Nick Bidwell selects some of the most impressive performers from September’s games
1 Ethan AMPADU Wales
After featuring in cup games for Chelsea latest season, the 18-yearold has yet to even make the bench under new boss Maurizio Sarri this term. But Wales’ Ryan Giggs has no such reservations, handing him a competitive debut in central midfield in September’s Nations League games. He impressed in a 4-1 win against the Republic of Ireland and earned praise for his performance in the 2-0 loss to Denmark.
“He’s a talented player. So balanced, so mature for such a young player,” says Giggs. “He’s going to be a magnificent player.”
The son of a Ghanaian father and Welsh mother, he left Exeter City for Chelsea at 16, having represented England at under-16 level. A broken ankle in March set him back and he now faces the same struggle for first-team recognition in the Premier League as Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
2 Dani CEBALLOS spain
The midfielder spent most of last season at Real Madrid frustrated by a lack of game time under Zinedine Zidane following a move from Real Betis. But after “Zizou” quit in May and former national boss Julen Lopetegui took over, the 22-year-old has established himself as a key first-team figure at the Bernabeu.
His elevated status was confirmed with his international debut and a bravura performance in the 6-0 hammering of Croatia in the Nations League. New Spain coach Luis Enrique describes him as “a onein-a-million sort of player” and against the World Cup finalists he was dynamic and industrious. In the thick of the action, he even managed to shackle opposition playmaker Luka Modric while driving his side forward and taking risks.
“He’s different, he’s special,” gushed Enrique afterwards. “He can do it all. He doesn’t give the ball away, works well under pressure, beats people, provides a final pass and puts himself about physically.”
3 Frenkie DE JONG Holland
Only an ankle injury in the secondhalf of last season prevented the Ajax starlet winning his first cap sooner, but that moment finally arrived for the 21-year-old against France in Paris.
Rated in the 50m bracket, he has come to the attention of Barcelona and Manchester City for his performance in the libero role for his club side, stylishly bringing the ball out from the back. But he insists midfield is his real vocation – and it’s a view shared by Holland coach Ronald Koeman.
From a family of Feyenoord fans, he had the chance to join their junior ranks but opted for Willem II’s academy. “We told Frenkie to choose the club where he felt the most comfortable and that was Willem II,” explained his mother Marion. One can only imagine what she said when he joined Ajax at 18...
Brazil boss Tite opted to call up several youngsters for the recent friendlies against the USA and El Salvador, including Manchester United’s Andreas Pereira and Artur of Barcelona, as well as Flamengo’s attacking midfielder Lucas Paqueta, Fluminense striker Pedro, Gremio winger Everton and Porto centreback Felipe.
However, it was wide attacker Richarlison who made the headlines, coming on as a late sub against the USA and then scoring twice in a 5-0 rout of El Salvador in Maryland.
The former Fluminense star’s rapid rise in the Premier League has taken many in Brazil by surprise. But he has benefitted from the attacking approach of coach Marco Silva, first at Watford and now Everton, and he is firmly on Tite’s radar.
5 NICO SCHULZ Germany
A game-winning scorer on his debut for the Nationalmannschaft against Peru, the 25-year-old Hoffenheim wing-back could not have wished for a better full baptism for his country – and all in front of a familiar audience at his club side’s Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
He has, however, had his darker moments. During an ill-fated spell at Borussia Monchengladbach virtually everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and after torn cruciate ligaments in his left knee kept him out for almost nine months, his form was totally unconvincing on his return.
Happily for the Berliner his luck changed on moving to Hoffenheim in 2017 when, rather than use him as a conventional left-back, coach Julian Nagelsmann thought him far better suited to the role of flank raider. And how effective he has proved in that task, with his incisive breaks and accurate crosses.
6 Marko LIVAJA Croatia
A NextGen Series winner with Internazionale in 2012, his career has been anything but a smooth ride, with unproductive spells at Russian side Rubin Kazan and Atalanta – where a training-ground fight with a team-mate and a row with coach Stefano Colantuono saw him suspended at one point.
Now 25, he is back on track in Greece, where he won the title with AEK last term, and with his homeland, for whom he made his senior bow in a 1-1 draw with Portugal.
At his best as a support striker, he is mobile, intelligent and makes good, late runs into the box. His other strong suit is a commitment to the cause that saw him likened to Wayne Rooney by Marco Giampaolo, his coach at Empoli.