Welcome back to the ESPN FC hotlist, which each month highlights some of the most in-form talent aged 23 or under across Europe.
Generally, young but established stars like Manchester City‘s Erling Haaland, Real Madrid‘s Jude Bellingham or Barcelona Gavi aren’t included — otherwise they’d be on the list every month — but we’ll shine a light on some of those who deserve praise for their performances and who could potentially be European football’s next big name.
While their La Masia academy has an amazing track record, Barcelona aren’t really known for developing world-class No. 9 strikers. But Guiu might turn out to break the pattern. Alongside Barca winger Lamine Yamal, he stood out for Spain at the European Under-17 Championship earlier in the year — scoring four goals to end as joint-top scorer with his teammate.
A renowned goal scorer in the Barca youth ranks, Guiu went viral after coming on as a match-winning substitute for the senior team in a 1-0 win over Athletic Club earlier this month. Despite being a surprise squad inclusion, the 6-foot-2 forward ended up deciding the game 33 seconds into his debut when he beat the offside trap to expertly chip the goalkeeper.
Guiu has first-class finishing abilities, a well-developed first touch, good aerial strength and a remarkable poacher’s instinct, so he should go far.
Isaak Touré, 20, CB, Lorient
The tallest outfield player in the top European leagues at 6-foot-9, Touré is a towering presence at the heart of the Lorient defence. Signed by Marseille in 2022 after impressing at the U19 Euros, Touré was allowed to leave the troubled club at the end of the summer transfer window for around €8 million as Bamo Meïté moved on loan in the opposite direction. But judging by his early performances, Marseille might regret that decision.
Because of his sheer size, the centre-back has been subject of plenty of discussion within the scouting community. But Touré mitigates some of his lack of his mobility through smart positioning, has a proactive style of defending and featuring in a back three plays to his strengths. He’s composed on the ball (though he generally leaves the longer distribution to his teammates) and clearly represents an attacking threat from set pieces when allowed to venture forward.
Just when you thought France had run out of promising young centre-backs, up pops Yoro. Another graduate of the prestigious Lille academy, Yoro started gaining first-team minutes in the second half of last season, but this campaign the 17-year-old has been a regular in Paulo Fonseca’s defence.
In addition to playing with the assurance of a more seasoned defender, the France U21 international has excellent mobility and game-reading skills, which allow him to see danger early and intercept passes before opponents can react. His confidence on the ball is also high, with 93% passing accuracy per 90 minutes, which comes in useful against high-pressing sides and means he can dribble his way out of trouble.
Loïs Openda, 22, ST, RB Leipzig
Loïs Openda with a goal vs. FC Cologne
Loïs Openda (RB Leipzig) with a Goal vs. FC Cologne, 10/28/2023
A €38.5m signing from Lens this summer, Openda has begun his Bundesliga career in spectacular fashion. The Belgium international has scored eight goals in the opening 10 games and is fast approaching his fourth-consecutive league season with double figures for goals.
Openda is primarily recognised for his exceptional finishing skills, which often originate as a result of piercing runs behind the opposing defence. Always on the move in search of space to exploit, he is not as active in the build-up phase and doesn’t tend to drop deep, but when the ball enters the final third he goes to work.
As a natural finisher with a goal-scorer’s DNA, he swiftly maps the defenders around him and takes a few decisive touches before finding the right angle for a shot.
Filip Jörgensen, 20, GK, Villarreal
Though young goalkeepers do not often feature regularly in this column — mainly due to lack of playing time — the Denmark U21 international is one to keep an eye on. After just two LaLiga appearances, Villarreal were happy to put their faith in the 20-year-old and so far he has stood up to the challenge.
Jörgensen was particularly impressive in the 0-0 draw away at Getafe, producing an outstanding array of saves — from low single-handed stops to first-class reaction efforts. However, it’s not just on the goalline where he excels; he plays with alertness and often sweeps up balls outside the box through his fine anticipation and bravery.
While his distribution still needs to be polished, the 6-foot-3 Jörgensen already cuts a fairly complete profile for a goalkeeper and will only get better with more first-team minutes.
Bryan Zaragoza, 22, FW, Granada
Utilised mainly as an impact player off the bench in the second division last season, the right-footed left winger has been in astounding form in LaLiga for newly promoted Granada. Indeed, his double — one an exquisite finish with the outside of his foot — in the 2-2 draw against Barcelona in early October and a call-up to Spain’s national team have put him firmly on the map.
Though still slightly untidy from a tactical point of view, Zaragoza’s temperament-driven style and directness — always wanting to push on into the box — make him tremendously exciting to watch. Blessed with unpredictable, natural take-on skills (3.7 successful per 90 minutes) and a powerful shot, his style resembles a young Franck Ribery. No matter how second-bottom Granada fare this season, Zaragoza is unlikely to be at the club in a year’s time.
Matìas Soulè, 20, AM, Frosinone
The Argentina U20 international has enjoyed a tremendous start to his season-long loan spell from Juventus. After 10 games, Soulé has found the net five times and supplied one assist.
Having stood out at youth level at Juventus — he started five games in Serie A for the Turin giants last season — the playmaker has come out of his shell at the newly promoted side. Stylistically somewhat of a trequartisa throwback, Soulé is equipped with magnificent technical ability and vision. On top of his newly found goal-scoring abilities — two of his goals this season have come from headers — he’s also become more progressive in his passing, often picking out a teammate’s runs with a beautifully angled through-ball.
Though excessively reliant on his left foot, he still manages to weave past opponents (3.6 successful dribbles per 90 minutes) and floats between the lines, often cutting in from the right wing.