Kevin Hatchard looks at the Bundesliga’s most promising under-21 talents in the first part of his monthly column.
As a Bundesliga commentator and columnist, I’m always struck by how many superb young talents there are across Germany’s top flight. I’ve decided to take a look at one player aged 21 or under from each club, and this is the first half of that list. For most clubs, I could have picked two or three different players.
Timo Werner (Striker, 20)
Timo Werner always had the searing pace to frighten defences, but for Stuttgart last season he lacked composure in front of goal, and he couldn’t prevent the Swabians from being relegated.
Under the wily tutelage of Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl, Werner is playing more intelligently and rattling in the goals. He has netted eight times in 13 Bundesliga matches, helping the top-flight debutants to take pole position in the standings. A senior cap with Germany shouldn’t be too far off.
Joshua Kimmich (Midfielder/right-back, 21)
There are some players who stand out from the first moment you watch them, and Joshua Kimmich is certainly in that category. A favourite of Pep Guardiola’s during their brief time together in Bavaria, Kimmich has slotted seamlessly into the Bayern squad since arriving from Stuttgart.
Kimmich showed his adaptability on the biggest stage by admirably filling in at right-back for Germany at Euro 2016. This season he has added goals to his game, breaking his ducks in the Bundesliga and Champions League, and netting his first international goal. A superstar in the making.
Niklas Stark (Midfielder/centre-back, 21)
Hertha coach Pal Dardai demands maximum effort from his players, which is one of the reasons Niklas Stark has managed to edge his way into the first-team picture in the capital.
Signed from Nurnberg last year, Stark has proven a valuably versatile performer. He can act as a defensive shield in the midfield, or can play at centre-back. He is also becoming a threat at set-plays – all three of his Bundesliga goals have been headers from dead-ball situations.
Niklas Sule (Centre-back, 21)
Man-mountain Niklas Sule is one of the main reasons why unfashionable Hoffenheim are still unbeaten in the Bundesliga, and it’s no surprise that the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool are tracking him.
He is an exceptional tackler, and is comfortable passing the ball out from the back. For a man who stands at 6ft 5in, his heading could be better, but he is already emerging a fine leader. He has also shown tenacity to come back from a knee ligament injury that robbed him of half a season.
Aymane Barkok (Midfielder, 18)
First impressions count, and Aymane Barkok couldn’t have made a better one on his Bundesliga debut earlier this season. As a surprise second-half substitute in a tight game at Werder Bremen, Barkok ghosted infield onto his left-foot, and curled home a delightful late winner.
Fearless in possession, Barkok seems to glide past players, although understandably his decision-making needs work. If the Moroccan carries on developing at his current rate, he should be a first-team regular by next season.
Christian Pulisic (Winger, 18)
Mature beyond his years, Christian Pulisic has the air of a man who is nearing the veteran stage of his career. Hard-working and immensely talented, Pulisic seems to be able to comfortably cope with the tag marked “next big thing”, and it says a lot that he has won the trust of demanding BVB coach Thomas Tuchel.
A winger with pace and trickery, Pulisic is a big-game, big-moment player. He has the ability to go inside or outside a full-back, and has great awareness. He is the youngest player to score a World Cup qualifying goal for the USA, and the youngest to score a Bundesliga brace. He is one of the most exciting prospects in world football, not that he seems to have noticed.
Salih Ozcan (Midfielder, 18)
FC Koln have built their impressive recent rise on a solid defence, a gritty midfield, and the relentless goalscoring of star striker Anthony Modeste. Flair is sometimes in short supply, and young forward Leonardo Bittencourt has all too often flattered to deceive.
There is a vacancy to be filled, and Salih Ozcan might be the young man for the job. He has confidence on the ball, technical skill, and he has captained the German Under-19 side. Coach Peter Stoger has been happy to give him minutes against the likes of Bayern and Schalke, and the club have handed him a new deal until 2020.
Breel Embolo (Striker, 19)
Football can be cruel sometimes, and just when Schalke’s record signing Breel Embolo was starting to show his quality, his season was dramatically cut short. Augsburg left-back Konstantinos Stafylidis scythed down the Swiss international, breaking his ankle and damaging ligaments.
Embolo’s previous league game had seen him score twice in a 4-0 drubbing of Borussia Monchengladbach. Blessed with pace and indomitable determination, ex-Basel striker Embolo is a nightmare for defenders when he is on his game. One hopes he will return to full fitness and resume a hugely promising career.
Julian Brandt (Forward, 20)
When Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga season was crashing down around them last term, Julian Brandt was one of the few who truly stepped up. He scored in six of Bayer’s last eight Bundesliga games to help them secure a Champions League spot.
Brandt always wants the ball, and is constantly looking to cause havoc in one-on-one duels with defenders. He is capable of scoring excellent goals with both his left and his right foot, and he has a lovely weight of pass. Since the start of last season, he has been involved in 19 league goals, and he has already racked up plenty of top-level experience. Bayern Munich are long-term admirers of one of Germany’s brightest talents.
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinhatchard