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20 Most Exciting Under-21 Players in Spain's La Liga

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2013

20 Most Exciting Under-21 Players in Spain's La Liga

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    Rankings like this often prove decisive, so I implemented some ground rules to firstly enable me to get the list down 20, and secondly to provide justification for the inclusion and/or exclusion of certain players.

    I decided that the players had to be a regular feature in their first team's match day squad, meaning wonderful talents like Gerard Deulofeu, Oliver Torres, Jose Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and Jose Campana weren't eligible.

    I also decided that loan players from other leagues could be included, after all they are playing in La Liga at the moment.

    However loan players in foreign leagues, such as Isaac Cuenca for Ajax, would not be as they are not currently playing in La Liga.

    Work your way down to find out who are the most exciting youngsters in Spain's Primera Division...

20. Aymeric Laporte

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    A French-born Basque, Aymeric Laporte is one of the players on this list with the least first team experience.

    The 18-year-old central defender has only recently been a regular in the Athletic Bilbao team, but has demonstrated composure beyond his years.

    He was recently  awarded a new contract, and in making this list he just edges out his colleague Jon Aurtenexte.

19. Jordi Amat

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    Central defender Jordi Amat is one of many enjoying a fantastic season at Rayo Vallecano.

    On loan from Espanyol, the 20-year-old is one of many youngsters that were given the chance to come through the academy at Cornella in the Mauricio Pochettino years.

    A regular for Rayo and a Spain under-21 international, he's almost made 70 appearances in La Liga with his range of passing one of his noticeable attributes.

18. Juan Bernat

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    Valencia's Juan Bernat was part of the successful Spain under-19 side that won the European Championship last summer

    The 19-year-old is a tricky winger who plays well, and has already featured in nine La Liga matches this season.

    Los Che have high expectations for him, which may mean following the same route out of Mestalla as David Silva, David Villa, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba. 

17. Samuele Longo

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    Samuele Longo has been borrowed by Espanyol for the season from Italian giants Inter Milan.

    Used less frequently since Javier Aguirre's appointment, the 21-year-old came on at halftime recently to put in a wonderful performance as Espanyol beat Mallorca 3-2.

    It was Phillipe Coutinho who followed the same path last season, but Longo hasn't quite had the same impact the Brazilian enjoyed just yet.

16. Joel Campbell

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    Joel Campbell has been lent by Arsenal to Seville-based Real Betis on a season long loan.

    The 20-year-old has become a regular on Los Beticos' right wing with a string of impressive performances in both league and cup.

    Already a relative veteran in the Costa Rica side, Campbell may seek a permanent move to Betis with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in his way at the Emirates.

15. Ruben Garcia

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    It is refreshing to see the inclusion of Ruben Garcia in the Levante team over the last few months.

    Still just 19, the Spaniard has made the left wing berth his own, and it is a matter of time before he receives recognition in one of Spain's younger teams.

    He's a winger who doesn't mind getting stuck in and contributing defensively, although playing for Levante, that kind of makes sense.

14. Inigo Martinez

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    Inigo Martinez burst on to the scene last season scoring two goals from the halfway line for Real Sociedad.

    Now, the 21-year-old is widely expected to eventually become one of Spain's two first choice central defenders.

    Basque in style, he likes to play football, although he may have to look to drop some of his dribbling with the ball and become a bit more sensible with his fouling.

13. Hugo Mallo

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    Cruelly sidelined by injury for the rest of the season, Celta Vigo's Hugo Mallo is one of many brilliant right backs coming through in Spain.

    The 21-year-old has already made over 100 appearances for the club that nurtured him, and was one of their most consistent performers as they won promotion from La Segunda last season.

    Although not tall, he's equally good at defending as going forward—think less Dani Alves more Cesar Azpilicueta.

12. Martin Montoya

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    You could probably find room for more Barcelona players in this list, but keeping it even, Martin Montoya is their first entrant.

    The right back is seen—sooner than later by some—as the heir to Dani Alves, although under the Trades Description Act, he is more of a full back than Alves.

    The 21-year-old was part of the Spain Olympic squad that flopped in London, and has made 10 appearances for La Blaugrana this season.

11. Ruben Pardo

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    Ruben Pardo, you could argue, has been underused by Real Sociedad this season.

    His team has only lost twice in the last 15 matches he has played.

    The 20-year-old is a holding midfielder who possesses fantastic technique, wonderful passing and will soon be forming a much talked about partnership with Asier Illarramendi on a more regular basis.

10. Geoffrey Kondogbia

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    A summer signing from Lens, Sevilla's Geoffrey Kondogbia possesses all the raw materials to be one of Europe's best midfielders.

    Still only 20, he obviously has his inconsistencies, but his recent first half performance against Granada saw him completely boss the midfield.

    He formed a partnership with Paul Pogba for France under-19's last summer, and his rangy height and big heart could see him follow a similar path to the Juventus man.

9. Leo Baptistao

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    Tipped as the surprise La Liga Star of the Year, Leo Baptistao has clubs across Europe on red alert, although some suggest he's already agreed a move to Atletico Madrid.

    A Brazilian who arrived in Spain when he was 16, now 20 and in his first full season with Rayo Vallecano, he has contributed seven goals and five assists.

    Mainly used as a central forward, he can also drop just off a target man or switch to the right wing where he can be dangerous when running at full backs.

8. Cristian Tello

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    Cristian Tello was given his first taste of the limelight under Pep Guardiola, now over a year later he looks to be becoming a mainstay in the Barcelona squad.

    His goal during the weekend against Getafe was wonderfully taken, and he actually reached 10 La Blaugrana goals quicker than Lionel Messi.

    Normally used on the left, he is a winger that holds blistering pace and, with David Villa and Alexis Sanchez facing questionable futures, Tito Vilanova may be about to use the 21-year-old more.

7. Antoine Griezmann

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    The third and final entry from Real Sociedad comes in the form of Frenchman Antoine Griezmann.

    He is a forward player who has has been mainly used on the left this season, although his best performances often come from a central position where he is less frequently used.

    There is no doubt the 21-year-old has a bright future in the game, but his four goals and two assists this season don't quite do his quality justice.  

6. Koke

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    Koke only turned 21 last month, yet he is hot on the heels of making 100 appearances for Atletico Madrid already.

    Used all across the midfield by Diego Simeone, it's still not clear where he will settle.  However, it is clear that he is a fantastic talent though.

    A virtual ever-present for Atletico this season, he has contributed three goals and five assists with more to come in the run-in.

5. Iker Muniain

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    This time last season we'd have been raving a little bit more about Iker Munian, but like his club Athletic Bilbao, this season hasn't quite lived up to the billing.

    Still, the Basque-attacking midfielder only turned 20 last month and is a prodigious talent nevertheless.

    Glimpses of brilliance this season haven't resulted in much substance, and his future may eventually be best served away from San Mames like Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente.

    Not yet though.

4. Raphael Varane

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    Raphael Varane's El Clasico performance in front of the world has helped him leap a few places up this list.

    The French defender is 19, and to show that sort of composure and self-belief for Real Madrid was impressive.

    With Pepe returning to fitness, Varane faces the tough task of breaking up the Portuguese defender's partnership with Sergio Ramos.

3. Thiago Alcantara

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    As it is, Thiago Alcantara has to make do with cameos here and there. But at 21, he is surely the next midfield star to follow the same La Masia path as those mentioned above.

    He holds on to the ball so well, passes great and contributes defensively.  Spain is lucky he chose them over Brazil.

2. Thibaut Courtois

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    Play his cards right and Thibaut Courtois will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world for the next 15 years—maybe more.

    In the second year of his loan spell at Atletico Madrid, the Belgian stopper would no doubt interest a lot of clubs should he become available.

    Chelsea, his parent club, is unlikely to want to part with the 20-year-old, but will need to come up with a balancing act between him and Petr Cech.

1. Isco

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    Malaga's first and only entry in this list flies straight in at No.1.

    Europe's Golden Boy, Isco can be likened to David Silva, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata. He recently signed a new contract with the Andalusia club.

    However, with Europe's top clubs circling, it is likely that will merely serve to bump up the asking price as Malaga cashes in this summer.

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