BEST YOUNG FOOTBALL MIDFIELDERS

Creative starlets, ball-carrying wizards, and defensive walls; we’ve got you covered with reports on a selection of our favourite young midfielders from around the world.

Each profile covers their background and style of play, with links out to other Scouted Football resources where you can read more about them.

We will be keeping this page updated regularly with new reports, as well as updating existing profiles.

Have a player that you want us to profile? Let us know at admin@scoutedftbl.com.

Click on the player’s name to automatically scroll to its mini profile.

Thiago Almada

Thiago Almada is a wanted man, who is quickly emerging as one of the most sought-after talents currently emerging in Argentina.

The Vélez Sarsfield youngster has been a consistent first-team player since he debuted in 2018 and has continued to grow in confidence since then, while also improving his performances.

As a versatile attacking player who puts in shifts on both wings and in his preferred attacking midfield role, he has been able to amass a half century of appearances for his hometown club as a teenager.

 

He has also been courted by a range of European clubs, with Almada reportedly having a €25 million release clause embedded in his contract.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Thiago 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 generally loves to roam freely in advanced positions looking for vacant pockets of space between the lines like an old-fashioned trequartista.

His great first touch is the bedrock of his game that then sets him up with 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.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

Marcos Antônio

Marcos Antônio was one of the best players at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup. So much so, that we at Scouted Football awarded him with our Bronze Ball as the third-best player at the tournament. 

Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, leaving his native Brazil first for Portugal with Estoril, before he was swiftly snapped up by Shakhtar Donetsk.

Antônio is now a key member of Shakhtar’s famed Brazilian clique, impressing in the Ukrainian champion’s 2020 Champions League group stage matches; especially in their 3-2 away victory over Real Madrid.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Marcos Antônio is a wonderfully well-rounded player. While his small stature presents some problems, almost every other aspect of his game is incredibly well-developed, making him a versatile midfield threat in a variety of roles.

From deep, he builds up play fantastically from deep, capable of tucking in between the centre-backs to kick-start attacks (although an unwillingness to play long limits his effectiveness there). 

His ability to spark counter-attacks with sharp movement and quick, progressive passing out of opposition pressure enables Shakhtar to counter rapidly and create overloads further up the field.

In more attacking areas, Antônio has blossomed since arriving at Shakhtar.

His ball-carrying is very secure, allowing him to lift his vision to pick passes forward and unlock defensive structures.

When he is receiving the ball, he is able to drift into pockets of space between several defenders, again giving him time pick out the best option going forward or take on a shot himself.

Even defensively, Shakhtar have been able to essentially hide him as a deep liability by ensuring Antônio is pushed into positions to press the ball-carrier, rather than being isolated against an attacker in the final third.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

Adil Aouchiche

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.

The teenager made the bold 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 Claude Puel’s Saint-Étienne, and the decision is proving a wise one as Aouchiche featured in each of ASSE’s first ten league games of the 2020-21 season.

As a 16-year-old, Aouchiche burst onto the scene with a flurry of goals at the UEFA U-17 European Championships in 2019, followed by a flourish of assists at that year’s U-17 World Cup where France were worthy semi-finalists.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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.

Suitors have included Juventus and Arsenal to date, and there is little doubt there will be clubs of similar stature laying in wait for the eventual day when Aouchiche outgrows ASSE.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

Antoine Bernède

The Red Bull clubs keep a keen eye on players seeking playing time as they exit Paris Saint-Germain’s academy. While Christopher Nkunku and Jean-Kevin Augustin found their way to the Bundesliga with Leipzig, Antoine Bernède was snapped up by Red Bull Salzburg.

And like so many of his counterparts that have left PSG’s academy for pastures new, he has thrived, becoming a key member of the Austrian champions midfield.

Injuries have been the only major obstacle during his time in Salzburg, with broken legs in both 2019 and 2020 keeping him out of action for long periods.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Bernede is a very reliable player on the ball that gives his side a lot of different options in terms of tactical set-ups. 

He can split the centre-backs and become the fulcrum of a team’s build-up from deep, expanding play out wide and, to a lesser extent, carrying the ball through midfield.

At Salzburg, he primarily plays a shuttling role in midfield (not quite box-to-box), where his defensive duties are his primary focus. 

However, he also plays a vital role in breaking down the opposition with effective short passes into Salzburg’s myriad of dangerous attacking threats; Dominik Szoboszlai, Patson Daka, Sékou Koïta, and more.

He is a fantastic foil for his midfield partner Enock Mwepu, and would suit any true number eight that he could potentially be paired with in the future that loves to attack the penalty area.

Currently, Bernede functions best in his current role in a 4-4-2 and would work equally well in a double-pivoted 4-2-3-1.

However, with further development of his passing range to be a little more direct and expansive, he could become a very reliable and damaging number six.

This would be an added bonus to what he already brings to the table; defensive reliability, tactical awareness and great ball retention.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

JOSH DASILVA

A breakthrough players in the 2019/20 season for Brentfotrd, Josh Dasilva is a standout midfielder in the Championship. He was a striker in Arsenal’s youth teams before Thierry Henry (then-Arsenal U-19 coach) dropped him into deeper positions, initially as a left-sided defender then into midfield.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Josh Dasilva is a dynamic midfielder. He plays as an 8 for Brentford, making key contributions in every phase of play. He tends to play in right-sided areas, but slides laterally often and is prominent in deeper areas (build-up) and around the box (attacks).

He is a very impressive athlete. He has good burst and change of pace which is effective over every distance, as well as the power to sustain big runs over long distances. He looks a couple of inches taller than his listed 6’0”, perhaps because of his muscular frame. His solid core means he has good balance/strength to withstand challenges and hold off opponents in contact.

His athleticism is a key component in his strong ability as a ball-carrier. He coordinates his physical attributes with good technical skill to break pressure in congested areas then drive into open space with poise and power. Dasilva is especially good in broken play – when play breaks down, he is effective at securing the ball and driving forward to exploit space.

Dasilva’s general technical level is of a Premier League standard. He has good touch and technique in his passing and dribbling, and is also a very decent ball-striker. Around the penalty area, he is adept at sliding clever through passes into runners or shifting the ball to shoot from the edge of the box with his strong left foot. 

His defensive output is below-average, probably a result of his passive role in this Brentford team. He rarely engages in duels, but has adequate mobility, physique and work-rate to be a positive defensive asset in future. Needs to improve his awareness/positioning in defensive phases. Question marks about his ability to receive ball between lines; body often too square to ball and struggles to turn quickly/efficiently in order to drive into space + attack defence. 

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  Llew Davies

Ebere Eze

Suffered a lot of rejection in formative years, having been dropped by Arsenal, Fulham, Reading and Millwall before joining QPR as a 17-year-old. Broke into their first-team in 2018/19 after a loan at Wycombe Wanderers in League One. Established himself as a genuine superstar in the Championship with exciting skillset and high-level ceiling. Eze made his big move to the Premier League move in 2020, joining Crystal Palace for a fee of around £20 million.

Has since become a regular in Roy Hodgson’s side, offering an alternative attacking thread to – and much-needed creative support for – Wilfried Zaha.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Ebere Eze was an extraordinary player in the Championship. He combined graceful touch and technique with explosive bursts of speed, making him a dangerously dynamic attacker. He is beginning to show those qualities on a consistent basis in the Premier League too, providing Wilfried Zaha the creative support he has needed for some time at Crystal Palace.

Ball-carrying ability is a key aspect of his skillset. Has the control and athleticism to eliminate multiple players and drive into open space. His coordination in tight spaces is good, as is his ability to withstand contact. Regularly bounces through challenges or skips over tackles using tight, technical touches to keep possession and explosive burst to create separation. Similar to an NFL QB (Lamar Jackson) in ability to extend sequences, turn out of pressure and exploit space. Exceptional change of tempo.

Good at manipulating ball to create separation to shoot or draw a foul. Decent with his weaker left foot and a solid ball-striker off either side when shooting and passing – adds another layer of danger. Efficient at linking play across final third, probing defences with fast combinations. Has potential as a creative passer – decent vision and touch to see/attempt killer passes but has some inconsistencies also. Significant upside in this aspect.

Has potential as a proactive defender: solid technique in defensive duels to jockey ball-carrier, and has the athleticism to match opponents, recover defensive positions or press the ball effectively. Unfairly criticised for perceived lack of work-rate.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  Llew Davies

ALBERT SAMBI LOKONGA

Product of RSC Anderlecht’s famed academy. Made a handful of first-team appearances between 2017 and 2018, while still a starter in the UEFA Youth League. Cruciate ligament injury shelved him for a season. Returned for 2019/20 and became a key player before  COVID–19. Lokonga is even more important this season, arguably Anderlecht’s best player, and has assumed the role of club captain.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Anderlecht cycled through three different coaches in the start of last season but Lokonga remained a constant on the right-side of midfield, accompanied by a more defensive partner and a creator between lines. He is an extremely mobile, press-beating number 8 who can carry the ball, expand play with his passing and has the potential to become an impactful defender.

Lokonga ranks among the most progressive dribblers in Belgium’s Pro League. He is very good at identifying and breaking pressure: regular scanning and good technical skill makes him excellent at turning away from pressure. After turning away from pressure, his lanky legs and long strides enable him to cover big spaces quickly and effectively. 

His passing ability is good. 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. Sometimes lacks the ambition/confidence to make the most of his expansive passing ability.

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/haste is used against him too often.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  Llew Davies

Calvin Stengs

Calvin Stengs suffered a serious knee injury just eight minutes into the 2017/18 season. Took him a year-and-a-half to get back onto an Eredivisie pitch, returning in the middle of 2018/19. Following season saw him breakout, standing out with languid style and playmaking skillset. Struggled to find same level earlier this season, so too did AZ with a sticky start and a subsequent change of coach, but remains as a promising playmaker with high-level upside.

Has since returned to near the level he reached in the 2019/20 season.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Calvin Stengs is extremely smooth to watch – it’s one of the first things you notice when watching him. His long, slender and excellent left foot combine to create a very sleek, elegant, aesthetic player with an engaging style and skillset.

Firstly, very good spatial awareness provides the platform for his creative skillset. Stengs has a very obvious feel for the game: he scans regularly and moves into space effortlessly, creating clever angles to receive the ball between lines and disrupt defensive structure. His posture and touch when receiving is very good too, with a strong ability to play on the half-turn and using both feet to control possession.

Moreover, his general technique and vision is excellent. Once he receives between lines, good close control enables him to retain/move the ball in tight spaces with neat dribbles and/or quick combinations. Stengs also possesses good touch in his creative passing too, consistently demonstrating good timing/weighting of his passes. He can find runners from deep with through balls, drop a pass over the defence from around the box, or play a perfect pass into the path of an over-lapping full-back. Throughout his senior career, Stengs has proven to be a playmaker who can play the killer pass – but he doesn’t force it.

His style is markedly different to Hakim Ziyech or Bruno Fernandes. They operate in similar areas, but their playmaking style and methods diverge. Stengs plays to the pace of the game and tends to prioritise continuity over killer passes. He is very good at linking play in the final third; he knits moves together, circulating possession and probing the defence with his passing and movement. He can break out of that languid style with a smooth change of pace, though – he injects tempo into sequences with a sharp pass or sleek burst. Again though, his intelligence of knowing when and where to do so stands out.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  Llew Davies

Dominik Szoboszlai

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 Leipzig in January 2021. An injury has delayed his involvement in the Bundesliga.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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.

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.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

Khéphren Thuram

If you were not feeling old when Marcus started breaking through, Lillian Thuram’s second son Khéphren is now also a first-team regular.

After spending the first half of his first season with 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.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  STEPHEN GANAVAS

JOEY VEERMAN

Joey Veerman is a product of the FC Volendam academy, breaking into the first-team in the 2016/17 season. After three seasons as a starter, one of which he was troubled by injury, he joined sc Heerenveen for €550,000 in August 2019. Since joining, he has quickly established himself as one of the better midfielders in the Eredivisie. Linked to a number of top-five league clubs ahead of the summer.

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

STYLE OF PLAY

Joey Veerman is an elegant 6/8 in a double-pivot. His skillset is suited to assuming responsibility as a progressor from deeper positions in midfield, utilising his excellent ability as a passer and adeptness under pressure to move the ball forward.

Firstly, his technical fundamentals are excellent. He scans space regularly and plays with his eyes up, meaning he has good awareness of his surroundings. He also takes positive first touches which means he can transition into his next action quickly.

As a passer, he has excellent range/variety – he can play quick passes in smaller spaces to evade pressure, punch precise passes through lines, drop passes behind the opposition defensive line, or smack big switches of play to find a team-mate in space. He is also very good at releasing runners in direct attacking transitions, a result of his good operation speed and vision. His passing has a high-risk, high-reward element; he rarely hesitates to play ambitious passes that are difficult to execute.

Veerman is also very good at evading pressure in smaller spaces. His awareness and composure is key, as is his technical quality. He is adept at dribbling through bodies, using tight touches and good burst to retain possession and create separation. He often follows it up with positive passes making the most of the time/space his dribble create.

Defensively, Veerman is a mixed bag. He lacks awareness when defending in set situations as he doesn’t scan enough; he struggles to cover angles and allows players to run/receive off him. He does have decent mobility to cover space though, and is quite good at disrupting opponents with tackles and body contact. There is enough upside there for him to become a decent defender.

Last Updated: 01.03.2021  |  Llew Davies