In the second of this series of articles looking at young players to watch throughout the 2022/23 season, we will turn our attention toward midfielders. Midfielders are slightly more varied than central defenders in terms of their style of play and the types of roles that they can take up for their team. Some of our selections are more defensive-minded in their approach, others are more measured in that they are passers who keep the play moving and one is more of an attacking threat.
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 that are 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 central defenders 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 Joris Chotard, 20 years old, Central Midfielder, Montpellier and France
The first player on our list is one that actually comes through the eye test and whose data is perhaps not quite where you might expect it to be. That player is the 20-year-old French U21 international of Montpellier.
Chotard is a young player with a real narrative starting to build around him. In a way, he is similar to another French midfielder in Johann Lepenant who moved from Caen to Lyon this summer. Lepenant was a similar type of midfielder whose data profile looked quite similar to that of Chotard.
Chotard is a product of the youth system at Montpellier, although as a young player, he was subject to interest from Sochaux and Marseille as well. He is a midfielder who has the capacity to play either as a ‘6’ or an ‘8’ in the midfield although he is more of a passer and ball progressor by profile than a midfielder who will look to break forward to get into the final third and to create openings for himself or teammates. His performances, especially for the French U21 side, have already led to interest building in the midfielder from within France and around Europe.
From a data perspective, last season he perhaps stood out the most in pass success %, where he was in the 58th percentile despite playing for a side who were not overly focused on possession of the ball. Interestingly, he also played well in the defensive phase in terms of his positioning, which accounts for blocks and interceptions, as he was in the 75th percentile.
Going forward, we would expect Chotard to be in demand. Expect to see him linked with a series of the bigger clubs in France over the course of this season and then to kick on in terms of his outputs across the board.
#2 Mandela Keita, 20 years old, Central Midfielder, OH Leuven and Belgium
The next player on our list is the 20-year-old Belgian U21 international Mandela Keita, a young player who is currently contracted to OH Leuven in the top-flight of Belgian football.
Keita is an energetic midfielder who has something of a unique profile in the midfield. He is incredibly strong from a defensive point of view with the ability to play as a lone 6 and break up attacks from the opposition with ease.
At times, he appears to be everywhere in the midfield as he moves from side to side blocking passing lanes and engaging opposition ball carriers. Interestingly, however, he is also very capable of progressing the ball and carrying the ball forward for his team.
Keita is a product of the youth academy at OH Leuven and he is currently under contract at the club until 2025. Interestingly, Sheffield United were recently linked with a move for the all-action midfielder.
From a data point of view, Keita actually has a very interesting and different-looking profile. He is in the 60th percentile for carries, which includes dribbles, progressive runs and accelerations, as well as being in the 86th percentile for pass success %. When he gets the ball, he tends to keep possession and avoid taking on risk. In the defensive phase, though, Keita is an absolute monster. He is in the 75th percentile for defensive duels and the 90th percentile for the % of defensive duels won. He is in the 32nd percentile for aerial duels and the 84th percentile for the % of aerial duels won.
Going forward, if Keita can continue with this strong output then he will attract a lot of attention from around Europe. His profile would specifically suit a side in the German Bundesliga at this point.
#3 Tomáš Suslov, 20 years old, Central Midfielder, Groningen and Slovakia
Tomáš Suslov is a 20-year-old Slovakian international central midfielder who is currently contracted to Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie. Suslov is actually a product of the youth academy at Tatran Prešov but moved to the Netherlands young and joined the youth system at Groningen before working his way through and into the first team.
Suslov is an all-action box-to-box type in the midfield, with the ability to play primarily as an ‘8’ although he could arguably also profile as a ‘10’. He is dynamic in midfield with the ability to drive in possession and break lines either via passing the ball or when driving in possession and dribbling into dangerous areas.
As a naturally left-footed midfielder, Suslov brings a nice balance to the game and his ability to create time for himself by shifting the ball away from pressure means that when you watch him play, he rarely feels rushed.
As you can see from his pizza chart, Suslov is very much more skewed to the attacking phase in terms of his outputs. Across the 21/22 season, he played 2505 minutes in the Eredivisie and was in the 69th percentile for goal contributions, the 57th percentile for expected goal contributions, the 78th percentile for shots per 90, the 95th percentile for carries and the 80th percentile for area entries. In other words, his output from an attacking sense was varied and very impressive.
He also, however, displayed the ability to break up play as he was in the 79th percentile for defensive duels and the 58th percentile for the % of defensive duels won.
Suslov has already been linked to some big clubs around Europe with a move to the Premier League, the German Bundesliga or Serie A looking most likely at this point.
#4 Christos Zafeiris, 19 years old, Central Midfielder, Haugesund and Norway
Christos Zafeiris is a 19-year-old Norwegian U19 international who is currently contracted to Haugesund in the Norwegian Eliteserien. He is the epitome of a well-rounded midfielder who is comfortable playing in all phases of the game.
He actually developed in the youth system of the Oslo-based club Vålerenga before moving down the Norwegian pyramid to join Grorud IL. His time lower down the leagues did not last long and Haugesund picked him up for an undisclosed fee before allowing him to see out the 2021 season at Grorud IL. So far this season, he has been nothing short of a revelation.
He is capable of playing as a ‘6’ and dropping in to dictate the play but he can also play effectively as an ‘8’ with his ability to drive forward on the ball and create danger in the final third.
So far this season, Zafeiris is in the 75th percentile for goal contributions although he is overperforming in this regard as he is only in the 50th percentile for expected goal contributions. He is also in the 61st percentile for shots per 90, the 83rd percentile for carries and the 84th percentile for area entries. For a midfielder who can play deeper, these attacking outputs are very impressive.
He also impressed in the ball progression phase of the game, as he is in the 86th percentile for passes per 90, the 89th percentile for dangerous passes and the 93rd percentile for progressive actions.
It does not stop there, however, and Zafeiris also impresses in the defensive phase as he is in the 87th percentile for defensive actions per 90, the 75th percentile for the % of defensive duels won, the 89th percentile for aerial duels and the 41st percentile for the % of aerial duels won.
It seems increasingly unlikely that Zafeiris will stay in Norway for much longer and at this point, there will be clubs from around Europe who are lining up to make an offer for his services.
#5 Johan Hove, 21 years old, Central Midfielder, Strømsgodset and Norway
Johan Hove is a 21-year-old central midfielder who is currently contracted to Strømsgodset in the Norwegian Eliteserien. He very much profiles more as an ‘8’ but he also has the skill set to play as a ‘10’ or even as a second striker. Hove has, at the time of writing, been capped 16 times by the Norwegian U21 side.
He was actually the product of the youth team at Sogndal IL but he made the move in 2018 to join Stromsgodset. He has represented Norway from U16 level all the way up to U21.
Hove can break up play but it is his tendency to make late runs into the final third and even into the penalty area that sees him creating so much danger for his team. He is powerful, creative and hard-working — all strengths that you look for in a modern central midfielder.
He is at his strongest in the attacking phase where, so far this season, he is in the 90th percentile for goal contributions, the 84th percentile for expected goal contributions, the 90th percentile for shots per 90 and the 80th percentile for area entries. He has the ability to score as well as create in the final third. Indeed, in the passing and ball progression phase of the game, Hove is also in the 72nd percentile for dangerous passes.
Going forward there are likely going to be several clubs interested in securing the signature of Hove although a move to a Belgian or Dutch club in the first case may make sense for him.
All of the central midfielders that we have discussed above have the potential to not only kick on and become important players for their teams this coming season but the ability to pick up and force a move to a more competitive league.