Europe's top rated Under-21 XI in 2014/15
A look at the best U21 players in Europe's Top 5 leagues who have played at least 20 games this season
With just one match to play in the current Serie A campaign, the formalities have all-but been settled across Europe's top 5 leagues. Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG have all been crowned champions, with the former pairing set to battle it out for European club football’s highest honour in a fortnight.
Lionel Messi (8.84 rating) and Cristiano Ronaldo (8.48) have continued to amaze with their unfathomable statistics, while the likes of Robben (8.47), Neymar (7.96) and Hazard (7.95) round off WhoScored.com's top 5 rated players for 2014/15. If said trio are to be expected among Europe's strongest performers this piece celebrates those that have enjoyed sensational seasons at a young age, as we compile our highest rated XI of players aged 21 and under.
First of all, some honourable mentions are in order, as some superb ratings have just fallen short due to the competition in certain positions in particular. Full-backs Wendell (7.42) and Abdul Baba (7.37) of Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg just miss out. Perhaps more surprisingly, so too does Tottenham's Harry Kane (7.28), but hear us out before you get your pitchforks at the ready!
The following is a rundown of the best XI, starting in goal, of all players with 20 or more league appearances in 2014/15.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Rico – Sevilla
It's been some week for Sevilla's Sergio Rico who, having cemented his place as first choice keeper under Unai Emery at the turn of the year, has been rewarded with a place in Vicente del Bosque's latest Spain squad. As if that wasn't enough he earned a Europa League winners medal on Wednesday night to cap off a superb breakthrough campaign.
Of all keepers to make 20 or more appearances in La Liga only 5 managed a better save success rate than the 21-year old's 70.7%, earning a rating of 6.86 from WhoScored.com in the process.
Right Back: Fabinho – Monaco
At right-back is Monaco's Fabinho, who joined the club on a permanent basis after a two-year loan from Rio Ave this week, with a rating of 7.38 richly deserved after a fantastic season in Ligue 1. The Brazilian has shown his versatility to play in midfield at times but plies his trade as a full-back capable of supporting the attack, with 1.3 dribbles per game, whilst contributing significantly to Monaco's excellent defensive record, with 2.7 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game.
Centre Back: Aymeric Laporte – Athletic Club
While this wasn't a breakthrough campaign for Athletic's young French defender Aymeric Laporte, he continued to prove why he is so highly-thought of at the club and increasingly across Europe, with a WhoScored.com rating of 7.19. The 21-year old already possesses a fantastic reading of the game and made more interceptions than any other player in La Liga all season (121).
Centre Back: Gimenez – Atletico Madrid
Joining Laporte in a La Liga centre-back pairing is Atleti's Gimenez, who has put real pressure on Miranda's place in Diego Simeone's plans, which is no mean feat considering the Brazilian's successful partnership with Diego Godin in recent years. The young Uruguayan will hope to partner his compatriot next season having made 20 appearances this time around, with no player in Spain averaging more shot blocks per game (1) for a sensational rating of 7.52 from WhoScored.com.
Left Back: Jordan Amavi – Nice
The highest rated player aged 21 or under in Europe's top 5 leagues this season, it's been quite a campaign for Nice's Jordan Amavi, who is one of a number of talented young left-backs in France right now. His rating of 7.74 was enough to rank second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in WhoScored's Ligue 1 rankings, courtesy of outstanding figures such as 3.9 tackles, 4.6 interceptions and 1.9 dribbles per game to accompany 4 goals in 36 appearances.
Right Winger: Domenico Berardi – Sassuolo
The on loan Juventus forward was instrumental once more in ensuring Sassuolo's Serie A survival this season and with one game still to play the 20-year old leads the side in both goals (14) and assists (9). Fielded on the right of a front three for his club, Berardi will surely be lined up for a return to the Old Lady before too long, with only Carlos Tevez and Mauro Icardi having a direct hand in more Serie A goals thus far, all for a rating of 7.29.
Central Midfielder: Johannes Geis – Mainz
Geis is another player whose emergence on the scene really came last season following a move to Mainz from Furth, but the midfielder has once again been incredibly consistent for his age this time around. A WhoScored.com rating of 7.33 is borne out of 4 goals and 3 assists along with a league high of 54 chances created from set pieces, and 2.2 key passes per game.
Central Midfielder: Morgan Sanson – Montpellier
A long-term injury may have curtailed the season of Morgan Sanson but the Montpellier midfielder was superb across his 32 appearances for a rating of 7.41 from WhoScored. He added a goal threat to his game from a more advanced position, with 6 goals and 3 assists, as well as averaging 2.5 dribbles per game. However, that didn't come at the expense of his defensive work rate, ranking among the top 10 players in Ligue 1 for tackles, with 102.
Left Winger: Raheem Sterling – Liverpool
His future looks set to lie away from Anfield, with Sterling's time at the club coming to a disappointing end, but there's little doubt that the youngster has been a strong servant to the Reds in the last two seasons. The 20-year old has made 68 league appearances for the club over the past two years and scored 7 goals along with 7 assists in 2014/15. With only 3 players completing more dribbles in the Premier League all season (103), Sterling fully merited a strong rating of 7.27 from WhoScored.
Forward: Paulo Dybala – Palermo
It's little surprise that Juventus acted fast when it came to securing the signature of Palermo's Paulo Dybala, with a host of Europe's top clubs circling after a fantastic return to Serie A from the youngster.
As things stand the Argentine is the only player in the league to register double figures for both goals (13) and assists (10) - the latter is the most in Serie A - and he could have added considerably more to his goal tally had he not rattled the woodwork 5 times.
With averages of 3.4 shots and 2.7 dribbles per game both ranking among the league's top 10 players, Dybala is the man to keep out Kane in the XI.
Forward: Nabil Fekir – Lyon
Joining him up front is Nabil Fekir, who earned his first France call-up this season having turned down the opportunity to represent Algeria. His WhoScored.com rating is bettered only by Amavi here - at 7.57 - providing the perfect foil to Ligue 1's leading scorer Alexandre Lacazette.
Fekir picked up tallies of 13 goals and 9 assists, whilst ranking first in Ligue 1 in terms of penalties won (6). He was the most fouled player in the league, felled 111 times, and averaged 2.8 successful dribbles per game.