This is the third article of a series looking at young players to watch throughout the 2022/23 season. This time, we will turn our attention to forwards. For the most part, the forwards that we are looking at are probably best described as ‘9’s as they prefer to play centrally to lead the line. One of the players on our list, though, is more comfortable when attacking from the wide areas.
There is one constant, however, in that all of our selections are very talented.
All of the data used in putting together this article comes from Wyscout and we will visualise the data using pizza charts created using code in Python. The metrics used for some of the ‘slices’ are bespoke metrics, created to add an extra level of insight into the basic metrics provided by Wyscout. These pizza charts will show the percentile data for each player in relation to the other forwards in their division.
These articles are not intended as a means to say that the players suggested are sure things or will be ready to play in the near future for Champions League-level clubs. Instead, we believe that these young players are well placed to take positive steps forward this season.
#1 Marin Ljubičić, 20 years old, Striker, LASK Linz and Croatia
The first player on our list is the 20-year-old Croatian striker Marin Ljubičić of LASK Linz. Ljubičić is listed at 183cm | 6’1” and has an athletic build, he is predominantly right-footed. At the time of writing, the young striker has been capped five times by the Croatian national setup at U21 level.
He is actually a product of the youth system at Hajduk Split, and he played for the Croatian side through the youth levels before breaking into their first-team squad prior to the 2021/22 season. This summer, he made the move to join LASK Linz in the Austrian Bundesliga, initially on loan, but we believe that there is an option within the loan agreement for the Austrian side to make the move permanent at the end of the season.
Ljubičić is an interesting forward because he has a flexible profile. He can drop deep or out into the half-spaces to give the player in possession a target, and he can link play from these areas. He prefers, however, to look for opportunities to play on the shoulder of the last defender and make runs to attack the space that the defensive line leaves behind them. His movement in decisive areas, like the penalty area, is very positive, and he will often make late darting runs across the face of defenders to attack balls that are played across and into the area.
So far this season — and the sample size is still relatively small — Ljubičić is in the 97th percentile for goal contributions and 88th percentile for expected goal contributions. His underlying attacking data is also very good as he is in the 76th percentile for shots per 90 and the 76th percentile for touches in the opposition area per 90. He is not just a finisher though and he also has strong data so far this season for ball progression, as he is in the 81st percentile for carries and the 86th percentile for dangerous passes.
There seems to be no doubt, at this point, that LASK will make the move permanent by signing Ljubičić from Hajduk Split. It is equally unlikely, though, that he will be in Austria for the long term. If he continues to produce as he has been at the start of this season, we will see significant interest from Germany in particular.
#2 Gonçalo Ramos, 21 years old, Striker, Benfica and Portugal
Our second player is the 21-year-old Portuguese forward Gonçalo Ramos, who is currently contracted to Benfica in the top-flight of Portuguese football, although he is currently being heavily linked with a move to Premier League clubs.
Gonçalo Ramos is similar to Ljubičić, in that he is primarily a ‘9’ but also has the capacity to drop off and link the play to allow his team to play forward and access the final third. Ramos is a product of the youth system at Benfica and has been at the club all the way through the age levels before playing for the B team, who play in the Portuguese second tier, and then the first team. He has also been capped by Portugal up to U21 level, where he has 14 goals in 18 caps.
Gonçalo Ramos is different to Ljubičić in that he is perhaps a more natural and instinctive finisher in and around the penalty area. He has a tendency to find himself in the right position, and he scores scrappy goals due to his tenacity and work rate. He is also, however, a forward who can score from a variety of finishes and is particularly impressive when attacking crosses that are played into the penalty area from the wide areas.
The data for Ramos’ pizza chart is taken from the 2021/22 season given the lack of sample size so far this year in Portugal. As you can see, he is actually a very well-rounded forward, especially for someone so young, but he was in the 57th percentile for goal contributions and the 68th percentile for expected goal contributions. His underlying attacking numbers were also strong as he was in the 72nd percentile for shots per 90 and the 88th percentile for touches in the opposition area per 90.
Given the significant interest that is already surrounding Gonçalo Ramos, it feels very unlikely that he will still be at Benfica when this transfer window closes.
#3 Ernest Nuamah, 18 years old, Winger, Nordsjælland and Ghana
The third player that we will discuss in this article is the only player who is more comfortable playing on the outside as a wide attacker. Ernest Nuamah is an 18-year-old Ghanaian left-sided attacker who is currently contracted to Nordsjælland in the Danish top flight. Nuamah is a quick and dynamic wide attacker who is predominantly left-footed. He tends to play on the left of the attack, but he is very much more of an inside forward type in terms of looking for opportunities to cut inside and carry the ball into dangerous areas.
Nuamah actually only officially joined Nordsjælland in April of this year, having been a graduate of the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana. With Right to Dream owning the Danish club there is a firmly established and very effective pathway for Ghanaian youngsters to make the move to European football. Indeed, it is interesting to note that there are real similarities between the playing styles of Nuamah and Kamaldeen Sulemana, a Ghanaian youngster who also made the move along the pathway from Right to Dream to Nordsjælland before then being sold on to Rennes in the French top-flight.
Nuamah is a quick and dynamic forward who is very versatile in terms of role and position. He is comfortable wide, in the half-spaces or even the central areas. His athleticism makes him extremely difficult to defend against. He is aggressive in terms of his off-the-ball movements in terms of looking to attack space that the opposition defensive line leaves behind.
You can clearly see from Nuamah’s pizza chart that he has had a very effective start to the season. He is in the 73rd percentile for goal contributions in the Danish top-flight and the 79th percentile for expected goal contributions. He is also very strong in terms of the volume of his attacking actions, as he is in the 91st percentile for shots per 90 and the 98th percentile for touches in the opposition area per 90. As you would expect, though, he also impresses in the metrics that we tend to see from wide attackers as he is in the 91st percentile for carries and the 79th percentile for area entries.
While it is fair to say that we would expect Nuamah to see out the season at Nordsjælland, it would not be a surprise to see him linked with a move to a top-five league towards the end of the season.
#4 Rasmus Højlund, 19-years-old, Striker, Sturm Graz and Denmark
Next, we will go back to Austria and to Sturm Graz where their 19-year-old Danish forward Rasmus Højlund has been impressing so far this season. The young striker has actually already had a relatively nomadic career, in that he was initially in the youth team at Brøndby before making the controversial move to join Copenhagen. In January of this year, he left Denmark for a reported £1.6M to join Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga. That price is already looking like a steal.
At the time of writing, Højlund has been capped by the Danish national team up to U21 level, where he has 3 caps. It only feels like a matter of time, however, before he is called up by the senior national side.
Højlund is listed at 191cm | 6’4”, and he is direct and powerful in his approach. He is predominantly left-footed and comfortable playing through the central spaces or coming out into the half-spaces and targeting the spaces between the opposition central defender and fullbacks.
So far this season, Højlund is impressing the most in the attacking phase. He is more of a direct attacking threat and not a player who will typically put up good numbers in the possession phase of the game. He is in the 88th percentile for goal contributions and the 81st percentile for expected goal contributions as well as being in the 65th percentile for shots per 90 and the 85th percentile for touches in the opposition area.
#5 Datro Fofana, 19 years old, Forward, Molde and Ivory Coast
The final player on our list for this article is the 19-year-old Ivorian striker Datro Fofana. He is currently contracted to Molde in the Eliteserien and has been capped by the Ivory Coast once so far at full international level.
Fofana is a quick, direct and powerful attacking player. He is listed at 181cm | 6’ and is predominantly right-footed, but it is his combination of timing and explosive attacking movement that really make him difficult to defend against.
He was initially a product of the youth academy at Abidjan City in his native Ivory Coast but in 2021, he made the move across to Norway where he joined Molde. Injuries had previously held him back slightly but now he is enjoying a breakout season in the Norwegian top-flight. Fofana is quick, aggressive and dynamic, he is unpredictable in terms of his movements and can attack and change direction very quickly. When his side is in the transition from defence to attack, he is an extremely effective attacking player.
So far this season in Norway, he is in the 82nd percentile for goal contributions and the 92nd percentile for expected goal contributions, He is also impressing in terms of his other attacking outputs, as he is in the 93rd percentile for shots per 90 and the 96th percentile for touches in the opposition area per 90. Fofana is also a threat in terms of progressing the ball from deeper areas, as he is in the 95th percentile for carries and the 89th percentile for progressive actions.
Given Fofana’s performances so far this season, it is extremely unlikely that he will still be at Molde next season. A move to a Belgian or Dutch side feels like the natural next step for the Ivorian forward.
We believe that all of the forwards we have discussed in this article will go on to have very strong performances across the 2022/23 season. They are all young and dynamic in their approach with a real ability to affect the game positively for their sides.