Here at FootballOwl, we love looking at young stars that are looking to be the next big things in world football. New players come along every year looking to impress and this season has been no different. The players in this list have all had extraordinary seasons that have really pushed them into the limelight. This is FootballOwl’s breakout Team of the Season!
GK: Alex Meret (Napoli)
Alex Meret will be one of the lesser known names in our Team of the Season, but the 22 year old has had a very impressive season despite his poor luck with injuries. With David Ospina to compete with, grabbing your chance in the starting line up is not too easy, but Meret did it in style. Keeping 6 clean sheets in his first 8 games, the young Italian keeper impressed very quickly. Being likened to none other than Gianluigi Buffon, Meret is quick actoss the line and shows great agility to drop and save low shots with his hands where many modern keepers opt for the feet. Injuries have plagued his season but, if he can keep fit next year, Meret could play a vital role in Ancelotti’s side. The team from Naples look to continue their great Serie A form amongst resurgence of the Milan sides and the incredible Atalanta.
DEF: Achraf Hakini (Dortmund)
We wrote an article on Achraf Hakimi earlier in the season as a One to Watch and he has proven us right this year! After a difficult start at Real Madrid, the young left back sought improved game time and prosperity in Dortmund, and has shown that a move away from Los Blancos can prove to be the right decision. Helping his team to participate in one of the most close fought title races the Bundesliga has seen in a while, Hakimi provided 2 goals and 4 assists from left back. Passing-wise, Hakimi had an accuracy of over 86%, and defensively provided important tackles and interceptions. The youngster has expressed his desire to work with Zinedine Zidane back at Real Madrid when his 2 year loan expires. Could the young Moroccan be the important replacement for the ageing Marcelo?
DEF: Matthijs De Ligt (Ajax)
Ask any football fan which young player has had the best season, and Matthijs De Ligt will be the top of many lists. The Dutch centre back has captained his team to the Eridivisie title and cup double, and the semi-finals of the Champions League, knocking out none other than Juventus and Real Madrid. Watching him play its almost unbelievable to think he’s only 19 years old, as De Ligt plays with a maturity that many seasoned professionals cannot manage. Links to Barcelona and Manchester United will be hitting the headlines all summer. There is no doubt that this youngster will go extraordinarily far in his hopefully long career. Tall and imposing, and a great reading of the game, De Ligt has all the qualities of a modern centre back. This summer sees De Ligt link up with Virgil van Dijk in orange as the Netherlands compete in the Nations League. 2 of the most exciting centre backs in the world, it will be no surprise if the team progresses far through the tournament
DEF: Ibrahima Konate (RB Leipzig)
Konate is another player we wrote an article on this season. The arguably lesser well known of the two young centre back talents at Leipzig (The other being Dayot Upamecano), Ibrahima Konate has thrust himself into the limelight this season. An injury to Upamecano kept him out since January and Konate has stepped in effortlessly to sure up the defence. A ball playing centre back, Konate makes almost a dribble every game and averages 37 passes. Defensively he is extremely agressive. The young Frenchman doesn’t give the attacker a second on the ball and looks to step up and make the interception before it even reaches them. On the radar of Arsenal, Konate has a choice to make about his future, will he seek new challenges in the Premier League, or remain with a Leipzig team that only looks to improve year on year?
DEF: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
Every club has a youth player that the fans know will make it and, for Crystal Palace, Wan-Bissaka is the latest player to seize his opportunity. Having played 3135 minutes this season (3rd highest out of any Palace player), the young right back has forced himself to the top of the teamsheet. When it comes to defenders, some stats mean more than others. But one that immediately pops out is the incredible 3.9 tackles per game Wan-Bissaka made this season. Only 3 players in Europe’s top 5 leagues made more. That is incredible for a 21 year old who had previously played only 7 senior league games! Proficient going forward as well, the young Englishman’s runs push the opposition back, and he has even chipped in to provide goals with 3 assists including one on the final day 5-3 thriller between vs Newcastle. Wan-Bissaka is now looking to take the next step to a more established and challenging club, and in turn will hope to push Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the England set up.
MID: Joao Felix (Benfica)
Benfica are no strangers to young talents, with the likes of Di Maria, Renato Sanches and Bernardo Silva formerly representing the Portuguese side. The talents of Joao Felix are already leading people to compare him to Kaka and he is hoping to be the next player to show the incredible work the Benfica youth setup do. With 15 goals and 7 assists in 26 appearances in the Liga NOS, the stats are simply unbelievable. Also making his mark in Europe at the youngest player since a certain Sergio Aguero to score a hat trick in the Europa League when he netted three against Frankfurt. A skilful player who can take players on and pick out a pass, Felix also has a natural finishing ability. So it’s no wonder the comparisons to Kaka are being mentioned, one of the great all round midfielders of his generation. Benfica are a top side, with years of history. They will always be competitive in Europe, but to be the best, Joao Felix must make the break into one of the top 5 leagues and prove he can do it there as well.
MID: Declan Rice (West Ham)
Declan Rice is another player whose place in the side has come from necessity, and who has grabbed it with both hands and made it his own. Originally starting as a centre back, Rice filled in the defence for West Ham last season when needed, and it was evident that the youngster had the technical ability demanded of the Premier League. However, when the midfield injuries racked up at West Ham, Rice was moved up into the midfield. It ended up being a genius move as Rice has been one of the Premier Leagues players of the season. Providing cover for the defence, the youngster sits in the defensive midfielder position and does not let anyone past him. Not interested in goals (despite scoring 2 this season) Rice plays his position perfectly. It allows the rest of the team to move up, knowing the cover is there. Tracking back and helping out the defence is what he excels at, and can even play the perfect pass to link defence and attack. Already called up to the England squad, Rice has caught everyone’s eye. With a shortage of top CDMs, rumours link him to Manchester City as a replacement for Fernandinho.
MID: Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
One of the big breakout stars of 2019, Jadon Sancho has had an incredible season. Sancho moved from Man City to Borussia Dortmund for £8 million in a relatively unheard of transfer in 2018. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and firmly cemented himself as one of the biggest young stars in the world. Creating 14 assists and scoring 12 goals, Sancho has proven how much he is worth to a team. In fact only Eden Hazard provided more assists in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season. A tricky winger with blinding pace and a strong end product, Sancho strikes fear into any defender who has the task of trying to stop him. The youngster has forced his way into the England set up, most recently being called up to the 2019 Nations League tournament. Borussia Dortmund had a very strong season, and it’s no doubt that Sancho played a big part in the German club’s success. With signings of Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt, Sancho will have a lot of competition for his place in the coming season, but the young Englishman’s ability will carry him right to the top.
MID: Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Germany’s World Cup winning team of 2014 was a squad made of some of the top talents in the world, and it showed. Highlights including the 7-1 win over Brazil poured in from that tournament. Fast forward 4 years and the German side couldn’t even make it out of the group stages. A tired and predictable looking team, the older players showed no passion. Manager Joachim Low has realised that in order to keep up with the top teams, the next generation will need to come through. Kai Havertz will no doubt be key to the resurgence. Aged just 19, the young playmaker has shown he is ready to step up. Scoring an incredible 17 goals this season (only 2 players in Bundesliga had more), there’s no doubt he has an eye for goal. A versatile player, Hazertz can play in any midfield role, from defence to attack, although attack is where he thrives! A strong and consistent passer of the ball, recently averaging over 90% pass accuracy, Havertz can create as well as finish. Often dropping deep, Havertz can get the ball from the defensive players, turn on it and play a forward-looking pass to keep the flow of the game. His goals helped Leverkusen achieve a top 4 finish this season, so expect to see him tear up the Champions League if he stays put!
FWD: Luka Jovic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
One of our favourite players this season, Luka Jovic has hit the headlines with his amazing season. Playing in an extremely talented Frankfurt side, Jovic was part of a front 3 that scored 41 goals (Jovic providing 17 of them). A strong, powerful forward, the young Serbian is able to run with the ball and hold off defenders and is ice cool in front of goal. A clip of teammate Ante Rebic celebrating before Jovic had even taken his shot in the Europa League Semi Final went around, showing just how much faith everybody at the club has in him. Unfortunately for Frankurt, they went on to lost to eventual winners Chelsea, and a disappointing end the Bundesliga saw them miss out on automatic qualification to European football. Formerly of Benfica, Frankfurt managed to make the move permanent for only EUR 7 million! Expected to join Real Madrid in the summer, Jovic could be part of the next generation of top quality strikers who any manager would love to have in their team
FWD: Krzysztof Piatek (AC Milan)
At the age of 22, Krzysztof Piatek’s career had gone relatively under the radar. Despite scoring 32 goals in 65 appearances in his native Poland, his EUR 4 million move to Genoa did not hit too many headlines. Starting the first game of the season, Piatek scored. 2 in the next, and the Polish striker started to catch peoples eye. 5 games later and he became the first man in over 20 years to score in the first 7 Serie A games of the season. Despite not reaching the impressive 11 that Gabriel Batistuta did, he showed the big clubs what he was made of and, in January, earned himself a EUR 35 million move to Serie A strugglers AC Milan. Although he was not able to hit the incredible highs of his start to the season, consistent goalscoring allowed Higuain’s replacement to finish his debut season on 13 goals. His trademark celebration a sight to behold, it just shows that you dont have to be 18 years old to have your breakout season. Expect more things to come from Krzysztof Piatek as he adapts further to the Italian game!
An incredible line up that would challenge the very best! All 23 or under, these 11 players have had a strong season and shown that they can be the next players to light up the footballing world and keep fans glued to every minute of football. Expect one or two to be linked with the top clubs this summer, and with the Under-21 European Championships and the UEFA Nations League providing something to watch over the summer, keep an eye out for these young talents!