Paco Alcacer, Valencia
Spanish football has become famous for its almost ceaseless production line of diminutive, technical midfielders, but in Alcacer, they have managed to unearth one of the most promising young strikers on the continent.
The 21-year-old made his senior Valencia debut in 2010 having progressed through Los Che’s youth ranks. A loan spell at Getafe in 2012-13 served him well, with Alcacer returning a better and more experienced player. In the two seasons since then, the youngster has netted a respectable 17 La Liga goals in 43 starts, with seven strikes in 11 Europa League appearances in 2013-14 further evidence of his potential.
While Alcacer is a good finisher, his off-the-ball movement is arguably his best trait. Able to both drop deep and sprint in behind, the Valencia man has a knack for finding that vital yard of space even in the tightest of areas.
Valencia are back in the Champions League this season following a two-year absence, which gives Alcacer a chance to demonstrate his talent on the biggest stage of all. Though Nuno’s side have completed the permanent signing of Alvaro Negredo from Manchester City this summer, No. 9 Alcacer looks set to be Valencia’s main man up top this term.7
Athletic Club supporters will have been delighted with the news that Laporte had extended his contract until 2019 in June, despite rumoured interest from the likes of English giants Manchester United. Should he replicate his recent performances again this term, though, the Basque side may find it difficult to resist bids from some of Europe’s top clubs in the years to come.
Laporte is an ultra-modern centre-half: strong in the tackle, quick across the ground and happy to bring the ball out of defence, the 21-year-old has all the qualities needed to play in the heart of the backline.
Having made 49 appearances in all competitions in 2014-15, Laporte is already an integral member of Ernesto Valverde’s squad. With Euro 2016 on the horizon, the Frenchman will be hoping that another successful campaign in La Liga could earn him his first senior cap and a place in his country’s squad as they host the competition in 10 months’ time; though Didier Deschamps’ France have the likes of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho to call upon, Laporte certainly has the ability to muscle his way in.
Samper has been linked with a move to Arsenal in recent weeks but looks set to stay at Camp Nou for the season ahead. The 20-year-old midfielder made four appearances for the treble-winning Barcelona first team last time out – three in the Copa del Rey and one in the Champions League – and will look to build upon that base in the months ahead, with Barca perhaps mindful that a complete lack of action could see him push for a move away.
Samper operates as a holding midfielder, a role that allows him to use his superb range of passing to dictate his side’s play and help control the tempo of game. He also has good awareness and positions himself well, vital attributes for someone deployed deepest in the engine room.
The strength of the options available to Luis Enrique makes it difficult to imagine Samper starting week in week out but, with the Catalans unable to field any new players until 2016, the midfielder could be called upon should Barcelona encounter any sort of injury crisis. Labelled by some as the long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, Samper certainly has the talent to make the step up.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.