by Tom Lees - 20th December 2015
With 2015 coming to a close it is time to take a look at 2016 and the players we are looking forward to seeing more of, and who we think are destined for big things in the months to come. This is the first of a two-part piece on our ‘Players To Watch’ and will focus on the players I expect to shine, Chris Andrews will bring you the second part with his own predictions, a feature which will appear on Fanformation.com shortly.
So here we go, here are my 10 players to watch in 2016.
When Jurgen Klopp walked through the doors at Anfield, one of his first points to make was to point an accusing finger at England’s treatment of young midfield talent Jordan Rossiter, who returned injured after representing the Under 19 side. The fact that Klopp felt the need to make this point so early in his time at Liverpool shows how important Rossiter is to his future plans.
As we come to the end of 2015, Rossiter has returned from injury and has found a place on Liverpool’s bench on a couple of occasions, potentially signalling that 2016 could be the year he makes his name in the first team. Nobody is expecting Rossiter to be winning awards, or making the full England team, but as one of the only local lads in the Liverpool squad and with the tag of ‘next Steven Gerrard’ being given to him by Robbie Fowler, the next 12 months could be very exciting for the young midfielder.
As Klopp rebuilds Liverpool over the summer, bringing in the characters that he wants to play his style of football, expect Rossiter to gain more and more first team minutes, the fans are eager for a young local lad to represent them in the team now that Gerrard and Carragher have gone, Jordan Rossiter is front of the queue in being their next big star.
With the European Championships just a few months away, many eyes in Italy are turning to young Domenico Berardi in the hope that the forward can make the jump to the National side in time for the tournament. Of course Berardi has flirted with breaking into the Azzurri team before, injury forcing him to withdraw from the squad in October 2015, and was even unlucky in some expert’s eyes to miss out on the World Cup squad for 2014.
Originally co-owned by Juventus and Sassuolo, but now permanently contracted to the Neroverdi after the deal in the summer to take Zaza to Turin, he has racked up an impressive 115 first team appearances for the club, scoring an incredible 44 goals. A phenomenal return and at only 21 years of age the best years are yet to come. It is no wonder rumours linking the forward with a move back to Juventus are surfacing again, the champions retaining the right to sign the player in 2016 as part of the deal with Sassuolo.
So with a potential big money move ahead, and calls for the youngster to not only travel to France for the European Championships, but play a key role in the team, 2016 could well be the year that Domenico Berardi makes his mark at the highest level.
After recovering from heart surgery, which was necessary after a tumour was found during his Atlético Madrid medical in 2014, Ángel Correa would spend the majority of 2015 getting back healthy again. The former San Lorenzo star would finally make his debut in August as a substitute against Las Palmas.
In the four months since his return Correa has made a number of appearances for the Madrid side in La Liga and the Champions League, and has also earned a handful of International caps for Argentina, scoring his first goal for his Country in a friendly win over Bolivia. Considering the serious nature of the operation in 2014, it is an almost unbelievable feat for young Correa to not only return to playing football, but to pick up where he left off.
As more time goes by, Ángel Correa has all the attributes required to become a permanent fixture in Diego Simeone’s Atlético attack, and with National games already under his belt, it is clear that the immediate future for the young Argentine is very bright indeed. Considering what was achieved in four short months at the end of this year, it’ll be exciting to see what Ángel Correa can achieve in 2016.
Young Riechedly Bazoer had quite the 2015, establishing himself as a first choice midfielder for Ajax, and even more impressively moving through the Netherlands Under 19 side, into the Under 21’s and then finally making his full International debut for the Oranje in November against Wales. He has shown such maturity in his play, that age doesn’t seem an issue, and his style has drawn a number of comparisons to the great Clarence Seedorf.
As both Ajax, recovering from losing their title to rivals PSV, and the Dutch National team, missing out on Euro 2016 qualification, are rebuilding their sides with a new youthful look, Riechedly Bazoer looks likely to be one of the key players in both setups. With his energy, adaptability and power, expect Bazoer to feature in a lot of games in the new year, with Ajax determined to reclaim their crown, Bazoer will be a key player as the season draws to a close and trophies are handed out.
The summer will be of great interest also, already rumours are circulating of potential bids, particularly from Arsenal and Barcelona, and it will be difficult for Ajax to keep hold of their young star. Whether or not a move at this stage of his career would be the best thing or not for Bazoer is down to opinion, and the destination involved, but as every year goes by expect the midfielder’s stature in World football to grow.
Young Óliver is the jewel of the Atlético Madrid youth system, bursting into the first team squad alongside Javier Manquillo and Saúl Ñíguez, even rival fans were curiously looking on at the youngster’s progress. Not only touted to be the future of Atlético, he’s also expected to be the star for La Roja in the upcoming years.
Óliver made his full debut for Atlético Madrid at the start of the 2012/13 season, coming on as a substitute away at Levante, and his progress from there was slightly tempered, mainly due to the tactics used by Simeone, but also because of fierce competition for places. A loan transfer to Villarreal followed, which again didn’t give the young talent as much game time as he would have liked. However, the season long loan at Portuguese giants FC Porto in 2014/15 was the making of Óliver.
He became a star for Porto, featuring in both league and Champions League, he was allowed to play in his preferred creative midfield position, and gained the experience required to make the next step in his career. Now back at Atlético, Diego Simeone turned to Óliver immediately upon his return, a trait of Simeone’s management that should be truly admired, and the youngster has proven he has what it takes to be the star that Atletico knew he could be. Already likened to Andrés Iniesta, as a Spanish midfielder there can be no greater compliment, his career is on the verge of greatness.
With the European Championships just 6 months away, don’t be surprised to see young Óliver Torres make the Spain squad, although currently uncapped it is only a matter of time before he is representing the National side at senior level.
Recently awarded the title of ‘Bola de Prata’ in the Brasileirão for best newcomer, the top scorer in this year’s Copa do Brasil helping his team to the final, where he scored, dubbed the new Neymar, it’s fair to say that Gabriel, or Gabigol as he is commonly known, is probably right now the hottest young prospect in World football.
After a fantastic year, 2016 looks set to be a huge year for the Brazilian forward. The Olympic Games is in Rio, and Gabriel is one of the star names of the Brazilian Olympic team and a gold medal in front of his own people will be top of his list of achievements. Already a constant name in the World of transfer rumours, and after turning down the advances of Fenerbahce in the Summer, it will not come as a shock if young Gabriel makes the move away from Brazil sooner rather than later. Although previously stating his desire to win a trophy with Santos, the matter may be taken out of his hands, and with rumoured strong interest from Milan and Madrid, plus Barcelona holding first refusal on any move, a transfer seems likely.
Internationally it seems the focus for Gabriel is the Olympic team, but once that tournament is completed I fully expect the youngster to be given his chances for the full Brazil National team. It is something that the forward deserves, and many fans feel is overdue in coming, any big money move to Europe will further the demands for his inclusion.
Gabriel is a superstar in the making, he isn’t the next Neymar or even Robinho, he is Gabigol, a very special talent indeed.
The attacking midfield prospect really burst on the scene in the Summer of 2015, competing in both the FIFA Under 20 World Cup and the UEFA European Under 19 Championships with only a couple of weeks between each tournament. Kovalenko was even awarded the golden boot in the Under 20 World Cup, contributing 5 goals and 2 assists to the team.
After a busy summer with Ukraine’s younger teams, it was perhaps a surprise that Kovalenko was involved straight away for his club Shakhtar Donetsk, even competing in the clubs Champions League campaign. His impressive performances at club level also saw the youngster earn a call up to the full National team, a real sign of progression and confidence from the coaching staff for his ability. Kovalenko was an unused sub in the European Championship qualifier, but it was a sign that his ability will be called upon again in the near future.
Appearances towards the end of 2015 have been restricted to substitute cameos, but this is possibly to protect the youngster against fatigue, and as the season nears a climax the young goal scoring midfielder may yet have a big part to play. 2016 looks set to be another year of fast progression for Kovalenko, expect his name to feature again for Ukraine, and he’ll be hoping his tournament experiences in 2015 will give him a chance to feature in the European Championships in France.
Every transfer window that comes along sees the name Adrien Rabiot mentioned with a host of clubs, recently Napoli, Arsenal, Manchester United and Roma have been mentioned as the Frenchman’s destination, many more clubs will no doubt be mentioned in January.
After a successful loan spell with Toulouse, Rabiot was touted as a future captain for Paris St German, but a few issues of attitude and his agent (also Rabiot’s Mother) looking to earn him a better contract, his career at the Parisians looked in doubt.
Those issues now seem a thing of the past and the tall, classy, cultured midfielder is a regular in the PSG midfield, gaining valuable experience as he pushes closer and closer to International recognition. 2016 will be particularly interesting in that regard, the European Championships in their own back yard, a space in the French squad may yet present itself and Rabiot has all the ability to shine at International level.
Also his club PSG are going from strength to strength in the league, and Rabiot will be looking to continue his fine form in Ligue 1 plus trying to push the French club even further in the competition they most want, the Champions League. Of course he will still be the subject of constant transfer speculation, but that it because of his quality, and it will be a surprise if PSG allow him to leave, if they do it won’t be on the cheap.
The younger brother of Everton striker Romelu, Jordan Lukaku slipped slightly off radar after moving from Anderlecht to fellow Belgian side KV Oostende. After early career transfer speculation involving Tottenham, the young attacking left back has found himself a nice home in Oostende and has gained valuable experience out of the limelight.
This experience and regular quality performances saw Lukaku earn his first cap for Belgium in October 2015 and as he gains more and more game time at club level, he could find himself becoming a regular on the left for Belgium for many years to come.
With this success though, the transfer speculation will grow once more, especially in England where his elder brother is having a magnificent season for Everton, a number of clubs would jump at the chance to sign another Lukaku. That is an unfortunate scenario for the youngster, he will always be compared with Romelu despite being totally different players, Jordan in his own right made his way into the Belgian team, and he has the talent to make a successful career wherever he ends up.
Next year could be a big year for Jordan, further games for Belgium will be on the radar, media attention will be high and his name could find its way onto many clubs shopping lists. His could be a name we will be seeing a lot more often.
A product of the 1860 Munich academy, Julian Weigl made history in the first match of the 2014/15 season when he was made captain of the side, the youngest captain in the history of 1860 Munich, surely a sign of the quality of player they had at their disposal. Already a star player for the German Under 20 side, it was at last summers Under 20 World Cup where young Weigl found out he was a transfer target for Bundesliga giants, Borussia Dortmund, a deal finalised between the two clubs for a reported €5 million.
Thrust straight into the Dortmund first team on his arrival, Julian Weigl has proven to be a revelation, with performances belying his tender years. Now shining for the German Under 21 side, there are already calls for his inclusion in the full national team, although competition for places in the World Champions midfield is fierce.
After a dismal season last term for Dortmund, this year they are back on song as the closest competitors for the mighty Bayern side, the inclusion of Weigl in this return to form highlights the impact the young midfielder has had. With the potential return of Champions League football next season, and continued exposure to high pressure match time, Weigl looks sure to be a midfielder of real talent and 2016 could see him grow into a star.
So there you have it, these are the 10 players who I feel could have big years in 2016, which players are you expecting big things from in the 12 months ahead? Let us know in the comments below.