The Football Faithful
·24 March 2023
The Football Faithful
·24 March 2023
An exciting generation of midfield talent has emerged in European football in recent seasons, with Europe’s top leagues having witnessed some brilliant breakthroughs.
Midfield is often called the engine room of a side and with good reason, with those at the heart of the side required to create and enforce in equal measure, providing box-to-box influence on their teams.
As the old generation begins to make way for the new, we’ve picked out nine starlets who could define the next decade.
Pedri might not have been schooled in Barcelona’s La Masia system, but there has rarely been a footballer as suited to the demands of the Spanish giants. Since arriving from Las Palmas as a teenager, Pedri has become an integral player for club and country.
His understanding of the game, technical talent and willingness to receive the ball in tight areas make Pedri the perfect profile for Xavi’s midfield, with his effortless ease in possession and ability to manoeuvre past opposition challenges having drawn comparisons to Andres Iniesta.
Still just 20, he has made more than a century of appearances for Barcelona across the last three seasons, a period which has seen the midfielder claim the Golden Boy, Kopa Trophy and feature in the Olympics, World Cup and European Championship for the Spain national team.
This season he has begun to add goals to his game, with six in La Liga matching his total from the past two seasons combined. At home in an advanced number eight role, his consistent ability to find space and unerring accuracy of pass has made Pedri the standout star of Spain’s next generation. A gem of a footballer, he will be the centrepiece of Barcelona’s rebuild.
Barcelona’s breathtaking side that dominated Spanish and European football between 2005-2015 was built on the brilliance of Lionel Messi and an iconic midfield pairing of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The latter duo dovetailed in sublime fashion as Barcelona monopolised possession, a scenario the Catalans will hope can repeat after Gavi’s emergence.
Gavi and Pedri are the great hopes of the new era at Camp Nou, a pair of prospects already mixing it at the elite level. Gavi broke into the side last season and has already amassed quite the list of achievements, becoming Spain’s youngest debutant and goalscorer and the youngest player to score at a World Cup since Pele.
What. A. Goal. 🔥 Gavi becomes Spain's youngest goalscorer at a World Cup finals with this absolute stunner!! 🇪🇸🚀 #ITVFootball | #FIFAWorldCup
He won the Golden Boy and Kopa Trophy in 2022, emerging as one of Europe’s most exciting talents with his intelligence, close control and change of acceleration. Gavi’s best position is perhaps unclear, a testament to his wide-ranging attributes which could allow him to settle in several midfield roles.
Europe’s wealthiest sides remain on red-alert as Barcelona dispute a registration issue involving the midfielder, after a court ruling ordered that his new contract – replacing his youth deal – was to be revoked as it would exceed Barcelona’s salary limit. Should the issue not be resolved, he would be available on a free transfer this summer.
Real Madrid’s faith in Aurelien Tchouaméni saw the club allow Casemiro to leave the club last summer, after the Spanish giants beat Liverpool in the race to sign the highly-rated midfielder.
Tchouaméni had made a major impression across two seasons at Monaco, emerging as an elite ball-winner at the Ligue 1 side to earn inclusion in the divisional Team of the Season in consecutive campaigns. Last season the 23-year-old more tackles and interceptions combined (170) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues, form which persuaded Real Madrid to sign the Frenchman in an €80m deal.
Tchouaméni has filled the void left by Casemiro’s departure, replacing the five-time Champions League winner at the base of the midfield. Combative out of possession and quick across the ground, he has provided the perfect safety blanket in Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield. Already owner of 21 caps for France, he appears the natural successor to N’Golo Kante with the national team.
Enzo Fernandez has had a meteoric rise this season, with the midfielder having gone from exciting prospect to World Cup winner and the Premier League’s most expensive footballer within six months.
Fernandez signed for Benfica last summer after a promising emergence at River Plate, but was catapulted into the consciousness of the casual fan following his exploits in Qatar. The 22-year-old was named as the World Cup’s Best Young Player after a string of impressive performances in Argentina’s triumphant tournament.
Those displays in the Middle East sparked predictable transfer interest, with Chelsea breaking the bank to land the midfielder in January. The west Londoners activated Fernandez’s £106.1m release clause at Benfica, a deal which set a new British record.
Fernandez has already demonstrated the attributes which made him so sought after, with his ability to regain and use the ball effectively on show during his opening outings at Stamford Bridge. He looks set to be Chelsea’s conduit in midfield as Graham Potter seeks to mould his expensively assembled squad.
Eduardo Camavinga appears to be coming of age at Real Madrid this season. After a frustrating start to the campaign which saw Premier League clubs make ambitious enquiries into his availability, the 20-year-old has started 18 of 20 games for the Spanish champions since the new year.
Camavinga has underlined his status as one of Europe’s top young midfielders in 2023, producing performances of maturity in the Madrid midfield. He was exceptional during the club’s 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Champions League’s last 16, as he won four duels, made nine ball recoveries and completed ten passes into the final third.
Eduardo Camavinga's game by numbers vs. Liverpool: 100% shot accuracy 100% take-ons completed 100% long pass accuracy 93% final ⅓ pass accuracy 10 passes into final ⅓ 5 x possession won 4 duels won 2 fouls won 2 clearances 1 interception Remember, he's only 20 years old. #UCL
The France international performs with an old head on young shoulders, rarely ruffled when under pressure and able to control the tempo of games. This season has even seen Camavinga used at left-back for club and country, with each of Carlo Ancelotti and Didier Deschamps having valued his dynamism and comfortability coming inside from full-back. Given the increasing popularity of inverted full-backs, it could be an option seen more often moving forward.
It is the centre of the pitch where Camavinga is most at home however, providing high-energy and determined defensive work to support ageing greats Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Replacing the club’s iconic centre represents a challenge, but the future of Real’s engine room appears in safe hands.
Jude Bellingham is the name on everyone’s lips right now, as the midfielder prepares to spark an almighty scramble for his services this summer.
Not a day goes by without the front runner to sign Bellingham appearing to change, with the midfielder’s future either undecided or a close-kept secret – despite the expectation he will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season.
Bellingham has evolved into a complete midfield talent, with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all chasing a deal for a teenager who will cost in excess of £100m.
Bellingham has starred during Dortmund’s title challenge this season and ranks among the Bundesliga leaders for progressive passes (2nd), take-ons completed (2nd), passes into the final third (3rd), shot-creating actions (6th), tackles (5th) and progressive carries (6th).
It is a versatile skillset that has Europe’s elite battling hard to secure his signature, with the successful suitor set to land a talent who can be moulded into an elite – and complete – midfielder.
Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi revealed earlier this year that he dreams of producing a team that fields ‘only Parisian players’. Kylian Mbappe is the current headliner in those plans, but Warren Zaïre-Emery appears the next Parisian product set for a major role.
Zaïre-Emery impressed Christophe Galtier in pre-season and the midfielder was handed his debut, aged just 16, in August. The teenager became the youngest debutant in PSG history and has since established himself in the senior side, breaking a number of records along the way.
The youngest goalscorer in club history after netting his first senior goal against Montpellier last month, he then became the youngest player to start a Champions League knockout game as PSG lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich.
Zaïre-Emery has made 21 appearances in all competitions this season and the 17-year-old’s breakthrough at one of Europe’s top clubs has been impressive. Already producing performances of maturity in midfield, he will hope to cement a permanent place in PSG’s engine room as the home-grown heartbeat of the side.
Is Jamal Musiala the most exciting midfield talent in world football?
It’s been a phenomenal season from the Bayern Munich midfielder, who has been in sublime form for the Bundesliga champions.
Musiala has turned talent into tangible output this season to emerge as one of the most productive players in Europe, having provided 19 goal contributions in 20 league starts.
The 20-year-old is an enthralling watch with his adhesive close control and ability to skip through defensive challenges with ease, a brand of dribbling which has earned the German international comparisons with Lionel Messi.
His quickness of mind and feet have made Musiala a must-watch this season.
Xavi Simons has long been backed for a big future in the game, but after a false start the midfielder is beginning to fulfil his early potential.
Simons came through the academy system at Barcelona and was hailed as one of La Masia’s most exciting talents, before a move to Paris Saint-Germain failed to provide the first-team breakthrough hoped. He signed for PSV Eindhoven last summer and has since thrived, forming part of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s exciting young side.
The 19-year-old has scored 15 goals and provided a further seven assists for PSV this season, operating in a number of advanced roles. He earned inclusion in the Netherlands squad for the World Cup in Qatar and made his debut in the round of 16 win over the USA.
Xavi Simons - Eredivisie 22/23: ☑️26 games ☑️13 goals ☑️6 assists ☑️G/A every 113 minutes ☑️2 penalties won ☑️1.9 key passes per 90 ☑️8 big chances created ☑️2.3 successful dribbles per 90 ☑️1.6 tackles per 90 19 years of age. Fantastic season, fantastic talent.
Simons has averaged a goal or assist every 113 minutes in the Eredivisie this season, a return which has seen Europe’s top clubs renew their interest. Paris Saint-Germain, sensibly, included a buy-back clause in the deal that took the teenager to the Netherlands last summer.
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