European Golden Boys XI: Dembele and Havertz Continue to Shine Brightly
Bleacher Report is embarking on unearthing the talents of the future, and we will showcase them each week in our Golden Boys XI.
In order to be eligible to feature in this side, the players must have been born in 1997 or later.
It's a narrow field, but there are plenty of young talents out there, and it's our pleasure to highlight them.
The team—in an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation on this occasion—is selected in conjunction with WhoScored.com, from where all stats are referenced unless otherwise indicated.
Goalkeeper: Alban Lafont, Toulouse
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.25
Alban Lafont's reputation continues to burgeon. This weekend's clean sheet against Paris Saint-Germain wasn't particularly hard-fought, but it meant the young Burkinabe has kept the reigning champions out in both fixtures played against them this season.
He displayed good reflexes in making a couple of excellent stops—one early on for Lucas Moura's goal-bound strike was particularly impressive—but did make one rash decision to come for a corner that was promptly headed past him. Fortunately for Lafont, Presnel Kimpembe (of PSG!) was there to stop it on the line as he couldn't get out of the way.
Left-Back: Theo Hernandez, Alaves
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.01
Theo Hernandez helped his Alaves side keep yet another clean sheet and clock up another of his increasingly regular appearances as left-back for our weekly team.
It wasn’t a spectacular or all-action display, but rather one where Alaves sensibly tried to stay tight away from home and keep shape. Theo was part of that, surging down the wing on occasion but mostly being withdrawn, defensively assured and stopping Deportivo La Coruna getting crosses in.
His passing was sensible for the most part, and he was always in support for his team-mates as an outlet. Hernandez's performance was nothing flashy, but it was a sign of his growing maturity as a regular first-team player.
Centre-Back: Issa Diop, Toulouse
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.14
Toulouse's 0-0 draw with Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday was earned largely thanks to defensive concentration, as the southerners spent long spells without the ball. PSG's 77 percent possession felt like 97 percent at times.
While Toulouse centre-back Jullien made L'Equipe's Team of the Week for his impressive showing, his young partner Issa Diop makes our Golden Boys XI for a similarly disciplined showing. He made five interceptions and four clearances, standing tall and hacking clear where necessary.
Centre-Back: Martin Hongla, Granada
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.20
One of the biggest shocks of the weekend came as early as Friday, as lowly Granada put four—four!—past Andalucian rivals Real Betis to transform the outlook on their season.
Manager Lucas Alcaraz has migrated to a three-man defence for extra solidity in the midst of a relegation fight, and that's opened up the chance for 18-year-old Martin Hongla to feature.
He performed superbly against Betis in what was only his second senior start, racking up two tackles, three interceptions and six clearances as El Grana rode out periods of pressure.
Right-Back: Benjamin Henrichs, Bayer Leverkusen
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.56
A regular feature in our XI, Bayer Leverkusen's Benjamin Henrichs has received attention as a potential replacement for Bayern Munich's retiring Philipp Lahm, per local paper Abendzeitung (link in German), and it is easy to see why the perennial champions might be interested in the 19-year-old.
Much like Lahm did during the early stages of his career, Henrichs shows a maturity beyond his years on the pitch and has intriguing positional versatility. Against FC Augsburg on Friday, he once again shut down Leverkusen's right defensive side without any difficulties and chimed in to the team's impressive attacking display with a number of runs down the flank and, per WhoScored.com, played two key passes.
Defensive Midfield: Ruben Neves, Porto
WhoScored.com Rating: 8.67
More than a month on from his last start, Ruben Neves was given the chance to play for FC Porto against bottom club Tondela—and he delivered in style to remind of his enormous potential.
The opposition may have been poor, but Neves' intent was clear from the first whistle: He played aggressively and on the front foot, passing quickly between the lines and driving forward from deep whenever possible.
While the main portion of his game involved taking the ball off the centre-backs, he also pushed higher when the opposition tried to clear their lines, which is precisely what led to his shooting chance in the second half.
Neves made no mistake, rifling in a tremendous top-corner shot from 25 yards—just reward for his excellent display.
Defensive Midfield: Lucas Tousart, Lyon
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.26
Lyon's 4-2 victory over Dijon this weekend was a game in which contrasting fortunes were experienced by the old guard and the new.
Maxime Gonalons, captain of the club and chief of the midfield corps, was substituted off in the 70th minute having made a grievous error that cost Lyon a goal earlier on.
Receiving possession on the edge of his own box from a goal kick, his slack pass was intercepted by Anthony Belmonte, then smashed home by Lois Diony.
Gonalons' midfield partner, Lucas Tousart, put in a performance that couldn't have been more different. Composed on the ball, decisive in his actions and hungry for possession, fans are revelling in yet another OL youngster breaking into the senior side in style.
Attacking Midfield: Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen
WhoScored.com Rating: 8.45
The legend of Kai Havertz is growing rapidly, as the 17-year-old put together another mightily impressive performance in the Bundesliga.
In only his sixth start of the campaign, the elegant midfielder was perhaps the best player on the pitch against Augsburg, providing a pair of wonderful assists for Karim Bellarabi, who scored the 50,000th goal in Bundesliga history, and Chicharito to put the game on ice shortly after the hosts got one back midway through the second half.
It boggles the mind that Havertz is yet to finish school, seeing as he plays like a veteran and serves as an attacking outlet for Leverkusen, as the team-leading 75 touches and four key passes, both per WhoScored, indicate.
Attacking Midfield: Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina
WhoScored.com Rating: 7.47
Fiorentina may have lost to AC Milan on Sunday evening, but that did not stop Federico Chiesa from delivering yet another highly effective performance for La Viola.
The 19-year-old laid on a simple goal for Nikola Kalinic shortly after the home side had taken the lead at San Siro, but there was a suspicion he may have been offside before he delivered an excellent ball for the Croatia striker.
However, statistics taken from WhoScored show that Chiesa completed three successful take-ons and registered one tackle and one clearance while once again being deployed in an unfamiliar wide role by coach Paulo Sousa.
That did not prevent him from turning in this latest eye-catching performance, however, and the Fiorentina youth product will hope to retain his place in the side regardless of where the Portuguese boss opts to field him.
Attacking Midfield: Ousmane Dembele, Borussia Dortmund
Whoscored.com Rating: 8.56
By his lofty standards, Ousmane Dembele almost had a quiet match against VfL Wolfsburg. He did not make one of his trademark runs that turn defenders into slalom poles and, especially during the first half, squandered possession a few times too many with unsure touches and a certain tardiness of his mind.
Of course, he only went and provided an assist for right-back turned goal-getter Lukasz Piszczek, hit the woodwork with a delicate cross for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and scored his fifth goal of the season with a bouncing header, all in the span of 14 minutes after the half-time break.
This kind of production on an otherwise somewhat-nondescript afternoon once again showed the immense quality of the 19-year-old, who has taken Dortmund and, really, Germany, by storm.
Forward: Malcom, Bordeaux
WhoScored.com Rating: 8.65
Malcom is a player attracting admiring glances, according to Metro's Sean Kearns, and performances such as the one he delivered against Guingamp will only increase the buzz around him.
His jinking runs and sweet left foot caused poor Dorian Leveque, Guingamp's right-back, all sorts of issues, leading him to a yellow card and an early substitution.
Malcom turned him inside and out, dug out good crosses from the flank, smacked the bar with a thunderous effort from outside the box and assisted Nicolas Pallois' header with a beauty of a corner.