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Top 100 Players to Watch in World Football in 2014

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2014

Top 100 Players to Watch in World Football in 2014

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    Hello and welcome to B/R's countdown of the top 100 players to watch in 2014.

    We've picked out a century of individuals for you to feast your eyes upon and noted the reasons why, be it form, the upcoming World Cup, injury or raw potential.

    There's an assortment of talents from all over the world included, so here's hoping you might learn a name or two as you flick through the slides.

    They're ranked, but don't get too hung up on the listing: Much of this can come down to personal viewpoint. If you feel we've missed a must-see player, feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments below.

100. Anthony Martial, Monaco

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    Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

    Anthony Martial signed for Monaco last summer for €5 million, and while there may have been doubts surrounding the sum at the time, his performances of late have affirmed his massive potential.

    Radamel Falcao's mysterious injuries at the end of 2013 necessitated a stand-in and Martial filled the void superbly, bagging two goals and an assist in his first five games.

    At just 18 years of age, his future looks bright.

99. Karl Darlow, Nottingham Forest

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    According to the Liverpool Echo, Brendan Rodgers is chasing Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Karl Darlow as a January acquisition.

    With first-choice shot-stopper Simon Mignolet suffering from a case of the "dropsies" at times this season some genuine competition could be wise; with Brad Jones seemingly unable to provide that, Darlow appears a strong choice.

    The Forest academy product has made great strides this season thanks to regular Championship football.

98. Julian Green, Bayern Munich

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    MLSSoccer.com

    Julian Green is a huge prospect lurking in Bayern Munich's youth ranks.

    He's been a goal machine for the reserve side this season and made his professional debut in Russia last year in a Champions League fixture.

    While we eagerly await his induction into Pep Guardiola's magnificent Roten side, there's an international tug-of-war going on behind the scenes as both the USA and Germany want to claim the German-American as their own.

     

97. Quincy Promes, FC Twente

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    Quincy Promes is a name many will not recognise, but keep an eye out for his performances in 2014.

    The right winger was instrumental in Go Ahead Eagles' promotion to the Eredivisie last year and has gone on to be instrumental in FC Twente's title hunt this year.

    He's quick, tricky, plays at a high tempo and, sloppy phases aside, can have a definitive impact on a game.

    Dutch football expert Michiel Jongsma told us in private that he should be an option for the Dutch national team—if not before the 2014 FIFA World Cup, then definitely after.

96. Maya Yoshida, Southampton

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    Maya Yoshida is a first-choice centre-back for the Japan national team, but he's hardly had a kick for Southampton over the first half of the season.

    That situation could change, given that Dejan Lovren was stretchered off against Sunderland last weekend, and the former VVV-Venlo man now looks primed to take his place alongside the impressive Jose Fonte.

    Alberto Zaccheroni will be hoping his star man gets a decent run of games before the FIFA World Cup.

95. Lazar Markovic, Benfica

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    Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    Lazar Markovic joined Benfica over the summer of 2013, but there's been plenty of speculation since, courtesy of the Mirrorthat he will go on to join Chelsea at some stage.

    He's one of a number of Serbian talents in the ranks of the Eagles, and while manager Jorge Jesus has primarily used him as a winger thus far, he seems to be at his best when tucked in behind the centre-forward.

    An extremely creative prospect.

     

94. Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic (on Loan from Manchester United)

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Nick Powell will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Tom Cleverley, who used his loan spell at Wigan Athletic to propel himself into the Manchester United first team.

    Powell has been playing extremely well, tearing defences apart at both Championship and Europa League level, so what's next?

    Another loan, a shot at the Red Devils' first team or a move away? Many are convinced of his potential but simply can't see where he fits into David Moyes' XI right now. He may have to be patient.

93. Alessandro Florenzi, Roma

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    Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

    What is Alessandro Florenzi's best position?

    Analysts aren't sure, even Roma fans aren't sure, but we might just find out over the course of 2014.

    He's played in all sorts of roles since breaking into the Giallorossi first team—be it wing-back, box-to-box midfielder, inverted winger or second forward—but where can he flourish?

    If he wants to have a true say in the national set-up, he needs to adopt a role quickly. He can be a menace from right-forward and has a dangerous knack of finding the back of the net.

92. Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution

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    Diego Fagundez, an 18-year-old Uruguayan-American, exploded on to the MLS scene in 2013.

    He topped the New England Revolution scoring charts with 13 goals from 30 starts, added five assists and sparked yet another citizenship war by declaring himself open, via Goal, to representing either la Celeste or the USMNT.

    We spoke to B/R's Eduardo Menez about him in private and he described him as a player with "exceptional technique, relentless vertical movement and a seasoned intelligence [for one so young]."

91. Mateo Kovacic, Internazionale

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    Mateo Kovacic is a precocious talent and Walter Mazzarri has been careful in his use of the 19-year-old up to this point at Internazionale.

    He arrived from Dinamo Zagreb in January 2013 carrying the reputation of a potential superstar No. 10 but settled into a deep-lying playmaker role very quickly and rounded off his skillset.

    He already stands on the cusp of being labelled a complete midfielder such is his talent range, and Mazzarri could unleash him in full now Fredy Guarin is seemingly on his way out.

90. Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union

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    Andre Blake became the first-ever goalkeeper to be drafted No. 1 overall in the MLS SuperDraft in January 2014.

    Philadelphia Union opted to trade up to first to select him, despite already having a steadily improving goalkeeper on the roster by the name of Zac MacMath.

    What kind of pressure will this place on the current incumbent's shoulders, how soon will Blake see action and will the decision to trade up and take him prove sound?

89. Stevan Jovetic, Manchester City

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    After an expensive move from Fiorentina last summer, we've hardly seen Stevan Jovetic kick a ball in a Manchester City shirt.

    Now he's regained fitness, Manuel Pellegrini is steadily introducing him to a bespoke XI and style of play, so the Montenegrin needs to pick it up quickly or risky being dropped within weeks.

    Injures have plagued him throughout his career and nothing seems to have changed—will this turn out to be a poor buy?

    He's not a household name in England the way he was in Serie A. Jovetic needs to build his career again.

88. Ola John, Hamburg (on Loan from Benfica)

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    Ola John was once thought of as another great Dutch prospect, but his career has tailed off since moving to Benfica in 2012.

    Now he has the chance to prove himself at Hamburg on loan, and with the side languishing in 14th place in the Bundesliga, he'd best get stuck in straight away.

    Manager Bert van Marwijk knows John's game well from previous exposure in the Oranje ranks and should be able to unlock his best straight away. Given the treatment Jorge Jesus has been giving him of late, it's possible all he needs is a little encouragement.

87. Dries Mertens, Napoli

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    Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press

    Dries Mertens made a high-profile move to Napoli this summer but failed to settle instantaneously and had to win his place in the team the hard way.

    Now he and Jose Callejon have formed an ideal one-two combo behind Gonzalo Higuain, but it's arguable Mertens has the most on the line in 2014.

    He's currently being used as just a supersub by Marc Wilmots for Belgium and he'll be the first to admit he wants to start every game. More of the same required if anything is to change in 2014.

86. Maxime Lestienne, Club Brugge

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    Maxime Lestienne appears desperate to win a Jupiler Pro League title with Club Brugge but could well find himself at a bigger, better club before he has the chance to realise that dream.

    The 2014 FIFA World Cup is a pipe dream given his six-month ban from the national set-up and dense collection of talented wingers Belgium boasts, but that won't stop him from performing out of his skin in the meantime.

    He's adapting to playing with a new type of striker at club level and improving his game every week—who will take the plunge on this majestic, talented winger?

85. Ki Sung-Yueng, Sunderland (on Loan from Swansea City)

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    The decision to loan Ki Sung-Yueng out is a real head-scratcher, but Swansea City's loss has been Sunderland's gain so far.

    Gus Poyet favours a possession-based 4-3-3 formation and the South Korean slots in with ease, controlling the tempo of games and never feeling the heat whilst on the ball.

    If the Swans still don't want him by the time summer rolls round, clubs will be queuing up to sign him for around the £6 million mark.

84. Alvaro Pereira, Sao Paulo (on Loan from Internazionale)

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    Sky Sports have confirmed Alvaro Pereira has joined Sao Paulo on loan from Internazionale.

    The Uruguayan is fearful of losing his place in Oscar Tabarez's FIFA World Cup squad due to lack of playing time and he didn't look like displacing Yuto Nagatomo any time soon.

    He's packed on some serious weight over the past 12 months and looks a real unit. Was it by design or is he simply out of sorts at the San Siro?

83. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, 1.FSV Mainz 05

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    Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is an intriguing prospect, defying most "general" guides surrounding recommended height and weight for a position.

    He's a 6'4" wide forward, blessed with great pace and agility, but retains great strength on the ball and drives forward with intensity.

    He needs to find more consistency to command a regular first-team spot but has the ability to change games—as shown in several outings for Cameroon.

82. Miralem Pjanic, Roma

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    Miralem Pjanic has caught fire this season under Rudi Garcia and it will be interesting to see how far a great 2013-14 campaign can take him.

    He's always threatened to break out, but an unstable environment at Roma has halted his progress. Now with Garcia at the helm and everything looking rosy, he can push on and become the playmaker we're all desperate to see.

    He's central to the Giallorossi's hopes of winning Serie A and central to Bosnia and Herzegovina's chances of impressing in their first-ever World Cup.

81. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anderlecht

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    At just 18 years of age, Aleksandar Mitrovic cost Anderlecht a club-record €5 million to sign from Partizan Belgrade last summer.

    The Serbian has gone on to score nine goals by the halfway stage of his first Jupiler League season and has also broken his international scoring duck for Serbia.

    With such rapid progress already under his belt, what will happen for Mitrovic next?

80. Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, Monaco

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    Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

    Monaco overhauled the large majority of their squad this summer thanks to an influx of cash, but 20-year-old Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco kept his place on the left side of midfield.

    He's started the 2013-14 season in sensational fashion, combining well with seasoned professionals such as Radamel Falcao and prime playmakers such as James Rodriguez.

    Ferreira-Carrasco is in direct competition with the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne to start for Belgium, and it's up to him to make that decision as difficult as possible for Marc Wilmots.

79. Morgan Sanson, Montpellier

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    Remy Cabella is leaving Montpellier by season's end, with Sky Sports suggesting Newcastle United will claim him in the summer.

    That opens the door for another Paillade youngster to fill a first-team role and Morgan Sanson could well be the next talismanic Ligue 1 playmaker on show.

    The southern club could be forgetting all about Cabella sooner than most realise.

78. Otavio, Internacional

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    Otavio is an interesting little playmaker plying his trade for Internacional right now.

    B/R's Dan Colasimone has suggested the ball appears stuck to his feet when dribbling, such is his ability to negotiate tight spaces and pull off tight turns, and he has all the necessary skills to take his game to a high level.

    How long will he remain in Brazil and how quickly will he grow?

77. Virgil Van Dijk, Celtic

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    Virgil van Dijk was one of the few shining lights in a poor FC Groningen 2012-13 season.

    His performances were so strong, despite a lack of overall quality around him, that he earned a move to Celtic to play UEFA Champions League football and is fancied by many pundits to make a mark on the Netherlands national team.

    He's physical, composed, a good ball-player and boasts great recovery pace.

76. Adrian Ramos, Hertha Berlin

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    Associated Press

    How many goals will Adrian Ramos have to score to get noticed this season? 20? 30?

    He's bagged 11 goals and three assists from 17 Bundesliga starts this season for Hertha Berlin and looks to be making a late push for the Colombian national squad ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

    The forward will likely continue in this rich goalscoring vein, but will Jose Pekerman notice? At the very least, many top European clubs will sit up and take note.

75. Ryan Bertrand, Aston Villa (on Loan from Chelsea)

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    Ryan Bertrand is facing a make-or-break half-season on loan at Aston Villa.

    He's been shipped out because Chelsea have no genuine need for him, and the escalating rumours that Luke Shaw is "destined" for a Blues shirt—courtesy of Metrohurt his stock even further.

    The former Gillingham trainee is playing for his next move and will use his time at Villa Park to impress. Paul Lambert will happily take him on a permanent deal, but should Bertrand be aiming higher than that?

74. Luca Toni, Hellas Verona

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    Paolo Giovannini/Associated Press

    For Luca Toni this year, it's all about how long this miraculous swansong can last.

    The 36-year-old appears to be timeless, immortal even, and just a year after making a sizeable impact at Fiorentina, he has moved on to spearhead a surprise Hellas Verona attack.

    With nine goals already this term and Juan Iturbe playing off him, it's no wonder the newly promoted Serie A club are doing so well, but how stable is the blueprint—and how stable are his legs?

73. Gabriel Iancu, Steaua Bucharest

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Gabriel Iancu is one of several young talents emerging from Romanian football and just the latest to strut his stuff on the European stage.

    His performances against Chelsea in the Champions League were a little average, but clubs are well aware that this 19-year-old has a lot of raw talent and a lot of natural skill.

    If he can shed the primadonna tag he's unfortunately acquired, he's a catch-in-waiting for anyone who needs a midfield spark.

72. Kim Young-Gwon, Guangzhou Evergrande

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    Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press

    Kim Young-Gwon is one of Asia's brightest central defenders, his manager Marcello Lippi even believing he's good enough to play for Manchester United, as per Wild East Football.

    Having recently won the Asian Champions League with Guangzhou Evergrande, he may be on the lookout for that next step and a strong FIFA World Cup campaign with South Korea can help his cause.

    When will we see this man's name pop up in Europe?

71. Eduardo Vargas, Gremio (on Loan from Napoli)

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    Juan Karita/Associated Press

    Eduardo Vargas is a very talented player whose future is up in the air.

    He's on a permanent deal with Napoli but failed to settle there under Walter Mazzarri last season. After being allowed out on loan to Gremio, though, his form has spiraled upward for both club and country.

    Jorge Sampaoli's clever use of the speedster for Chile has got Valencia licking their lips and, as per Sky Sports, Vargas is open to a move there.

    How will this one end?

70. Michy Batshuayi, Standard Liege

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    It has been confirmed by Het Laatste Nieuws, via the Daily Mail, that Michy Batshuayi will stay in the Jupiler Pro League until this summer at the very least.

    Everton have been strongly linked with the forward, who Roberto Martinez believes is fully capable of replacing Romelu Lukaku next season, and Borussia Dortmund have also been credited with interest.

    His next move will be as big as his potential, but where will he go?

69. Jan Oblak, Benfica

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    Jan Oblak has finally broken into the Benfica first team and looks to have all the makings of a first-class goalkeeper.

    Artur Moraes had been hogging the position in goal for some time, but the young Slovenian has seized his chance and posted five clean sheets in a row since stepping in.

    He's a fantastic shot-stopper and seems mature beyond his years. Watch out for this man's ascent in 2014.

68. Adrien Rabiot, Paris Saint-Germain

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    We spoke to B/R's Paris Saint-Germain man Jonathan Johnson for the skinny on the up-and-coming Adrien Rabiot:

    Despite the vast array of star (and mostly foreign) talent on display at the Parc des Princes, PSG's incredibly mature teenage midfielder Adrien Rabiot is a rare home-grown talent holding his own in the first team.

    Since the start of the season, he has made a handful of starts and featured regularly in Laurent Blanc's squad rotation system. A precocious talent, the French U-21 international has the makings of a world-class midfielder but has let it be known that he won't accept being benched in favour of any potential new arrivals in the capital.

    Whether or not he continues his career with the French champions after this season, Rabiot will be one to watch in 2014.

67. Hakim Ziyech, Heerenveen

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    Hakim Ziyech is commanding a regular first-team role at Heerenveen this season, and his incisive style suits the club's counter-attacking style perfectly.

    He's already tallied seven goals and seven assists in the Eredivisie this season, makes 2.5 key passes per game but has a very low completion rate (66.3 percent).

    Many fans would pour scorn on that poor percentage, but he's a key cog in this Superfriezen side—and a spectacular watch, too. Something of a walking statistical anomaly, you might say.

66. Nabil Bentaleb, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Nabil Bentaleb made a shock debut for Tottenham Hotspur this season by coming off the bench at the St. Mary's Stadium.

    The 19-year-old was barely known at the time but over the last month has cemented his place in Tim Sherwood's squad and now looks a solid first-team player.

    He's making quick strides, looks incredibly calm on the ball and picks his passes well. How good can he become? 2014 represents a canvas on which he can impress.

65. Dusan Tadic, FC Twente

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    Dusan Tadic is the most creative player in the Eredivisie right now and his statistics make for some enthralling reading.

    Per WhoScored, he averages a whopping 4.1 key passes per game and has already bagged eight goals and eight assists.

    At 25, the Serbian is coming into his prime years as an energetic, versatile midfield playmaker, and could well land a big move out of the Netherlands this summer.

64. Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Club

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    Aymeric Laporte is an outstanding young centre-back who, at just 19 years of age, commands a starting role in an impressive Athletic Bilbao defence.

    He and Carlos Gurpegi, 33, form a perfect partnership: Laporte is the youth and finesse, while Gurpegi provides the experience and steel.

    Los Leones are locked in a battle for fourth spot in La Liga alongside Villarreal and Real Sociedad. Don't be surprised to see Laporte emerge as a key man during the run-in as he continues to improve every week.

63. Christian Benteke, Aston Villa

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    Christian Benteke was a breakout star in the 2012-13 season, but the following campaign hasn't been kind.

    He struggled with an injury for 11 weeks prior to Christmas after going down at Carrow Road with a hip flexor problem and then struggling to string together any semblance of form.

    That changed on New Year's Day against Sunderland and he's now bagged two in two against Arsenal and Liverpool. With a starting role for Belgium at the 2014 FIFA World Cup at stake, can Benteke turn it on and beat off Romelu Lukaku?

62. Alex Telles, Galatasaray

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    Alex Telles has completed a January move to Galatasaray for around €6 million, fixing one of very few holes in Roberto Mancini's side.

    The Turkish outfit have been carrying passengers in the full-back position for far too long and Mancini has told UEFA.com that Telles is the ideal left-back signing for his club.

    The Brazilian should be a great watch as he'll come to our attention immediately in the Champions League and make big strides over the second half of the season.

61. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Tim Sherwood's free-for-all attacking philosophy has done wonders for Christian Eriksen, who's been converted from an inconsistent flop to a game-winning technician.

    He's allowed free reign of the formation, cutting in off the left, drifting into the centre and even popping up on the right.

    The Dane is serving up killer balls and accurate crosses every week, and he's part of a mini-resurgence at White Hart Lane that's worrying those around them.

     

60. Paul-Georges Ntep, Auxerre

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    Paul-Georges Ntep, Auxerre's best-kept secret up until recently, will be moving on from the Ligue 2 club this year and could even make the leap by January's end.

    As per L'Equipe, via Inside Futbol, Rennes are just one of a number of clubs more than willing to pay the €6 million asking price, and a strong first year in France's top tier could set the winger up nicely for a run at the Euro 2016 squad on home soil.

    He's still a raw talent, but he's destined to be top class.

     

59. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich

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    Due to an ankle riddled with injuries, Bastian Schweinsteiger has lost his crown of "best midfielder in the world" in the eyes of many.

    With Arturo Vidal, Luka Modric, Andres Iniesta and more consistently churning out 9/10 performances and staying healthy in the process, 2014 is a big year for "Schweini" and his durability.

    Can he reclaim his crown, shake off his ailments and play a big role in Germany's World Cup campaign?

58. Joel Veltman, Ajax

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    Joel Veltman has emerged from the unlikeliest of circumstances to nail down a starting berth for Ajax.

    He was drafted in this season as an emergency centre-back due to injuries to key players, but where most saw a stop-gap until Niklas Moisander returned, Veltman saw a golden chance to represent his beloved boyhood club.

    The classy defender, who recently made his debut for the Netherlands in the wake of a stunning showing against Celtic in the Champions League, is one of Frank de Boer's hottest properties.

57. Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC

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    Many in England are still questioning Jermain Defoe's move to Major League Soccer.

    While the improvement of the league is vital and signing established players is the quickest method to do so, Defoe himself has seriously jeopardised a place at a last possible FIFA World Cup.

    At 31 years of age, he's not heading to Russia in 2018. Roy Hodgson will need to see him scoring hat-tricks every week if the former Spurs man is to displace Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Co. now.

56. Joel Campbell, Olympiakos (on Loan from Arsenal)

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    Joel Campbell's been out on loan for the last three successive seasons and he seems to be lapping up every minute of playing time gratefully.

    This year he's at Olympiacos, and while with the Greek outfit, he's bagged UEFA Champions League minutes and a key role in Costa Rica's FIFA 2014 World Cup side.

    Should he qualify for a work permit in the summer, he'll add some much-needed depth to the Gunners' striking department. If not, he'll go out on loan again—but to a much more impactful, visible club this time around.

55. Julian Draxler, Schalke

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    Rumours abound that Julian Draxler won't be a Schalke player much longer, with the Daily Mail suggesting he'll move to Arsenal at some stage or another.

    He's a mercurial talent who will be worth every penny of his eventual £40 million-plus transfer fee and should the Gunners miss out on him this winter, fans will be clamouring to grab a glimpse over the next five months.

    He is, after all, an epic creator from midfield.

54. Hugo Mallo, Celta Vigo

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    For a little while last season, Hugo Mallo was the best right-back in La Liga.

    That's high praise for a Celta Vigo defender. Only a bad injury cut his consistent run in the first team short and he's rebounded extremely well this season.

    It seems a matter of time before Mallo, who's better than Martin Montoya in many areas and more consistent than Dani Carvajal, is snapped up by a much bigger club.

53. Domenico Berardi, Sassuolo

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    In January 2014, Domenico Berardi became the first-ever player to score four goals in a single game against the mighty Milan.

    The 19-year-old is now sitting on an enviable record of 11 goals in 14 Serie A starts for bottom-feeders Sassuolo, but are we ready to crown him as Italy's next big star yet?

    Alberto Paloschi is just one of many names who burst through early and fizzled out, so is Berardi really ready to make an impact on the biggest stage of all? It's a big year for him.

52. Robin Van Persie, Manchester United

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    Robin van Persie arrived at Manchester United with an injury-prone tag and now the Red Devils faithful are starting to see why.

    His final season at Arsenal was his first-ever full campaign in English football and he managed to negotiate 2012-13 under Sir Alex Ferguson without so much as a knock.

    But he's been missing since the start of December when he wasn't fit enough to play 90 minutes but David Moyes kept him on regardless. The importance of his goals has been underlined in recent weeks. When will we see him again?

51. Lucas Piazon, Vitesse (on Loan from Chelsea)

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    Lucas Piazon is just one of many Chelsea youngsters to have gone to Vitesse Arnhem on loan and excelled.

    Some Eredivisie experts have suggested the Brazilian is already the best player in the league, despite his relative inexperience, with his record of 10 goals and eight assists from 14 left-wing appearances ranking among the best.

    He should continue to terrorise defences for the second half of the 2013-14 season, but it's when he returns to Chelsea in the summer that it will get rather interesting. Do they have room for him or will one lucky club get to borrow him once again?

50. Chris Klute, Colorado Rapids

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    Chris Klute, a former member of the Atlanta Silverbacks, was recommended personally to the Colorado Rapids by FOX Soccer's Eric Wynalda.

    Injuries in the team handed the youngster a chance to claim a starting berth as his own and, after excelling from the outset, is yet to relinquish his grip on the full-back role.

    His club form in the new MLS season will make for interesting viewing and his recent call-up to the U.S. national team adds further intrigue—can he challenge for a spot in the starting XI, given the dearth of established options right now?

49. Axel Witsel, Zenit St. Petersburg

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    We spoke to B/R's Gianni Verschueren in private to get the low-down on Axel Witsel:

    He gets my vote for the most underrated player in the game; Witsel is a key cog for both Zenit St. Petersburg and the Belgian national team.

    He cost the Russian club €40 million and he's been worth every penny, and pundits are now wondering whether it's time for him to move on. The 2014 FIFA World Cup represents the perfect audition, and he's the ideal building block for any team looking for the combination of skill and brute force in midfield (David Moyes, are you hearing this?).

    Witsel is twice the player Marouane Fellaini will ever be, yet he's continually overlooked because he plays in Russia. It's a joy to watch how he impacts the game and he stands as one of the most graceful enforcers I've ever seen.

48. Maximilian Arnold, Wolfsburg

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    Maximilian Arnold has only made 10 starts for Wolfsburg this season, but it's been enough to ease the fans' concerns over life after Diego.

    Despite being just 19 years of age, he's averaging a one-in-two goal ratio, despite playing as a central midfielder. He's tidy, tricky and technically very strong.

    A Brazilian has ruled Die Wolfe's midfield for half a decade, but a German prodigy is rising to take his place.

47. Fabian Schar, FC Basel

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    Fabian Schar has been at FC Basel just 18 months, yet his departure within the next 18 is already an inevitability.

    He's one of the most entertaining centre-backs you'll cast your eyes on this year, with his aggression and lust to win the ball as great as his technical prowess and tactical understanding.

    He was the top scorer in Switzerland's FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with three goals, while his performances against English clubs over the last year have caught many a scout's eye.

     

46. Jordon Mutch, Cardiff City

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    Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

    Jordon Mutch is an intriguing prospect of whom many fans knew little before December.

    But after watching him surge forward and smash an incredible strike past Sunderland, then do so again and provide an assist for Fraizer Campbell, many began frantically searching for more information on the midfielder.

    At just 22, he could attract big attention from established Premier League clubs such is his game-breaking ability. Ross Barkley-esque.

45. Keisuke Honda, Milan

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    It can't be easy, being brought to a club on a pre-contract, then upon arrival realising the manager who signed you is no longer employed.

    That's what Keisuke Honda, Milan's marquee January signing, is facing up to right now at the San Siro. Clarence Seedorf has taken the job in the meantime, and Honda's impact on this flailing giant will be carefully measured.

    He's also a key hope for Japan at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

44. Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad

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    Antoine Griezmann is having yet another fine season, and although Real Sociedad crashed out of the UEFA Champions League in embarrassing fashion, this Frenchman's stock is still well intact.

    He can be a one-man wrecking ball at times and, according to Football Espana, will be the subject of serious Paris Saint-Germain interest over the next six months.

    His buyout clause is €30 million and he'd be worth every penny.

43. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    The question on everyone's lips is: Can Aaron Ramsey repeat his 2013 heroics in 2014?

    He hasn't played a game yet this year due to injury, but in his absence Jack Wilshere has come on leaps and bounds and has begun to lead the team from the middle.

    That's motivation for Ramsey to come back in and pick up where he left off—in absolutely scintillating, world-class form.

42. Timo Werner, Stuttgart

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    Timo Werner, a 17-year-old wunderkind, is breaking records left, right and centre.

    He's the youngest player in Stuttgart's history to score two goals in one Bundesliga game earlier this season.

    With 10 starts, four goals and four assists under his belt from the left wing already, he's primed to continue growing in the second half of the season.

41. Graziano Pelle, Feyenoord

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    We went straight to Dutch football expert Michiel Jongsma for information on Graziano Pelle's unpredictable rise to power in the Eredivisie:

    Pelle is a player you'd expect very little from—28 years of age, not recognised in [his native] Italy and dubbed a man 'only' capable of scoring in the Eredivisie—but lately, he's gone from a good striker to a great one.

    His game against FC Utrecht last week was a masterclass and it's just one of many recently. Pelle has become a target man with a good technique and vision, he's a good finisher and he leads by example.

    In my opinion, he should be talked about in the same breath as someone like Olivier Giroud. I'd love to see him prove himself at the top level.

     

40. Eder Alvarez Balanta, River Plate

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    Eder Alvarez Balanta seems destined to become the next great Colombian centre-back.

    According to Sky Sports, his club River Plate value him at €15 million, despite his relative inexperience in the professional arena, with his family also owning 20 percent of the player registration rights.

    It won't be long before a big European club stumps up the fee, but in the meantime, will he make an outside push at los Cafeteros' World Cup squad?

39. Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund

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    Mats Hummels is recognised as a premium central defender, but is he world class?

    Many are beginning to see through his excellent passing range and glamorous canters forward, with defensive errors and lapses in concentration coming to the fore.

    He's beloved in Dortmund and rightly so, but watch out for the German's form this year as the scrutiny becomes more intense than ever. 

38. Oliver Torres, Atletico Madrid

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    Oliver Torres, at 19, is better than Isco was at the same age.

    His excellent FIFA U20 World Cup campaign enlightened many of us to his incredible ball-playing prowess and superlative first touch, but he needs to refine his decision-making in front of goal this year.

    He has plenty of time to become the world-class midfielder we expect and could form a historic homegrown pair with the aforementioned Koke in Atletico Madrid's midfield.

37. Mateo Musacchio, Villarreal

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    Mateo Musacchio arrived at Villarreal back in 2010 with a big reputation, but only now is he beginning to back that up with some wonderful showings.

    At 23 he looks the complete package, and with Argentina often crying out for strong defenders, his ascent comes at an extremely convenient time.

    He boasts great discipline, a stocky frame, his concentration levels have hugely improved and he's cocky—but in a good way, a la Vlad Chiriches.

36. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    Why wouldn't you want to watch him?

    The 2013 Ballon d'Or winner was the best player in world football over the course of the calendar year, and it'll be intriguing to see if he maintains his new, sky-high standards.

    Even if he drops a little, he's still an awe-inspiring watch. Wherever he roams, goals, assists and jaw-dropping trickery follows.

35. Granit Xhaka, Borussia Monchengladbach

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    Granit Xhaka arrived in the Bundesliga with a big reputation, but his first season with Borussia Monchengladbach was a failure.

    Fast forward 18 months, however, and the Swiss midfielder has finally settled and begun to control games in Germany's top tier. His renewed consistency, in addition to the rise of Christoph Kramer, has locked Havard Nordtveit out of the Foals' team.

    Watch him as he continues to progress and excel—he'll be dominant within a few years.

34. Giuseppe Rossi, Fiorentina

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    Giuseppe Rossi was in the midst of a spectacular comeback season before going down with yet another horrible knee injury in January.

    He was nailed on to go to the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Italy and his ailment sparked fears he'd miss the trip. Cesare Prandelli, though, has told La Gazzetta Dello Sport, via Goal.com, that he will wait for the former Villarreal man to regain fitness and choose his squad at the last possible moment.

    That's great news for the Jersey-born striker, who will be eager to return and improve upon his tally of 14 goals in a calm, measured fashion.

33. Serge Gnabry, Arsenal

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    Serge Gnabry has a one vs. one battle coming up with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a spot on Arsenal's right wing, and if he wins it, 2014 will be a huge year for him.

    With Theo Walcott out for the season, he figures to get far more regular time in Arsene Wenger's first XI, and he has a handy knack of making a definitive impact in every game he plays.

    The Ivorian, just 18 years of age, is arguably the Gunners' biggest natural youth talent.

32. Doria, Botafogo

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    Botafogo centre-back Doria is on the cusp of top-tier status, despite being just 19 years of age.

    He's shown he has every asset to his game required, his reading of situations is incredible and he boasts elite physical tools.

    He's just waiting to be plucked from the Brasileiro Serie A, but who will stump up the cash to make the transfer happen? Should he stay, tune in anyway; he's what young defenders should aspire to be.

31. Alexandru Maxim, Stuttgart

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    We spoke to Otelul Galati midfielder Ioan Filip in private to get the lowdown on compatriot Alexandru Maxim.

    It was his opinion that the Stuttgart playmaker was Romania's greatest hope for qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup—captain Vlad Chiriches aside.

    It's high praise, but it's justified, too; Maxim is Stuttgart's shining light in the attack, combining deadly dribbling skills with superb technique for set pieces.

    He can play as a No. 10, a second striker or out in a slightly wider role. Tune in and watch this kid when you can.

30. William Carvalho, Sporting

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    William Carvalho has arguably the most to gain out of anyone on this list in 2014.

    The Sporting academy product has emerged as one of the premier defensive midfielders in the Liga Sagres—perhaps the best now Nemanja Matic has gone—and has a reasonable shot at sneaking into Portugal's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad.

    His rapid progression and incredible size, range and ball-playing ability will have caught the eye of many scouts, and he could land a huge transfer in the summer, too.

29. Enzo Perez, Benfica

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    Losing Nemanja Matic is a big blow for Benfica, but Enzo Perez has been just as impressive in central midfield for the Eagles this season and last.

    Perez is an all-action, box-to-box player who excites the crowd and runs his legs off for the team. Matic was replaced by Ljubomir Fejsa in Benfica's first game without Matic—a 2-0 win over Maritimo—but who would replace Perez?

    He's a key cog and could be the next big departure from the Lisbon club.

     

28. Gerard Deulofeu, Everton (on Loan from Barcelona)

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    Gerard Deulofeu was just catching fire before he got injured over Christmas, but he'll be back soon and we can expect more majesty and trickery to follow.

    He was loaned to Everton to gain experience, and while Roberto Martinez was slow to bring him to the boil, he's now affirming his potential in a completely alien environment.

    Will he be loaned back next season to many willing suitors or will he be given a crack at the Barcelona first team under Gerardo Martino?

27. Alfred Finnbogason, Heerenveen

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    Thanks to Afonso Alves, a prolific striker hailing from the Eredivisie will always be viewed with extreme amounts of caution by European clubs.

    The precedent has been set for expensive flops and Alfred Finnbogason of Heerenveen will not be a cheap acquisition when the 2013-14 campaign is done.

    He's already bagged 18 goals and five assists from just 16 starts, making him the hottest property emanating from the Netherlands. Will anyone take the plunge?

26. Vlad Chiriches, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    How far can Vlad Chiriches go?

    In truth, he was a relative unknown when arriving at Tottenham Hotspur this summer and many fans were just wondering whether or not the near-€10 million fee was a little much.

    But he's proven to be Spurs' best central defender in Jan Vertonghen's absence; and the way he plays the game is so unnaturally smooth and confident, it defies logic.

    We want to see how far the Romanian progresses and how heavily he can influence build-up play in North London.

25. Juan Iturbe, Verona (on Loan from FC Porto)

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    Paolo Giovannini/Associated Press

    Juan Iturbe is one to watch for a number of reasons, as his domestic future remains up in the air.

    His performances thus far for Verona, where he's spending the season on loan, have been incredible, and he represents the sort of modern, dynamic playmaker many are looking for.

    If he returns to FC Porto, how will they use him? If he doesn't, how concrete is Roma's supposed interest, broached by Football Italia? He won't be short on options, that's for sure.

24. Kurt Zouma, St. Etienne

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    We spoke privately to B/R's Ligue 1 expert Jonathan Johnson for the lowdown on controversial figure Kurt Zouma:

    Whether he stays at AS Saint-Etienne, remains in Ligue 1 or moves abroad, 19-year-old Kurt Zouma is primed for success in 2014.

    The physically imposing central defender is a raw talent at present, but his immense potential makes the finished article a frightening prospect.

    Having recently served a 10-match suspension for a horror tackle earlier in the season, the athletic defender has some way to go before he can be considered to be on a par with another young French talent in Raphael Varane. However, a call-up to Les Bleus' senior side despite his young age suggests that he is not too far behind.

23. Luke Shaw, Southampton

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    Luke Shaw has a big year ahead of him and it will be interesting to see if intense media attention affects his game.

    He's widely expected to move to Chelsea at some point in the next two years, as per the Express, and holds the title of England's best up-and-coming left-back.

    He's progressing with every game at Southampton and growing exponentially, so how soon will he take the plunge at a top club and could he even be an outside runner for Roy Hodgson's 2014 World Cup squad?

22. Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United

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    After completing an expensive, panic-induced move to Manchester United in the summer of 2013, Marouane Fellaini has seriously underwhelmed thus far.

    His career at Old Trafford is still young, though, and he is a potentially excellent talent once he gets himself going. The pressure will be on for him to return from injury and impress immediately, and he's at genuine risk of losing his spot in Belgium's XI.

    Radja Nainggolan has moved to Roma and killed it on his debut, Axel Witsel is the second name on Marc Wilmots' team sheet and Steven Defour is angling for a move to play more.

    Watch out, Marouane!

21. Thorgan Hazard, Zulte Waregem (on Loan from Chelsea)

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    Watch out, there's two of them!

    Thorgan Hazard won the 2013 Golden Shoe on Wednesday night, awarded to the best player plying his trade in the Juliper Pro League over the course of the calendar year.

    He's also embroiled in a mini-controversy, as Anderlecht wish to take him on loan for the rest of the season and that would require the winger to terminate his loan deal with Zulte Waregem.

    Plenty of news to follow here.

20. Cedric Soares, Sporting

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    To get the lowdown on Portugal's next potential breakout star, we spoke to B/R frequenter Jon Mancini in private:

    Sporting's young full-back Cedric Soares is having a fantastic season thus far.

    He's quick, energetic, two-footed, an excellent crosser of the ball, and his defending has come on leaps and bounds under the guidance of Leonardo Jardim.

    It simply seems a matter of time before he displaces Joao Pereira as Portugal's starting right-back.

19. Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg

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    Fredrik von Erichsen/Associated Press

    In an era where elite full-backs are a total rarity, Ricardo Rodriguez bucks the trend at just 21 years of age.

    He's already one of Wolfsburg's best players and should be a prime summer target for every top club in need of a left-back this summer. He'll turn out in a starting role for Switzerland in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and that should only boost his fee.

    There are very few—if any—more enticing, well-rounded full-backs on the market right now.

18. Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla

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    It's very arguable that the two best La Liga midfielders this season have been Croatian—Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic steal the show every time they play.

    Hair style aside, there's everything to love about the way this Sevilla midfielder plays his football: always making the right choice between passing and shooting, creating at the highest level and running his socks off for the cause.

    It's rare to see a player so gifted technically play such a modest 90 minutes.

17. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    Lionel Messi will have to do something he's never done before: bounce back after a disappointing year.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or win sealed a torturous 2013 for the Argentine, who couldn't stay fit for long periods and missed many of Barcelona's key games.

    Neutral fans are hoping for quite the backlash because when this chap is in full flow, he's an unstoppable, goalscoring machine.

16. Jese, Real Madrid

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    Jese is progressing rapidly into one of the most impressive, all-round playmakers in the game.

    We first saw him in full flow at the FIFA U20 World Cup, with he and Gerard Deulofeu dove-tailing to wonderful effect in Spain's tiki-taka 4-3-3.

    Now he's bulked out massively and shows raw power and pace when taking on opponents. He's as tricky as they come, boasts incredible feet and possesses an important, game-winning knack.

    It's astonishing how much ground he's made over the last six months. What can he do over the next 12?

15. Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United

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    Shinji Kagawa has been a Manchester United player since the summer of 2012, but he's made fewer than 40 appearances for the team.

    For a player fresh off winning the Bundesliga with a scintillating Borussia Dortmund side, that's a horrific record, so what's gone so wrong?

    He's been misused at Old Trafford, sure, but he's also blown hot and cold in his favoured No. 10 position. The country of Japan will pray he gets appropriate playing time over the next five months, as he needs to be at his sparkling best for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

    Could a transfer away from United beckon after the event?

14. Luka Modric, Real Madrid

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    If you've not been watching Luka Modric this season, rectify this error immediately by tuning in to Real Madrid's next game.

    The post-Mesut Ozil fallout could have been much, much worse in the Spanish capital had this Croatian not stepped up and knitted the side together from the middle.

    He's now the creator-in-chief Jose Mourinho always wanted when he signed him, and he's been los Blancos best player this season alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

13. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund

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    Ilkay Gundogan is set to return from injury very soon, but after a complicated spinal injury, how will he perform?

    Metro believe the German playmaker has a choice of Manchester United and Real Madrid for his next move, but will he regain form and prove he's worth a transfer?

    He'll waltz straight back into a beleaguered Borussia Dortmund team and try to impress; it'll be a joy to watch this man work his magic in midfield. 

12. Marcelo Diaz, Basel

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    Marcelo Diaz is one of the finest technical midfielders in the business, so why is he still at Basel FC?

    His performances for Chile have been incredible since Jorge Sampaoli took over, and 2014 should be the year he lands a major move to a top five European league.

    Watch out for him at the FIFA World Cup: His slick passing style, in an Andrea Pirlo-esque regista role, can tire teams out and give la Roja complete control over games.

11. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool

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    We spoke to B/R's Liverpool expert Karl Matchett on all things Raheem Sterling:

    Having spent the best part of 11 months on the sidelines for Liverpool after his initial explosion on to the Premier League scene, Raheem Sterling has now managed not only to regain his place in the side but also show why he was fast-tracked into the England set-up.

    Sterling has shown increased maturity and decision-making in his play and, perhaps most importantly, has shown good productivity in the final third, too; 20 chances created in his run of 10 starts, with three goals thrown in for good measure.

    Sterling could easily gatecrash the World Cup squad and be playing Champions League football by September—making 2014 a massive year for a massive young talent.

10. Luis Suarez, Liverpool

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    What does the future hold for Luis Suarez?

    He's already scored an astonishing 22 goals from 17 Premier League appearances this season, and as he continues in this unstoppable vein of form, will Liverpool be able to reject the inevitable £60 million-plus bids headed their way in the summer?

    When the domestic season is done and dusted, the onslaught won't stop: Suarez will spearhead a potent Uruguay attack against England in the World Cup this summer, and who knows how far he can take la Celeste?

9. Ross Barkley, Everton

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    Ross Barkley has flourished under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez this season.

    At first the manager tried to limit the Englishman's minutes in an attempt to ensure he didn't become overburdened but, midway through November, decided to unleashed him in full on opposing teams.

    He's a marvellous prospect and should he continue his current form for the next four months, Roy Hodgson should be starting him for England in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

8. Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid

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    Diego Simeone has expressed his desire to sign Thibaut Courtois on a permanent deal for Atletico Madrid, but can the club stump up the supposed €26 million fee?

    Belgium's No. 1 is in the midst of a third successive spectacular loan spell at the Vicente Calderon and represents a catch for any team, but his future at Chelsea remains suspect given the presence of Petr Cech.

    How does this one end?

7. Koke, Atletico Madrid

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    Koke is on the cusp of becoming a household midfield name in European football—despite being just 22 years of age.

    He's a dreamy fit for Diego Simeone's hard-nosed, disciplined 4-4-2 at Atletico Madrid, and as an academy product. the Vicente Calderon terraces worship him more than most.

    Per Metro, he recently signed a new deal to raise his release clause to £50 million. Someone will pay up, but when will that happen?

6. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

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    If everything goes to plan in 2014, Eden Hazard will be globally recognised as one of the greatest players in world football—and you'd be nuts to miss his journey to that accolade.

    He's been on fire this season, and Jose Mourinho's coaching appears to have taken the Belgian to the next level in terms of production and the threat he poses on the pitch.

    It won't be long before Hazard's averaging more than a goal every two games and he's already a bonafide match-winner.

5. Mario Goetze, Bayern Munich

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    After an extremely slow start to life at Bayern Munich due to injury, Mario Goetze is starting to take control of the Bundesliga.

    This year will be the measure of how high he rises in our estimation, and there's no doubt Pep Guardiola's system has everything in place to help him succeed.

    Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben steal the limelight for die Roten for now. In 12 months' time, who will be the most talked-about midfielder?

4. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Borussia Monchengladbach

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    Borussia Monchengladbach have put together a superb team over the last three years, but one key piece is on the verge of leaving.

    As per Bundesliga.com, Marc-Andre ter Stegen—the Foals' celebrated young goalkeeper—will not be renewing his contract with the club and will likely be sold to Barcelona in the summer.

    He has an outside shot at Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad and will play hard for his local club in the meantime. Should he sign for la Blaugrana at season's end, it'll be interesting to watch how quickly he adapts to a very different system in Catalonia.

3. Adnan Januzaj, Manchester United

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Adnan Januzaj is at the centre of an international storm, with what's believed to be around six nations trying to persuade him that his future lies with them.

    Is he Belgian, Albanian, Kosovan, English? Kosovo were given the green light to form a national team last week, as per the Telegraph, so surely this ends with the Manchester United man representing his "home" nation?

    On the domestic stage, he's currently the Red Devils third-best player behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. How will he continue to progress if the club buy big this summer?

2. Neymar, Barcelona

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    The entirety of Brazil held its collective breath last weekend as Neymar went down with an ankle injury, proving to us all once again just how important he is to their hopes of winning the FIFA 2014 World Cup.

    He is Luiz Felipe Scolari's prized jewel, an irreplaceable cog in a Selecao machine fancied heavily to win football's greatest prize; without him, their attacking fortunes look bleak.

    Neymar's performances at the showpiece event will make or break Brazil's chances of victory.

1. Paul Pogba, Juventus

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Paul Pogba is our No. 1 player to watch in 2014 for a multitude of reasons.

    After leading his nation to victory in the FIFA U20 World Cup last summer, can he replicate that feat in Brazil for the senior side? He's come on leaps and bounds, as his form for Juventus has shown, and he could well be the subject of a monstrous bid from an oil-rich club this year.

    He's shown the ability to play in any midfield role, but he's most at home in a box-to-box, shuttling role. Should everything go to plan, the end of 2014 could see him rivalling Arturo Vidal for the title of best in the world—his progress has been that fast.

     

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