We’re continuing our look at the best players from each age bracket in European football, with our latest line-up containing some brilliant youngsters currently featuring for some of Europe’s leading clubs.
This group of stars are the best 22-year-old players on the planet right now and possess the perfect mix of both talent and room to further improve, producing excellent displays at present but capable of reaching even greater heights.
Here are our rankings of the five best 22-year-old’s in European football right now:
5. Achraf Hakimi
Achraf Hakimi failed to make the grade at Real Madrid but has joined an ever-growing list of players to have left the Spanish giants and thrived, spending two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund before completing a move to Inter Milan last summer.
The Morocco international’s regular first-team football in the Bundesliga saw him establish himself as one of the most exciting attacking full-backs in Europe, his electric pace and ability to join the attack in quick fashion a huge asset to his side.
Hakimi has started positively at Inter Milan on the right-hand side of Antonio Conte’s wing-back system, scoring three goals and providing a further two assists in just six league starts.
It’s another example of the remarkably productivity the 22-year-old produces during his forward forays, having been directly involved in 15 goals for Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season, his 10 assists bettered by just five players across the division.
There remains room for growth from Hakimi though his defensive positioning is only likely to improve under the guidance of Conte, a player possessing the raw attributes to become one of the world’s premier flying full-backs.
4. Houssem Aouar
Houssem Aouar is a name that will be familiar to Premier League fans with speculation continuing to link the Lyon midfielder with a move to English football, his performances having attracted the attention of some of Europe’s elite.
Aouar is the latest bright prospect to come through Lyon’s academy ranks and has impressed with his technical talents, a midfielder with poise in possession and comfortable dictating the tempo.
The 22-year-old starred during Lyon’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season and earned his first senior cap for France in October, and he will be hoping to impress Didier Deschamps sufficiently to earn a place in Les Bleus talent-stacked squad for next summer’s European Championships.
Arsenal reportedly remain keen on his signing as they bid to solve their creativity void, Aouar’s ability to operate in tight spaces and thread passes capable of offering the Gunners’ midfield a new dimension.
Karim Benzema, Samuel Umtiti and Corentin Tolisso are just some of the players to have emerged at Lyon before being poached by Europe’s elite, and Aouar looks set to become the next home-grown prospect to command a hefty fee.
3. Federico Valverde
Real Madrid’s purchase of Federico Valverde for just £4.5m looks like some of the shrewdest business the big-spending Spanish giants have conducted in recent years, the Uruguayan youngster having risen through the ranks to make his mark at the Bernabeu.
The 22-year-old was patient for his opportunity as he learned his trade behind the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the pecking order, before establishing himself last season to become a valued member of Zinedine Zidane’s squad.
Valverde is a player capable of playing in multiple positions and has featured as part of a midfield trio as well as on the right-hand side of a flat four as an industrious and tireless wide midfielder.
The youngster is diligent in possession and capable of influencing the play at both ends, comfortable sitting in a deeper-lying position or pushing forward to join the attack with the star having scored three goals in six starts so far this season..
Real Madrid currently remain in transition despite only winning the title last season with several of their most illustrious names in the twilight of their careers, Valverde a player who can step into the side and lead a new era in the Spanish capital.
2. Christian Pulisic
European football is currently home to an emerging contingent of American players and at the forefront of the group is Christian Pulisic, the poster-boy of the US national side and a player who has made an immediate impact in the Premier League.
Pulisic moved to Borussia Dortmund as a teenager before breaking into the first-team at the Westfalenstadion, setting a host of records as his precocious talent flourished in Germany.
The 22-year-old moved to Chelsea ahead of the 2019/20 campaign and after an initial slow start, burst into life to finish his debut season at Stamford Bridge with nine goals and four assists in just 19 starts in the Premier League.
Pulisic was amongst the stars of the division following the return of the Premier League in June, his mix of scintillating speed and nimble footwork marking him out as one of the most exciting wide players in English football.
Injuries have halted his progress over the opening months of the current campaign, but Pulisic has the natural ability to become the greatest player his nation has ever produced.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a meteoric rise since emerging from Liverpool’s academy ranks, the boyhood Red playing his part in a golden era for the club and forging a reputation as arguably the world’s best attacking full-back.
The 22-year-old set a new record for Premier League assists by a defender during the 2018/19 season, a campaign which saw Liverpool crowned as champions of Europe for a sixth time.
Alexander-Arnold eclipsed his own landmark the following campaign as part of a record-breaking title triumph for Jurgen Klopp’s side, registering 13 assists to be named as the PFA Young Player of the Year as Liverpool won a first league title in three decades.
Trent Alexander-Arnold captains Liverpool for the first time tonight 👏
Another boyhood dream accomplished ❤️ pic.twitter.com/INA6y4DBYL
— Goal India (@Goal_India) December 9, 2020
The England international possesses superb delivery from wide areas and his technical ability is a vital component of the Reds’ style of play, his ability to effortlessly switch the play a weapon that is often used to launch counter-attacks.
Full-backs have rarely been more fashionable than in the modern era and Alexander-Arnold and teammate Andy Robertson remain essential to Liverpool’s style and system, the former’s career to date having been one of huge success.