It is football’s biggest stage and making an impression can elevate a player’s reputation and secure a transfer to a larger club; do well at the World Cup, and clubs will want to buy you. This applies most to younger players, whose exposure to the world’s eyes at the tournament can mark their transition from hotly-tipped potential to fully fledged wonder-kid. And this tournament will be no different. Here are five young players who can make an impact and increase their attractiveness and value to big clubs in Europe’s top five leagues.
An Eredivisie winner this season with PSV Eindhoven, Lozano weighed in with almost 20% of the Dutch side’s goals and also assisted eight times in a stellar season. There is no doubt that calling Lozano one of the players to watch in Russia is an obvious call, but sometimes one has to state the obvious. He has everything you could want in an attacking wide player: quick, positioning astute, capable of playing anywhere across the front three, and with an eye for goal.
Lozano is comfortable playing on the left and cutting inside to shoot from his stronger foot, or stretching the play wide on the right before pulling quick, whipped crosses back across the box, which should suit a striker like Javier Hernandez. However, Lozano’s strength is a wide player who scores – he has a Thomas Muller-like ability to drift into space created by others’ movements before popping up to score. Mexico are a curate’s egg: they have talent, but Juan Carlos Osorio can overcomplicate his tactics and make odd selections. One thing should be certain, though: Lozano will impress.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia; midfielder)
Golovin has been excellent this season for CSKA Moscow and will hope to show his abilities on home soil in an exciting midfield. Alongside the Miranchuk twins, Alexei and Anton, Russia has some strong attacking midfield prospects who could do well in Russia, should Stanislav Cherchesov trust youth and flair rather than international experience.
Golovin generally plays on the left side of a midfield three but gets forwards regularly into the half-spaces, using his right-footedness to cut inside and create shooting opportunities. His long crossing is a weakness, but his dribbling and skill means that he often gets into good positions; he also shows a good positional awareness when creating space for others with his movement. Golovin won the UEFA under 17 European Championship with Russia in 2013 and his progress has been monitored ever since. This World Cup could be the setting for his jump to the big time.
Ismaila Sarr (Senegal; forward)
A right-footed left winger, Rennes’ Ismaila Sarr scored five as the side finished an unexpected fifth in Ligue 1 this season. He netted a lovely goal against Croatia as Senegal fell to a 2-1 loss in a pre-World Cup friendly as well, controlling a through ball with his right foot then tucking a shot past the advancing goalkeeper with his left.
Sarr is quick, direct, and has inevitably drawn a comparison with Sadio Mane, his countryman and another right-footed player who drifts in from the left to create and score. Sarr is, if anything, more versatile, able to play across the front line; his height makes him a strong aerial threat, for example, while his ability to burst into space from a deeper, wide position means he can pose a danger wherever he lines up. Senegal boat a potent attacking line-up up, with Mane, Keita Balde (another excellent young player), and Moussa Sow, but should Sarr get the chance, he will give any defence in the tournament a headache.
Alvaro Odriozola (Spain; defender)
Real Sociedad are unlikely to hold on to Odriozola; the main question seems to be where the wing-back will end up, rather than when. A graduate of the Real Sociedad academy, he cemented his place in the starting line-up this season and has also played through the ranks in Spain’s international youth set-up, and quickly impressed.
An attacking wing-back or right-back, Odriozola has played on the right-hand side of midfield and as a winger in his progression to the first team. Real Sociedad’s attacking, possession-based 4-3-3 sees him granted with the licence to push forward on the overlap, where his athleticism and direct running style mean he is a danger despite his nominally defensive position. He is no slouch as a defender, either, and he’s been clocked running 34.9 km/h, so his recovery is excellent. He should get game time for Spain in Russia, too, even if only as a sub. Building on a great season in La Liga, Odriozola will impress with his directness and speed – let the bidding commence.
Duje Caleta-Car (Croatia; defender)
Caleta-Car is very much a second choice centre-back behind Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka of Lokomotiv Moscow, but, as he showed against Brazil in the recent pre-tournament friendly, the 21-year-old Red Bull Salzburg player can more than hold his own at this level.
Generally used to playing on the left-hand side of either a two or three man back line, Caleta-Car can also play as a right-sided centre-back, sound in the air and with a decent range of passing. His possessional play is tidy, by and large looking for a short option, but he can go longer with accuracy to launch counter-attacks. He is a capable front foot defender, better when either marking closely or stepping out to intercept the ball, and he rarely goes to the ground unless making a recovery tackle. There are a few positional issues to iron out: Caleta-Car can get caught out a bit if a player has some room in which to run at him, and he occasionally gets turned too easily. These are things that will likely improve with age, though, and in every other respect, he looks a very strong prospect.
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