It has been an eventful season, and as ever, there is always emerging new talent throughout Europe. We have made it our task to assemble, in our opinion, the 11 best Under-23 players who we consider to have had a breakout season. The U23 Team of the Season will be sourced from the top 5 European leagues; Serie A, LaLiga, Premier League, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1.
To be eligible for the Team of the Season, the young prodigies must tick the following boxes:
• Aged 23 or under.
• Player has played over 1000 minutes of domestic football this season.
• Player has never played more than 1000 minutes of domestic football in a top 5 league before.
• The ‘minutes played last season’ category in the player profile highlights the minutes played in a top 5 league. Minutes have been taken from Understat.com.
The rules are quite simple, so let’s get straight to it.
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Minutes played this season: 2991
Minutes played last season: 630
Simón has been one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season. The man tasked with keeping La Liga’s most clinical at bay in the Basque Country has shown himself to be an outstanding shot-stopper.
Simón ranks in the 95th percentile for all goalkeepers in the top 5 leagues for GSAA (Goals saved above average %). This is a calculation of post-shot expected goals minus goals conceded, divided by shots faced. It is a metric used to work out the level and quantity of high-quality chances prevented from being goals.
The post-shot data suggests that Athletic Bilbao could have easily conceded 36 goals; however, thanks to Simón, they only let in 29. (FBref)
To highlight his quality, we have utilised some graphics from StatsBomb. (Data from May 11th).
We can see from the above that Simón is dominant in the area, with solid positioning and great shot-stopping ability.
As we can see above, for the most part, it requires an excellent shot into the corners for Simón to concede a goal. An area Simón could look to improve is his distribution from the back.
Honourable mentions: Dean Henderson (Sheffield Utd) and Gautier Larsonneur (Stade Brestois).
Minutes played this season: 1256
Minutes played last season: 0 (Signed from Rapid Wien Summer 2019)
This selection may be somewhat rogue, but Müldür is a player we have been watching very closely over the past few weeks as he has begun to become more and more involved for Sassuolo, especially since the break in play. Despite his still relative lack of minutes, we consider him to have had his breakthrough season. He has shown he has lots of promise and a very interesting profile.
The Turk is speedy and agile. His role at right-back for Sassuolo is not traditional, but highly ambitious in its tactical role and importance to the way the team plays. He is very attack-minded, quick, and impresses in how technically aware he is. Statistically, Müldür is also performing very well in his defensive areas.
To improve, Müldür could focus on building on his strength during pre-season to make him stronger in duels. Composure and decision-making in the final third are also areas the Sassuolo man should hone.
Recent performances against Fiorentina, Lecce and Bologna were outstanding. We predict Müldür to build on this season and flourish in the coming years.
Honourable mentions: Emerson (Betis), Max Aarons (Norwich City), and Takehiro Tomiyasu (Bologna).
Nationality: Burkina Faso
Team: Bayer Leverkusen
Minutes played this season: 1058
Minutes played last season: 0 (Signed from Vitória SC in January)
Tapsoba has been quite the revelation since his signing in January. He made an immediate impact in Germany and Leverkusen’s defence improved tenfold following his addition.
Tapsoba defends large spaces well, both in the channel and in behind, owing to his recovery speed and defensive awareness. He is aggressive in his duels and an active, front foot defender.
His play on the ball has been outstanding. He releases the ball very quickly following a turnover to trigger counter-attacks, and his long passing has also been very impressive. His composure on the ball is unrivalled, and he has the strength and technique to protect possession, or carry the ball out of defence to break lines of pressure.
His impact at Leverkusen, in such a short space of time, means he has to be included and rightfully lauded in this team of the season.
Areas to improve: Concentration, spatial awareness, Aerial duels.
If you want to read more about Tapsoba, you can find a detailed thread on our twitter account: @GenZscouts.
Honourable mentions: Mohammed Salisu (Real Valladolid), Ben Godfrey (Norwich), and Mohammed Simakan (Strasbourg).
Team: Hellas Verona
Minutes played this season: 1965
Minutes played last season: 0
Kumbulla has been a large part of Verona’s success this season which has been predicated on their defensive solidity. The Albanian has played in a three at the back, playing as an aggressive active defender often pressing out of the backline. He has been great at defending balls into the box under relentless pressure, but he also can play in a higher line as an aggressive presser. In such situations, he uses his aggression in duels to win balls back in cases where he can start a counter-attack.
He will be a player of interest for many teams throughout the upcoming transfer window. Inter Milan and Lazio, who, like Hellas, favour a three at the back, are being reported as serious parties of interest. Keep an eye out for Kumbulla. It is a name we will hear much of over the next few years.
Honourable mentions: William Saliba (St. Etienne), Wesley Fofana (St. Etienne), and Gabriel M. (Lille).
Team: Bayern Munich
Minutes played last season: 2228
Minutes played last season: 66
There doesn’t need to be much introduction for Alphonso Davies. Unlike some of the other players on this list who will be unknown if you don’t follow their respective leagues closely, Davies is the opposite. While his career is still in its infancy, the Canadian is a star, and the term ‘breakout season’ does not even scratch the surface of how he has launched himself onto the scene.
Not only has he been a big part of Bayern’s title success, but he has performed on the big stage in the Champions League. His pace and ability to run the flank has been immensely valuable for Bayern. He must be one of, if not the fastest player in the top 5 leagues.
His pace is most valuable in defensive transitions. His positioning is usually too high as he still lacks experience in this regard, but his recovery speed to make up ground, and then also have the technique and control to tackle blindsided or on the shoulder, is immense.
The young man from North America was primarily a winger, making him a threat in the final third. Davies’ overlapping runs and crosses into the box or to the feet of Muller outside the area are excellently executed. He was the first man on the GenZScout’s TOTS, and undoubtedly the breakthrough star of the 2019/20 season across a Europe, despite some big competition.
Honourable mentions: Pervis Estupiñan (Osasuna), Rayan Ait Nouri (Angers), and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal).
Minutes played this season: 2122
Minutes played last season: 359
Despite being just 17-years-old, Eduardo Camavinga has had an excellent campaign for the French side, Rennes. The French defensive midfield starlet has already attracted interest from Real Madrid, which is testament to his talent and potential.
What initially struck us most when watching Camavinga was his composure and calmness. You could forgive a teenager for appearing nervous or jittery, but the Frenchman was far from it. He emits confidence and the best kind of arrogance as if he was a seasoned professional.
He is very aggressive and robust in duels. He is a clean and efficient ball winner in the middle of the park and helps break down attacks. He ranks as one of the best ball-winners in Europe this season, all at the tender age of 17.
Coupled with his defensive abilities also comes excellent technical ability in attacking phases of play. He is a fluid dribbler who has a good turn of pace, and an immaculate left foot. The data shows that he protects the ball well and is rarely dispossessed, but this comes as a result of low risk passing as opposed to progressive line breaking or direct play on the ball.
Camavinga’s breakthrough and the maturity of his game has been one of the highlights of the season. France keeps on producing outstanding talents, and Camavinga is hovering around the top of the list.
Minutes played this season: 2881
Minutes played last season: 104
Kulusevski is currently one of the most promising young players in the world. So great is his potential and talent that Juventus signed the Swede for £31.5 million in the January transfer window.
He has played mostly in the right-wing role and has been a constant threat cutting in onto his peach of a left foot, scoring 10 goals and registering 8 assists, with 12 big chances created (SofaScore).
For the sake of balance in the 11, Kulusevski will be placed on the left, even though he has mostly played on the right.
What is most impressive about Kulusevski is his physical profile. He is a strong player with a big frame. This does not impede his mobility as he is an excellent and powerful dribbler.
Kulusevski also has excellent work-rate and stamina. The Juventus loanee consistently ranks in the top two for most distance covered throughout a match for Parma. This data can be found on legaseriea.it.
Despite playing as a right-winger throughout the season, I believe his future lies as an attacking midfielder at Juventus. Kulusevski’s profile is very similar to Kevin De Bruyne’s, and at Juventus, he may play on the right, but I think we’ll see him operating behind the front three or in the half-spaces in a roaming creator position.
He is one of the most exciting players in the world and has had a fantastic breakthrough season. We cannot wait to see how he does for the ‘Old Lady’ next season.
Honourable mentions: Jérémie Boga (Sassuolo), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Musa Barrow (Bologna), Ansu Fati (Barcelona), and Vinicius Jnr (Real Madrid).
Minutes played this season: 1702
Minutes played last season: 0
There were lots of strong potential candidates for this position, but in the end, we opted for someone who has had a great season, but is not discussed enough.
Rennes have had a fantastic year, and Raphinha has been a large part of this. He is a magnificent creator and a high-volume dribbler. His shot creation actions rank him in the 96th percentile in Europe’s top 5 leagues, and the 6th highest (per 90) in Ligue 1.
Like Kulusevski, he is an inverted winger who loves to cut inside and take shots outside the area, though his efficiency in this regard could be improved.
Overall, his profile as a right midfielder who is a great chance creator, but one who can provide verticality, ball carrying, and penetration into the opponent’s area, will make him a future target for many top teams.
Perhaps his 5 goals and 3 assists have not been spectacular enough for people to take notice, yet his overall profile and underlying numbers are really impressive. We believe he has had an excellent first season in a top 5 league.
Honourable mentions: Emi Buendía (Norwich), Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Ferrán Torres (Valencia), and Takefusa Kubo (Mallorca (Real Madrid).
Team: Real Sociedad (on loan from Real Madrid)
Minutes played this season: 2545
Minutes played last season: 0
Ødegaard was catapulted into the limelight at the age of 16, becoming the youngest player ever to feature in a Real Madrid game. Two years in Madrid’s youth team and some loan spells in Holland had many people calling the Norwegian overhyped, and a failure of previous expectations.
Nevertheless, on his return to LaLiga, at Real Sociedad, Ødegaard has proven why he was so highly rated at such a young age. His extensive skill set and technique has been a joy for all to watch.
Ødegaard has been the main creative force for La Real this season, and he has carried out this role superbly with 10 big chances created and 6 assists. He is very progressive and forward-thinking. The Norwegian always looks to create opportunities and put the ball into dangerous areas which is highlighted by his passes into the box stats. He has outstanding vision, technique and is also a very elegant and efficient dribbler of the ball.
Ødegaard has struggled on occasions with consistency and has not quite replicated his red-hot form in the 1st half of the season. Nevertheless, it has still been a magnificent campaign for Ødegaard, and it is wonderful to see him fulfilling some of the potential that he showed at a young age.
Honourable mention: Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim).
Team: Lille (recently signed for Napoli)
Minutes played this season: 2294
Minutes played last season: 0
Osimhen had a fantastic debut season for Lille in Ligue 1 having moved from RC Sporting Charleroi for £3million. Fast forward one year, and Lille have moved him on for an astounding £60million profit, likely rise with future add-ons and bonuses.
The Nigerian front-man is aggressive and proves a nightmare for defenders, owing to his movement and strength to hold up play and capabilities to spin and run in behind. Osimhen is not someone who is involved much in build-up play; instead, the majority of his touches occur in the penalty area.
He is hardworking and can lead a press from the front. He always gives 100% though his temper and aggression can get the better of him as he finds himself easily frustrated.
His physical ability, goalscoring and defensive contributions have made him one of the most significant breakthrough stars of the campaign, evidenced by his hefty transfer fee. Osimhen will no doubt continue his seismic rise and improve at Napoli.
Honourable mention: Lautaro Martinez (Inter), and Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
Erling Braut Håland
Team: Borussia Dortmund
Minutes played this season: 1061
Minutes played last season: 0
The final spot has to go to Erling Håland, who has taken to the Bundesliga like a duck to water. Everyone knew his goalscoring form was elite for Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, but he has made the transition to German football look ever so simple, scoring 13 goals in just 11 starts.
Like Osimhen, Håland is not overly involved in build-up play. He is lethal in the area and gets in great goalscoring positions as a result of his elite movement in the 6-yard box and clinical finishing.
He is tall and a threat aerially, but as we have seen on many occasions, he has excellent speed over longer distances.
He can drift out of games if he is isolated and he seemingly needs runners ahead of him in the channels to create opportunities.
Håland is going to be around for a long time and will be a shoo-in to score 20+ goals a season for many years ahead.
Honourable mention: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad), and Kasper Dolberg (Nice).
Minutes played this season: 1513
Minutes played last season: 0
Chouiar has been one of the most exciting breakthrough talents in Ligue 1 this season. Despite the failings and weaknesses of his team, Chouiar has still racked up some impressive performances, illustrated in his equally remarkable stats.
Chouiar has been one of the most efficient and successful dribblers in Europe with 4.48 dribbles per 90, at a very high 68% success rate. He has excellent agility, acceleration, and an ability to drive at defenders and win his 1v1 battles. Operating on the left as an inverted winger, Chouiar is a real creative and goalscoring threat.
The Dijon man created 44 chances for his teammates in Ligue 1 and yet still ended the season with 0 assists. At a better, more clinical team than Dijon, we would have seen a far higher output from Chouiar, who finished the season with 4 goals and 0 assists.
Had Chouiar not been so unlucky he may have had double the praise and recognition. Therefore, despite the other very talented players who could have taken the special mention outside of the starting 11, we think that Mounir Chouiar deserves the recognition for his magnificent debut season in Ligue 1.
So, there we have it, the U23 breakthrough Team of the Season. Is there anyone we missed? Reach out to us on Twitter.
Finally, we have listed, in no particular order, some young players whose reputation and stock should rise next season:
Ligue 1: Yacine Adli (Bordeaux), Sven Botman (Lille), Amine Gouiri (Nice), Tiago Djaló (Lille), Rayan Cherki (Lyon), Khépren Thuram (Nice), Rayan Ait Nouri (Angers), and Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco).
Serie A: Roger Ibañez (Roma), Eljif Elmas (Napoli), Emanuel Vignato (Chievo Verona/Bologna), and Dušan Vlahović (Fiorentina).
Bundesliga: Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Michael Cuisance (Bayern), and Gio Reyna (Dortmund).
Premier League: Pedro Neto (Wolves), Illan Meslier (Leeds), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), and Tariq Lamptey (Brighton).
LaLiga: Nehuén Perez (Atletico Madrid), Roberto López (Real Sociedad), Lee Kang-In (Valencia), and Ander Barrenetxea (Real Sociedad).
Written by James Beagley – @GenZscouts
Graphics by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_