Bakkali, Depay & Rekik - PSV wonderkids give AC Milan reason to worry

The Eredivisie giants lost several key players in the summer transfer window but their stars of tomorrow have impressed in the opening exchanges of the new season
By Stefan Coerts

When AC Milan were paired with PSV in Friday's draw for the Champions League play-off, confidence among the Rossoneri players and fans must have been high in making it to the group stages.

Not only have Eredivisie sides struggled in Europe recently but PSV also lost numerous key players this summer to make them a favourable opponent for any top team. 

The Eindhoven side opted to cash in on stars such as Kevin Strootman (Roma), Dries Mertens (Napoli) and Jeremain Lens (Dinamo Kiev), while first-team regulars like Boy Waterman, Erik Pieters, Atiba Hutchinson, Wilfred Bouma, Marcelo and Mark van Bommel all said farewell to the club, too. 

PSV did bring in Adam Maher, Jeffrey Bruma and Stijn Schaars to add some much-needed experience to their team but their new philosophy is largely based on the idea that they want to give youngsters the chance to prove their worth rather than bringing in expensive older players. 

Their keenness to develop the stars of tomorrow was illustrated by the average age of the team that took on Belgian runners-up Zulte Waregem in the third round of the Champions League qualification: a mere 21 years old.

PSV took it a step further in their 5-0 demolition of NEC at the weekend, though, as the 22-year-old Georginio Wijnaldum was the side's oldest player.  

Goal takes a look at some of the teenagers who have impressed in the opening stages of the 2013-14 campaign and could cause Milan problems in their upcoming Champions League playoff tie.

Date of birth: 26 January, 1996

Place of birth: Liege, Belgium
Position: Winger

Contract: 2015

Dribbling, creativity, finishing
Height Weight Club National team
Former clubs
 1.64m 60 kg PSV Capped at U21 level Standard Liege

A month ago Bakkali was a virtual unknown to many but now the Belgian attacker is seen as one of the most exciting prospects in the Eredivisie.

The 17-year-old sprung to life last week, scoring for PSV in a Champions League qualifier against Zulte, receiving a call-up for Belgium and rounding off a fine seven days with a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over NEC to be named Goal's World Player of the Week.

Bakkali started his footballing career in Belgium at RFC de Liege and Standard Liege before making the decision to join the PSV academy at just 12 years old.

His immense potential did not go unnoticed with clubs across Europe, including Manchester United and Manchester City, monitoring his progress before the age of 16.

The youngster opted against a move from Holland, though, and signed a three-year deal with the Eredivisie giants. 

After already making the match squad for the first time in 2012-13, his decision to stay at PSV is starting to pay dividends this term as Bakkali is seemingly on his way to becoming a sensation.

Head coach Phillip Cocu is a keen admirer of the teenager and, giving the way in which Bakkali has started the campaign, he is sure to be a genuine contender for a regular first-team start this season.

Date of birth: 13 February, 1994

Place of birth: Moordrecht, Netherlands
Position: Winger

Contract: 2017

Dribbling, shooting, crossing
Height Weight Club National team
Former clubs
 1.76m 70 kg PSV Capped at U21 level Sparta

Depay was one of the star performers of the Netherlands Under-17s team crowned European champions in May 2011 and the young winger seemed to have a bright future ahead of him, especially after putting in a number of impressive substitute cameos throughout the 2011-12 campaign. 

However, the 19-year-old's progress began to stutter as he struggled to break into the first team last season because of competition for places from the likes of Mertens, Lens and Luciano Narsingh.

Depay made 20 Eredivisie appearances, mostly coming off the bench, but found it difficult to impress then-head coach Dick Advocaat.

It appears that this season, however, could be when the versatile attacker secures his status as one of the most exciting youngsters around in the Dutch top flight, with the departure of Mertens opening up a first-team role and boosting his confidence.

The Netherlands Under-21s starlet was compared to Milan star Robinho when he first entered the stage because of his flair and creativity but Depay's style has changed, becoming much more efficient and direct, illustrated by his stunning goal in the 2-0 win over Zulte.

Date of birth: 2 February, 1994

Place of birth: Den Haag
Position: Centre-back

Contract: On loan from Man City

Marking, heading, passing
Height Weight Club National team
Former clubs
 1.86m 79 kg PSV Capped at U19 level Feyenoord, Portsmouth, Blackburn, Man City

PSV's Achilles heel in recent years has been their vulnerability in defence but the arrival of Rekik on a one-year loan deal seems to have initially solved their problems.

The centre-back is widely regarded as one of Netherlands' top defensive prospects and has had little trouble living up to the high expectations in his first few weeks at the Eindhoven giants. 

Like Depay, Rekik also excelled at the 2011 U-17 Euros and the left-footed defender even earned himself a transfer from Feyenoord to Manchester City later that summer.

However, securing regular first-team football at the Premier League giants straight away appeared to be too much of a challenge but Rekik did show plenty of promise.

He made his official first-team debut at the tender age of 16, before being farmed out on loan to Portsmouth and Blackburn, respectively, in the past two seasons.

His desire to play football at the highest level led him to Eindhoven this summer and has already impressed with his aerial prowess, forceful defending and confidence on the ball.

Admittedly, top-class strikers are hard to come by in the Eredivisie, so he will have to up his game in the tie versus Milan.

However, having locked horns with Mario Balotelli more than once during training at Man City, he could come in rather handy later in August.