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Sancho, Haaland And Other U21 Stars To Watch In The Bundesliga


Read on to find out what the data says about the brightest stars making a name for themselves in the Bundesliga. 

By: Tim Lutz

After analysing the hottest U21 prospects in both the Premier League and LaLiga, we draw our attention to Germany.

It’s now been three years since Jadon Sancho celebrated his debut in the Bundesliga, and since then the Englishman has become one of the faces of the competition, scoring and assisting goals regularly with customary excellence.

An expert dribbler and creator, there are many similarities between him and a young Mario Götze, who left Dortmund aged 21 to try his luck at Bayern. According to rumours in the media, Sancho’s got the choice to play for almost any club he desires in the future.

But what makes him so special compared to others? Whether creating opportunities for his teammates or finishing them himself, Sancho is at the heart of Dortmund’s attack. Indeed since Sancho’s debut, only Thomas Müller has assisted more Bundesliga goals (46) than him (36), and before turning 20 in March earlier this year, he’d become the highest-scoring teenager Bundesliga history (27).

Expected goals (xG) tell us that since his debut the “average” player should have scored about 20 goals given the chances Sancho’s taken – but the English international has 30 to his name, ten goals above that figure. We’re starting to get a real sense that Sancho is a highly-skilled finisher, able to convert chances above his xG levels, rather than just a player enjoying an extended good run of fortune.

Erling Haaland is exactly the kind of striker Borussia Dortmund’s fans were looking for after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left the Black and Yellow in January 2018. The 20-year-old Norwegian combines a strong physique (194 cm, 88 kg), electric pace (35.2 km/h – fourth-quickest top speed clocked this season) and cold-blooded coolness in front of the goal (38% shot conversion rate in the Bundesliga). In short, he’s a bit of a freak.

Scoring a hat-trick on debut against Augsburg in January 2020 heralded the start of something big. Not even a year has passed since he joined Dortmund, and already Haaland is perhaps the first genuine competitor to fellow striker Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga scoring charts.

Since Haaland’s debut, only Lewandowski has scored more Bundesliga goals (26) than the Norwegian, who has netted 23 times in his first 22 games. That’s a Bundesliga record for the most goals scored in a player’s opening 22 matches, beating Uwe Seeler’s 20 goals in 22 games in the very first Bundesliga season in 1963/64.

Haaland is absolutely lethal in front of goal. Since Opta started collecting detailed data of the Bundesliga in 2004/05, no other player with more than five Bundesliga goals has a shot conversion rate as good as Haaland’s. For comparison, Lewandowski’s Bundesliga shot conversion rate sits at 20%.

Born in a refugee camp in Ghana in 2000, Alphonso Davies earned his Major League Soccer debut for Vancouver aged 15, became the youngest player to play and score a goal for Canada aged 16, won the Champions League with Bayern aged 19, was awarded Rookie of the Bundesliga in 2019/20 and is now widely considered as one of the best left-backs in the world. His rise has been nothing short of meteoric, and we wrote a more in-depth column about him earlier this year. 

Davies was getting solid minutes under his belt with Bayern in 2018/19 under Niko Kovac, but his true breakthrough came in November 2019 when Hansi Flick took over the Bavarians. Since then, Davies has appeared in 43 out of a possible 50 games under Flick, scoring two goals and assisting another eight.

The left-back pairs explosive pace with strong dribbling skills, agility and creativity. In June 2020, against Werder Bremen, the Canadian set a new speed record in Bayern Munich’s title-clinching win. He was clocked at 36.5 km/h, officially making him the fastest player in Germany’s top-flight since at least 2013/14.

Jude Bellingham needed just one full season to get himself on the radar of all the big clubs in Europe. Aged 16, the creative midfielder played 41 times in the Championship last year for Birmingham City, scoring four goals and assisting another two in the process. In the summer of 2020, sporting manager Michael Zorc was able to lure Bellingham to sign for Borussia Dortmund. Sancho, who joined Dortmund aged just 17, has provided a recent example of Dortmund’s willingness to include young players as first-team regulars.

Unlike Sancho though, Bellingham didn’t take much time to settle in Dortmund, playing 12 out of 13 games in all competitions this season.

He scored a goal in his first German Cup appearance, becoming the youngest professional player ever to score a goal in this competition (aged 17 years and 77 days).

He also provided an assist in his very first Bundesliga match against Borussia Mönchengladbach, becoming the youngest player to assist a goal in the Bundesliga since Opta starting collecting assist data in 2004/05, taking the record away from Nuri Sahin, who was the playmaker in Dortmund’s championship-winning team in 2011/12. Maybe Bellingham can follow in his footsteps and lead Dortmund back to silverware.

Youngest Players To Assist A Bundesliga Goal (Since 2004/05):

1September 19, 2020Jude BellinghamBorussia Dortmund17Y 2M 21D
2December 17, 2005Nuri SahinBorussia Dortmund17Y 3D 12D
3April 20, 2013Marc StenderaEintracht Frankfurt17Y 4M 10D
4February 16, 2013Max MeyerFC Schalke 0417Y 4M 29D
5October 3, 2020Florian WirtzBayer 04 Leverkusen17Y 5M 0D

In November 2020, his strong performances were acknowledged by England manager Gareth Southgate who handed him his first cap for England (vs. Republic of Ireland).

When Giovanni Reyna signed for Borussia Dortmund in 2019, it’s likely that the success story of Christian Pulisic in the Bundesliga was a promising point of comparison. Both came straight from the United States to join Dortmund’s youth academy, and both are attacking midfielders who can play from either wing and in the centre behind a striker.

Success in Germany runs in Reyna’s family. His father Claudio, who played in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen and Wolfsburg from 1994 until 1999 (scoring six goals in 74 Bundesliga matches), surely had a large part in convincing him that joining a side in the German Bundesliga was the right next step.

The American was given his Bundesliga debut in January 2020 under manager Lucien Favre, and it seems that the Swiss boss is a big fan of the 18-year-old. Since then, Reyna’s appeared in 23 of 25 Bundesliga games, and in September 2020, Reyna scored his first Bundesliga goal against Borussia Mönchengladbach, aged 17 years and 311 days.  In doing so, he became the second-youngest American scorer in Bundesliga history. The youngest? None other than Pulisic (17 years, 212 days).

In October 2020, Reyna assisted three goals in a single game against SC Freiburg to become the youngest player to ever do so in the Bundesliga.

Youngest Players To Assist Three Goals In A Bundesliga Game (Since 2004/05):

1October 3, 2020Giovanni ReynaBorussia Dortmund17Y 325D
2October 21, 2017Kai HavertzBayer 04 Leverkusen18Y 132D
3March 12, 2016Kingsley ComanFC Bayern München19Y 273D
4February 11, 2006RafinhaFC Schalke 0420Y 157D
5May 13, 2009Mesut ÖzilSV Werder Bremen20Y 210D

Giovanni Reyna’s heatmap vs. SC Freiburg (3rd October 2020)

Shortly after, in November 2020, Reyna received his first call up for the United States senior squad, and in only his second cap he managed to score his first goal (vs. Panama) – just three days after his 18th birthday. Only two players were younger when scoring their first goal for the USNMT: that man again, Christian Pulisic (17 years, 8 months, 11 days) and Juan Agudelo (17 years, 11 months, 25 days).

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