5 of this season’s biggest breakout stars in Europe
Across Europe, the 2018/2019 season has entered the crucial stages.
From the colorful and noisy atmosphere in the German Bundesliga to the smooth-flowing Spanish La Liga, teams have been busy trying to fulfill their pre-season promise.
Some of the biggest names in world football have continued to play leading roles for their various club sides.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have remained the leading lights for their club sides; FC Barcelona and Juventus.
These two have re-defined football with their exploits over the last 12 years. That trend has continued this season with both players putting up staggering numbers.
However, alongside the Eternal Duo, some previously unheralded players have emerged. These men have grabbed their chance in the limelight with both hands and emerged as genuine talked-about talent (breakout stars).
In football, the term “breakout star” is a previously unheralded player who has shown brightly more than expected.
Here is a look at 5 of this season’s best breakout stars;
#5 Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
The youngster was not supposed to play a leading role in the team this season. Officially becoming a Real Madrid player in August, the Brazilian was drafted to Castilla to ease him into the rigors of European football.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus left a huge gap in the team’s attack. This was a gap that the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Marco, Asensio, and others struggled to fill.
The lack of verve and dynamism from the frontline meant that Vinicius was drafted into the senior side earlier than planned.
Blessed with searing pace and brilliant dribbling, his combinations with Benzema has been a delight to watch. He has displayed fearlessness in his decision making and playing style in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
This has allowed him to become the X-Factor in a team that can sometimes be too static and predictable.
The young Brazilian has been one of the bright lights of what has been a pretty dismal season for the former European champions.
He has not seen action since Zinedine Zidane returned as he continues to recover from an injury. However, 4 goals and 2 assists in 27 senior games for Los Merengues do not tell the full story of the impact he has had.
#4 João Félix (SL Benfica)
It is really hard these days to go wrong with a graduate from the famous SL Benfica academy. The Portuguese giants have produced talents for Europe’s giants by the bucketload in the last 3 decades making decent money off these processes.
In the last 3 years alone, the Águias (Eagles) have made over £230m selling youngsters like Bernardo Silva, Andre Gomes, Nelson Semedo, Renato Sanches, Viktor Lindelof et al.
The latest graduate to capture the world’s attention, 19-year-old Félix has emerged in big style for the team. He was promoted to the senior side at the beginning of the season
In less than 9 months, the youngster who can play as a winger or advanced midfielder has been getting rave reviews.
The most exciting thing about Félix is his passing. Usually, a young player is expected to be very raw in his distribution, taking many risks in his developmental journey.
However, that does not apply to the young Portuguese talent whose passing has been compared to the likes of legends like Luis Figo and Rio Costa.
The Lisbon giants are neck and neck with old foes; FC Porto for the Liga NOS title this season. They will be looking to their youngster with a reported £110m buyout to guide them to their 37th league title.
He has contributed greatly to the team’s cause with 14 goals and 7 assists in 32 matches.
#3 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Manchester City has one of the best line-ups of wingers in European football. Pep Guardiola has at his disposal, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, and Riyadh Mahrez.
Yet, it is almost certain that he will be looking back with regret at not fighting harder to keep the youngster. Such has been Sancho’s phenomenal performances in the Black & Yellow of Borussia Dortmund that a possible transfer fee of £100m is already being mentioned.
A classic English winger; pace and trickery, the 18-year-old is proving to be more than that. Clever in his movement and decision making, Sancho has been pulling defences in the Bundesliga apart with his clever feet and quick thinking.
He has developed an excellent rapport with club captain, Marco Reus, and Spanish striker, Paco Alcacer. His amazing displays have pushed the club’s former golden youngster; Christian Pulisic to a substitute’s role.
Sancho has made 38 appearances in his first full season as a senior pro for Lucien Favre’s side. He has already delivered 11 goals and 14 assists in this time.
#2 Krzysztof Piątek (AC Milan)
The Polish hitman was always going to be the headline act for this list of breakout stars. His impact in his first season at top-level European football has been brilliant. This had led to people forgetting that until July last year, Piatek was still plying his trade in the Polish Ekstraklasa with Cracovia Kraków.
Signed by Serie A side, Genoa for just £2.5m in July 2018, his adaptation to the nature of Italian football was as quick as it was impressive.
Displaying the sort of deadly finishing one would normally associate with the world’s truly elite strikers, the 23-year-old grabbed an amazing 19 goals in just 21 matches for I Rossoblù (The Red and Blues).
The decision by Gonzalo Higuain to cut short his loan spell at AC Milan and head to Chelsea left the Rossoneri with a huge hole to fill. Piatek was identified as the right man to fill this hole and a £32m deal was agreed.
Again, the Pole has taken to his second club in one season like a fish to water. Showing all the qualities he previously displayed, Piatek has been a God-sent for Milan with 8 goals in 12 games.
Inevitably, he has been compared to club legend, Andriy Shevchenko and countryman, Robert Lewandowski. Based on what he has done this season, Piatek looks the real deal.
#1 Nicolas Pépé (Lille OSC)
Before the season began, nobody would have put Lille as the closest challengers to PSG for the Ligue 1 title.
However, the team from the French Flanders have outplayed previously-favored teams like Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseille.
Transfer guru, Luis Campos, and coach Christophe Galtier have rebuilt a team on its knees following the disastrous Marcelo Bielsa experiment.
One player has stood above all others, that is the Ivorian winger, Pépé.
Much has been expected of the talented left winger since he came unto the scene for SCO Angers a couple of years ago. Slowly but surely, he has continued to mature and improve and currently looks a steal for Lille at £10m.
Comparing anyone with Messi would be doing a great disservice to the other player. However, the 23-year-old has shown many Messi-like qualities for Les Dogues (The Great Danes) as Lille is known.
His participation in build-up play, passing, scoring and finishing have been on a higher level than many a senior winger across Europe this term.
Playing on the right in a 4-3-3 formation has helped Pépé make good use of his searing pace, quick feet, and amazing dribbling to constantly evade challenges.
He was the Man Of The Match in Lille’s 5-1 demolition of PSG over the weekend. He looks set to be crowned as the best player in the league for this season, ahead of Kylian Mbappe amongst others.
Screamers, tap-ins, freekicks, penalties are just some of the goals he has gotten; 19 goals and 11 assists in 32 Ligue 1 games tell the story better.