2018 flew by and it proved to be yet another fascinating year for the beautiful game.

For the first time in a decade, someone not called Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo lifted the illustrious Ballon d’Or.

France, after waiting 20 years, became world champions for a second time. At the heart of Les Bleus’ triumph was teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé.

He’ll no doubt fill the void that will soon be left by Messi and Ronaldo, but for now, Mbappé’s rise continues to be televised.

2017 was undoubtedly his breakthrough year – in which he guided boyhood club Monaco to a Champions League semi-final berth and French championship before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain – and the last 12 months saw many have their own.

So, as means of looking back, we’ve compiled a breakthrough XI of talents from Europe’s top five leagues.

The players that have used 2018 to announce themselves on the biggest stage at the earliest point in their career possible.

Goalkeeper: Emil Audero

Age: 21

Club(s): Venezia and Sampdoria

Juventus’ future number one? It’s not an impossible thought.

Audero, who is contracted to the Turin-based club until 2021, got his first true taste of Serie A football in 2018 whilst on loan at Sampdoria.

Another promising young Italian ‘keeper, the Polish-born shot-stopper, with nine Italy U21 caps under his belt, has been ever-present since joining ‎I Blucerchiati last summer.

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Key stat: Emil Audero has kept 7 clean sheets in 19 games for Sampdoria in Serie A this season, only Samir Handanovic (10) has more in the league.

Right-back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Age: 21

Club: Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace and youth development have become synonymous with each other. The latest graduate come good is striker-turned-full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who made his senior debut amid the club undergoing an injury crisis in February 2018.

After finishing the 2017/18 strong, he soon established himself as the club’s first choice right-back and has not looked back since with many tipping him to become an England international this year.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s rise was also meteoric, however the Liverpool right-back had been turning heads before the start of last year.

Key stat: Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made more tackles (69) than any other defender in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

Centre-back: Nikola Milenković

Age: 21

Club: Fiorentina

Serbia have long produced incredible centre-backs and Nikola Milenkovic fits that particular tradition. A colossus standing over six foot, he won his first 10 international caps in 2018 and has since been linked with a move to Manchester United where compatriot Nemanja Vidić remains a hero.

Key stat:

Centre-back: Mario Hermoso

Age: 23

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Club: Espanyol

Real Madrid’s current starting lineup might not be chock-full of academy graduates but Spain’s biggest club still produces stellar young footballers. A recent example would be Mario Hermoso who left the nation’s capital for Espanyol ahead of the 2017/18 season.

After being eased into his new surroundings the Madrilenian would enjoy a top 2018; firmly establishing himself as a presence in Espanyol’s first-team and through numerous eye-catching performances earned himself a debut international cap against Bosnia-Herzegovina in November.

Key stat:

Left-back: Achraf Hakimi 

Age: 20

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Big things were expected when Achraf Hakimi broke into Real Madrid’s first team after graduating from their youth set-up. He remains a promising talent and showcased that in 2018 when playing on a consistent basis at Borussia Dortmund (where the 13-time European champions have loaned him out to for two years).

Capable of playing at either full-back position he’s made the left-back berth his own.

Key stat: Hakimi is one of two players to provide a hat-trick of assists in the 2018/19 Champions League – Jordi Alba is the other.

Central midfielder: Declan Rice

Age: 19

Club: West Ham

Declan Rice is among football’s most wanted at club and international level.

So far he’s collected three Republic of Ireland caps, all in friendlies, but is still eligible to represent England. A decision will soon be made, but for now, he continues to shine for West Ham

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The backend of 2018 saw him firmly establish himself through performances that screamed captain material, and the armband might even be in Rice’s future after signing a new long-term deal.

Key stat: Declan Rice played more Premier League games than any other West Ham player in 2018 (34) and made at least 10 more tackles than any other teammate (73).

Central midfielder: Houssem Aouar

Age: 20

Club: Lyon

It’s hard to see Houssem Aouar remaining with Lyon for the foreseeable future if he continues in this vein.

The hometown hero, following in the footsteps of teammate and club captain Nabil Fekir, has captured the imagination (and Manchester City’s interest) following a string of wondrous performances for the Ligue 1 giants.

Aouar, who cites Andres Iniesta as a reference and truly came of age in 2018, has yet to debut for the French national team, but that will soon be corrected.

Key stat: No Lyon player has completed more take-ons than Houssem Aouar in Ligue 1 this season (29).

Attacking midfielder: Kai Havertz

Age: 19

Club: Bayer Leverkusen

German football’s next big thing? Very few are betting against Havertz not becoming world class. After becoming Bayer Leverkusen’s youngest scorer in April 2017, it was 2018 in which he firmly established himself as one of the brightest talents in Europe.

A disappointing year for the national team – failing to get out of their World Cup group and then being relegated from UEFA Nations League A – there’s no doubt the fleet-footed playmaker, a target for Bayern (quelle surprise) will be part of their rebuild.

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Key stat: Kai Havertz has been directly involved in 14 goals (nine goals and five assists) in 21 league and European appearances for Bayer Leverkusen this season

Right-winger: Brais Méndez

Age: 21

Club: Celta de Vigo

An impressive backend to 2018 saw Méndez earn a first senior international cap. The attacking midfielder, who is also comfortable on the flanks, has made every second count in a Celta jersey.

Though he began at Villarreal it was at the Galician club he learnt his trade. Now a valuable first team member Méndez, destined for big things, will be looking to push on in 2019.

Key stat: Brais Méndez was directly involved in nine goals in his final eight games of 2018.

Left-winger: Jadon Sancho

Age: 18

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Sancho’s decision to leave Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund has long been vindicated. His progression – ultimately relegating golden child Christian Pulisic to a squad role before departing for Chelsea – has been been staggering.

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The now-England international has completed more take-ons than any other player in the Bundesliga this season whilst only Sebastian Haller (8) can better his seven assists.

A modern dynamic winger, the Londoner is fast-becoming a goal-making machine and one of the brightest young stars in European football.

Key stat: Jadon Sancho scored eight goals and provided 13 assists in his 34 appearances for Borussia Dortmund in 2018 – 2o of which were starts.

Centre-forward: Luka Jovic

Age: 21

Club: Eintracht Frankfurt

A throwback Jovic took 2018 by storm. Eintracht Frankfurt’s marksman is now one of the most feared centre-forward’s in Germany’s top division.

On loan from Benfica, his long-term future could be there, but for now, the Serb is aiming to help fire the Eagles to their best Bundesliga finish in quite a few years.

Key stat: Jovic scored 24 goals across all club competitions in 2018, more than any other U23 player to play in one of Europe’s top five leagues.

The post Combined XI: the breakthrough talents of 2018 in Europe’s top five leagues appeared first on Squawka News.

Source : Hitng.info