Profiling 20 UEFA Youth League Stars Who Can Go to the Next Level
The UEFA Youth League draws to its conclusion this weekend, with Chelsea, FC Porto, Barcelona and Manchester City travelling to Nyon, Switzerland, for the semi-finals on Friday.
The winners of the two ties will contest the final on Monday, fighting for the right to be crowned kings of Europe—at an under-19 level.
B/R has been keeping an eye on the tournament and picking out impressive young starlets as the months have worn on, and here we present 20 who stand a good chance of reaching the next level. That's senior football at the least, and perhaps outright stardom at its peak.
Some have already started climbing that ladder—you will recognise Jadon Sancho's name, among others—while some have featured a little more sparingly due to other commitments.
One thing you will notice quickly is that the glut of talent at English clubs is particularly strong, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in particular boasting some stellar prospects. There could have been more included too, but we set a limit at 10 representatives from Premier League sides to add variety to the list.
20. Francesco Antonucci, 18, AM, Monaco & Belgium
Antonucci's ease in the tight spots the No. 10 role offers has stood out during this year's UEFA Youth League, and he has sliced a fair few defences open—including Tottenham Hotspur's—during Monaco's respectable run to the round of 16.
19. Dujon Sterling, RWB, Chelsea & England
It's hard to say exactly which position Dujon Sterling will end up in at senior level; when the time comes for a breakthrough, the right-wing-back slot he loves may not exist at Chelsea.
A physical, forceful dribbler, a handy crosser and an aggressive tackler, he has all the raw tools but may need some finessing tactically if it comes to choosing between right-back and right wing. He will probably end up at the former.
18. Mateu Morey, 18, RB, Barcelona & Spain
Mateu Morey was used a little sparingly during the UEFA Youth League this season, but his performances for Spain's under-17s have filled in the blanks.
An incredibly active full-back, he's developed a knack of scoring goals and shown obvious intelligence when it comes to finding space to work in.
17. Che Nunnely, 19, Wing, Ajax & Netherlands
Ajax appear to have an overload of talented young wingers, with Justin Kluivert and David Neres in the first team, then Nunnely in the Jong squad. The 19-year-old boasts quickness, a lovely deft touch, good speed and a quality cross from the right flank.
16. Jordi Mboula, 19, Wing, Monaco & Spain
Soon after Mboula scored this crazy goal for Barcelona's youth setup, he traded Catalonia for Monaco, perhaps seeing a clearer path to the first team. Since making the move, he's been doing more of the same: incredible solo dribbles and eye-popping finishes.
15. Rhian Brewster, 18, ST, Liverpool & England
It felt like Brewster had the world at his feet last summer, having secured the Under-17 World Cup Golden Boot after firing England to victory. His penalty-box instincts, movement and poaching ability looked second to none, and he worked hard across the front line too.
Unfortunately, injury has struck hard and he's had two operations this term, per This Is Anfield. Fingers crossed he's back for an important pre-season to re-establish his talent.
14. Oliver Skipp, 17, CM, Tottenham Hotspur & England
It's difficult not to appreciate Skipp's uncanny knack of dominating whichever game he's placed into. He might not be the biggest, and he's often playing against players several years his senior, but he brings them under command and sets the tone in the centre. That trait translates very well to senior football.
13. Diogo Dalot, 19, RB, FC Porto & Portugal
The footballing world is a little short on excellent crossers right now, but Dalot is hard at work filling that void. Naturally a right-sider but fully capable of filling in on the left—as he has for the senior Porto side at times—he's a powerful, tenacious runner who creates and defends.
12. Juan Miranda, 18, LB, Barcelona & Spain
At first glance you wouldn't think Miranda has the build for a full-back—he's quite large for his position (just over 6'0")—but he uses his size well, hustling up and down the flank and powering in accurate crosses, high or low.
11. Curtis Jones, 17, CM/AM, Liverpool & England
Jones is such a silky-smooth operator. Creating space comes easy to him, and his quick feet and body feints often mislead opposing markers. He's able to dig himself out of holes with deft passes and back-heels, the weight on his deliveries is great, and he has hit double figures for goals this term.
What more can you really ask?
10. Joao Felix, 18, AM/Wing, Benfica & Portugal
Joao Felix boasts one of the most mesmerising, golden touches you will encounter in a footballer this year.
It's a fantastic trait to have, putting you at an immediate advantage when controlling and moving the ball, and he uses it frequently to flummox markers.
His little touches and first-time taps round the corner have been setting runners free into space for both Benfica B and Portugal's youth teams this season. And while he's been best utilised off the left flank in the past, he's now featuring in a more central role and seeing more of the ball as a result.
A reasonable dribbler and a surprisingly efficient goalscorer, it's only his lack of tenacity or aggression that causes concern at this stage.
9. Trevoh Chalobah, 18, CB, Chelsea & England
Trevoh Chalobah, brother of Watford's Nathaniel, is a towering presence at centre-back who boasts the sort of physical traits managers go crazy for.
Strong yet rapid, he can step up and win duels despite his slender frame, or race strikers back into the channels and cover. It remains to be seen how much speed is retained as his build fills out, but the early signs are promising.
On the ball his long passing is good, his ability to carry it out of defence is excellent, and his state of mind while playing is the perfect picture of calm.
8. Alec Georgen, 19, RB, Paris Saint-Germain & France
Alec Georgen has had an unproductive 2017-18, setting him back slightly, but he's got plenty of time to get things back on track. The 19-year-old needs to find a club with a style that matches his—patient, probing and dominant on the ball.
There are hints of Philipp Lahm in the way Georgen carefully assesses his options and chooses the correct one. Sometimes that means hanging on to it and checking back inside, sometimes it means the overlap's on.
Some may describe him as cautious, but really he's just incredibly smart.
7. Sergio Gomez, 17, Wing, Borussia Dortmund & Spain
Sergio Gomez was given his senior Borussia Dortmund debut on April 8 against Stuttgart, and it took him just one minute to demonstrate what he's capable of.
Receiving the ball on the cusp of the final third, he spotted Jadon Sancho running in behind the full-back and slid a perfect ball into his path, taking four players out of the game in the process.
His confidence and ability should come as no surprise; this is the player who won the 2017 Under-17 World Cup silver ball for his brilliant performances for Spain. He scored a beauty of a volley in that tournament and hinted at set-piece prowess, too.
6. Ben Woodburn, 18, AM/Wing, Liverpool & Wales
"Look at his composure. He's only 17!" Craig Bellamy said of Ben Woodburn in September (h/t the Liverpool Echo), having just watched the youngster make his senior Wales debut and score a peach of a goal.
It was a true breakout moment, and he followed it up days later with an imperious run and cross to set up a Hal Robson-Kanu goal. Opinions of him changed that week.
If you give Woodburn some freedom to operate and interpret pockets of space, good things will happen. He lets the ball do the work, instigating quick one-twos and drifting around instead of constantly dribbling forward. He's always finding space on the blind side of defenders.
His talents haven't been utilised by Jurgen Klopp this season due to a lack of need, but with any luck he can become a role player in the Liverpool squad in 2018-19. He's certainly ready for it.
5. Brahim Diaz, 18, AM, Manchester City & Spain
Brahim Diaz has been on a fair few radars for some time now, and ideally we will see him incorporated into the Manchester City first team properly in 2018-19 or perhaps loaned to Girona for minutes.
He cuts a tiny figure on the pitch, his low centre of gravity allowing him to shift away from markers quickly and skip away with the ball, and his eye for a pass or one-two sequence is fantastic.
He has been likened to David Silva in the past and it's easy to see why. Hopefully, like the Spain international, Brahim can add more of a goal threat to his game or there is a chance—as fantastic as he looks—that he takes the Oliver Torres route instead.
4. Callum Hudson-Odoi, 17, Wing/AM, Chelsea & England
One of the most lethal players profiled here, Callum Hudson-Odoi is progressing quickly into one hell of a player.
A star for England in their under-17 successes last year and a menace for Chelsea's youth teams at the moment, he has even made his senior debut under Antonio Conte this term.
At ease in any position across the advanced midfield line, he's a dribbling and shooting threat who is so quick across the ground that it sometimes feels like he can't be stopped.
In a game plan where he's allowed to start centrally and roam wide to find pockets of space, he will deliver the goods.
3. Yacine Adli, 17, CM, Paris Saint-Germain & France
There are some players you just can't help but love to watch: Yacine Adli is one of them.
An intelligent, marauding central midfielder, he sweeps across the pitch in a fashion that suggests he's well aware he is his side's key man. Technically tidy and in possession of a wonderful passing range, he clips balls into space for runners in an almost unique way.
If you let him get his head up and spot a pass, it's game over.
2. Phil Foden, 17, CM/AM, Manchester City & England
That Phil Foden will carve out a career at the top level doesn't seem to be in doubt.
Pep Guardiola has waxed lyrical about the player on multiple occasions—"He is a gift...he is on another level," the Manchester City manager said in October, per TalkSport—and he has found a reasonable amount of playing time for him in City's fixture list this year.
An incredibly smart midfielder, Foden has shown he can run a game and dictate the rhythm of proceedings from a central position, or he can dip in off the flank and play cutting through balls into the channels for runners.
He's a scorer, a creator and a standard-setter.
1. Jadon Sancho, 18, Wing, Borussia Dortmund & England
It's quite the compliment to say Jadon Sancho is arguably the most talented player of England's 2000-born group. It's one that includes Phil Foden and Callum Hudson-Odoi, after all.
The fleet-footed winger traded Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund last summer, sensing more prominent first-team opportunities in Germany. And after a half-season getting up to speed, he's been given those.
That hasn't stopped him from starring for Dortmund in the UEFA Youth League, though, with his mesmeric dribbling ability and cool finishing a cut above at that level.
Of all the players on this list, Sancho feels the most guaranteed to star at the top level. There's just something about the way he tip-toes forward with the ball, slaloming left and right and putting markers in his rear-view mirror.
Few others have the sort of natural ability he does.
All statistics via WhoScored.com