The 2020/21 campaign was an unforgettable one for many, especially for the young footballers who enjoyed breakout years in LaLiga Santander. These are the players who performed so spectacularly despite their inexperience.
Every season brings a new opportunity for young players to shine in LaLiga Santander and the most recent campaign was no different. In every position, there were players who stood out in LaLiga Santander despite their youth.
At the goalkeeping position, Álvaro Fernández proved that he is one of the shot-stoppers of the future in Spanish football. At 23 years of age, he performed very well in what was his first complete LaLiga Santander season. The player from La Rioja earned SD Huesca’s starting job halfway through the year and finished with 22 appearances to his name, conceding 32 goals and collecting five clean sheets along the way as they battled against relegation until the last moment.
Looking at central defence, two youngsters made the most of their opportunities at the giants that are Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They are Éder Militão and Óscar Mingueza and they each proved they have what it takes to lead the back lines for many years. Militão was one of the pleasant surprises of Real Madrid’s season as the Brazilian performed at a level that few centre-backs can reach. His speed and power in overcoming opponents, as well as his good positioning, saw the 23-year-old play a total of 14 LaLiga Santander matches, starting 13 of them and even scoring a goal too. Mingueza, meanwhile, emerged from the Barça academy this year to play 27 league games, starting 23 of them. With two goals and two assists, the 22-year-old contributed in attack and one of his goals even came in ElClásico. Ronald Araújo, also aged 22, had a great year in the Blaugrana’s back line too, as he played 24 matches and started 16 of them. In addition to performing well in his centre-back role, he too helped out at the other end of the pitch with two goals and an assist. The young Uruguayan was solid for Ronald Koeman and was able to regularly earn minutes in the Dutchman’s system.
In midfield, several players caught the eye with their very high level and their importance in their teams. Pedri González, at just 18 years of age, showed that he is one of the great prospects of Spanish football in what was his first year playing in LaLiga Santander. The Canary Islander played 37 matches for his new club FC Barcelona, even starting 28 of them. There’s a reason he was trusted so frequently. Pedri performed whenever he stepped out on the pitch and he completed a total of 1,485 passes as well as scoring three goals and assisting a further three. In one match in Bilbao, away at Athletic Club, Pedri became the youngest player to score and assist in the same LaLiga Santander match, doing so aged 18 and 42 days. Another midfielder who did well this term was Unai Vencedor, the 20-year-old who became a key figure in the centre of Athletic Club’s system. The academy graduate played in 28 league fixtures, starting 19 of them and impressing all those who love classic football.
Martín Zubimendi is another of the positive surprises of the season. The 22-year-old midfielder became a starter in Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad midfield by the end of the campaign, taking part in 31 matches in total. He always competed and finished the season playing at an especially high level.
Another player who came into 2020/21 with hardly any top-tier minutes was Levante UD’s Jorge de Frutos, before he took a major step forward this year. No player in LaLiga Santander comes from a smaller town than De Frutos, but the 24-year-old from the Segovian countryside turned in performances that were seen around the world, little by little earning the confidence of his coach Paco López. He ended the campaign as his team’s leading goal provider, finishing with nine assists. On top of that, De Frutos contributed with four goals of his own.
Then, there’s the case of Bryan Gil. The winger tested himself at SD Eibar this season, on loan from Sevilla FC. There, in the Basque Country, he earned minutes to help with his progression and played 28 matches, only twice coming off the bench in those games. Across those appearances, the 20-year-old scored four goals and provided three assists as well as putting together other pieces of brilliant attacking football that didn’t always show up on the stats sheets. Another winger who stood out was Yeremi Pino, with the 18-year-old doing well for Villarreal CF and scoring three goals across his 24 league matches with the Yellow Submarine. His teammate Samu Chukwueze, the 22-year-old from Nigeria, had a good campaign as well as he scored four times in 28 league matches for the team that also won the Europa League. Another wide forward who shouldn’t be forgotten about is FC Barcelona’s Ansu Fati, even if a serious knee injury halted the 18-year-old after a fantastic start to the season in which he scored four times in just seven outings. Those performances saw him named the Player of the Month for September in LaLiga Santander.
In attack, Alexander Isak’s numbers jump off the page as the 21-year-old Swedish striker hit 17 goals in 34 matches, including goals in six consecutive matchdays. On top of that, he provided a couple of assists to his Real Sociedad teammates. There were two Spanish forwards who had breakout seasons in attack too, with Rafa Mir and Álex Berenguer finishing as the top scorers for SD Huesca and Athletic Club respectively, with 13 and eight goals. Aged 24 and 25 respectively, they each took on responsibility and were leaders at their clubs. Mir will remember a hat-trick he scored in a match against Real Valladolid, as well as a couple of braces, while Berenguer will look back fondly on his two-goal performance in a 4-0 victory over Cádiz CF.
Youngsters who played at a high level for yet another season
There are various young footballers who played excellent football in 2020/21 to continue their progress, after having already made a name for themselves in previous campaigns. One of those is 24-year-old Sevilla FC striker Youssef En-Nesyri, as he had his best season yet by taking part in all 38 of his team’s league matches and by scoring 18 goals along the way. There were two hat-tricks in the first month of the new calendar year, which saw him named as the LaLiga Santander Player of the Month for January. Meanwhile, Brais Méndez also had his best scoring season since reaching the top tier, netting nine goals in 34 league matches. These are the kinds of numbers that most strikers would be happy with, even though the 24-year-old is a midfielder. That goals tally even made him Celta Vigo’s third-top scorer. At the other end of the pitch, 24-year-old Pau Torres had another outstanding season in Villarreal CF’s central defence, striking up a solid partnership with the veteran Raúl Albiol. The Villarreal CF hometown hero played in 33 league matches this past year, even managing to score two goals and provide two assists at the same time as performing his defensive duties diligently and bringing the ball out from the back in Unai Emery’s system.
Given their performances and their desire to succeed in the world of football, these footballers were the top prospects from the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander season. Which is your favourite?