Best young football midfielders
Brief scouting reports on some of our favourite emerging midfielders
Midfielders are the lifeblood of football teams. They are tasked with defensive, progression, trainitioning and attacking – the do-it all heartbeat. Here’s a little list of our favourite young midfielders that are currently breaking onto the scene.
More profiles can be found in the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers and strikers sections. Below, you’ll find profiles covering backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses, while providing links to where you can find out more about them.
For full in-depth analysis of some of the best young players from all over the planet, check out our profiles page. We have countlesss profiles on players there, focussing on a range of talents from across the world. There are also exclusive interviews too, and plenty more.
OUR LISTS OF THE BEST YOUNG TALENTS
Thiago Almada has been one of the most sought-after talents in the Americas over the past couple of years. Breaking through at Vélez Sarsfield, he became a consistent first-team player after his debut in 2018. He racked up a total of 100 appearances for the club.
Despite constant links to European teams, Almada made the increasingly common move north to MLS in the winter of 2022. He became the most expensive signing in the league’s history in the process, joining for a €15 million fee. His objective will now be to star in the States before stepping up to Europe in due course.
Thiago Almada's style of play
Almada possesses a high-level footballing IQ and the technical quality to execute the moves he has in mind, helping him compensate for his physical limitations. He loves to roam freely in advanced positions looking for pockets of space between the lines.
His excellent first touch is the bedrock of his game. It affords him the time to seek out direct passes into attacking areas, especially on the break as he looks to play the killer pass at every opportunity. The only thing that hampers Almada in transition is his lack of speed. However, he rarely seeks to carry the ball for long periods anyway, instead opting to play direct passes to team-mates further forward as quickly as possible. Almada is quite unselfish and is at his best as a creator, not a goal-scorer; especially when he is shooting from outside the box.
His key area for improvement is defensively, where he does not exhibit the same level of awareness and understanding as he does in attack. Often he works hard to pressure opponents, but goes to ground easily trying to win the ball back, which allows opposition players to win fouls or get past Almada without too much hassle.
Given his willingness to press, cleaning up his approach to defensive duels would help him be a surprisingly functional defensive presence.
Thiago Almada is a highly intelligent attacking midfielder who thrives playing in transition.
Almada is slightly hampered by his small stature, but it is his insistence on shooting from range too liberally that is probably his biggest weakness.
Adil Aouchiche is a product of Paris, and Paris Saint-Germain’s academy. The discernment is important, as Aouchiche’s style has been influenced as much by his upbringing and surroundings in one of Paris’ most impoverished suburbs – Le Blanc Mesnil – as it has been by his education with PSG.
After excelling at U-17 level with France, the teenager made the decision to leave the capital in the summer of 2020, in pursuit of regular Ligue 1 football, which he believed he was capable of performing. His destination was AS Saint-Étienne, and the decision proved a decent one. However, Saint-Étienne’s relegation in 2021/22 precipitated a move for Aouchiche, as he made his way to a resurgent Lorient.
Adil Aouchiche's style of play
Aouchiche’s defining characteristic on the pitch is his innate ability to find space that simply is not apparent to others. He will ghost into dangerous areas, seemingly invisible to opponents, and link play between lines. The 18-year-old is not one to hesitate when chances are presented to him, and his eye for a pass which scythes through an opponent’s defensive line is sublime.
Adil is a modern playmaker; versatile, intelligent but physical enough to stand up for himself in a tough league. There are shadows of Hakim Ziyech and Atalanta’s Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez to Aouchiche’s style, and his creative output stacks up to his much senior counterparts.
From set-pieces, Aouchiche is confident at presenting teammates with high-quality opportunities. Upon arrival at ASSE, he was entrusted with the team’s set-piece duty, a mere teenager.
There is a nonchalant intelligence to his game, one which exemplifies a player who is utterly convinced of his own ability. Mentality will be vital over the next few years when he undoubtedly endures barren spells, such is the pattern of breakthrough teenagers in top leagues; variance can make or break such players.
His shooting decisions are surprisingly refined for such a young player, something reflected in his xG per shot in Ligue 1. He is capable of carrying the ball into these positions for himself to shoot, perhaps a little better than he is at creating. While he was a regular at playing killer balls at youth level, he has struggled to replicate that in senior games, up against better-drilled defences.
Adil Aouchiche is an excellent goal-scoring midfielder that plays with superb intelligence for a player of his age.
Aouchiche can sometimes force the play with his pass selection and lacks physical presence as well.
Lucas Dias has an interesting story. He was born in Ontario and moved to Lisbon at age 11 to join Sporting’s academy full-time after being spotted by the club as part of their academy outpost in Canada. He was able to move at that age due to the Portuguese heritage of his grandparents.
He’s made huge sacrifices to get where he is today, having spent almost all his teenage years literally living at Sporting’s academy many thousands of kilometres away from home.
Lucas Dias' style of play
18-year-old Lucas Dias looks like a chaos player: thriving when given licence to beat players and showcase his exceptional dribbling ability and athleticism.
Dias spends a lot of his time hovering out on the left while also looking for opportunities to insert himself in pockets of space that open up centrally. With possession, he plays with his head down a little too much, but he is hungry to be impactful and be a final third difference-maker. More than anything in possession though, it is Dias’ application as an aggressive presser that stands out.
Overall, the 18-year-old looks to be at a really high level physically playing at UEFA Youth League level. At around 5’11”, he is a good height for an attacking player, and he looks very nimble and fleet-footed: he looks quite strong too, although it is harder to estimate how that would stack up at senior level.
Lucas Dias has incredible dribbling ability, underpinned by his rapid changes of pace and overall agility.
Dias can sometimes lose sight of what is in front of him as he gets his head down to dribble. It is for this reason that he can struggle attacking deep blocks.
Albert Sambi Lokonga
A product of RSC Anderlecht’s famed academy, Albert Sambi Lokonga made a handful of first-team appearances between 2017 and 2018, while still a starter in the UEFA Youth League. A cruciate ligament injury shelved him for a season, but he returned for the 2019/20 season and became a key player before COVID–19. Lokonga was even more important the next season, anking arguably as Anderlecht’s best player in a team coached by Vincent Kompany, and he even assumed the role of club captain.
He garnered a fair bit of attention from some of Europe’s bigger clubs, and it was Arsenal that signed him in the summer of 2021. His first season at the club had its highs and lows, starting promisingly before being limited for minutes as the club pushed for the Champions League places.
Albert Sambi Lokonga's style of play
Lokonga is a mobile, press-beating number 8 who can carry the ball, expand and progress play with his passing, and has the potential to become an impactful defender.
He’s very good at identifying and slipping pressure: regular scanning and good technical skill makes him adept at turning away from pressure, and he strides into open space effectively once he does so.
His passing ability is good and improving all the time, too. He adds valuable continuity in midfield by always showing for the ball in deeper areas and receiving/releasing with clean technique and crisp tempo. He also has very good technique in long-range passing which enables him to switch play effortlessly, and has shown promise in playing killer passes behind defences.
He lacks defensive output, but he has potential. Firstly, he is typically paired with a more defensive partner who handles much of the ball-winning duties. Secondly, his skillset is conducive to ball-winning. Lokonga has the mobility to gobble up space, while his long legs are useful in levering players off the ball or poking the ball away in tackles. He needs to become more composed in approach to the ball as his speed is used against him too often
To make it into the Premier League, Lokonga must add more intensity to his game. Despite his dynamic athleticism and quality on the ball, he’s a bit too languid in pretty much everything that he does. He lacks the sharp counter-pressing ability which is key for the number six in Mikel Arteta’s teams.
Albert Sambi Lokonga’s best quality is as a high-level ball progressor, both as a passer and carrier. He has a fairly effortless range of passing, capable of connecting the pitch across most distances.
Lokonga lacks defensive awareness and also intensity in the way he approaches defending at times. He’s too slack in the way he reacts to situations, a key skill for the number six in Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team.
He started the 2021/22 season as a youth player at Club Brugge (albeit starting an early cup game and making a sub appearance in the Supercup), but Cisse Sandra finished it firmly embedded in the senior set-up after a stellar breakout season with the Belgian club.
Dominant performances in the UEFA Youth League culminated in his Champions League debut, while starts and sub appearances in the league followed in the back half of the season.
Cisse Sandra's style of play
It might be outlandish to compare Cisse Sandra to Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić, but we’ll do it anyway. He is a big-bodied, attacking minded midfielder that looks to hit the penalty area and combine typical pace and power qualities with surprisingly good technique.
Like the Serbian, his game has a lot of layers. There’s the powerful, bulldozing runs through midfield and into attack that should translate to senior football in a few years’ time.
But he has also got good feel in transition; he likes to tuck in on the right-hand side and he is very comfortable combining short.
Good ball striking technique and solid ability in the air makes him an obvious goal threat as well. Five goals in six UEFA Youth League appearances in 2021/22 is testament to that, while he also scored on his league debut for Brugge with a tidy finish on his weaker foot.
Cisse Sandra is an attacker that is very adept at finding space between lines, linking and developing attacks with his intelligent movement and solid technical ability. He also poses a threat in the penalty area, not least in the air.
The primary weakness – or question mark – about Cisse Sandra is his athletic potential. It’s unclear whether he can develop further athletically, which may see him struggle to translate his game to the senior level.
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Dominik Szoboszlai has been around for what seems like a long time, threatening to break out into stardom. Now he is doing it, having won awards in Austria as well as scoring vitally important goals for Hungary, one of which secured his nation a spot at the upcoming European Championships.
He has since climbed the Red Bull ladder, joining RB Leipzig in January 2021. An injury meant he missed the remainder of the season, but he performed well in the 2021/22 season.
Dominik Szoboszlai's style of play
Szoboszlai is a true impact player. While he can fade in and out of games, he is also capable of producing some truly special game-changing moments. An adequate term to describe would be a ‘highlights player’ – he’s the type of talent that will look great on showreels.
His set-pieces are regularly stunning and executed perfectly. His shooting form overall is almost flawless, and he can strike the ball with incredible amounts of power.
While shooting from outside of the box is not valued as much as it used to be, players with Szoboszlai’s ability to score from distance help to stretch defences as defenders cannot afford to sag off him at the edge of the penalty area.
Both defensively and offensively, his work off the ball is his largest area for improvement. In attack, he can often find himself isolated from the play for large periods; while he is not an otherworldly creator, he has a knack for making things happen when he gets on the ball. Defensively, he is a clumsy presser. He does not have an exceptionally large engine to press maniacally for the whole game and wastes the moments he does press by being a bit overzealous.
Dominik Szoboszlai is an excellent ball striker, a quality that underpins the best parts of his game – scoring amazing goals and executing some great passes.
Szoboszlai has an inconsistent impact in matches and needs to develop more as an off-ball defender.
Martín Távara grew up in the northwestern plains of Peru, in Piura to be precise. But he has made his name in Lima, the country’s capital, playing for one of Los Tres Grandes, Sporting Club Cristal. He spent six-month spells on loan at other clubs before breaking into the Cristal team, of which he has been an important player for since the start of 2020. He has established himself as one of the best young talents in Peruvian football.
The past year has been a difficult one for Távara, missing significant time with a knee injury, but he’s recently regained his starting role for Sporting.
Martín Távara's style of play
Távara plays as the pivoting central midfielder for Sporting Cristal, with the game revolving around him in almost every phase. He is a strong technical player with good fundamentals, which enables him to play at a good tempo, and uses it to play under pressure in build-up phase – instead of dribbling/carrying, he trusts his technical ability to move the ball quickly and accurately.
He’s adept at moving the ball from deeper positions into attacking areas with his passing. He needs little time to receive, turn, pick an option and execute an incisive pass into a team-mate between lines. He picks clever angles too, which pulls structures apart and releases team-mates into dangerous areas.
He plays with a lot of personality – for better or worse, Távara is the type to attempt the difficult action.
Defensively, Távara has significant issues. He lacks the awareness, work rate and athleticism to be impactful in many defensive situations with a distinctly average athletic skillset. He’s best when defending on the front foot, pushing up to engage with the ball/opponents – but does little to recover once beaten.
Martín Távara is ready to play at a higher level. A move within the Americas would be sensible, and his ceiling is probably a mid-table side in a top-five league, most likely La Liga or Serie A.
Martín Távara is a deep-lying midfielder with strong technical fundamentals, an expansive range and an aggressive edge. He can drive possession forward from deep areas, linking different zones of the pitch.
Távara is a distinctly average athlete, lacking a change of speed and notably rigid in his movements. He can be too aggressive in his pass selection as well, and he also lacks a consistent work ethic out of possession.
If you were not feeling old when Marcus started breaking through, Lillian’s second son, Khéphren Thuram, is now also a first-team regular in one of Europe’s top-five leagues.
After spending the first half of his first season with OGC Nice as a peripheral figure, he broke through into the starting line-up just before the pandemic-enforced lockdown, and has not looked back in 2020/21. Former coach Christophe Galtier used him as an impact player at first, but Thuram has since established himself as a regular starter.
Khéphren Thuram's style of play
Khéphren Thuram is an aesthetically pleasing footballer. He glides across the field and oozes confidence.
He is almost too laconic at times; it extends in particular to the defensive side of his game where his movements often look laboured, slow and clumsy. As a bigger player, he gets more enjoyment out of defending in situations he is able to instinctively make a challenge, rather than chasing or jockeying an attacker.
The fun happens when gets on the ball. While he struggles receiving under pressure (his best move in these situations is when he lets the ball run across his body), when he does take possession and carries the ball, things tend to open up for him. He is good at using slight body feints and subtle changes of direction to get past defenders.
Creatively, he is a bit hesitant as a passer to damage teams. Patrick Vieira’s system is not typically the most expansive though, and therefore we see Thuram recycle the ball side-to-side a lot.
Khéphren Thuram is a confident and composed ball-carrier through midfield with great straight-line speed to break lines in transition.
Thuram struggles receiving possession under pressure, hampered in part by a lack of lateral quickness.
The long list includes the likes of Aurélien Tchouaméni, Jude Bellingam, Pedri, Gavi, and so on.
It’s Jude Bellingham. Already a key player at Borussia Dortmund, they have a lot of leverage to squeeze out a huge fee from Premier League clubs when they queue up to sign him soon.