Benfica are on track to claim their fourth successive Primeira Liga title this season, having opened up a two-point gap over city rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal. The Eagles have lost just once with a third of the campaign played and have both the best attack and meanest defence in the division.

The Lisbon club’s Seixal youth academy has produced some stellar players in recent years, many of whom, such as Bernardo Silva, Renato Sanches and Andre Gomes, now ply their trade elsewhere having been sold on for substantial sums.

Manager Rui Vitoria was a youth coach with Benfica’s academy from 2004 to 2006, so he understands the level of talent being consistently churned out by the Encarnados.

Since being appointed to replace Jorge Jesus in the top Job at the Estadio da Luz in 2015 following a successful spell in charge of Vitoria Guimaraes, the 46-year-old coach has leaned heavily on the latest crop of potential superstars to have progressed through the ranks.

This season, the Benfica starting XI boast an array of high-quality young players, some scouted and signed from elsewhere, some nurtured from within.

Alex Grimaldo – Left-back

Spanish full-back Alex Grimaldo was signed from the Barcelona B team in December 2015 for just €1.5 million.

The 21-year-old has since gone on to become regarded as possibly the most exciting defensive prospect on the continent, thanks to his well-rounded skillset. Adept and getting forward to support the attack with his pace, precise dribbling, excellent delivery and eye for a goal, Grimaldo is very much in the mould of a modern full-back.

But the youngster is also cognisant of his defensive duties and is seldom caught out thanks to his remarkably mature positional sense and clean tackling technique.

So highly thought of is Grimaldo that Benfica inserted a €60 million release clause into his contract. That doesn’t appear to have put Manchester City off the idea of making a move for the Valencia-born youngster, however, as Pep Guardiola’s side are rumoured to be weighing up a January bid.

Nelson Semedo – Right-back

Lisbon-born Nelson Semedo has been with Benfica since his late teens and turned out regularly for the club’s B team before making his senior bow in 2015.

This season, the athletic right-back has established himself as a first-team regular having started all of Benfica’s league games to date.

In that time, the 23-year-old has scored once, registered one assist and maintained an impressive 80 percent pass completion rate. Defensively, he averages 2.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game – a healthy return for a player still relatively inexperienced at the highest level.

And in his third Champions League appearance of the season – a thrilling 3-3 draw with Besiktas – Semedo netted a spectacular left-footed strike, picking out the top corner from 25-yards.

The young right-back’s emergence has led to him being linked with a potential big-money move to Manchester United.

Victor Lindelof – Centre-back

Another young Benfica defender linked with a move to Old Trafford is Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof.

The 6ft 2ins 22-year-old joined Benfica from Vasteras SK in his homeland in 2011 and made 97 appearances for the Eagle’s second string before becoming a regular feature of the first-team over the last 18 months.

Lindelof’s uncompromising physical style is reminiscent of former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic, while his superb passing skills should not be overlooked.

This season, Lindelof is maintaining a highly impressive pass completion average of 89.3 percent, while also making 3.5 clearances, 1.7 interceptions and 0.9 tackles per game.

When questioned about rumours of a potential January move to the Red Devils for his client, Lindelof’s agent replied: “There’s no smoke without fire.”

Andre Horta – Midfield

Portuguese under-21 international Andre Horta is capable of playing as a number 10 or in a deeper central midfield role and has shown his ability to affect play from both positions for Benfica this season.

Horta is a the definition of a tidy operator. Careful in possession, the 20-year-old is finding a team-mate with 86.9 percent of his passes in the Liga NOS this term, while managing and even better return of 91.3 percent in the Champions League.

Despite his tender years, Horta has also shown his willingness to involve himself in the play as much as possible, averaging 41.4 passes per game – the only Benfica midfielders able to better that figure are Serbian anchor Lubomir Fejsa and playmaker Pizzi.

Horta’s creativity is also beginning to blossom, as he completes 1.4 key passes and 1.1 dribbles per game, and has scored once and assisted once.

Goncalo Guedes – Attacking midfield

Young attacker Goncalo Guedes has appeared, either as a starter or substitute, in all of Benfica’s Primeira Liga and Champions League games so far this season.

The versatile forward, who is able to play out wide, centrally as a number 10 or further forward as a second striker, has been regarded as a prospect of some note for several years having represented Portugal at under-15, -16, -17, -18, -19, and -21 level before making his full international debut as an 18-year-old in November 2015.

Although still young and developing, the 5ft 10ins player is already capable of holding his own physically and demonstrates superb technique and vision in the final third.

With four goals and two assists this season, as well as a pass accuracy comfortably above 80 percent, Guedes is already a potent attacking force. Having been voted the 2014-15 Segunda Liga Breakthrough Player of the Season while playing for the B team, he is now taking the Portuguese top-flight by storm.

About the author- Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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Has it really been four years since we watched Spain, basking in the glory of a majestic Xavi Hernandez, romp their way to European Championship glory?

Alas, in the intervening time Europe has lost Xavi and Spain’s stock has plummeted. The finals in France will, this year, be ruled by the next generation of stars; whether any of them go on to define the tournament as the Catalonian maestro did remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, though: there will be superstars unearthed at this tournament. We have taken a stab at predicting the kids who might just do it on the biggest stage this summer.

Federico Bernadeschi (Italy)

Federico Bernadeschi is very quickly becoming respected as one of Italy’s premium young talents. Though national coach Antonio Conte has seemed somewhat reluctant to flood the Azzurri with too many young players at once during his waning reign, Italy are beginning to realise that they have a wealth of talent at their disposal, with Bernadeschi’s name climbing rapidly towards the top of that list.

The Fiorentina forward is a creator at heart, which could stand him in good stead when competing for a place in Italy’s starting eleven this summer. Though the Azzurri’s current talent pool is seemingly limitless and they possess a huge number of gifted strikers capable of putting the ball in the back of the net – Lorenzo Insigne, Graziano Pelle, Simone Zaza, Stephan El Sharaawy and Eder could all be competing for a starting berth in France – they do lack a creative force capable of carving out chances in the first place.

That’s where Bernadeschi could make his mark. The 21-year-old displays remarkable ball retention and a consistent and deadly eye for a killer pass every week in Serie A, meaning he could play the role of provider alongside any of Italy’s talented goal-scorers.

Though his involvement in Italy’s friendly drubbing by Germany – during which Conte experimented with a young front three – might have hurt his chances of initially starting in the tournament proper, Bernadeschi will no doubt be knocking on the next Chelsea manager’s door if the Azzurri find themselves struggling to break down defences as the competition progresses.

Victor Lindelof (Sweden)

Unlike many of the players on this list, Victor Lindelof is almost guaranteed to start in the tournament. The 21-year-old has recently burst onto the scene to cement himself as one of Sweden’s first-choice defenders, and it would be a surprise not to see him feature heavily in their campaign.

Lindelof’s rise to national side regular has been facilitated by his recent run in Benfica’s first team. The Portuguese side are one of Europe’s form teams right now, and the Swedish centre-half has been resplendent at the heart of their defence.

Accustomed to playing as a defensive midfielder as well as at the back, Lindelof’s ball-playing abilities are are the heart of what makes him so attractive as a centre-half. He’s also strong, great in the air and very quick, meaning his passing ability doesn’t overshadow his grasp of the basics of defending. He also possesses excellent technique, making him a real threat from set-pieces; so if Sweden don’t hit Zlatan’s head with the first ball, they have an able alternative to aim for.

Though Lindelof has only very recently made his debut for Sweden, if he finishes the season with Benfica as strongly as his current performances suggest, we could be seeing a lot of him in France.

Viktor Kovalenko (Ukraine)

Kovalenko rose to fame last year after claiming the Golden Boot at the U-20 World Cup; surprising for an attacking midfielder whose usual contribution comes in the creation of goals, rather than in the scoring of them.

That’s not to say the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder is a stranger in front of goal. In the mould of Belgium’s uber-talented Kevin De Bruyne, Kovalenko’s ability to finish off moves as well as start them means he’s rocketing into Ukrainian first-team plans and is highly likely to feature at the tournament.

Kovalenko is a master of the chipped through-ball, and has the rare ability to seemingly spot runs before they’re even made; a trait made famous by Spain’s David Silva. If he’s given a chance to prove his worth in France, then potential link-ups with compatriots Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka could make Ukraine a real force going forward.

About the Author – Tom Curren

Writer & freelancer. Author & editor of, a website dedicated to comprehensively profiling those whom the mainstream football media might miss.

twitter: @tomocurr


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