Every year youngsters from across Europe enjoy their breakout season. Now, these boys may have enjoyed impressive campaigns in the past, but we are referring to individuals who are experiencing a season that the whole world is noticing. For example, Gabriel Magalhaes has been one of the best defenders in the English Premier League this season but if you follow the game, you’d know that last year was his breakout year and he is enjoying continued success. We are looking for names that are just becoming mainstream. So, a player like Reece James who is 20 and enjoying a terrific season might not be a name for this list as he has been in the public eye since last season even though this might be his actual breakout season. Let us get right into it.
Sven Botman (Lille)
Speaking of Gabriel Magalhaes, our list starts with the man that replaced the Brazilian at Lille. Very few men can scour the earth for footballing gems like Luis Campos and he makes it look easy the way he keeps on finding them. The Portuguese director is like an archaeologist with an all-seeing compass. Campos signed the young Dutchman as a replacement for Gabriel who left for Arsenal and Botman has not missed a beat. The ajax academy graduate spent last season on loan with SC Heerenveen from Ajax. Ocampos was willing to shell 8 million Euros for a 20-year-old with only one year of experience in the top flight.
This season in Ligue 1, he has started in 9 games for the French side and he has 5 clean sheets. This week he kept an impressive European clean sheet away at free-scoring AC Milan, keeping the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic very quiet. He wins 71% of his aerial duels in the league and 72% of his ground duels. Beside Jose Fonte and under Christophe Galtier he is on his way to becoming a complete left-footed defender. Very soon Lille will flip him for big money and it will not take us by surprise. He has been one of the best young defenders in Europe. He is tall, big, possesses good passing range, and he is not bullied due to his bulky frame. At 20, he can grow to become more than what Gabriel was for Lille.
Amine Gouiri (OG Nice)
Staying in Ligue 1, French attacker Amine Gouiri is developing into a complete attacker at OGC Nice. After suffering an ACL rupture in 2018 that stalled his development with Lyon, his move to Nice is revitalizing his promising career. He has scored 3 goals and registered 3 assists in 7 Ligue 1 starts. The young Frenchman also boasts 3 goals in 3 Europa League starts.
He is a cheeky reminder of a young Karim Benzema. Gouiri has that exquisite touch that gives him extra time to pass or shoot. He can linkup play despite a lanky frame that is still filling out. More impressive is that Gouiri is playing this well under Patrick Viera whose style and skills are under scrutiny in his country. He can play through the center but prefers the left side so he can cut in to shoot. His technique is impressive, he can score and create, and he is forming an interesting partnership with Kasper Dolberg. The 20-year-old is having a terrific breakout season and his progress is something to follow as the season develops.
Darwin Nunez (Benfica)
You cannot go wrong with Uruguayan strikers but Benfica fans might not have believed that when this young man did not score or assist in any of his first 5 games. Since then, the 6ft2, quick and bulky striker has been in red-hot form for his club. Since the game against Familicao, he has scored or assisted in all but 2 games in all competitions. It is difficult to envisage a 24 million Euros transfer between a Segunda division club (Almeria) and a Portuguese club like Benfica, but it happened. A transfer record for both sides as he came in to replace Carlos Vinicius who was heading to Tottenham.
This week in the Europa League, he came off the bench to score and assist for Benfica against Rangers. Nicholas Otamendi continues to give calamitous performances and he earned himself a red card in just the 19th minute of the tie. Alfredo Morelos and the gang took advantage until the young Uruguayan came on with 30 minutes to play. Fast, aggressive, a warrior on the ground and in the air, he is a complete problem for any defense.
The 21-year-old is having the sort of season that puts top European clubs on alert and Benfica coach Jorge Jesus recently had to quell rumours linking the boy to Barcelona. If he can continue with displays like this, there will be more concrete interest and Benfica love to cash in on their stars.
When Hakim Ziyech signed for English side Chelsea, Ajax replaced him with this special 20-year-old. A lot of Ajax fans even expected him to join Jong Ajax but his impact with the first team has been so good he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet. A friend of fellow Sao Paulo youth team graduate Lucas Moura, he is proving an able replacement for the Moroccan magician.
The diminutive Brazilian is a proper inverted winger, unlike Ziyech. He can cut in on his left to shoot or pass. Anthony can go outside for a cross and like Ziyech, he can create those moments of magic that lift fans to the edge of their seats (see his ludicrous skill against Atalanta in the Champions League). Despite being one-footed, he is not afraid to try to finish with his right. His decision making is maturing with time and we are watching his progress. He has 4 goals and 2 assists from 3 big chances created in the league. A dazzling dribbler, he completes 76% of his dribbles, averaging 1.9 per game. Reports emerged that Chelsea was keen on him before his move to the Netherlands but other top clubs will start taking note after this year.
When this diminutive full-back/wing-back saw Ceasar Azpilicueta and Reece James ahead of him in the pecking order, he made the wise decision to move away in search of game time. The 5ft5 Englishman has found this under Brighton and Graham Potter. In his first full season in the top-flight, he is proving to be a nightmare for opposition defenses. Lamptey is quick, sharp, he possesses good dribbling ability, and can make good deliveries into the box.
The young defender has 1 goal and 1 assist in his 8 Premier League appearances this season and he is averaging 1.4 key passes per game. He can stretch the opposition team by occupying space high and wide in Brighton’s formation. His speed allows him to recover even though his positioning still needs work. He is Brighton’s most potent wide threat and he continues to impress as the game weeks go by.
There are already rumours linking him to Bayern Munich who have an unsolved case at right-back. Joshua Kimminch continues to impress in midfield and Benjamin Pavard continues to be serviceable in the position with Bouna Sarr backing up. Bayern may decide they need more dynamism in that position very soon. With Leroy Sane cutting inside, the space out wide is where Lamptey loves to cause havoc and they can be an interesting pair. Much like Arjen Robben and Philip Lahm for years at Bayern. His progress will be monitored by top clubs.