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  • Writer's pictureOwen Mawer

10 Under-the-Radar Under 21s to Look Out For

The abundance of young talent that LaLiga can boast is a sight to behold. Some of these players are getting recognition on the international stage. Barcelona’s Pedri played an unbelievable amount of football in the last 12 months; racking up 629 minutes at Euro 2020 before leading Spain to the final of the Tokyo Olympics. Totalling 73 games in his breakthrough was an amazing feat for the 18-year-old.

Aside from Barcelona, Real Madrid have their own under-21 star in Vinícius Júnior. The Brazilian has started this season in brilliant fashion, scoring three goals in three games. The 21-year-old is destined for greatness and everyone knows it. Therefore, he misses out on this list, along with the likes of Ansu Fati (18), Alexander Isak (21), and Juan Miranda (21).

Considering this and the trend for some LaLiga fans to follow the fortunes of these ‘bigger names’ when looking out for youth prospects in the league, the international break gives us the ideal opportunity to introduce to you ten under-the-radar under-21s to look out for when LaLiga returns.

Yéremi Pino, Spain, 18 years old (Villarreal)

A young gem found building his career at the Estadio de la Cerámica is Yeremi Pino. The winger has been electrifying and fearless since making his debut for the side in October 2020. Last season, he scored seven times in 36 appearances.

Pino made history the night Villarreal beat Manchester United in the Europa League, as aged 18, he became the youngest Spanish player to start a European final. The youngest before him was the legendary Iker Casillas, who started the 2000 Champions League final aged 19. Pino then went on to become the youngest player to win the trophy.

Villarreal’s number 30 has an eye for goal, great link-up play, and, more importantly, has the desire to win. If the side is to have more success this year, it seems that Pino will have a big part to play in it. He is thankful to Emery for his mentorship too: “The truth is that Unai is a star. He gave me the opportunity from day one and I have tried to respond in the best way I can.”

He started the first game of the season against Granada and looks set to be in Emery’s plans at the Cerámica, his moment of the season so far coming with his two assists against reigning champions Atleti. Keep an eye out for him this season.

Giorgi Mamardashvili, Georgia, 20 years old (Valencia)

The keeper was signed from the Georgian club, Dinamo Tbilisi. Standing at 6ft 6in, he is a commanding figure between the sticks and looks to be a real coup for Los Che.

After a successful pre-season, Mamardashvili started in nets against Getafe in the opening game of the season; the José Bordalás derby. He made four saves as he kept a clean sheet in their 1-0 win, his performance earning him a place in our matchday 1 team of the week.

He looks set to be the choice going forward and should he continue on this path, he will be a very intriguing player to follow this season. Relatively unknown to the league still, he has everything to prove but nothing to lose.

After the win against Getafe, Bordalás said of his new goalkeeper: “We are very happy with him, and he has surprised us.” Since then, Mamardashvili kept another clean sheet in matchday three’s 3-0 win over Alavés, helping Valencia enter the international break unbeaten. We say, keep on surprising them, Mamardashvili!

Sergiño Dest, United States, 20 years old (Barcelona)

Dutch by birth, American by nationality, Barcelona’s young full-back has all the ability to hold down his position at the Camp Nou for many years to come. Possibly the most notable name on our list, Dest still has some way to go before he is a household name for LaLiga fans.

Yet, for the USMNT, Dest is already a stalwart. He started the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Final against Mexico, a game that the USA won 3-2 in extra time. The American had signed for Barcelona from Ajax in September 2020 for €21 million with €5 million in add-ons.

Despite coming in for some relatively unwarranted criticism for Barcelona in his debut season, he spoke highly of Ronald Koeman’s work with the side after scoring a brace against Real Sociedad in March. After the game, Dest said: “I am at the right place to hit my full potential.”

The defender, who likes to get forward and attack, looks ready for a big season for Barcelona after playing 70 minutes in the 4-2 win over Real Sociedad. Having started two of the first three games of the league season, Dest is another talent to watch in LaLiga.

Miguel Gutiérrez, Spain, 20 years old (Real Madrid)

The young left-back will be looking to impress in his breakthrough season for Los Blancos. Madrid-born, Gutiérrez started his youth career at Getafe before joining Real Madrid in 2011, aged 10.

He made his debut for the side in April 2021 against Cádiz before getting his first start a month later against Granada. He made an instant impact in this game, getting an assist for Luka Modrić.

Under Zinedine Zidane, he was a favourite who had chances come his way. Under Carlo Ancelotti, he got his first action of the new season against Real Betis. Here, he had a strong showing and proved himself to be more than capable of giving Ferland Mendy competition down the left side of defence.

You can see his Real Madrid DNA, cool under pressure, measured passes, and a willingness to win at all costs. It is believed that the young defender has a €40 million release clause, and it is clear that Madrid see him sticking around for a long time and want to keep hold of one of their finest defensive talents.

Ander Barrenetxea, Spain, 19 years old (Real Sociedad)

The Basque Country’s Barrenetxea is a revelation at Anoeta. The player has an aura to him that suggests he is destined for greatness.

After making his LaLiga debut in 2018, days before his 17th birthday, he has gone on to play 57 times for the first team. His maturity and composure on the field has seen him play regularly in the youth setup for Spain national team. In April 2021, he was part of Real Sociedad’s Copa del Rey win, coming off the bench in the all-Basque final against Athletic Club that finished 1-0 to La Real.

He usually plays on the left side of attack and is a quick-thinking player who can get himself out of tight situations and find a teammate with precision; a joy to watch. Head coach Imanol Alguacil does not shy away from relying on young talent, making Barrenetxea a star to keep an eye out for this time around.

In the first game of the season for La Real, Barrenetxea came off the bench and made an instant impact with an assist for Julen Lobete. After opening his account with the winner against Levante on matchday three, he’s only just getting started.

Fer Niño, Spain, 20 years old (Mallorca)

Another promising forward at Villarreal is Fer Niño. He announced his arrival on the LaLiga stage in January 2020, coming on as a substitute in the 88th minute at Alavés with the scores at 1-1. A minute later he smashed home the winner.

Since then, he has featured regularly for Unai Emery’s side, forming part of the squad that won last season’s Europa League. In a Villarreal side with plenty of attacking prowess, Fer Niño found himself surplus to requirements, seeing him loaned out to LaLiga new boys, Mallorca.

Here, the Cádiz-born boy scored on his debut for the team against the same team he scored his first league goal against, coming up with the winner against Alavés in matchday 2. Full circle. He started the third match and will be hoping to keep his position come the end of the international break.

One thing is for certain, Fer Niño is a player who has a point to prove for those back at Villarreal and he finds himself in a very exciting Mallorca team. You should look out for this ‘niño’.

Nico Williams, Spain, 19 years old (Athletic Club)

The younger brother of Athletic hero Iñaki Williams, Nico is looking to carve out his own story this season. He is a winger who likes to run at defenders, cut inside, and take aim at goal. Once he has beaten a defender, he often finds a precise cross into the box for strikers to tap in; you can tell he grew up playing with Iñaki.

He made his LaLiga debut in April 2021, coming on against Real Valladolid where he played briefly with his brother. In an interview with Athletic Club, Iñaki said of his brother: “The ability he has with both feet and to go both ways means the opponent doesn’t know whether to cover one side or the other.”

It looks likely that Nico will get much more game time this season to show his ability to dance with the ball at his feet. At La Liga Lowdown, we cannot wait to see the sibling linkup this season.

Williams has found himself coming off the bench in each of the three games so far this season, so he will know more than most that should there be an injury to a wide player at Athletic Club, he will be asking questions of coach Marcelino. Nico and Iñaki, causing Spanish defences trouble all around the country, who wouldn’t want to see that?

Facundo Pellistri, Uruguay, 19 years old (Alavés)

On a second loan spell from Manchester United, Pellistri makes our list of under-the-radar young guns in LaLiga this season. Last time out he featured 12 times following his January move. A fellow winger, he has good control and awareness of the space around him. This makes him not only an exciting prospect, but a pleasure to watch.

There were glimpses of his brilliance last season at Mendizorroza. Pellistri’s standout performance came against the champions-elect Atlético Madrid, showing his pedigree.

Ahead of the new season, head coach Javi Calleja said: “Pellistri is great one on one and is decisive in the final third. I am sure that he will be important in our project during this season.” You might want to keep an eye on Alavés’ loan star this campaign.

He came off the bench for the opening-day defeat to Real Madrid, and then started for Alavés in their third game against Valencia. The Uruguayan will have a real desire to get games under his belt and build towards a successful season for the Basque side.

Nico Melamed, Spain, 20 years old (Espanyol)

New boys Espanyol look to be relying on their young midfielder this season. Los Periquitos, who drew their opening game against Osasuna, started the young Spaniard on the left and he had a rather quiet introduction to LaLiga.

Last season he helped the side gain promotion by chipping in with goals and solid performances. His natural talent makes him a threat to defences; whether a quick strike or positioning that creates space for himself, he will make an impact this season.

After starting the season in the starting line-up, he has since dropped to the bench for the last two fixtures. Despite this, Melamed will certainly do all he can to reinstate himself in that first eleven after the break.

With such natural talent, this is another under-21 who has all the core capabilities to go and make a name for himself come the end of the season. Catalunya born and raised; he could become another great player for Espanyol in the years to come.

Takefusa Kubo, Japan, 20 years old (Mallorca)

Kubo is another relatively well-known figure to feature on this list of under-the-radar under-21s. On loan from Real Madrid, the winger’s ability has never been in question.

Instead, his lack of consistency is what has prevented him from making strides in the capital. This, his fourth loan away from the club, sees him return to Mallorca for a second time. Here, he enjoyed his most successful season, in 2019/20. Last season, he struggled at Villarreal and Getafe, but back in familiar surrounds, he will be hoping to make a real mark on LaLiga.

Kubo’s close control and ability to take on players with ease makes him an exciting prospect, and he featured off the bench in the first game of the season against Real Betis. Since then, the Japan international has started the last two games and has gone from strength to strength, producing his finest performance in their 1-0 win over Espanyol.

He has a lot to prove this season, which makes him one to watch. Let’s see if he can play himself into Ancelotti’s plans at Real Madrid next season.

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