Eleven to watch in the UEFA Europa League

From a sweeper-keeper to a forward billed as the future of Italian football via a phenomenon and Frank Rijkaard II. Meet 11 of the group stage's brightest young talents.

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Predrag Rajkovic, Maccabi Tel-Aviv (20) – goalkeeper
A prodigious talent, Rajkovic made his senior debut for Serbia aged 17, less than a week after helping his country to Under-19 EURO glory. That earned a switch to Crvena zvezda and, after starring in Serbia's 2015 U-20 World Cup triumph, he was on the move again, to Maccabi Tel-Aviv. A master of the calculated risk, he is a sweeper-keeper with a penchant for saving penalties.

Aymeric Laporte
Aymeric Laporte©Getty Images

Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Club (22) – defender
The French starlet has been tracked by some of Europe's biggest names for some time and a €65m release clause was inserted into his new contract this summer. On Athletic's books since he was 15, the centre-back's progress has been hampered by injuries – though not too much. "He has a bright future ahead of him, but he is a real player already," said Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde.

Terence Kongolo
Terence Kongolo©Getty Images

Terence Kongolo, Feyenoord (22) – defender
Swiss-born Kongolo – older brother of Manchester City's highly-rated Rodney – has been on the radar since impressing as a Netherlands side also featuring Memphis Depay won the 2011 U17 EURO. A member of the Oranje's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad, the pacey, self-assured Kongolo can play at left-back or in the middle.

Jairo Riedewald
Jairo Riedewald©AFP/Getty Images

Jairo Riedewald, Ajax (20) – defender
"He reminds me of Frank Rijkaard," said his former Ajax boss Frank de Boer. High praise indeed. Riedewald's league debut aged 17 years and 104 days was storybook stuff: coming on for the last ten minutes with his team trailing 1-0 at Roda, he scored twice – including a last-gasp clincher – to secure a dramatic victory. He's already a staple of the side, often in midfield.

Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans©AFP/Getty Images

Youri Tielemans, Anderlecht (19) – midfielder
"Tielemans is a phenomenon," is the assessment of ex-Anderlecht playmaker Pär Zetterberg. It is three years now since the teenager, still only 19, became the third-youngest player to grace the UEFA Champions League. Technique, speed, timing and the ability to supply killer passes with either foot make him a dangerous customer. José Mourinho is reputedly an admirer.

Viktor Kovalenko
Viktor Kovalenko©AFP/Getty Images

Viktor Kovalenko, Shakhtar (20) – midfielder
Kovalenko has long been earmarked for success, and even as an 11-year-old he had Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv scrabbling for his signature. In 2015 he was top scorer at the U-20 World Cup and inspired Shakhtar to the UEFA Youth League final; in 2016 he has established himself at senior international level. Mircea Lucescu, Kovalenko's former coach, reckons the young midfielder has everything.

Ozan Tufan
Ozan Tufan©Getty Images

Ozan Tufan, Fenerbahçe (21) – midfielder
Ozan burst onto the scene during a fantastic season at Bursaspor in 2014/15, prompting a transfer to Istanbul. He was a senior international by then, and despite his youth he already has 29 caps, mainly on the right side of midfield. At club level he usually operates through the middle, showcasing his excellent passing range.

Vincent Koziello (right)
Vincent Koziello (right)©AFP/Getty Images

Vincent Koziello, Nice (20) – midfielder
If Hatem Ben Arfa took many of the plaudits for Nice's fine 2015/16 campaign, the callow Koziello also caught the eye. Indefatigable, the 1.68m midfielder is an expert at finding space and seldom lets passes go astray; he represents the perfect foil for more attacking, less defensively disciplined team-mates.

Domenico Berardi
Domenico Berardi©Getty Images

Domenico Berardi, Sassuolo (22) – forward
Berardi "has been ready for a great team for two years" according to Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco – not that he's complaining. Now in his fifth term at the club, the left-footed Italy U21 striker is already Sassuolo's all-time top scorer and has been billed the "future of Italian football". No pressure, then.

Mauro Icardi
Mauro Icardi©Getty Images

Mauro Icardi, Inter (23) – forward
An Argentinian with various long-term admirers, Icardi claimed his 50th league goal for Inter earlier this month, bringing up the half-century in only his 93rd outing. A product of the Barcelona academy, he made strides at Sampdoria before kicking on following his 2013 move to the Nerazzurri.

Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford©Getty Images

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United (18) – forward
Perhaps England's biggest talent. Manchester-born Rashford netted twice on his United debut against Midtjylland in February, adding two more and an assist three days later on his league debut, a 3-2 victory over Arsenal. He managed just the one on his England bow, albeit inside three minutes, and was named in his country's UEFA EURO 2016 squad.

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