The Wonderkid Power Rankings: Arsenal & Chelsea starlets shine in first top ten of the season

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Ranking the top ten brightest and most in-form talents in the world of football as Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka star on the opening weekend.

A new season of football is upon us and that means the long-awaited return of our weekly attempt to find out who the best young players in the world are right now – The Wonderkid Power Rankings.

Every week during the regular season, we comb the world’s leagues to find the brightest and most in-form talents and corral them into a top ten based not just on promise and ability, but also current form. We’re starting with a blank slate this season, so that gives a lot of players who don’t spend too much time in the spotlight a chance to impress, especially with the German and Italian leagues yet to commence – so quite a few players will have to wait a week to claim their place in our rankings, and a few players who probably won’t hang around get their chance to shine. Last year’s final number one, Eduardo Camavinga, did get to lace his boots up at least, so we’ll see where starts out very soon.

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To refresh you all as to the rules, we’re only looking at players who are 21 or younger – which means we say goodbye to staples of last season’s top tens like Gabriel Martinelli and Chelsea new boy Nicolas Jackson. Anyway, with explanations and admin out of the way, let’s dive in and see who our first number one of the 2023/24 season is…

1. Jude Bellingham – Real Madrid

A dream debut for Real Madrid sees one of the best youngsters in the world claim what will likely be a pretty regular spot on the very top of the pile. Stourbridge’s finest ran the show from midfield as Real kicked their La Liga campaign off with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao and looked every inch the same player that dominated game after game in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.

He even capped a superb display with a goal, albeit not the very best he’ll score – taking advantage of some slack marking at a corner to scuff a shot into the ground which looped over the helpless Unai Simón and in. It was probably the least controlled and elegant touch he had all day. A fabulous player who we’ll probably get bored of praising by the end of the season.

2. Bukayo Saka – Arsenal

Another of last season’s regular frontrunners stakes his claim to a top five place nice and early thanks to a brilliant goal against Nottingham Forest which served as scarcely-necessary testament to the power and precision of his left foot.

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Cracked with the instep from 20 yards and curled into the top left corner, it’s the kind of goal he’s scored a couple of dozen times already and will probably score many times more over the course of the campaign. It’s hard to find much to complain about in the rest of his performance, come to that – a typical display of quick feet, easily-found space and sharp, swift passing.

3. Eduardo Camavinga – Real Madrid

Camavinga isn’t just one of the very best young midfielders on the planet, he’s also one of the most consistent. Another composed, measured performance against Athletic Bilbao saw the Frenchman make much the same point that he did time and again last year – he simply doesn’t miss a beat.

This time around he won six tackles, including all three when an opponent tried to dribble past him, thew in five intercepted passes and added an 89.3% passing completion rate as the cherry on top. The kind of metronomic performance you want from a holding midfielder and another demonstration of an astonishingly calm head on very young shoulders.

4. Vitor Roque - Athletico Paranaense

The 18-year-old Brazilian scored in his third consecutive Copa Libertadores game last Wednesday, although sadly his second-half strike wasn’t enough to prevent his side from being knocked out on penalties by Bolívar in the last 16.

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He’s now netted a total of 17 in 37 games since establishing himself in the first team during the state championships, and has eight assists on top and a recent run of eight Série A games in a row with a goal contribution. Small of stature but with tremendous feet and blistering acceleration, he’s already drawn comparisons with Sergio Agüero and Ronaldo Nazário – and has agreed a £30m deal to sign with Barcelona next summer. One to watch, to say the very least.

5. Pedri – Barcelona

Not that it will necessarily go down as one of his very best displays, but nobody watching a rather turgid Barcelona fail to break down Getafe in their 0-0 draw on Sunday night could really pin any of the blame on Pedri, who was surely the visitors’ most lively presence in attack and provided 0.4xG’s worth of passes all by himself.

Pedri came off the field having done everything he conceivably could to tee his team-mates up and dribbled the ball pretty handily to, finishing up with a 100% success rate with the ball at his feet. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one getting on the end of the chances – if he had, perhaps the result would have been a little different.

6. Levi Colwill – Chelsea

After all the fuss over whether he would sign a new contract or be shipped on, Colwill finally put pen to paper on a long-term extension at Chelsea and was rewarded with a start for the curtain-raiser against Liverpool – and the unenviable task of keeping Mohamed Salah quiet.

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It was a job he found pretty tricky for the first half-hour or so, but as his team grew into the game Colwill became more and more composed, eventually shutting the Egyptian down and looking like a defender who will do a job on quite a few more forwards as the season wears on. Also used the ball extremely well, and was a key part of the way Chelsea wrested control of possession and the flow of the game.

7. Jérémy Doku – Rennes

Belgian right wide forward Doku has had a horrible time with injuries since joining Ligue 1 side Rennes, and the constant interruptions to his progress mean that his 67th-minute goal against Metz this weekend was just his 10th since joining the club in 2020.

The good news is that when he is on the pitch, he seems to have retained all of the pace and trickery that made him such an exciting prospect in the first place, and all the skill and guile that has earned him 14 Belgium caps already regardless of all the knocks and crocks he’s sustained. Nothing too fancy about his finish this time around, a simple sidefooted rebound, but it’s nice to see a fine player both fit and on form.

8. Ruben van Bommel – AZ Alkmaar

The son of tough-tackling holding midfielder Mark, the younger Van Bommel caught the eye in the Eerste Division last season as he scored 15 goals for MVV Maastricht, and has already hit the ground running in the Dutch top tier, playing 65 minutes against Go Ahead Eagles and bagging a goal and assist in the process.

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Both owed something to dodgy defending, admittedly, with Van Bommel seizing upon a dreadful back pass to square for Jordy Clasie four minutes in before knocking into an open net for his own goal after the Go Ahead goalkeeper got caught in no-man’s land. Still, a pretty sharp start and he also came off the pitch with a 100% pass completion rate, although I’m not sure that’s the first thing he bragged about to his dad afterwards.

9. Evan Ferguson – Brighton & Hove Albion

If the young Irish striker kept up his current scoring rate for Brighton’s senior side but was given 90 minutes every game, he’d end the season with 24 goals. Well, rounded up slightly. But you get the gist – he’s already quite the player and is well on his way to a £100m move to Chelsea in a summer or two.

Ferguson was only on the field for 13 minutes on Saturday but found time to show his predatory gifts off with a close-range finish from Pervis Estupiñán’s well-weighted cross and to crash a glorious curling effort off the inside of the post from the edge of the area. He’s got plenty to work on – his ball-carrying skills aren’t much to shout about, for example – but has so many of the attributes required to be a top-class striker, and perhaps the best Irish player in a generation.

10. Ibrahim Salah – Rennes

With so many of the world’s very best youngsters still on their holidays this week, we can sneak in a little super-sub action at the end of our rankings – and before we laud Salah for his spectacular contribution this weekend, a quick honourable mention should go to Arsenal’s Mika Biereth, on loan at Motherwell, who came off the bench to score one and set up the other as his side came back from behind to beat Hibernian.

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Which still isn’t as impressive as what Belgian-Moroccan forward Salah did – coming off the bench with barely five minutes left to play, he scored not once but twice, his first goals since joining Rennes last year, and needed just four touches of the ball to do it. Granted, both were essentially open goals, but I doubt the 21-year-old will be especially fussed.

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