16 Players Under 23 to Watch in Spain's La Liga This Season

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IAugust 31, 2013

16 Players Under 23 to Watch in Spain's La Liga This Season

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    It has not been a great summer as a whole for La Liga, with several big name players heading in the direction of France, Italy and England to continue their footballing journeys.

    That the league as a whole is weaker is undeniable, but that is not to say that there is not quality throughout the division—with a talented young generation having emerged in Spanish football.

    While some of these players are part of the systems at the league's two leading clubs—Real Madrid and Barcelona—there are a number of rising stars at clubs lower down the standings.

    So, without further ado, let's take a look at the top young talents that La Liga has to offer.

16. Alberto Moreno (Sevilla)

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    Over the course of last season, Sevilla youngster Alberto Moreno rose from relative obscurity to secure a starting place with both his club and the Spain U21 side.

    A solid, rather than spectacular player, Moreno has shown himself to be competent in all facets of full-back play and, over the course of the summer, has attracted interest from a number of clubs, as reported by Eurosport.

    Moreno can also play on the left of midfield, but is better suited to a deeper role. From full-back, his stamina and attacking instincts then make him a terrific asset to his side on the overlap.

    A full season of similar showings would catapult Moreno to the forefront of the minds of many big sides and even move him into contention for the Spanish national side.

    First he must prove his success is not a flash in the pan.

15. Martin Montoya (Barcelona)

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    Barcelona right-back Martin Montoya has a big season ahead of him at the Camp Nou, with every chance that first-choice right-back Dani Alves will choose to move on in the next year or two.

    Many Barca fans would like to see Montoya handed a first-team role right away, with Alves having had his most disappointing season in Blaugrana colours last campaign.

    The challenge for Montoya is to prove conclusively that he is up to the task of becoming the club's starting right-back. At present, the signs are good.

    Montoya is a powerful defender and, as is expected of La Masia products, he is more than comfortable in possession. The crux of the matter will be proving whether he is a very good player, or a truly excellent player—only the latter is good enough for Barcelona.

14. Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)

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    The one that almost got away for Real Madrid, Dani Carvajal was sold to Bayer Leverkusen last summer for a fee of €5 million. However, after one outstanding season in the Bundesliga, his buy-back clause has quickly been activated.

    Excellent in attack and a competent defender, there is every chance the 21-year-old will seize the starting place of Alvaro Arbeloa at the Bernabeu in the coming months. He is a better player.

    His pace and crossing ability on the right flank could be a major asset for Carlo Ancelotti's side this season, with Los Merengues looking to play a quick and direct attacking style.

    Having needed to leave the confines of Real Madrid to prove himself, Carvajal has returned a much improved player and ready for the challenges ahead.

13. Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)

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    Had he been handed more first-team opportunities over the past couple of seasons, 21-year-old Pablo Sarabia would have been higher up this list.

    A wonderfully gifted left-footed playmaker, Sarabia was a star at youth level with both Real Madrid and Spain, moving to to Getafe in 2011 in search of regular La Liga football.

    While Real Madrid retain a buy-back on his services, there has been little sign of development as of yet. Encouragingly, though, Sarabia has started both of the club's games this season and has already shown his ability to create opportunities.

    His unpredictability has seen his abilities treated with caution, but his talent surely must now be embraced and allowed to shine through on a regular basis.

12. Javier Aquino (Villarreal)

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    The signing of Mexican attacking midfielder Javier Aquino was somewhat of a coup for Villarreal last season, considering that the Submarino Amarillo were a second-tier side at that point.

    A spritely left winger with an eye for goal, Aquino is yet to fully find his feet in Spain, but he has shown with previous club Cruz Azul and the Mexican national side that he can be an important player in big games.

    At just 5'8" tall and an excellent dribbler who is able to beat his opponent on either side, Aquino has the qualities to be a major threat in Spain. The hope must be that he is now able to realise his potential in one of Europe's top leagues.

11. Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid)

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    Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata would appear to be one of the best natural goalscorers to have emerged in Spain in recent years, with an astonishingly good record at B-team and national youth team level.

    A worry for Morata is that he will not get enough opportunity to develop at Real Madrid this season, although the club will be well aware of his potential and keen to give him the chance to make the most of his talents.

    Physically, there is little exceptional about the Madrid forward, but he is a wonderful finisher and an intelligent figure in and around the opposition's penalty area.

    His impact, predominantly as a substitute, for Spain's U21 side this summer was an indication of just how devastating he can be, scoring four goals en-route to European Championship success.

10. Suso (Almeria)

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    A La Liga loanee, having joined Almeria on a temporary basis from Liverpool this summer, diminutive midfielder Suso has already set about proving himself ready for first-team football on a regular basis.

    Playing in a deeper role in midfield than at Anfield, Suso has the ability to control midfield and help his side in defensive areas for Spain's U20 side this summer.

    However, so far Almeria has been used in a more familiar attacking midfield berth—nominally from the left flank.

    It will be interesting to see where he eventually settles in Liverpool's side, assuming he will succeed at the club, with his versatility making him a fascinating prospect.

9. Leo Baptistao (Atletico Madrid)

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    A revelation with Rayo Vallecano last season, 21-year-old Brazilian Leo Baptistao scored seven La Liga goals and contributed six assists in his first La Liga campaign.

    His success brought about a €7 million move to Atletico Madrid this summer, per Soccerway, and while he is yet to start in a league fixture, he should be afforded opportunities later in the campaign.

    For now the Brazilian, who has shown the ability to conjure a moment of magic from nowhere, will offer competition to compatriot Diego Costa for a place supporting striker David Villa.

    He has shown already that he is more than up to the challenges that La Liga will offer.

8. Ruben Pardo (Real Sociedad)

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    Another young talent to have emerged through the ranks at Real Sociedad, deep-lying playmaker Ruben Pardo will hope to seize upon the exit of teammate Asier Illarramendi this summer and establish himself as a first-team regular.

    A calm presence in midfield, Pardo is an excellent passer off either foot and has shown consistently at youth level for Spain that he can take on an important creative function in a side.

    With intelligence in his defensive positioning and management of attacking play, Pardo has shown that he has all the attributes required to play at a very high level.

    At just 20, he has time to work on becoming more consistent and becoming a more imposing figure at senior level.

7. Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Athletic Bilbao forward Iker Muniain has long been heralded as one of the best young talents in European football, with his speed and dribbling abilities capturing the imagination as part of Marcelo Bielsa's side in the 2011/12 season.

    While his form has suffered over the past 12 months, with Athletic unable to maintain their own good form, 20-year-old Muniain has already shown enough to suggest that he will go on to great success in the future.

    A slight figure, with a low centre of gravity and great acceleration, Muniain has the potential to be a leading wide forward in the coming years.

    A good season with his club this time around and there is no doubting his name will once more be linked with some of Europe's top sides.

6. Koke (Atletico Madrid)

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    A regular starter for Atletico Madrid and now a member of the Spanish national side, midfielder Koke offers a more dynamic alternative to many of the country's midfielders.

    Able to play both in a deep midfield role or as a more advanced player, Koke is a hard-working but technically-gifted presence in the centre of the park. 

    His range of passing is impressive, as has come to be expected from Spanish midfielders, and he has shown that he is able to compete in European competitions.

    Having been included once more for Spain's international fixtures, it remains to be seen if Koke can take his opportunity ahead of the World Cup.

5. Oliver (Atletico Madrid)

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    At just 18 years old, central midfielder Oliver is undoubtedly one of the best regarded young players in Europe and, having featured for Spain U20s this summer, is well on his way to the top of the game.

    A wonderful distributor from midfield with excellent understanding of the game, Oliver is very much in the mould of Spain's leading midfielders at senior level.

    According to Bleacher Report's Guillem Balague, Oliver has already been identified as a potential successor to Barcelona stars Xavi and Andres Iniesta at the Camp Nou.

    Given his rise to prominence over the past 12 months, it is no surprise that these links have emerged. Whether he fulfils his potential, however, remains to be seen.

4. Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)

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    Real Sociedad will contest this season's UEFA Champions League group stage, having achieved a remarkable fourth place finish in last season's La Liga. As a regular centre-back, Inigo Martinez was a major reason behind that success.

    One of the best-rated young defenders in Europe, Martinez is well regarded in Spain for his positional play and man-marking abilities. A tall and strong presence, he makes life incredibly difficult for opposition strikers.

    The La Real star was an important player for Spain's victorious U21 side at the European Championship earlier this summer and has since made the step up to senior national team level.

3. Jese Rodriguez (Real Madrid)

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    After a couple of years of rising expectations, it appears that 2013/14 will be the season that Jese Rodriguez finally makes a significant breakthrough into the Real Madrid first-team.

    With 22 goals in the Second Division last campaign, as well as an excellent return at the U20 World Cup, this summer was very much now or never time for the 20-year-old star.

    Having chosen to remain at Real Madrid and sign a new contract, per ESPNfc, it can only be expected that he will be handed some sort of first-team role in the coming weeks.

    Thus far, there is no reason to suggest that he will be anything but successful if handed an opportunity.

2. Isco (Real Madrid)

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    The €30 million arrival of Isco at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer, per ESPNfc, was a major statement of intent from Los Merengues, marking a more-Spanish orientated approach in the transfer market.

    The goal-scoring attacking midfielder had been a major target for clubs abroad, with Manchester City most heavily linked, but it was Real who acted quickest to secure the former Malaga player.

    Just 21, Isco showed last campaign that he is capable of performing at a high level in both domestic and European competition, and marked his league debut for his new club with a goal.

    It will be interesting to see how he adapts to life at one of the biggest clubs in the world, but there will be very few doubting his potential to succeed.

1. Neymar (Barcelona)

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    The leading young talent in world football, Neymar has an incredible CV to his name at the age of just 21—having already been named the best player in Confederations Cup and Copa Libertadores successes.

    A dextrous attacking player, Neymar's natural talent is quite exceptional and there is real reason to believe that he could make himself into a modern great at the Camp Nou.

    His summer transfer to Barcelona was one of the most anticipated moves in recent years and, while some would suggest that he has still to prove himself as a top player, his achievements would suggest otherwise.

    He is the biggest name in Brazilian football at present and now it is the fans of La Liga who will have the pleasure of watching him on a weekly basis.