19 / ITALY / LIVORNO
BY MATTHEW SANTANGELO
The turbulent summer of 2017 saw AC Milan sold by longtime president Silvio Berlusconi, ushering in a new era at a club in dire need of a facelift. Under new Chinese ownership, the Italian giants began shuffling the deck, welcoming front office personnel Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli to reboot and relaunch the Rossoneri back into the upper echelon of Europe.
But, between all of the signings made, the bombshell announcement that teenage wonderkid Gianluigi Donnarumma would not be signing a contract extension threatened to throw a massive wrench in the project and forced all involved to consider a future without the Castellammare di Stabia native.
Despite reconsidering, super-agent Mino Raiola softening his stance, and Donnarumma penning a new deal to keep him at the club until 2021, many fans were introduced to another goalkeeper in the system Berlusconi quoted being just as good: Alessandro Plizzari.
Born and bred with red and black in his veins, Plizzari spent a full season on loan in 2017-18 with Serie B outfit Ternana for seasoning, only to underwhelmingly concede 40 goals in 20 total appearances. On the back of that failed spell, however, the Class of ‘00 ‘portiere’ has since taken his international opportunities in stride, demonstrating his quick reflexes, positioning and nimble goalkeeping play as Italy’s savior at the 2018 U19 European Championship and 2019 U20 World Cup in successive summers.
Make no mistake about it. Plizzari possesses all the means and potential to be a starter on the peninsula down the line. Provided he is afforded the proper environment out from Donnarumma’s imposing shadow off a sparkling cameo this summer to seek progression and log the important minutes to command his post, the 19-year old can be the latest out of Italy’s goalkeeping assembly line to make a name for himself in the top flight.
MATTHEW IS THE CO-HOST OF THE STATE OF PLAY PODCAST AS WELL AS THE CO-FOUNDER OF MILAN BROTHERS. HE HAS FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE GUARDIAN, FOOTBALL ITALIA AND THESE FOOTBALL TIMES, MAINLY FOCUSING ON ITALIAN FOOTBALL.
19 / GERMANY / HOFFENHEIM
BY JASMINA SCHWEIMLER
Lena Lattwein from Hoffenheim is only 19-years-old but already plays a very important role for the Bundesliga club, slowly but surely shaping a new German generation full of up-and-coming talents. She joined the Bundesliga side in 2017 from FC Saarbrücken and immediately left an impact competing in 15 games in her first season for Hoffenheim.
Last season, where Hoffenheim were one of the biggest surprises by playing amazing and competitive football and finishing sixth in the table, Lattwein took part in a total of 20 games, starting in 19 of them. Her performances also earned her a call up to the German National Team where she made her debut in November 2018 against Italy. She was also a part of the extended squad for the World Cup under Martina Voss-Tecklenburgs watch but didn’t get called up after all.
She has established as a coordinator in Hoffenheim’s midfield, impressing and influencing teammates with her calmness on the pitch. The German can read the game well and spot empty space in the opponent’s half. If she continues playing like she did before she doesn’t have to fear for a spot in the Hoffenheim squad at all.
Considering she takes free kicks the team and the staff trusts her. Lattwein is also known for being very reflective of her performances and is aware of things she must improve. One thing she needs to work on is the physical aspect. The Bundesliga is a very physical league and in order to keep up, she must keep an eye on that.
The amount of responsibility she gets to enjoy at the club and the fact she is already so far and mature for her age will make her part of the generation that will win titles in the future. And the next season will be important: the club aims for more and she can prove a point against the best.
JASMINA IS A GERMAN WOMEN’S FOOTBALL JOURNALIST AND CURRENTLY COVERS VFL WOLFSBURG’S WOMEN’S TEAM FOR WOLFSBURGER ALLEGEMEINE AND SPORTBUZZER.
23 / FRANCE / BAYERN MUNICH
BY RONAN MURPHY
With seven league titles in the last seven seasons across three countries, Kingsley Coman should be regarded as one of the most successful players in recent memory. He has eight other cup and super cup medals too, but injuries have meant that he has played just 102 league games in his career to date.
The 23-year-old’s best return was 24 league games in 2015-16 (one for Juventus, 23 for Bayern Munich), but he has yet to be able to stay fit for an entire campaign. Coman’s career has been so blighted by various problems that he even said that he might have to retire if he got another serious setback.
However, retirement is not an option for Coman or Bayern Munich, with the German giants having seen veteran wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery both leave the club this summer. That means that Coman is even more important than ever to the Bundesliga club, who have ambitions of challenging for the Champions League. As a result, they need the French winger to stay healthy – something which also held him back from being named in the France squad that won the 2018 World Cup.
Coman has plenty of club medals but still is not considered one of the world’s best wingers as he needs to play more often. When he does take to the pitch, he is electric for club and country and has a scoring return of one goal in every five games for Bayern, which is pretty good for a player known more for his trickery and ability to set up goals.
RONAN IS A JOURNALIST AND SOCIAL PRODUCER FOR GOAL AND HAS A KEEN EYE ON GERMAN AND IRISH FOOTBALL.
22 / HUNGARY / SC FREIBURG
BY ABEL MESZAROS
Despite being just 22 years of age, it has already been a tumultuous ride of a career for Freiburg’s Roland Sallai. The Hungarian comes from a famous footballing family, his father was a Hungarian league regular, while his uncle was a member of two World Cup teams for his country, with 1986 still being the last time Hungary made it.
Having that kind of family pedigree meant that Roland was discovered at the U15 level at Nike Premier Cup and after scoring nearly 300 goals at the youth level from U13 and upwards. He made his professional debut at just 17. By 2016, Palermo had snapped him up on a loan deal and although he played in 21 league games, a return of one goal and assist saw him move to Cyprus for €2 million next summer. At APOEL Nicosia, highlights included starting against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stages of the Champions League, but he moved at the end of the season to SC Freiburg on deadline day last year for €4.5 million.
Many questioned whether Sallai, who was perhaps looking to be back on the map of European football and closer to the national team, would be able to bring his level up to the required intensity for Freiburg, one of the league’s hardest-working teams.
I myself was thinking that Freiburg bought him as a sort of Vincenzo Grifo replacement and a secret weapon who could contribute off the bench. But, Christian Streich, an institution in the Black Forest and revered around the Bundesliga, threw him into the fire so to speak and gave him six matches in a one-month span between September-October. An eventful debut against Wolfsburg saw him score in the seventh minute, earn a penalty and then get subbed off before half-time with a head injury, earning a spot in Kicker magazine’s team of the week.
Luckily, Sallai was back to play all 270 minutes in the next three matches before the international break. He scored his second goal in a 43-minute cameo vs Mainz, but an adductor injury that was perhaps misdiagnosed lead to some complications, including a possibly unrelated stomach surgery, effectively ending his season and creating some controversy between Freiburg and the Hungarian national team. He managed to come back for the last three Bundesliga matches with three uninteresting cameos to see out a frustrating season.
For the 2019-20 season, the Hungarian has big plans: besides becoming a fixture in Freiburg’s XI he’s dreaming of playing in the European cup competitions and qualifying for the Euros with Hungary, who surprisingly top a qualifying group ahead of Croatia, Slovakia, and Wales. With Grifo’s return to Hoffenheim, a finally healthy Sallai should be in contention with Woo-Yeong-Jeong, the 19-year-old South Korean winger who scored 13 goals for Bayern’s reserve team in the Regionalliga, for the two winger spots in a 4-4-2 or the 4-2-3-1.
Expect lots of fast counters and some ambitious dribbles from Sallai on the left-wing, where he will form a considerable partnership with the attacking-minded left-back that is Christian Günter.
ABEL IS A BUNDESLIGA EXPERT AND CONTENT CREATOR FOR VARIOUS OUTLETS, INCLUDING SPORT TV OF HUNGARY, WHERE, BESIDES PROVIDING STUDIO ANALYSIS, HE IS ALSO A REGULAR ON A WEEKLY MAGAZINE SHOW. HIS LATEST PROJECT IS THE BUNDESLIGA BULLETIN, A SUBSCRIPTION-BASED NEWSLETTER COVERING GERMAN FOOTBALL.
28 / MEXICO / WOLVES
BY RYAN PLANT
After a brilliant debut campaign in 2018-19, Raúl Jiménez’s task is simple: maintain the same excellent form.
He scored 13 goals as Wolves finished seventh in their return Premier League season, securing Europa League qualification, after signing on an initial loan from Benfica that was made permanent for a club-record £30 million fee.
He scored in the league against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and versus Liverpool and Manchester United as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side reached the FA Cup semi-finals. After winning Wolves’ Players’ Player of the Season Award, he starred in a victorious Gold Cup campaign with Mexico. Jiménez assisted Jonathan dos Santos’ goal in the final against the United States, as Gerardo Martino’s side ran out 1-0 victors. Five goals and two assists earned him the Golden Ball Award.
The 28-year-old must continue in fine fettle in Wolves’ Europa League campaign and bid to crack the Premier League top six. He will not be helped by his busy schedule. After 33 appearances for Benfica in 2017-18, he featured at the 2018 World Cup before moving to Wolves, where he played in all of their Premier League games. His season ended on 8th July, but Wolves’ Europa League campaign began on 25th July after the Premier League Asia Trophy.
His finishing, link-up play, and aerial ability make him indispensable to Nuno’s 3-5-2 system, which sees Diogo Jota usually play alongside him. Now, he will also be assisted by new signing, Patrick Cutrone.
With Léo Bonatini ostracised, Bright Enobakhare, Benny Ashley-Seal and Niall Ennis, who have not made their Premier League bows, are his only competition. Even with João Moutinho and Rúben Neves, it is hard to envisage a competitive Wolves without an in-form Jiménez.
Pessimists will allude to his failure to score more than seven goals in a league season between 2014-15 and 2017-18 for Atlético Madrid and Benfica, in the hope that 2018-19 was no fluke. Unless Nuno and Wolves’ owners, Fosun, sanction the signing of another forward, which seems unlikely after the stubbornness which saw a move for Sardar Azmoun collapse, Jiménez will be enjoined to remain a key player.
RYAN IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT PRODUCER FOR LIVEWIRE SPORT. HE HAS ALSO FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND THE GUARDIAN. YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE HERE.
25 / ENGLAND / LIVERPOOL
BY MICHAEL GALLWEY
A player returning from a long-term injury being described as a new signing is one of football’s most used cliches, and it is being used to describe the potential impact of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Liverpool in the upcoming season.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was in the midst of his best run of performances since his move to Merseyside back in 2018, helping Liverpool overcome Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals, before injuring his knee ligaments early in the semi-finals against Roma.
Having subsequently missed the majority of the 2018-19 season, “The Ox” is primed to become an x-factor in the Liverpool midfield ahead of the upcoming season. Capable of providing cover for either of the wide players in the team, he may provide the perfect option in the rotational system that Jürgen Klopp favours in his midfield.
With Fabinho excelling in the deeper role, there was a platoon of Georginio Wijnaldum, captain Jordan Henderson, Naby Keïta and James Milner to fill in the two remaining roles. Now that Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a full pre-season to retain some match sharpness, he can offer a dynamic option, providing penetrating runs from the heart of the midfield in order to support the front-line.
His return could well be the missing link that can spark Liverpool’s quest for a first league title since 1990 to the next level. Despite amassing 97 points across the season, there was a sense the Klopp’s team were missing some of their attacking flair from the year before. Whether this belief is accurate or not is a different debate, but the return to fitness of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should provide a different style to Liverpool’s midfield and could well be the crucial factor as they look to progress even closer to Manchester City.
MICHAEL IS A EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WRITER. HE HAS FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE ONSIDE VIEW, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND ANALYST FOOTY. HE IS ALSO A FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE.
22 / TURKEY / LILLE
BY KAAN BAYAZIT
Making his debut in the 2015-16 season, the now 22-year-old Yusuf Yazıcı is one of the rising stars of Turkish football. For the past two seasons, he has been a full-fledged starter for one of Turkey’s biggest clubs: Trabzonspor.
He is known as one of the most talented playmakers in the Turkish top-flight, but perhaps his development was threatening to stagnate seeing as he has seemingly learned all he can, playing at the level that he has been.
Yazıcı didn’t just become a titular player for Trabzonspor, he has also been frequently featured for the Turkish national team in recent months, having earned 14 senior caps already. While most of the international media coverage went to 19-year-old teammate Abdülkadir Ömur (who has been repeatedly linked to Liverpool), it’s clear to those who follow Trabzonspor closely that Yusuf Yazıcı was clearly the stand-out name at the club.
But with Trabzonspor, at best, fighting for a Europa League ticket in the past couple of years (only managing to qualify this season) it seems like Yazıcı had learned all he could at the shores of the Black Sea.
It eventually became time for him to move on, to take that next step in his career. Yazıcı has never played Europa League football before, let alone the Champions League. He will have that opportunity having completed a move to France’s Lille. This came as a blow to his former side as they looked to mount a challenge for the league title.
For Yazıcı, however, sticking around for another year may have proven to be one season too many. He was always a technically refined player but over the past two seasons he has learned to be more combative and tenacious, he’s not your typical old school number 10: Yazıcı combines his excellent technical ability with a good work rate – something that could prove to be valuable in France and Europe.
KAAN IS A FOOTBALL JOURNALIST SPECIALISING IN TURKISH FOOTBALL. HE IS ALSO THE CO-HOST OF FOOTBALL Á LA TURCA, A PODCAST FOCUSING ON TURKISH FOOTBALL.
19 / ENGLAND / CHELSEA
BY BRAD JONES
To be a world-class full-back in today’s game, it’s all about finding the right balance in having the ability to be effective going forward without being complacent defensively. A full-back that is, for the most part, faultless in defence but doesn’t contribute much else is simply not good enough at the top level and the same goes vice versa with the type that likes to bomb forward. Having seen a lot of him last season, there is no doubt that Reece James is one of the players that possess a wealth of attributes in both sectors.
During his time at Wigan last season in which he featured in 45 of their 46 league games, James not only demonstrated his attacking prowess with the most key passes (74), successful crosses (72) and big chances created (12) from any defender in the league, he also won the sixth most tackles (94) of any Championship defender as well as the most duels won (284) of any player aged 23 and under. For a 19-year-old playing his first senior campaign in a tough division, the stats are simply absurd, and the overall level of his performances were even better.
Now Premier League-bound, the Chelsea product has a big season ahead of him to prove that he has what it takes to play top-flight football and potentially compete with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the national setup for years to come.
What James lacks in high-level experience and some aspects of his defensive game because of that, he more than makes up for with his physicality and efficiency with the ball at his feet, and improvements to his overall game will only come with time, particularly in the form of Premier League game time.
He has looked the part up until now, but the step up comes with a new level and a new challenge altogether and it will be interesting to see how he fares against top-class opposition.
BRAD IS THE CO-CREATOR OF 152FOOTBALL. HE IS ALSO A CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE.
ANDREAS SKOV OLSEN
19 / DENMARK / BOLOGNA
BY TOKE THEILADE
Arguably the biggest talent outside Europe’s top five leagues these days, Andreas Skov Olsen broke through at talent factory FC Nordsjælland last season. He scored 22 league goals and became the highest scoring teenager in Danish football history. With such a great debut season, it was no surprise that Skov Olsen opted to move to a bigger club. Half of Europe’s clubs chased him, but he made a mature choice and opted for a move to Bologna, where the road to regular playing time is short.
Skov Olsen is a versatile attacking player, who can play both on the right-wing and as a front striker. He is physically strong despite his young age and standing 187 centimetres he is a threat in the air as well as on the ground with his feet.
Because of his size, it is easy to mistake him for a common targetman. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Skov Olsen is quick, he is technically great, he is a great finisher and lastly, he is intelligent. Skov Olsen has great positioning and anticipation, and he is already a mature player who plays with the sort of experience that goes well beyond his youthful years.
Young Danish players have struggled after moving abroad though and going from the protected and safe environment at home to the much more demanding Italy and Bologna is a huge step for Skov Olsen. Therefore, nothing is certain, and he really needs to fight hard to take the next step.
Luckily for him, Danish strikers have a good reputation and history at Bologna, where Harald Nielsen became the Serie A top goalscorer in 1963 and 1964 as well as winning the Serie A before becoming the world’s most expensive player when he moved to Inter. Whether Skov Olsen can reach those heights is yet to be seen, but it is perhaps a motivating factor for him that he has something to live up to in Italy.
TOKE THEILADE IS A DANISH FOOTBALL WRITER WITH FOCUS ON SCANDINAVIAN AND EASTERN EUROPEAN FOOTBALL. HE WROTE HIS MASTERS’ THESIS ON RACISM IN RUSSIAN FOOTBALL AND HAS FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MOSCOW TIMES AND THE BLIZZARD. HE IS ALSO THE FOUNDER OF VILFORTPARK.DK, WHICH HAS A KEEN EYE ON DANISH CLUB, BRØNDBY IF.