With the winter break in full swing and the league campaign at the midway point in La Liga, there seems no better time to look back at the first half of the season and see which players are standing out. Today we look at the analysis of young talent that are hoping their dazzling starts to the season mean they will be the stars of tomorrow.
Briaz Mendez (Celta Vigo/Attacking midfield)
Even though Mendez has been around since last season he has exploded into life in the 2018/19 campaign. This Spanish playmaker comes with a surprise twist, standing at over 6ft the Spaniard brings something different compared to the diminutive playmakers of the past that Spain regularly produce.
Mendez is an industrious player and is as good without the ball as he is with it. His high work rate and tenacious nature make him a dream for manager Miguel Cardosa. Mendez makes 1.9 tackles per 90 which for an attacking midfielder is way above Spanish counterparts like David Silva and Marco Asensio with 0.8 tackles per 90 and Suso 0.9 tackles per 90.
However, it’s going forward where Mendez has blossomed this season. He currently ranks 5th for most assists in La Liga with five, scoring four goals in addition. Alongside this, he produces 1.8 key passes per 90 and his match rating of 7.37 via whoscored puts him in the top five players in the league for the first half of the campaign.
Mendez has just been named on the UEFA list of ones to watch for in 2019 and with his first game for Spain already in the bag and a debut goal to go alongside it, the future is looking very bright for the young Spaniard.
Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo/Striker)
There is a lot of excitement around Maxi Gomez especially in Uruguay; he’s hotly tipped to be the next superstar striker and to be Luis Suarez’s successor for the national team, Celta Vigo did excellent scouting work to pick up this gem of a player up for just €4m from Defensor Sporting.
The man nicknamed El Toro “the bull” is a strong, determined and physical player who excels at holding the ball up and who is deadly in the air, in fact, he has scored just as many with his head in the last two seasons as he has on the ground.
Gomez is a true penalty box player and all but one of his goals have come inside the area for Celta. His all-round game also seems to be improving, he already has the same amount of assists he had in the whole of last season with four and his key passes, short passes and long passes are all up across the board which suggests a much bigger involvement in build-up play this term.
With eight goals already in just 13 starts, he’s providing 29% of all Celta’s goals so far this season living up to the lofty expectations of him. It’s no wonder Barcelona, Athletico Madrid and Spurs are all monitoring “The Bull” closely.
Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis/Centre midfield)
In a move which shocked many in the summer, Lo Celso who had been a prominent figure at PSG moved to the Estadio Benito Villamarin. Impressive whilst in Paris, he seemed to have finally nailed down a starting role in the Parc des Princes amongst the many stars they possessed.
Moving seems to have brought out the best in Lo Celso and his impressive displays mean the Andalusian club are looking to trigger an option to buy on the 22-year-old Argentinian who has fast become a fans favourite. Lo Celso isn’t blessed with a lightening turn of pace or a powerful physique but what he does have is a strong technique and a great range of forward passing making him a great asset in central midfield.
Lo Celso is excelling this season and already has four goals this term (nine in all competitions) and two assists, making him a key man for this Betis team going forward. However, Lo Celso is no slouch defensively either with 2.3 tackles per 90 and a high work ethic he is an all-round midfielder capable of running games in La Liga.
With a future fee already agreed Betis are lucky to have secured the services of this midfield general and can look forward to him pulling on the green and white shirt for the foreseeable future.
Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona/Winger)
Dembele appears to split opinions at the Camp Nou, some supporters seem to think he isn’t a Barcelona player, some don’t like his attitude and some admire his sheer brilliance.
For somebody who’s only played 961 mins this season, he’s already got seven goals and three assists, a goal contribution every 96mins of play in La Liga. In fact, he’s already got more goals than the whole of last season for the Blaugranas.
The young Frenchman possesses lightning speed and excellent dribbling qualities, his ability to go either inside or outside of opposing fullbacks make him virtually impossible to stop; let him on the outside he has shown this season he has excellent crossing ability, let him cut inside he will more often than not make you pay with brilliant finishing.
With 2.2 dribbles per 90, 1.8 key passes per 90 and 28 chances created this season Dembele is upping his game and showing signs of immense potential. This should be the start of something very exciting for Barcelona and they should be keen to keep hold of their young star as he could turn into a world class player in the very near future.
Junior Firpo (Real Betis/Left back/wing-back)
Standing at over 6 feet tall, Junior Firpo possesses a rangy stride which he uses regularly on rampages down the left-hand side of the Betis attack, however, this young fullback also has an impressive ability on the ball alongside his raw athleticism and physique. Those attributes together are a strong mix which will surely mean he will become a top line defender for years to come.
Playing mainly as a left wing-back Firpo provides excellent width and energy down the left-hand side and has already scored three times this season and contributed an assist whilst also creating 11 further chances. Further stats of 1.7 dribbles per 90 and 1.7 tackles and clearances per 90 show he’s astute at both going forward but also defensively.
Whilst there is room for improvement the giant strides Firpo has made are impressive, demonstrated by a call-up to Spains under 21 team. Firpo’s form has also not gone unnoticed with EPL clubs and the giants of La Liga monitoring his progress closely, a move to a larger club may be on the horizon in the summer months.
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