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The 2018-19 season could witness the rise of a number of new world football stars. Young players with immense potential, all with an opportunity to shine and strut their stuff in front of the world, will step forward. They’ll soon become some of the best players on the planet.
Some could even become household names—ones every fan of the sport is familiar with—by the time next May rolls around.
Inspired by Lautaro Martinez’s exciting pre-season and fit with Inter Milan, Bleacher Report brings you 10 names worth getting to know early so that you can chart their paths to the top during the campaign.
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It’s quite the call to say someone will soon become a household name; it implies absolute faith in their ability not just to reach the top but to do it inside a year.
There are things that can get in the way of that and delay matters, such as natural progression barriers or wrong turns. With that in mind, we’ve listed five players who were considered for the top 10 but ultimately struggled to command full confidence.
Jadon Sancho, 18, Borussia Dortmund
Sancho made great strides at Borussia Dortmund last year, but you never quite know how much of a role he’s in line for following new coach’s appointment. Still just 18, it’s fine to temper his involvement for now.
Houssem Aouar, 20, Lyon
Aouar’s brilliance doesn’t stand out as heavily as some of his team-mates’ because it’s less obvious—he’s clever, rather than rapid or tricky or a highlight reel machine. That won’t stop a superclub scouting and signing him next summer, but it does mean his path to “household” status could be longer.
Malcom, 21, Barcelona
Malcom is a highlight-reel player, capable of long dribbles, clever passes and rasping long-range strikes or set pieces. The only question is, how much football will he play in 2018-19? He might be more of a bit-part player in the short term.
Vinicius Junior, 18, Real Madrid
The question about Malcom applies to Vinicius Junior: How many first-team looks will he get? Julen Lopetegui has landed in a tough situation at Real Madrid and may not feel like he can take too many risks with youth early on.
Cengiz Under, 21, Roma
Under is a firecracker of a winger who made a difference for Roma last season, and his two-footedness makes him difficult for defenders to nail down. His team have endured a summer in which they’ve got weaker, though, and if they underperform, that could drag down his stock a little.
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The partnership bubbling between Lautaro Martinez and Mauro Icardi at Inter Milan has the potential to be iconic. The only fans not excited about how things transpire for the two probably root for the club’s cross-city rivals.
Pre-season is usually a sapping experience, but Inter have been a must-watch because of this man. His cute turns and pirouettes, clever link play and occasional stunning finishes have excited the watching world; the potential he has flashed is immense.
Inter are being tipped to be Juventus’ closest runners in the Serie A title race, and if they do manage to overhaul them, there’s every chance this man’s magic—mixed with Icardi’s—is the reason why.
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Watching Tanguy Ndombele is one hell of an experience. Those unfamiliar with it have the chance to rectify that when he plays in the UEFA Champions League for Lyon this season.
He barrels through midfield in a powerful yet elegant way, utilising a healthy mix of slick turns and powerful charges to surge past markers. These traits are similar to Tottenham Hotspur’s Mousa Dembele, meaning they share similarities other than just their surnames!
Lyon’s forwards have come to expect what follows a trademark Ndombele dribble: a cutting through ball in behind the defence. The way he flicks them off his foot makes it all look so easy, it’s incredible.
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After a brilliant 2017-18 campaign with Valencia, Goncalo Guedes seemed primed to strut his stuff for Portugal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after his excellent domestic form convinced Fernando Santos to give him a starting role.
Sadly, he failed to hit the heights expected, and he played quite poorly. It was his chance to announce his talents to the watching world, but he failed.
2018-19 represents the opportunity for a do-over. If Valencia can hash out a deal to bring him back from Paris Saint-Germain (and ESPN FC‘s Jonathan Johnson reported it’s possible), he’ll take up an important position in a team familiar with him, and he would have an opportunity to play at least six Champions League games.
He combines strong finishing with fantastic dribbling and frightening speed, but he also has an awareness of what’s going on around him not often found in players of his ilk. It’s the mark of someone potentially special.
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Barcelona’s central-midfield corps has been due a refresh. With Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic both 30, plus new signing Arturo Vidal aged 31, a younger pair of legs—one geared toward the future—was needed.
Step forward, Arthur.
Barcelona negotiated hard for him throughout 2017 and 2018, finally hashing out a deal that saw him arrive this summer. The early impressions are strong—he doesn’t seem fazed by people tagging him as the “New Xavi” or by the fee paid for him (£35 million).
A mobile, combative yet technically neat player, he feels perfectly suited to Ernesto Valverde’s way of playing and could emerge as a star in this team soon.
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Alvaro Odriozola has a big fan in Lopetegui. Fortunately for the former, the latter has held two important positions of late. First he was the manager of Spain; now he commands Real Madrid.
So far for Odriozola, that’s led to four international caps (and a goal), a World Cup squad place and a £31 million transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu. The faith Lopetegui holds in the 22-year-old is strong—so strong it’s quite conceivable he displaces Dani Carvajal at right-back this season and emerges as one of the best in his position across the globe.
That feeling was compounded by Carvajal’s stumbling performance in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday. He looks a step slower than he once was, whereas Odriozola, who possesses fresher legs and a fantastic ability to carry the ball and use the wide areas well, is just the sort of player Lopetegui leans on.
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Milan Skriniar may already be one of the 10 best centre-backs in football. His past few seasons—one at Sampdoria, the next at Inter Milan—point towards that, but he’s lacked the opportunity to display his talents on the elite stage.
Now, with Inter qualifying for the Champions League, that stage has arrived. By the end of next season, we’ll be swimming in reports linking the Slovak to almost every top club in Europe. He could easily break the transfer record for a defender.
Skriniar is the complete centre-back—not just from a defensive standpoint but from an attacking one too. He’s an incredible tackler, and he boasts recovery speed and immense strength, but he also moves forward with the ball well, is a threat from set pieces and can even crack off thunderous strikes from 30 yards.
Those who don’t know soon will.
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Why did Europe’s top clubs sit back and watch Ruben Neves sign for a Championship club last summer?
With FC Porto forced to sell under financial fair play pressure, he went for as little as £16 million. Try to sign him now, and you’ll be quoted three times that at the least.
The usual scepticism over players stepping up into the top tier hasn’t arisen with Neves, as we already have tangible evidence of him playing in—and captaining a team in—the Champions League. His period in the Championship was short, sweet and reinvigorating.
He was Wolves’ best player on the opening weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season, scoring and assisting in a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Everton. If his influence levels stay this high throughout the season, Wolves will have every top team in Europe dialling their number in the summer.
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Sometimes it just takes a little while longer for hot prospects to get their careers firmly on the track to stardom. A case that proves this point is Monaco’s Rony Lopes.
He’s been rated as a future star for quite some time, leaving Manchester City in 2015 for a princely sum (£9 million) considering he was all potential at the time, but now at age 22, he is finally turning heads en masse.
He played a part in every Ligue 1 game for Monaco in 2017-18, seizing the spot Bernardo Silva vacated in the XI and proving his mettle. After a while, the goals started flowing; he scored twice before Christmas, but after, 13 goals were notched on an incredible streak. He even netted in eight consecutive games.
For all of Lopes’ guile and trickery, his soft touch and clever feet, it’s his ability to identify great positions in the box that makes him so dangerous. Many of his goals are back-post tap-ins or rebounds; switch off for a second, and he’ll punish you.
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Despite winning a remarkable number of league titles already, Kingsley Coman‘s career has yet to take off.
Injury has had a part to play in that, but so too have Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Douglas Costa—three players who have blocked his path to the Bayern Munich first team at various stages since signing.
Well, Costa’s been gone a while, and Robben (34) and Ribery (35) are slowing down considerably. This feels like the season in which Coman wins a spot in the side and stays there, and if he does, his ascension will be rapid.
With speed, directness and an increasingly rare natural width to his play, he’s the sort of player who stretches defences and tires out full-backs fast. An improved end product could see him vault to the summit of football’s winger collection.
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It looks like Timothy Weah’s impressive pre-season will lead to first-team minutes with Paris Saint-Germain this season. That, plus the fact Thomas Tuchel is coaching him, puts him in a prime spot to make a big leap in 2018-19.
His blistering speed will cause defences all sorts of issues this term—particularly if he’s being brought on for the final stages of games, improving PSG’s threat on the counter—and so far in his career, he’s displayed an unerring one-on-one finish.
Then there’s his name: Weah. Son of the legendary George Weah, Ballon d’Or winner in 1995 and president of Liberia. Tim won’t have to impress that heavily for tongues to begin wagging about him—though we bet he will.
All statistics via WhoScored.com