The Football Notebook
Serie A Wonderkids
10. Merih Demiral
Although Demiral has featured only 5 times in the Serie A this season for the Old Lady, it has been enough to convince us that he will become a prominent part of their defence for years to come, potentially forming one of the best centre-back partnerships in the world with fellow wonderkid Matthijs De Ligt. Demiral’s is a commanding presence, and has the game intelligence to match that. Add a good successful passing percentage at 91.5% in the league and you get the modern centre-back that has the ability to defend and attack.
Most Comparable to: Gerard Pique
9. Dejan Kulusevski
Kulusesvki was signed by Juventus at just 19 for €35M. He is a tall and powerful attacker, with the tricks to match the output in the business end of the pitch. The Swedish winger has contributed to almost 40% of Parma’s since the start of the season, which is astonishing considering he has been a teenager for most of it. Kulusevski could become the star forward at Juventus once Cristiano Ronaldo either leaves or retires, and from then on help Juventus challenge for that elusive Champions League title.
Most Comparable to: Marco Reus
8. Federico Chiesa
An electric winger with knack for end product, Chiesa is a rare breed of pace, dribbling ability, and tactical intelligence. His versatility allows him to play anywhere in the front line, making him useful for any manager that coaches him. He also has the rare skill of taking many shots during the 90 minutes, managing an astonishing 1.8 inside the penalty area which for context is better than an elite striker like Harry Kane, who has taken 1.7 shots per 90 in a less defensive league.This has meant that this season in the Serie A Chiesa has underperformed on xG by more than 2, which shows that he has been unlucky and that he is actually better than his stats suggest. Very few expect the Fiorentina star to remain there over the summer with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and obviously Juventus in a race to secure his signature.
Most Comparable to: Raheem Sterling
7. Rodrigo Bentancur
Just squeezing into our list as he is at almost 23 years, Rodrigo Bentancur is the present-day archetypal central-midfielder. Registering a goal contribution every 207 minutes seems pretty average, but Bentancur’s game is multifaceted, with all sides of his game contributing him being close to the label of ‘world-class’. 4.2 tackles and interceptions, 1.9 key passes, and 2.1 dribbles at a 62% success rate every 90 minutes in the Serie A is not what you usually see from a player of his age, with only his shots per 90 failing to impress at just 0.5. Should these numbers improve - and they will - the Uruguayan ace will lead Juventus’ midfield into a new, glorious era.
Most Comparable to: Clarence Seedorf
6. Nicolo Zaniolo
An unfortunate ACL tear had set young Zaniolo’s second season in the Serie A back, but the Coronavirus and an ahead-of-schedule recovery has made it seem like he could be back in time for the Serie A restart in mid-June. At 1.9 metres tall, Nico is a strange combination of supposedly contradictory attributes; strength, aerial presence, balance, and the kind of dribbling ability usually reserved for smaller, more stereotypically technical players. He also has the pace to keep up with the ever faster game, and is a calm head on broad shoulders. Zaniolo is destined to become Roma and Italy’s future midfield general as a do-it-all, box-to-box player with a unique skill set.
Most Comparable to: Socrates
5. Theo Hernandez
Theo Hernandez was AC Milan’s top scorer for almost the whole season, until an in-form Ante Rebic took over just before the Coronavirus hit. The catch: he was doing all of this at left-back. He is rapid, a proficient dribbler, and a able crosser, meaning that he is the perfect modern attacking-fullback. However, unlike most young defensive prospects, his ability at the back is already fairly accomplished and he is less liable to errors. Put all this together and you have what could be the best all-round left-back in football within a couple short years.
Most Comparable to: Maicon Sisenando
4. Lautaro Martinez
El Toro’, or ‘The Bull’ has terrorised defences wherever he has been. His combination of strength, pace and an eye for goal has seen him become one of the most sought after young talents in Europe, with most notably Barcelona negotiating a deal said to be worth €110M. Martinez has yet to reach the high ceiling that he has been touted for, but with the right coaching and work ethic, we could see him become among the finest strikers in world football.
Most Comparable to: Luis Suarez
3. Gianluigi Donnarumma
It seems like an eternity since a 16 year-old Italian goalkeeping prodigy burst onto the scene for AC Milan. Since then Donnarumma has steadily improved, and has kept his knack for an incredible diving save with him. At 196 cm, he is tall, even for a keeper, but that does not stop him from making stupendous reflex saves that are often attributed to the shorter, more agile goalies. Italy has what could be one of the greatest GK’s of all time in their hands, for at least another 10-12 years, and so does Milan if they can keep hold of him. Just as his namesake Gianluigi Buffon retires, another young star has risen to keep an incredible line of Italian goalkeepers going on.
Most Comparable to: Gianluigi Buffon
2. Sandro Tonali
The comparisons to Andrea Pirlo are astounding on the surface. Both have that signature long mane of hair, both started their careers at Brescia, both have the ability to play any type of pass, and both seemingly set about everything they do with a touch of class and composure. But Tonali builds on what Pirlo had; he is stronger, taller, faster, and better defensively. And Tonali might be quite raw, but so was Pirlo when he started out, and the retired Italian magician could be argued to have been better later on in his career. Should Sandro Tonali continue in the path that he is on now, we could be seeing a modern, more rounded version of the Andrea Pirlo we all came to know and love.
Most Comparable to: Andrea Pirlo
1. Matthijs De Ligt
A rocky start to the season has perhaps directed people’s attention away from what De Ligt really is; a supreme talent that is still only 20 years old. A contributing factor to this are the football fans of today being impatient; they rarely give time to a young player to adapt to a foreign country speaking a foreign language in a foreign league. However, as the season has progressed, so has De Ligt, and his performances have improved. With a solid 65% aerial duel win rate, and a huge 3.7 accurate long balls per game, De Ligt has everything in his locker to become one of the best defenders in the world. And as he has shown last year in the Champions League with Ajax, has that Sergio Ramos-esque ability to pop up in big moments, a no doubt valuable tool for any player on the pitch.
Most Comparable to: Virgil Van Dijk