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Alberto Moreno and 20 European Youngsters Facing Big Seasons

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Alberto Moreno and 20 European Youngsters Facing Big Seasons

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    Fernando Bustamante/Associated Press

    Alberto Moreno is the subject of a big transfer bid from Premier League club Liverpool, according to reports from the Telegraph, who want him to move from Sevilla this summer with teen playmaker Suso heading in the opposite direction on loan.

    The Sevilla left-back has enjoyed a terrific season, winning the Europa League final and earning a place in the provisional Spain squad for the 2014 World Cup, so he will be under pressure to prove his consistency and continuing improvement next term regardless of a summer transfer.

    He's not the only youngster facing scrutiny next season, for a variety of reasons. Here are 20 of the biggest named starlets, aged 22 or under, who will have the eyes of the footballing world upon them for 2014-15.

    All statistics are from Squawka.com.

Alberto Moreno

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    Fernando Bustamante/Associated Press

    Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno goes first then; he played 29 times in La Liga in 13-14, creating 19 chances with his raids down the flank and scoring three goals.

    He's been exceptional for the Andalucian side and no doubt would be next term too, but with him him being involved with the national team and big bids from Champions League clubs comes extra expectation.

    Can he step up even further, cope with the bigger demands and perform to his best level with even more consistency? The smart money is on yes, such is his talent, but next year might tell us a lot about his mental capacity rather than his technical one.

Isco

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    Paul White/Associated Press

    Isco arrived to Real Madrid last summer to much fanfare and, initially at least, did extremely well.

    A change in midfield tactics and a downturn in his own form saw him out of the regular starting lineup, but he still played an important squad role for the side in challenging on domestic and European fronts.

    Next term he'll face a battle to regain his place in the first XI but more than that, fans and analysts will be looking to see if he can have a big impact on the Real attack, improving on the eight goals and six assists he registered this term—six and three of which, respectively, came in the first half of the season.

Rafinha

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Barcelona's talented young midfielder Rafinha enjoyed a great campaign with Celta Vigo, on loan, under the leadership of manager Luis Enrique. Who just happens to be, of course, his new boss back at his parent club.

    Capable of playing across the midfield line or in a more advanced, creative attacking midfield role, Rafinha will almost surely get his chance with the first team next season after being central to much of the best work Luis Enrique produced at Celta.

    He might be another season or so away from becoming a regular, but he has enough about him to make an impact in 14-15.

Aymeric Laporte

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Athletic Bilbao centre-back Aymeric Laporte has big clubs dreaming of signing him for £20 million or more, after a single season of making a name for himself as a starter.

    True, he was excellent, but he still has areas to improve in and, of course, playing in such a key position will carry increased demands next term when Bilbao take to the Champions League.

    It's not the only ability he'll need to display next term, but consistency and great resilience when coming up against better players with increasing regularity.

Thibaut Courtois

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois probably shouldn't have much to prove after winning domestic and continental cups, plus La Liga itself, over the past three seasons.

    As it is, he does—he's been on loan during that whole time and his future is very much uncertain right now, whether Chelsea take him back to challenge or replace Petr Cech, or sell him on elsewhere.

    Both of the first two instances will carry their own unique pressures, while he surely can't go back to being a backup for 30 or 40 games a season at this point. And before all of that is decided, he has his first World Cup to get through.

Ross Barkley

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Everton midfielder Ross Barkley enjoyed a breakout season in the Premier League under Roberto Martinez, earning himself a call-up to England's World Cup squad in the process.

    It seems he is set to go from strength to strength, being a robust and all-action kind of player as much as a technical and brilliant one, but he will inevitably have periods of down time when form deserts him or he loses his place in the side.

    Barkley is surely on his way to the top, but his mentality needs to be right to ensure he makes the most of his talent. Can he consistently impact on the Premier League next season?

Raheem Sterling

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Unlike some of those already mentioned, Raheem Sterling has already gone through his period of time out of the team and struggling for form, and has managed to come out the other side sparkling.

    Not that this signals it won't happen again; in fact, the opposite is true—now that he has returned to the side and is a major player in the starting XI for Liverpool, people will be expecting him to tear up defences all season long in 14-15.

    Can he go through an entire season in top gear? He hasn't managed to yet, so it will be all eyes on him to see how long his latest spell of great form lasts.

Romelu Lukaku

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    Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

    Like Courtois, Lukaku has impressed over the past couple of seasons, but out on loan away from parent club Chelsea.

    The Belgian striker impressed at Everton last season for the majority of the campaign, though injury and a run of one goal between December 4 and March 1 was also a concern to watch out for—despite a total return of 15 goals in 31 league games for the season.

    Lukaku's destination next term will obviously impact on how well he fares, and he'll be expected to show even more consistency and scoring prowess than he has so far.

Luke Shaw

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Eighteen years old, heading to a World Cup and with a supposed £30 million transfer move in the offing.

    If Luke Shaw doesn't have pressure and expectation on him, who does?!

    Patrice Evra is hanging around Manchester United for another year so Shaw will have a fight on his hands for first-team football if he does head to Old Trafford, but for that money, the expectation will be on him not only to win a regular spot but to earn it with excellent performances, too.

Jack Wilshere

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Far from having become England's main man by the 2014 World Cup, Jack Wilshere has work to do to even prove he can be Arsenal's biggest talent, let alone his nation's.

    Wilshere hasn't really progressed significantly in the past season or so, struggling with injuries beforehand and then not showing enough of the talent he has to warrant being a player the team is built around.

    Ability he has, for sure, but the Gunners midfielder needs to display that in match-winning circumstance—not in rolling over already-beaten teams or in 20-second bursts of energy when the match is already lost, merely to look as though he remains fighting for the cause—with a far greater frequency.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    It's tough enough being a young goalkeeper, without being one moving to one of the world's biggest clubs and replacing a long-time, homegrown No. 1 in the process.

    That's the challenge facing Marc-Andre ter Stegen this coming season, with the German having moved to Spain for 2014-15.

    He has been prone to errors and still needs plenty of improving on his all-round game, but Ter Stegen is seen as one of the best young stoppers around—next season he'll have to prove that.

Mario Gotze

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Mario Gotze had a good first season at Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga title and scored 10 goals in 27 games, but few would say he had an outstanding campaign.

    Seen as one of the best attacking midfielders around, that's perhaps what many would be expecting off him, especially in a side capable of being as dominant as Bayern are and with the price tag he carried last summer.

    Far bigger and better will be expected of Gotze over the coming years, starting next season.

Pierre-Michel Lasogga

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Hamburger SV forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga enjoyed a terrific campaign individually in 2013-14, even though his team were battling relegation most of the year.

    Lasogga hit 13 goals in 20 appearances, proving an excellent penalty-box presence for his team and earning his first international call-ups in the process.

    Injuries denied him the chance to feature for his nation, and indeed to play more games for his club. As a result, he missed out on a World Cup spot. Next season he'll be expected to show the same eye for goal but on a more consistent basis—though it remains to be seen if he returns to parent club Hertha Berlin.

Xherdan Shaqiri

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    While Gotze played well without starring, Xherdan Shaqiri would merely settle for being regularly in the Bayern Munich lineup.

    The Swiss wide midfielder played only 17 times in the Bundesliga and did not start a Champions League match for the German side, though he did manage six goals and 25 chances created in his limited league game time.

    He likely needs to move on to demonstrate his immense worth on a more regular basis so his decision of new team is critical; can he then perform to a high level week in, week out and become the player he looked as though he would be initially with Basel?

Josip Drmic

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Josip Drmic enjoyed a mixed campaign with Nurnberg: He scored 17 goals, the third highest in the Bundesliga, but his team were relegated from the top flight.

    As a result he's already earned a move to Bayer Leverkusen for next season and will fight to play alongside or instead of Stefan Kiessling, a regular scorer and proven top-flight threat.

    The 21-year-old Swiss forward now gets the chance to show he can play at a higher level, in the Champions League too, and still be productive in the final third.

Mateo Kovacic

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    Inter Milan's creative midfielder Mateo Kovacic was one of the highest-rated young teens in European football when he broke through in his home country with Dinamo Zagreb before moving to the Italian side, and while he's impressed in spells during 2013-14, there's certainly an air of expectation of more to come.

    Part of the progression for the 20-year-old will be in determining his best role: Behind the strikers, or deeper to dictate from the base of midfield?

    The Croatian international has boundless talent and he'll be expected to harness it on a more regular basis next season.

Juan Manuel Iturbe

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    Paolo Giovannini/Associated Press

    Juan Manuel Iturbe's career initially looked as though it could be over even before it started; such great promise was built up about the "Paraguayan Messi" but he never made the breakthrough at Porto.

    Loans to River Plate and Verona ensued and it is with the latter, during 2013-14, that he has shown his blinding talent at times once more. It's also notable that having been capped by Paraguay several years ago, he has since switched back to the country of his birth, Argentina.

    His decision-making must improve further and 39 chances created in 33 games isn't extraordinary, but some of his on-the-ball work is phenomenal. Iturbe scored eight and completed 99 take-ons in Italian football this season. More of the same, and improvements elsewhere, and he'll really be one to watch in 2014-15.

    Verona signed him permanently a week ago—but could well sell him straight on this summer for a profit, as per Sky Sports.

Lucas Digne

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Paris Saint-Germain's young French left-back Lucas Digne has spent a season largely in the shadow of Maxwell, but he still made 15 league appearances for the Ligue 1 champions and he is in the French World Cup squad.

    He'll be expected to push on next term and perhaps make that spot his own, building on the poise and all-round ability he has shown up until now.

    At 20 years of age time is still on his side, but his talent needs to be nurtured now by playing more regularly. He's capable of it, even at the very highest level.

Kurt Zouma

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    Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

    Another Chelsea youngster on loan now, though Kurt Zouma has only been a player of the Premier League side since January.

    At his "old" club St. Etienne for the campaign, Zouma missed a number of matches in 13-14 through suspension and rotation, but he still played 24 times, including 17 starts.

    He could well be loaned out again next season but there will be plenty of attention on him to see if he can step up to play for Chelsea in due course, with John Terry ageing and David Luiz departing from the centre-back scene.

Cedric Soares, Sporting

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    Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

    Finally, Sporting Lisbon's young Portuguese right-back Cedric Soares enjoyed a terrific campaign all told.

    A quick and energetic player, he gets forward to good effect and crosses the ball well. Comfortable on either foot, he's assured in possession and contributes significantly to the build-up play for his side.

    He's uncapped as yet at international level, though he has been in the squad, and the German-born 22-year-old will be expected to make further impressive progression next term—definitely one to watch at club and international level over the next 12 months.

     

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