10 La Liga stars on the verge of special things in 2016/17
La Liga's whopping names sometimes overcast the emerging youth - so here's a list of kids you'll want to keep note of
1. Theo Hernandez (Alaves, on loan from Atletico Madrid)
After a series of stunning displays on loan at Alaves, the hype around Theo Hernandez is growing. And rightly so.
Younger brother of Atletico Madrid's Lucas, Hernandez Jr. isn’t that far removed from his big brother. Theo plays in an uncompromising style at centre-back, showing his strength and imposing figure when up against opposition strikers. But what Theo packs is searing pace, and from a full-back role he’s a destructive presence.
There are shades of Gareth Bale in his full-back days, combining both elegance with sheer power. La Liga could well have the next great footballing brothers in their ranks.
2. Marc Roca (Espanyol)
Espanyol loaded their squad with experience over the summer, but it’s a young player who's taken he spotlight so far this season – and as a bonus he's one of their own.
Marc Roca has been a pleasant surprise under Quique Sanchez Flores, showing his ability to control and dictate the pace of games despite his tender years. At just 19 the midfielder is showing signs of basing his game on Xabi Alonso, who's a pretty good role model really.
Marc Roca debutó con el Espanyol en Liga contra el Málaga. Uno de los mejores del partido. Mucha calidad. August 27, 2016
The boy from Penedès, home of some of Catalunya’s finest wine, is maturing.
3. Marcos Llorente (Alaves)
There are few greater Real Madrid players than Francisco Gento. Imagine, then, for a young player to be related to him. The pressure must be immense, and it’s exactly what Marcos Llorente is dealing with.
Out on loan at Alaves this season, however, the 21-year-old is showing why he could well be a future Real Madrid great – and potentially even a player that they need now. Llorente is a multi-faceted midfielder who is able to help out defensively and win back possession, but also threaten on the front foot and support his attack with smart, incisive passing.
4. Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
Athletic Bilbao have produced some outstanding goalkeepers over the years, and the latest has come along just in time.
Kepa Arrizabalaga has been touted for a first-team push at the club for some time now, and this season it has finally arrived. Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde has vowed to use Arrizabalaga regularly, and so far there hasn’t been a slip-up from the 22-year-old goalkeeper who's reminiscent of David de Gea. He’s particularly agile, able to use his feet well and offers incredible levels of athleticism in goal.
5. Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
Could Real Sociedad have the next Antoine Griezmann on their hands? Quite possibly. The Frenchman was a product of Real Sociedad’s excellent academy, and in Mikel Oyarzabal they might just have their next star in the making. The 19-year-old has been turning heads after a string of scintillating performances last season and 2016/17 could see him establish himself as a big-league player.
Oyarzabal boasts a creative touch to his game but also a goalscoring one, hence the Griezmann comparisons. Overall, his biggest value is an ability to change games.
6. Santi Mina (Valencia)
Paco Alcacer leaving was hard to swallow for Valencia fans, but deep down they knew his replacement was already at the club. Santi Mina is the team's new jewell, and now its lead striker.
Mina, who has mostly been positioned in a wide role for the team, looks set to play centre stage for seasons to come. Goalscoring instincts, movement in and around the area plus confidence in his own ability mean Valencia can be confident they have a striker for the present and future.
7. Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo)
With Nolito gone, Celta Vigo are crying out for a new star. Fortunately, they have signed one of the most exciting attackers in Europe.
Pione Sisto first truly came to the fore with his goals against Manchester United in the Europa League last season, and already with Celta he’s shown that he deserves the spotlight. Replacing Nolito is no easy task but Sisto has gone about business well since signing for the Galician outfit. The Dane’s ability to drive at defences with speed and skill have made him a nuisance, and there’s also a strong goalscoring instinct in his game.
8. Mauricio Lemos (Las Palmas)
After a remarkable first season in Las Palmas last term, Mauricio Lemos is looking to step things up a level – and that doesn’t mean moving to Barcelona.
The Catalans made an approach for the Uruguayan in the summer but Lemos insisted he wanted to play regularly – something he will continue to do at Las Palmas. The 20-year-old is an all-action defender who is quick, strong and snuffs out the slightest hint of danger with assurance.
9. Youssef En-Nesyri (Malaga)
This young Moroccan has burst onto the scene this season, not only with a winning goal but his energetic displays for a flagging Malaga.
Youssef En-Nesyri has benefited from Morocco’s heavy football investment in recent years – the Mohammed VI Football Academy, a complex put together for around £12m. The hope is that En-Nesyri can be its first great star. The striker is quick, powerful, skilful and boasts a brilliant knack for poaching in the penalty area.
10. Jorge Meré (Sporting Gijon)
Rough, tough but also elegant: Jorge Meré is on the way to becoming the complete defensive package.
Not only is the Sporting Gijon player enthused by the basics of defending and dirty work that some don’t like to put in, but he’s also proficient with the ball at his feet and confident in his own ability. Meré has the appearance of a veteran on the field, capable of outwitting strikers without getting his shorts dirty, but also able to unnerve them with his physical attributes.
There’s more than a touch of Carles Puyol about the 19-year-old.
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