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Six Attacking Players Positioned to be the Future of LaLiga

 

Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos or Jan Oblak are still the stars of LaLiga, but starlets like Ansu Fati, Vinícius Júnior and João Félix may shine in the competition for years to come. Here’s some quick-hitting data on some of the most notable names contributing to their club’s attack.

By: Luis Ledesma, Kevin Chroust

La Masia’s Latest

This list consists of players 21 or younger, which really isn’t fair to a 17-year-old.

Barcelona wonderkid Ansu Fati has another four years in that classification, yet he’s fit right in with those much further along in their development. Besides his precocious records such as youngest player to score for the Barça first team in LaLiga history or youngest player to score in Champions League history, the Guinea-Bissau-born, La Masia-trained Fati has been an effective option for the Barça attack for a player of any age.

The starlet winger, who has chosen to represent Spain internationally, has scored four league goals as he’s been introduced as a first-team option a bit earlier than anticipated with injuries to players like Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez, while Antoine Griezmann has at times struggled since his move to Camp Nou. In those minutes, Fati has proven himself by recording the second-best ratio of goals per 90 minutes (0.53) of any player 21 or younger in the competition. That’s good enough for 12th in the division, regardless of age. Among the LaLiga youth, Alexander Isak (0.60) leads that category, and we’ll get back to him shortly.

LaLiga Top Goals per 90 (21 or Younger)

PlayerGoalsxGGoals - xGGoals per 90
Alexander Isak76.20.80.60
Ansu Fati42.31.70.53
Óscar Rodríguez73.63.40.38
Rodrygo Goes21.70.30.27
João Félix45.1-1.10.26

(Minimum 500 minutes played)

Fati doesn’t have the xG of other youngsters in the Spanish league such as Isak and João Félix, but he’s done more than expected with the chances he’s had as seen by a 1.68 xG differential, which trails only the next player on this list.

Cannon of La Fábrica

Notice Óscar Rodríguez is third on the above goals per 90 list. The former Real Madrid reserve team player – currently on loan at CD Leganés – has come across as one of the division’s best shooters from distance, scoring five of his seven goals from outside the box (three from direct free kicks). That’s surpassed only by Lionel Messi (eight goals from outside the area and four from direct free kicks).

This plays out in his expected goals differential (3.4), which is the third highest of any player in LaLiga this season, after Maxi Gómez (4.35) and – yes – Messi (4.53).

LaLiga Best xG Differential

PlayerGoalsxGGoals - xG
Lionel Messi1914.474.53
Maxi Gómez94.654.35
Óscar Rodríguez73.603.40
Ángel Rodríguez106.613.39
Luis Suárez118.322.68

Nordic Future

Real Sociedad are already in the Copa del Rey final and are returning from the suspension of play in Champions League position, and they’ve done it with plenty of youth. Four of their five leaders in minutes played are 23 or younger, and that doesn’t even include Alexander Isak. Plenty of coach Imanol Alguacial’s success has had something to do with Martin Ødegaard and Isak. The Swedish striker is the joint-highest scorer of any player aged 21 or younger (seven, level with Óscar Rodríguez) and has posted the best goals per 90 minutes ratio (0.60). On the other hand, the Norwegian midfielder is the joint-highest assister of any young player (five, level with Emerson Royal) and has the best ratio of chances created per 90 minutes (2.42).

LaLiga Most Chances Created per 90 (21 or Younger)

PlayerAssistsChances Created per 90
Martin Ødegaard52.42
Samuel Chukwueze11.96
Vinícius Júnior11.69
Ansu Fati11.58
Rodrygo Goes01.49

(Minimum 500 minutes played)

The former Real Madrid player Ødegaard also ranks third in LaLiga in expected assists (5.9), only surpassed by Messi (8.8) and Jesús Navas (6.9).

More Shadow Than Light?

A lot was expected from João Félix, last summer’s most expensive transfer. The Atlético Madrid player has appeared in 20 of 27 league games so far but only completed the full 90 minutes three times. Despite only totaling four goals and an assist in LaLiga, the Portuguese player has shown plenty of personality. Among players 21 or younger, he’s second in shots attempted (50) and has the highest ratio of shots per 90 (3.19).

LaLiga Highest Shots per 90 (21 or Younger)

PlayerShotsShots per 90Conversion %
João Félix503.28.0
Vinícius Júnior313.16.5
Ansu Fati233.017.4
Juan Hernández262.97.7
Alexander Isak342.920.6

(Minimum 500 minutes)

Just 14 of his attempts have been on target for the worst percentage (28%) among the 16 LaLiga players who have attempted at least 50 shots.

This wasn’t (as much) the case last season in Portugal when he scored 15 goals for Benfica. Félix put 38.8% of his shots on target with a 22.4% conversion rate compared to 8% this season. It sounds simple, but Atlético may want to consider his role and find a way to get him the ball in the penalty area more – 77.6% of his shots came inside the box last season, which has dropped significantly to 54% this season.

Ultrasonic Samba 

Vinícius Júnior has also shown plenty of personality in 2019/20. He made his Real Madrid debut last season and has gained importance this campaign, becoming crucial in two of the most important games of the season. In the derby against Atlético Madrid, his second assist fed Ferland Mendy’s assist for Karim Benzema’s goal in a 1-0 win. In El Clásico, he scored the first goal in a 2-0 win. The tricky Brazilian winger’s defining skill, though, is dribbling, and the data confirms it. The former Flamengo player has attempted more take-ons per 90 minutes (8.6) than any other LaLiga player with at least 500 minutes played, including Messi (8.3).

LaLiga Take-Ons per 90 (21 or Younger)

PlayerTake-OnsTake-Ons per 90Take-On Success %
Vinícius Júnior868.643.0
Samuel Chukwueze825.252.4
Takefusa Kubo815.142.0
Ansu Fati374.945.9
Óscar Rodríguez874.741.4

The issue is his success rate of 43% in those take-ons isn’t quite where Real Madrid might like, but there’s certainly room for growth. Messi’s take-on percentage in 2008/09 – the last year he would have qualified for this 21-and-under age range – was 48.4. It jumped to 60.9 a season later, and at 32, it’s 67.4.

Still, Vinícius is managing to create chances even as a young, unpolished footballer. Among those 21 or younger, his chances created per 90 (1.6) rank third, while his expected assists per 90 (0.32) rank first. That mark trails only Kylian Mbappé among the 21-and-under group in Europe’s top five leagues. He’s even with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby and just ahead of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Top 5 European Leagues xA per 90 (21 or Younger)

PlayerMinutesAssistsxAxA per 90
Kylian Mbappé1,51458.80.52
Jadon Sancho2,067167.50.32
Moussa Diaby1,47455.30.32
Vinícius Júnior90113.20.32
Trent Alexander-Arnold2,550128.30.30

(Minimum 500 minutes played)