WhoScored has been on a scouting mission across Europe's top 5 leagues to pinpoint the up and coming stars on the continent. Based on WhoScored ratings we have compiled a list of the top 20 under-21s so far this season, analysing 5 of the top 10 in particular, over a range of positions.
All players analysed must have been below the age of 22 at the beginning of this season, with Barcelona continuing the prolific nature in which they raise world-beaters through top rated under-21 Thiago Alcantara.
Top 20 Under-21s
1. Thiago Alcantara (MC) - Barcelona / 20 / 7.68
The only player under the age of 21 to make the top 20 players of any age in the top 5 league's is Barcelona's latest superstar in the making. At just 20, Thiago Alcantara has picked up an average WhoScored rating of 7.68, ranking him 19th overall and first of any player in our age restriction.
Playing across the midfield this season, Alcantara has 10 La Liga appearances to his name, proving Guardiola's liking of the youngster with only Messi playing in more league games so far.
Without a doubt his main asset is his passing, learning from the best of them through teammate Xavi. In fact, only the pass master himself has a better success rate over the top 5 leagues than Alcantara's superb 94%. Add to this that he has averaged 82.2 passes per game in La Liga, ranking him 5th in the division, and it is easy to see why he has already been capped 3 times for the best international team in the world.
2. Mario Gotze (AMR/C) - Borussia Dortmund / 19 / 7.63
3. Gaston Ramirez (AMC/FW) - Bologna / 20 / 7.58
Having sat out of the Bologna side for their opening two matches of the Serie A season, Uruguayan playmaker Gaston Ramirez has played a part in every game since, proving he is more than ready for regular action. The 20-year-old has 3 goals and 3 assists in just 6 starts, amassing a WhoScored rating of 7.58 in the process.
His aforementioned rating ranks him as the 7th best player in the Serie A this season having made 2.8 key passes per game (10th in Serie A). However, it is undoubtedly the South American's trickery and pace on the ball that sets him apart. A total of 3.3 successful dribbles per game is the most in the Italian league and he has also been fouled more often per game (3.4) than any other player - indicative of the reputation that he has already built up, as managers and players target him for 'special treatment'.
4. Eden Hazard (AML/R) - Lille / 20 / 7.53
5. David De Gea (GK) - Manchester United / 21 / 7.21
6. Andre Schurrle (AML/FW) - Bayer Leverkusen / 21 / 7.19
7. Alexander Merkel (AMC) - Genoa / 19 / 7.15
8. Phil Jones (DC/R) - Manchester United / 19 / 7.10
A transfer fee in the range of £16m-£20m certainly raised a few eyebrows when Phil Jones left Blackburn for Manchester United, though the young Englishmen is already proving to be one of the signings of the summer. It is almost impossible to comprehend that the imposing frame that he occupies is that of a teenager, and at 19, Jones has already forced his way into the England team.
At his tender age, his abilities have already put pressure on the likes of Rio Ferdinand to perform, with many suggesting the former England captain is now surplus to requirements at Old Trafford; an unthinkable notion only 6 months ago.
While he has made a decent 1.6 tackles and interceptions per game respectively, the youngsters versatility has been key to his success thus far. Excelling at right-back as well as his usual centre-back berth, Jones has completed more dribbles per game (1.2) than any other defender in the league, and only less key passes per game than Branislav Ivanovic (0.6) in terms of natural centre-backs.
9. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) - Borrusia Monchengladbach / 19 / 7.09
A starting teenage goalkeeper is a rarity in any top team, though that is what Marc-Andre ter Stegen is turning MGladbach into in Germany right now. After 12 league games the relegation play-off winners from last season sit 4th and owe much of their standing down to an exceptional defence thus far, backed up by the young German between the posts.
It is fair to say that ter Stegen's promotion to the first team was a key factor in keeping MGladbach in the Bundesliga last term, instantly shoring up a shaky defence with his presence. Having still only made 18 league appearances in his career, the teenager has only conceded 12 goals, and only more than once in a single game on one occasion. A total of 4 clean sheets in 12 games this season makes it 7 in 18 overall, coming courtesy of an impressive 3.42 saves and 2.83 good claims per game.
10. Gokhan Tore (MR/AMR) - Hamburger SV / 19 / 7.08
When Chelsea released former youth product Gokhan Tore at the end of last season, Hamburg were quick to offer him a new opportunity, with Frank Arnesen knowing all about the young Turk from his days with the Blues. The 19-year-old has been a shining light in a tough campaign for HSV, which is showing signs of recovery under new manager Thorsten Fink.
The winger is one of a large breed of up and coming players who rely heavily on their ability to beat an opponent, though the Turkish international is already an expert in this regard. Having completed 5.5 successful dribbles per game, Tore is the best in Europe, ahead of the likes of Messi, while he has also proven that his end product is not bad either, producing 4 assists - only bettered by two Bundesliga players - from 1.9 key passes per game (15th in the league).
Best of the Rest
A look at the players in the top 20 overall shows that the Bundesliga is full of burgeoning young talent right now, with no less than 11 players on our leader board. There are 3 players in our list from Ligue 1, and just 2 from the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A respectively.
Aleksandar Ignjovski (DMC) - 7.08, Roberto Firmino (AMC) - 7.02, Lewis Holtby (MC) - 7.01, Ilkay Gundogan (MC) - 6.90, Julian Draxler (AML) - 6.90, Iker Muniain (AMC/L) - 6.89, Robert Mak (AMR) - 6.88, Frederic Bulot (AML) - 6.86, Joel Matip (DC/DMC) - 6.85, Ali Ahamada (GK) - 6.84.