The latest in our series of scout reports on a number of top young players across Europe sees us switch our attentions to defensive midfielders, all of whom may not be big names now but should enhance their reputations next season. As ever, all players chosen will begin next season under the age of 23, with the trend for producing exciting midfield anchors continuing in France.
Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad) - 6.99
We start, however, in Spain's La Liga where 22-year old Asier Illaramendi broke into the first team at Real Sociedad halfway through the season to cement a regular place in the side. Coming through the club's youth system, the Spaniard's breakthrough season will surely see him retain his spot in defensive midfield next season in Sociedad's double pivot.
The youngster possesses excellent defensive attributes, averaging 3.4 tackles per game, enough to see him rank in the league's top 20, and an even more impressive 5.2 interceptions per game, ranking in the top 10. Said averages lead the way for his side in both regards, and he was only dribbled past 0.7 times per game last season, which is an admirable average for a player of his position.
In terms of weaknesses an average of just under 80% for pass accuracy is modest for a central midfielder, but certainly not poor, while he failed to score from 18 shots in La Liga. He offers very little flair, which is of course not an issue due to his role in the side, and looks to play it simple, with an average of just 3 accurate long balls per game indicating towards a safety first approach. His passing game will only develop with age, but most importantly for a holding midfielder, his combative skills are already in place.
Vincent Pajot (Rennes) - 6.76
Coming through in the shadow of Yann M'Vila at Rennes, it seems the club have all bases covered if the France international was to leave the club given the emergence of Vincent Pajot, who was third in the pecking order in the side's double pivot for most of last season. He did, however, make 11 of 15 starts from defensive midfield, performing admirably to pick up a rating of 6.94 over those appearances alongside M'Vila.
Despite standing under 5'10" Pajot is very effective in the air, winning 1.5 duels per game at a decent 58.8% last season. His 85% pass accuracy is excellent for a 21-year old, while his defensive attributes also suggest that he could become a top player. Averages of 2.1 for tackles and 2.4 for interceptions per game are both encouraging and he has very few weaknesses for a player in his position.
One area to work on could be his timing in the challenge though, averaging more than double the number of fouls conceded per game than teammate M'Vila (1.8 to 0.8) despite completing fewer tackles a match. He, like Illarramendi, also failed to register last season, despite attempting 1.2 shots per game, which is significantly more than M'Vila or Doumbia, but there wont be many concerns over that side of his game as he develops next season. More playing time, however, will depend on the futures of the aforementioned duo keeping him out of the side.
Josua Guilavogui (Saint Etienne) - 6.73
21-year old midfielder Josua Guilavogui became somewhat of a regular at Saint Etienne in the 2010/11 season and continued his development last term to be one of their most important players. He has represented France at under-21 level and looks set to become a feature of the senior side in the coming years having shown an impressive all-round ability since his emergence through the clubs youth system.
Standing at 6'2", Guilavogui already has the physical presence to make himself known to his opponents and won 1.2 aerial duels per game last season, with a superb 71.7% overall success rate. He completed 2.8 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game and clearly has the defensive attributes needed having been dribbled past just 0.4 times per game. With a decent pass accuracy of 81.9% and tallies of 3 assists and 2 goals, he is perhaps the most well-rounded of our players here.
Again though, his average for fouls per game is high (1.7) and saw him pick up 7 yellow cards last season. Whilst playing such a role will inevitably lead to cautions and poor tackles on occasion, this figure will need to come down if he is to become a truly great holding midfielder, but elsewhere he seems to have all bases covered.
Benjamin Stambouli (Montpellier) - 6.58
Versatile 21-year old Stambouli's average WhoScored rating of 6.58 could be a little misleading given the fact that 13 of his 26 appearances last season came from the bench. When starting, in either defensive midfield (8) or centre-back (5), his rating was as high as 6.97 on average, proving that the Ligue 1 champions have a real prospect on their hands.
Though his averages of 1.7 and 1.8 for tackles and interceptions per game were a little lower than his counterparts here, he committed fewer fouls (0.9 per game) and was dribbled past just 0.7 times on average. He also picked up 2 assists in an attacking sense, and is slightly more adventurous from deep than the majority here, averaging 0.8 dribbles per game. Where he really stands out is his ability to keep hold of the ball; dispossessed just 0.3 times per game and conceding possession via a poor touch just 0.6, his averages here will be important to his development.
An overall pass accuracy of 78.8% could do with some work given a fairly limited range of distribution, and he will need to improve to offer any real threat to the excellent Saihi and Estrada last season. However, if centre-back Yanga-Mbiwa is sold, a move back into defence could be likely, excelling in the 5 games in which he was stationed in the back four last season.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Lille) - 6.56
Like Stambouli, an average WhoScored rating of 6.56 may seem unspectacular but when only taking into account the 14 games that Lille midfielder Gueye started, his rating jumps to just over 6.9. With three players ahead of him in the his position, the 22-year old may need to be patient but with Balmont and Pedretti both past 30 now, his time will surely come.
A quite exceptional pass accuracy of 88.9% sees him fit the Lille mould well, with 5 of their players, including Gueye (3rd), ranking in the top 6 in the entire league. His tendency to play short, simple passes certainly helps his figure here, but in keeping the ball moving he allows the more attacking players to get in possession more often. Defensively, an average of 2.3 tackles per game was only behind Debuchy at the club, while 1.9 interceptions per match also tops the likes of Balmont and Pedretti.
Fitting the trend here, Gueye’s willingness in the tackle can see him misjudge challenges and he received 5 yellow cards last season, which is high given his restricted playing time, conceding 1.2 fouls per match on average. Despite playing in a midfield three advanced of Mavuba for much of his game time last term, he offers very little going forward, with averages of 0.6 shots, 0.4 key passes and 0.3 dribbles suggesting he may be best suited to the current captain's role in front of the back four.