Europe’s top five leagues are rich with young stars-to-be, and while the disparities in quality between the divisions is a debate open to discussion, there’s no arguing that each of the tiers are blessed with a wealth of blossoming talent.
Here’s a glance at a quintet of composite starting XIs formed exclusively of players younger than 23 years of age.
Youth is on full display in the English top flight, where both title threats and relegation fodder profit from squads rife with emerging players. Record smashers Manchester City boast a pair of the Premier League’s two best budding stars, with London rivals Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal also contributing a tandem to this amalgamation of the division’s best.
The Gunners led the Premier League last season with 7,933 minutes played by academy products – the final contribution of Arsene Wenger’s legacy – and see Hector Bellerin and newcomer Lucas Torreira make the grade. Spurs have a pair of their own included in Dele Alli and Davinson Sanchez. Manchester City are represented by attacking duo Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, while teen talent Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham is a jolting inclusion. Manchester United’s Anthony Martial gets in the team even if he can’t get in Jose Mourinho’s, narrowly edging Red Devils brethren Marcus Rashford.
Starting XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea); Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham); Naby Keita (Liverpool), Lucas Torreira (Arsenal); Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Leroy Sane (Manchester City); Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Bench: Angus Gunn (Southampton), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Issa Diop (West Ham), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Ruben Neves (Wolves), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Bayern Munich’s monopoly on the German top flight shows no sign of abating, but while the Bavarian behemoth continues its domestic dominance courtesy of a star-studded squad, the rest of the Bundesliga is bridging the youth gap. Bayern leads the way with three players in this composite squad, followed closely behind with a pair from each of Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.
The most accomplished player in the squad, Joshua Kimmich, is joined by Bayern newcomer Leon Goretzka and center-half Niklas Sule in a balanced side that boasts pace and technical savvy out wide. American teen Christian Pulisic and deep-lying midfielder Julian Weigl feature for BVB, while Leipzig is represented by French backline anchor Dayot Upamecano and Die Mannschaft international striker Timo Werner. Bayer Leverkusen speed merchant Leon Bailey goes out right, while France’s World Cup hero Benjamin Pavard switches flanks to play at left-back.
Starting XI: Florian Muller (Mainz); Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich), Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart); Denis Zakaria (Monchengladbach); Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund); Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen), , Leon Goretzka (Bayern Munich), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund); Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
Bench: Pablo Maffeo (Stuttgart), Nordi Mukiele (RB Leipzig), Abdou Diallo (Borussia Dortmund), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Amine Harit (Schalke), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich)
Italy’s top flight is blessed with arguably its most star power since the 1990s. Cristiano Ronaldo has made the Piedmont pilgrimage to enlist with Max Allegri’s Old Lady, and the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Gonzalo Higuain, and Leonardo Bonucci have made Serie A switches. In no way should this take away from the emergence of a talented core of young players.
Seven-time reigning Scudetto champs Juventus have made the most of the loan system, but Ronaldo’s new charges aren’t the only ones rife with budding stars-in-the-making like Rodrigo Bentancur and Joao Cancelo. Despite a dire campaign tethered to Yonghong Li’s dubious finances, AC Milan is on the come-up with youngsters Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli, while Fiorentina pairing Giovanni Simeone and Federico Chiesa man the wings in support of Inter newcomer Lautaro Martinez. The midfield is stacked, with highly coveted Serb Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Bentancur bookending Lorenzo Pellegrini. Lots of savvy on the bench, too.
Serie A: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan); Joao Cancelo (Juventus), Milan Skriniar (Inter), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Pol Lirola (Sassuolo); Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio); Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Giovanni Simeone (Fiorentina), Lautaro Martinez (Inter)
Bench: Alban Lafont (Fiorentina), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Nicolo Barella (Cagliari), Franck Kessie (AC Milan), Patrik Schick (Roma), Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan), Justin Kluivert (Roma)
Fitting that the most technical of Europe’s top five divisions would boast a slew of young players blessed with canny skills. A composite starting XI of La Liga’s best under-23 players speaks to a wealth of attacking talent, with the likes of Andre Silva, Goncalo Guedes, and Malcom relegated to bench duties.
Minnows SD Huesca are represented by shot-stopper Axel Werner, with Ligue 1 transplants Mouctar Diakhaby and Joris Gnagnon insulating the 22-year-old Argentine in central defense. World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez starts at left-back opposite his younger brother, Theo, who swaps flanks to make the XI. Lucas’ Atletico Madrid mates Thomas Lemar and Rodri also make the cut, with the latter slotting in alongside Barcelona newcomer Arthur in the midfield. Ousmane Dembele gives La Blaugrana a second participant, lining up to the right of Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio, while Celta Vigo goal-poacher Maxi Gomez starts up top.
Starting XI: Axel Werner (SD Huesca); Theo Hernandez (Real Sociedad), Mouctar Diakhaby (Valencia), Joris Gnagnon (Sevilla), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico); Rodri (Atletico Madrid), Arthur (Barcelona), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Marcos Asensio (Real Madrid); Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo)
Bench: Aleix Garcia (Girona), Carlos Soler (Valencia), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Santi Mina (Valencia), Malcom (Barcelona), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Andre Silva (Sevilla)
It should come as little surprise that a league renowned for producing raw talent is littered with fledgling footballers. No room for Monaco teenage talents Willem Geubbels and Pietro Pellegri, or for Paris Saint-Germain’s American stud Timothy Weah. Not even wingers Nicolas Pepe (Lille) and Rony Lopes (Monaco) make the cut in a side rich with blossoming talent.
In defense, Monaco full-backs Benjamin Henrichs and Jorge bookend PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe and Nice’s Malang Sarr, with Nimes’ Paul Bernardoni between the sticks. Lyon features three players in the starting XI, as midfield duo Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele join Les Gones newcomer Moussa Dembele in the team. Youri Tielemans gets a spot ahead of what should be a bounce-back campaign for the Belgian, with Les Girondins winger Francois Kamano and Kylian Mbappe completing a well-balanced side.
Ligue 1: Paul Bernardoni (Nimes); Benjamin Henrichs (Monaco), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Malang Sarr (Nice), Jorge (Monaco); Houssem Aouar (Lyon), Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon), Youri Tielemans (Monaco); Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Moussa Dembele (Lyon), Francois Kamano (Bordeaux)
Bench: Jules Kounde (Bordeaux), Thilo Kehrer (Paris Saint-Germain), Kenny Tete (Lyon), Lucas Tousart (Lyon), Jonathan Bamba (Lille), Martin Terrier (Lyon), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes)