The future is bright for the 50 members of Goal’s NxGn list of the best footballers under the age of 19.
Some of the rising stars that feature in our rankings, however, are already making their mark in the world’s top leagues.
With the help of the stats featured on the Goal+ app for Samsung devices, below Goal compares the two highest-ranked NxGn players in each position who are already showing what they can do in the senior game.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma vs. Alban Lafont
With only Benfica’s Mile Svilar challenging them on our NxGn list, it’s fair to say that Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alban Lafont are a cut above the rest when it comes to the world’s best teenage goalkeepers.
Both Donnarumma and Lafont are already established first-team regulars in top European leagues. The Italian has made 28 appearances for Milan in Serie A this season, while France youth international Lafont has played 30 games for Toulouse in Ligue 1.
And their statistical profiles are similar, too. Lafont has a slight edge when it comes to parentage of shots saved (68.2 per cent compared to Donnarumma’s 67.7%) but both have kept 10 clean sheets so far this season. Milan have conceded 1.14 goals per league game with Donnarumma compared to 1.36 per game for Toulouse and Lafont.
There are some more substantial differences, though. Lafont is the more aggressive goalkeeper, for example, having come out to sweep up behind his defence 25 times during the current campaign. That’s the sixth-highest number in Europe’s top-five leagues. Donnarumma is cut from the more traditional Italian cloth, having recorded just eight keeper sweepings.
Defenders: Matthijs de Ligt vs. Malang Sarr
Starring in central defence in a top league as a teenager is quite an ask, but Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt and Nice’s Malang Sarr are doing exactly that.
De Ligt hit the headlines when he made his first start for the Netherlands at just 17-years-old last year, following just two league appearances for Ajax. Substituted at half-time in a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria, it wasn’t quite the dream debut De Ligt would have hoped.
Throwing him in so early was a questionable decision on the part of then-coach Danny Blind, but the 18-year-old’s talent is in no doubt. Ajax have conceded just 24 goals in the 27 league games De Ligt has played in this season, keeping 10 clean sheets. He leads the team’s defenders in interceptions (49), clearances (121) and passing accuracy (89.6%). And he is made in the Ajax mould: among Eredivisie defenders, he has played the third-most passes per 90 minutes (65).
Sarr, however, might well be having an even more impressive season. Nice’s defensive record has not been as good as Ajax’s, but what is notable is that they concede fewer goals when Sarr is on the pitch. Nice have conceded just 18 goals in 17 games with the 19-year-old at the heart of their defence, whereas his vastly more experienced team-mate Dante has been the victim of 41 goals in 25 matches.
Sarr can play out from the back like an Ajax graduate, too: among Ligue 1 defenders who have played 15 games or more this season, only Dani Alves and Thiago Silva have played more passes per 90 minutes.
Midfielders: Kai Havertz vs. Ryan Sessegnon
There are a number of midfielders near the top of our NxGn list still waiting to nail down a place in their respective first teams, such as Manchester City duo Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz.
Two players in the top 10, however, have had the opportunity to show what they can do right from the off.
At Bayer Leverkusen, 18-year-old playmaker Kai Havertz has drawn comparisons to Mesut Ozil. Havertz has created 1.22 chances per 90 minutes this season, which is second only to star winger Karim Bellarabi among Leverkusen midfielders. The teenager is carving out opportunities at a similar rate to Borussia Dortmund prodigy Christian Pulisic, who is nine months his elder.
And at English second-tier club Fulham, wide-man Ryan Sessegnon continues to add zeros to his price tag. Sessegnon has split his season between the left wing and left-back, making 19 appearances at each position. But despite being flipped back and forth, he has managed to notch a remarkable 14 goals and five assists at the tender age of 17.
Forwards: Justin Kluivert vs. Moise Kean
Amid another talented crop of youngsters making the first-team breakthrough at Ajax, there is one name in particular that stands out.
Justin Kluivert, the son of Ajax legend Patrick, is a very different player than his father was, but is making just as much noise as a teenager. While Kluivert Sr. was an out-and-out striker, Justin cuts in from the left as an inside forward. At age 18-years-old, he is drawing links to Manchester United and looks to have a shot at a similarly illustrious career.
Kluivert has scored seven goals in 24 league games this season and makes his mark in the final third in a number of different ways. He is fourth in the Eredivisie in dribbles attempted (146) and in the top 20 for shots on target (23) and chances created (41).
At another European superpower, much hope is pinned on 18-year-old Juventus striker Moise Kean. On loan to Verona this season, he is having to fight against the tide at a club struggling in 19th place.
He is holding his own, though. Kean is Verona’s joint-top scorer, alongside veteran Giampaolo Pazzini, on four goals and leads the team in touches in the opposition box. The Vercelli-born forward is the youngest outfield player to play more than 15 games in Serie A this season by just under two years.