another factor that could drive his price up even further.

9 – Aaron Wan-Bissaka, 21-years-old:

Aaron only got game time at Crystal Palace due injuries towards the end of 2017/18, he took his opportunity. In 2018/19 the Englishman really made his name with his defensive solidity. The now Man United player started 35 matches which totalled in 3135 minutes in the Premier League for his breakout season. He averaged 6.1 tackles and interceptions during 2018/19 whilst only averaging 0.7 fouls, this is very low for someone that is completing a lot of defensive actions.

Wan-Bissaka is not only very defensively solid but can also transition the ball forward and create chances for his team mates. The defensive powerhouse completed 1.7 dribbles out of 2.5 giving him a success rate of 68% which is very high considering his age, position and the system he plays in. To caveat this, he creates 0.4 chances per 90 which led to him getting 3 assists. These offensive numbers will increase, and we’ll see a decrease in his defensive actions at Man United unless they go all-out attack and hope Aaron Wan-Bissaka mops everything up defensively.

8 – Marcus Rashford, 21-years-old:

Another English 21-year-old at Man United to make this list, the future could be bright for the Red Devils. Marcus Rashford is bound to be Man United’s main man upfront under Ole and this trust is sure to be repaid. This is a player who only got his chance due to injuries and lack of depth for Man United in 2015/16 under Van Gaal, Rashford has done well to remain in the first team for the seasons following due to him taking his chances when he starts as well as his work ethic, this and him coming through Man United’s youth academy has made him a fan favourite at Old Trafford. He played 2345 minutes during the 2018/19 season and in those minutes he played all along the front line showing his versatility and desire to play.

In his 2345 he scored 10 and got 6 assists, his xG was 11.61 and his xA was 5.27 so he was about on track for his goal contributions. This is because he averaged 2.5 shots (1.1 from outside the box which is good for an attacker of his age but clear room for improvement in the decision making), 1.2 key passes, 1.3 dribbles with a 50% success rate which led to him drawing 1.6 fouls and 20.2 passes with a 78.1% pass accuracy. The shot location, dribble success rate and pass accuracy show he requires an improvement in decision making if he wants to take his game to the next level, but the rest of his numbers are very promising for the 21-year-old. A lot of pressure will be put on his shoulders but as shown by his penalty v PSG to send Man United through to the next round in the Champions League, he can deal with pressure.

7 – Federico Chiesa, 21-years-old:

A bright light for Fiorentina as they faltered towards the end of the season. This falter meant their last league win was on the 17th of February which led to a 16th placed finish, 3 points off relegation. The 21-year-old has been subject of a move from the Artemio Franchi Stadium to Juventus and after 2018/19, it is clear why clubs want him. During 2018/19, Federico played 3038 minutes showing his importance despite his age. In these minutes he scored 6 and assisted 3 for La Viola. As impressive as this is, his xG was 9.37 and his xA was 5.67 meaning per 90 they were 0.28 and 0.17 respectively. This shows great promise especially in a disappointing side.

He took 3.6 shots which is very high but 1.7 come from outside the box. With a good manager his shot location would improve but you’d also hope it improves with age. He can also be the chief creator for his side as he averaged 1.5 key passes and 2.1 completed dribbles. However, he has a dribble success rate of 43.8% which will improve with age as his decision-making will. This is also shown with his 72.1% pass accuracy. Chiesa has shown great promise but in a better side and as he gets older, his dribble success rate and pass accuracy will improve.

6 – Marcus Thuram, 21-years-old:

Marcus is the son of Lilian Thuram, winner of the 1998 World Cup. He carried an uninspiring Guimgamp attack who only scored 28 goals during the 2018/19 season. Thuram contributed 9 goals and 1 assist, this meant he was directly involved in 35.7% of their goals. However as impressive as this, according to understat’s model for expected goals (xG), he should’ve scored 10.62 and had 2.56 assists. This puts him on 0.46 expected goal contributions per 90 for a side that finished last in Ligue 1 and only averaged 0.74 goals per 90. If had hit his expected values, he would’ve been directly involved of 62% of their goals.

 The 21-year-old (turns 22 in August) played off the left during the 2018/19 season but can also play as a striker and could learn to play off the right. At 6’2” he can also a be an aerial threat showing he is very versatile as he is also lightning quick when running with the ball. In their relegation campaign, Thuram played 2583 minutes showing great fitness and consistency. However, he got sent off twice which highlight his age and he needs a manager to help him with discipline.

5 – Houssem Aouar, 21-years-old:

An indispensable cog for Lyon, Aouar started 35 matches and made a couple more appearances from the bench meaning he made an appearance in 37 of the 38 league matches which totalled in 3069 minutes. In these minutes, the midfielder scored seven and assisted seven in just his second season of regular football. His 14 direct goal contributions meant he was directly involved in 20% of Lyon’s goals from midfield.

The Frenchman can do more is a handful for the opposition due to his versatility and well-rounded game. During 2018/19 he played as a central midfielder, attacking midfielder, defensive midfielder and even as a left winger. In his 3069 minutes, he averaged 2.6 tackles and interceptions which caveated with his attributes going forward and it’s easy to see why he’s well sought after. He also averaged 1.9 shots with a high 0.8 from outside the box, 1.2 key passes, 1.6 dribbles completed with a 61.5% pass accuracy and 55.6 passes with a pass accuracy of 68.7%. Those stats show why he is one to watch as they’re only going to improve with age and a better manager.

4 – Trent Alexander-Arnold, 20-years-old:

The Champions League winner is coming off a huge season with Liverpool as they lost the league by 1 point as they reached 97 points (despite the luck in xG) but Trent got many plaudits for his very impressive season for the Reds in which he scored 1 and got 12 assists which broke a record for defender with most assists in a Premier League season, his xG was 1.49 and his xA was 7.22 so he got the rub of the green when creating chances along with Andy Robertson’ but that’s what happens when they’re creating chances for their elite front three but both of their assists will drop next season along with Liverpool’s points tally.

In the league, he played 2467 minutes as he averaged 3.3 tackles and interceptions, 1 shot (0.8 from outside the box), 1.7 key passes (Trent takes corners so that boosts his key passes) along with 58.5 passes with a 77.5% pass accuracy per 90. The shot location is poor due to him being a defender, but the pass accuracy is low as he’s constantly trying to progress the ball forward with vertical forward passes which is backed up by him completing 4 long balls from 8.9 long balls per 90.

3 – Jadon Sancho, 19-years-old:

The Englishman has had a breakthrough season during 2018/19. Jadon started the league campaign as a bench player but after impressing coming off the bench he was given a starting role which meant he started 26 games with 8 substitute appearances resulting in him playing 2464 minutes. He scored 12 goals and topped the Bundesliga assist charts with 14. However, xG has him at 7.42 and xA at 8.31 which shows considerate luck but the whole Dortmund had luck as they nearly stopped Bayern Munich’s stronghold on the Bundesliga. Despite the rub of the green, per 90 his xG is 0.27 and xA is 0.3 which would result in a very impressive 0.57 expected direct goal involvements per 90, yet he only turns 20 in March 2020.

Jadon’s shot numbers aren’t very high as he only averages 1.2 per 90 but with his xG as high as it is, this shows he is decisive and makes good decisions as backed up with his shot location, only 0.3 shots from outside the box per 90. Sancho is also very creative with 1.9 key passes, but his main attribute is his ability on the ball. The former Man City winger has a pass accuracy of 84.9% which is high for an attacking player, but he completes 3.3 dribbles out of 5.5 attempted per 90 giving him a success rate of 60%. Sancho prominently plays off the right but has also played on the left for the German outfit which highlights his versatility.

2 – Matthijs De Ligt, 19-years-old:

Matthijs De Ligt is a newcomer to Italy. He joined Champions Juventus from Ajax for a reported £67.5 million as he became Juventus’ and the league’s third most expensive signing with only Higuaín and Ronaldo surpassing his fee. De Ligt was ever present for Ajax in 2018/19 as De Ligt captained them to win the domestic double and reach the Champions League semi-final. In the Eredivisie he started 33 of the 34 matches which totalled in 2970 minutes. He scored 3 and assisted 1 in his 33 matches.

Matthijs averaged 2.1 tackles and interceptions showing he is sturdy at the back even in a ball dominant side. De Ligt averaged 68.5 passes whilst maintaining a 90% pass accuracy and attempted 0.3 dribbles with a 100% pass accuracy which will decrease in a more competitive league. These stats show he is composed on the ball and has good decision making. The Dutch international is also a handful offensively. He takes 1.5 shots with 0.4 coming from outside the box which is good shot location for a centre back especially at his age, but he also creates 0.4 chances so can get a few assists in a season.

1 – Kylian Mbappé, 20-years-old:

Kylian is an elite player and a world superstar, the best part is he’s only 20. Mbappé only played 2344 minuutes due to Tuchel rotating the squad a lot, but in these minutes the Frenchman scored 33 and assisted 7. This means Mbappé averaged scoring or assisting a goal every 58.6 minutes, close to two direct goal contributions per 90. The 20-year-old did all this whilst playing in numerous positions which included striker, attacking midfield and both wings.

Arguably the third best player in the world, behind Ronaldo and Messi, Kylian took 4.3 shots per 90 last season with 0.7 coming from outside the box highlighting his maturity in decision making despite his age. The World Cup winner also created 1.6 chances and 2.2 dribbles which shows he can play different roles within each position and that he is ready for his dream move to Real Madrid. c


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