The best Under-21 XI in Europe this season
Europe is certainly blessed with some of the most exciting talents in football.
Every year, we have a legion of young guns bursting on to the scene to announce themselves to the world and in no time, find themselves on the wishlist of all the mega-rich clubs.
This season has been no different. While the stellar likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi continue to rule the roost, there have been some talented youngsters who've been quietly pulling up trees.
Here's the best XI of the players under-21 in Europe's top five leagues:
(Note: Only players aged 21 or under are considered for this line-up)
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Feels like Donnarumma has been around the block for ages, even though he's only going to turn 21 this month. And that's plausible, considering he stepped up to the plate for the Rossonerri at a tender of 16, but mind you, he hasn't looked back since.
The Italian international continues to be the undisputed choice in goal, and very recently broke the record for being the youngest player in Serie A to cap 100 appearances. He is touted to be the heir apparent to the Azzurri legend Gianluigi Buffon, as Donnarumma prepares to take up the mantle for the all-important Euro 2020.
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Trent Alexander-Arnold's rise to stardom in the recent seasons has been meteoric. Only a substitute until as recently as January 2018, an injury to Joe Gomez paved an opportunity for him in the starting lineup and he grabbed it with both hands. Now, he's an indispensable member of the squad.
After laying 12 assists in the league last term, he's made another 10 this season, thereby making him the first-ever player in the history of Premier League to make 10+ assists in multiple seasons.
Alexander-Arnold's importance to the side can be estimated when you see he's started every game for the Reds so far, while his name will be written into history books when Liverpool will eventually be crowned champions.
Center-back: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
You can only wonder how a talent like Dayot Upamenaco still hasn't earned an international call-up for France. The 21-year old has been a mainstay in RB Leipzig's starting line-up for several years now, turning in shifts that have garnered superlatives from all quarters. This season too, he's lead by example and has won more aerial duels in the Champions League than anyone with 14.
Upamecano has generated interest from Europe's high table as Bayern Munich and particularly Arsenal, have been linked with the center-back in recent times. His physicality and athleticism bring so much steel to the Leipzig's defence, while his aerial prowess is second to none.
Center-back: Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)
Juventus' €75 million summer signing, De Ligt's start to life in Italy has been far from straightforward, as he has struggled to establish himself in Maurizio Sarri's starting XI. He's started only 17 of the 23 league games as Merih Demiral proved to be a tough competition for the spot until his unfortunate injury last month.
But it's still too early to write him off. De Ligt is a prodigious talent who captained Ajax to the Eredivisie title well before his 20th birthday and also played an instrumental role in the side's historic Champions League push last year. He is starting to show flashes of his former self, as exemplified by his goal in the win over Fiorentina last week and may successfully adapt soon if he continues in the same vein of form.
Left-back: Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund)
The Moroccan international seems to have realised his true potential since joining Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid. He has scored nine and assisted 14 times since the start of last season, establishing himself in Der BVB's set-up.
Hakimi's promising tenure in Germany has tempted Los Blancos to bring him back this summer, but the player has admitted he's "torn" between the sides. Whether he opts to stay put or leave, Hakimi is a talent bound for bigger things in the future.
Right midfielder: Martin Odegaard (Real Sociedad)
Martin Odegaard is finally living up to the hype that convinced Real Madrid to sign him as a 16-year-old teenager. He may not have made it big at the Bernabeu, but recently reminded them of his talent when he scored in the 4-3 ouster of his parent club in the Copa Del Rey.
Odegaard has also had a hand in nine goals in the league in 20 games and has created more chances than any U-21 midfielder in Europe's top five leagues. He's truly coming of age as the Norwegian sensation's talents have also helped Sociedad maintain an encouraging sixth position in the league.
Central midfielder: Eduardo Camavinga (Stade Rennais)
A relatively unknown name and much lesser glamorous than most of the others on the list, but Camavinga has announced himself in Ligue 1 with a breakthrough season. The 17-year-old has espied several eyeballs with his promising first-touches and immaculate recoveries.
Quick, strong and composed in possession, Camavinga exudes an elegance that belies his age. He's also a great passer of the ball and also became the youngest ever player to win the player of the month award in the French top-flight. His talents have sparked discussions of him being a possible replacement to Real Madrid's Casemiro.
Left midfielder: Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Kai Havertz caused a stir last season when he became the youngest ever player to reach 17 goals in a single campaign in the Bundesliga. His blistering run of form propelled Leverkusen back into the Champions League and has already earned well over 100 caps in the league at the age of 20!
He has assumed a bigger role for his side this season, as he's started all but one game. The German has garnered numerous superlatives from legend Lothar Matthaus, who lauded his passion, spontaneity, speed and distribution skills. So with such a seal of approval, Havertz is going to go places.
Left-winger: Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
France's golden boy hasn't looked back ever since he helped Les Blues to the World Cup glory in 2018. Mbappe has elevated his game by a notch, netting a staggering 62 times in all competitions since the start of last season with only Lionel Messi (70) and Robert Lewandowski (75) having scored more during that time frame!
The PSG star has made us easily forget he's still only 20, as his prodigious talent continues to excite us. He's an outlier even among the most talented individuals in the circuit and is heavily touted to lift the Ballon d'Or someday.
Right-winger: Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Borussia Dortmund is lucky to have some of the brightest talents in the roster, spearheaded by Jadon Sancho. The England international has been all the rage ever since he burst onto the scene last season and hasn't missed a beat even to this day.
He has continued from where he left off, adding another 15 goals and 17 assists in all competitions to his already insane tally. Sancho's prodigious talents are being discussed in the boardrooms of Europe's elite teams and is also touted to lead the Three Lions to lofty heights in the years to come.
Striker: Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
The Norwegian sensation has stirred up a hornet's nest this season, initially with RB Salzburg in the Champions League and now with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. He took to the new surroundings like a fish to water and stormed to seven goals from his first three starts - the fastest to reach the milestone in the competition's history.
The 19-year old has an unbelievable return of 36 goals in all competitions so far this season, including six hat-tricks! His insanely menacing run has alerted several top shouts in Europe, whereas Dortmund has breathed new life in their title push since his arrival.Published 14 Feb 2020, 12:12 IST