Ceballos, Solanke & the young stars to watch in Europe in 2017-18

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Goal runs through 15 players aged 23 or under who look poised to make a real name for themselves this season...


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The new season is already upon us and football fans across Europe's 'Big Five' leagues are looking forward to seeing their favourite players in action again.

However, which lesser known talents should we be keeping an eye out for in 2017-18?

Below, Goal runs through 15 starlets (aged 23 or under) who could be about to make a real name for themselves...


CARLES ALENA (BARCELONA)


Carles Alena Barcelona

Just when it appeared that Barcelona's Masia well had run dry, along comes Carles Alena, a classy Catalan midfielder steeped in the traditions of the club.

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The 19-year-old left-footer grew up idolising Rivaldo but he now tries to model his game on another Blaugrana legend, Andres Iniesta.

Alena has already played and scored for the senior squad, and the club are acutely aware of his value, having handed the Tottenham transfer target a new contract this summer that saw his buy-out clause rise to €75m.


LEON BAILEY (LEVERKUSEN)


Leon  Bailey Leverkusen

Leon Bailey has admitted that he is a "close friend" of Usain Bolt's, so Leverkusen were more than happy to allow the winger to try to persuade the sprinter to move to the BayArena!

However, the German club were less impressed with Bailey's behaviour in April when he stupidly provoked a confrontation with a boxer in Genk that could have ended with more than just the 20-year-old's pride being hurt.

Bailey has as much pace as he has ability, as he so thrillingly showed during the group stage of last season's Europa League.

He has yet to start for Leverkusen since arriving from Genk in January for approximately €13.5m, though, and thus will be determined to show this term just why he was previously being monitored by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.


DANI CEBALLOS (REAL MADRID)


Dani Ceballos Real Madrid

Dani Ceballos may not have collected a winners' medal at the Under-21 European Championships this summer but he did earn himself a move to Real Madrid with his scintillating showings for Spain in Poland.

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After his wondrous display against Italy in the semi-finals, which evoked memories of Andres Iniesta in his prime, the Betis midfielder's future became a huge topic of debate in his homeland.

Despite some previously unsavoury comments about Catalunya, even Barcelona entered the race to sign Ceballos but he always appeared bound for the Bernabeu.

Given the fee involved is reportedly only €17m, the 21-year-old could prove one of the signings of the season.


PATRICK CUTRONE (AC MILAN)


Cutrone Milan Craiova Europa League

"I hope to stay at Milan but the club will decide," Patrick Cutrone said of the prospect of leaving San Siro on loan before the close of the transfer window. "But I’ll do whatever it takes to convince everyone."

In fairness to the 19-year-old, he's doing a fine job of proving his worth to coach Vincenzo Montella by following up an excellent pre-season with the second goal in last weekend's 2-0 win over Craiova in the Europa League.

Whether he spends this season at Milan or at one of Serie A's smaller clubs, the hard-working striker with a keen eye for goal will be well worth tracking.


PHIL FODEN (MAN CITY)


Phil Foden Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has both coached and played alongside a lot of special talents during his illustrious career, so the fact that Phil Foden's first appearance for Manchester City left his boss speechless was quite something.

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"I don't have the words," the Catalan enthused after watching the 17-year-old more than hold his own against the likes of Paul Pogba in the International Champions Cup derby against Manchester United last month.

Gary Neville subsequently annoyed Guardiola by claiming that Foden was at the wrong Manchester club in terms of first-team opportunities, but the former Barcelona coach immediately bit back, insisting that the midfield ace will get chances to impress this season.

He then proved he is a man of his word by including the youngster in his first-team squad for the 2017-18 campaign.


BOUBACAR KAMARA (MARSEILLE)


Boubacar Kamara

Boubacar Kamara has only made one first-team appearance for Marseille but team-mate Remy Cabella is already convinced that the 17-year-old centre-half is destined to play at the very highest level.

"He’ll become a great player," the France international enthused last November. "When you watch him, you wouldn’t say he was only a teenager. He is progressing so quickly."

Cabella isn't the only one impressed by Kamara's potential, as both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund expressed an interested in the young defender before Marseille managed to persuade a homegrown player they view as "a symbol" of their new project to sign a professional deal with the club on May 30.


JORDI MBOULA (MONACO)


Jordi Mboula

Born just outside Barcelona to a Catalan mother and a Congolese father, Jordi Mboula first came to prominence when video footage of a stunning solo strike for the Blaugrana’s Under-19s went viral earlier this year, immediately sparking comparisons with Lionel Messi.

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In truth, though, Mboula is more similar in style and stature to Thierry Henry, so it is perhaps fitting that he is now set to take his first steps in the professional game at Monaco, having joined the Ligue 1 outfit for €3m this summer.

Mboula is by no means the finished article but Barca will likely regret failing to tie the exciting right-sided attacker to a long-term deal before that Messi-like goal made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice.


WESTON MCKENNIE (SCHALKE)


Weston McKennie Schalke U-19

MLS is used to losing promising youngsters to European clubs but when Weston McKennie turned down the offer of a homegrown contract with FC Dalls to sign for Schalke, commissioner Don Garber admitted, "That one hurt."

It's easy to understand why the Texan's departure for Germany hit so hard Stateside.

McKennie is a talented central midfielder who made his Bundesliga debut on the final day of last season and the USA Under-20 international is now being backed by new coach Domenico Tedesco to make a big impact at the Veltins-Arena this term.

All of this and he's still only 18!


REISS NELSON (ARSENAL)


Reiss Nelson Arsenal

The surprise star of Arsenal's pre-season campaign, Reiss Nelson could make his Premier League debut this weekend.

Although the 17-year-old is more accustomed to playing in attack, he was deployed to great effect as a wing-back on the Gunners' tour of Australia and China, and was rewarded with a substitute appearance in last weekend's Community Shield clash with Chelsea.

“He’s had an encouraging pre-season," Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger acknowledged. "He’s shown you can go past people. He’s not fazed."


LORENZO PELLEGRINI (ROMA)


Lorenzo Pellegrini Roma

Monchi made re-signing Lorenzo Pellegrini a priority when he was appointed as Roma's new sporting director earlier this year, so the Spaniard wasted little time in exercising the relatively paltry €10m buy-back clause the Giallorossi had inserted in their former midfielder's contract with Sassuolo.

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"We've signed one of the best prospects in Italian football," Monchi enthused at Pellegrini's official unveiling. He's not wrong about the 21-year-old's potential, either.

Pellegrini showcased his considerable quality during a string of dynamic displays for Italy at the Under-21 European Championship and, now that he is back "home", he is expected to press his claims for a place in the senior squad for the World Cup in Russia.


MILAN SKRINIAR (INTER)


Milan Skriniar Inter

Christian Vieri recently claimed that Inter needed to stop signing "average players" but the first major arrival at Appiano Gentile this summer was a defender of rare quality in Milan Skriniar, a €20m purchase from Sampdoria.

Indeed, the Nerazzurri fans and players have already been hugely impressed with the performances of a player who made the Team of the Tournament at the 2017 Under-21 European Championship.

"He's a good lad, who has enormous potential," Miranda said of his fellow defender, who, such is his talent on the ball, can also be deployed in midfield.


DOMINIC SOLANKE (LIVERPOOL)


HD Dominic Solanke

Liverpool had prised Dominic Solanke away from Chelsea with the intention of using him mainly in their Under-23 team this year.

However, after picking up the Golden Ball for his outstanding performances during England's Under-20 World Cup win, the striker then promptly set about showing that he could immediately play an important role in the Reds' senior squad by racking up three goals in pre-season.

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“He is a really skilled boy," Klopp enthused. "He has to improve, of course, but a lot of things are already really good: first touch, movement."

If the injury-prone Daniel Sturridge weren’t already worried about his first-team prospects, he will be now.


CARLOS SOLER (VALENCIA)


Carlos Soler Valencia

Carlos Soler was a childhood prodigy but he was an introverted kid and he only started playing for his local side, Querubin, because his grandfather promised to buy him a Game Boy.

Within a couple of years, the midfielder had been picked up by Valencia, where he has been ever since, meaning he immediately became a fan favourite at Mestalla when he broke into the first team last season.

Soler's sensational performances caught the attention of a number of top clubs, including Manchester United, so Los Che responded extending the 20-year-old's contract until 2021 and increasing his buy-out clause to €80m.


ENES UNAL (VILLARREAL)


Enes Unal FC Twente

Enes Unal never made a single appearance for the first team during his two years on Manchester City's books but he impressed sufficiently during a loan spell at FC Twente last season to earn himself a €15m move to Villarreal this summer.

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Indeed, his 18 goals in 32 Eredivisie appearances even made City reluctant to let the 20-year-old Turkey international leave on a permanent transfer.

However, the Etihad outfit ultimately allowed him to depart as Villarreal agreed to a €25m buy-back clause that means another impressive season, this time in Spain, could yet see him end up back in Manchester.

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DAN-AXEL ZAGADOU (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)


Dan-Axel Zagadou Dortmund

Arguably the one problem with Paris Saint-Germain's policy of stockpiling expensive, world-class players is that the club's youngsters are now realising that first-team opportunities are going to prove even harder to come by. 

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That is precisely why Dan-Axel Zagadou departed for Borussia Dortmund this summer.

"I have deliberately opted for BVB because this big club always succeeds in integrating young players and developing them at the highest level," the France Under-18 captain stated after arriving at Signal Iduna Park following the expiration of PSG deal.

As a result, Dortmund have now landed themselves an incredibly promising centre-back who had also been courted by Manchester City.

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