Adams, Malen, Moukoko highlight Bundesliga’s next breakout stars


The German Bundesliga is known for its role in developing and nurturing some of the game’s biggest and brightest talents. From Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna at Borussia Dortmund, to Jamal Musiala, Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich and Moussa Diaby at Bayer Leverkusen, the league is filled with next-level talent in almost every position.

There are many young players poised for bigger roles this coming season, and all of them boast serious breakout potential. Heading into the 2021-22 season, which begins on Aug. 13 with Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+ in the U.S.), ESPN’s resident scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen picks out some of the players aged 22 or younger who fit the bill.

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With six Bundesliga goals from the first eight games, Cunha started last season in inspirational fashion. Although his impact and consistency faded as Hertha struggled their way through the campaign, there’s clearly a lot more to come from the ex-RB Leipzig star. Despite generally being considered a centre-forward, he enjoys dropping deep to look for the ball and involving himself in the build-up. He has also proved decisive for Brazil reaching this summer’s Olympic final, scoring the quarterfinal winner against Egypt.

Baumgartner’s impact has grown steadily since making his Bundesliga debut at the tail end of the 2018-19 season. He enjoyed a decent Euro 2020 for Austria, either operating as an inverted wide player on the left or as a deep-lying central attacker. At club level for Hoffenheim, the dynamic midfielder occasionally plays in the middle as he has a diligent pressing game and can make efficient interceptions. However, Baumgartner is at his best when arriving late in the box with a cleverly timed run from which he can execute a key pass or take on a shot.

Tyler Adams | 22 | Midfield | RB Leipzig

The U.S. international will be hoping to build on his 21 Bundesliga starts of last season. Mainly used as a high-energy central midfielder — but with occasional cameos at right-back and right midfield — Adams is known for his ability to find space, his intense pressing game and ability to retain possession.

The American, who missed this summer’s Gold Cup for a second time running due to injury, should also enjoy a reunion with his mentor at New York Red Bulls, the newly appointed RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch.

Signed from French second division side Sochaux, Lacroix stood out as one of the top centre-backs in Germany during his debut season and has caught the eye of numerous elite clubs. Though he can be prone to risk-taking — and is not always the favourite in a 50-50 tackle — Lacroix has matured remarkably over the last year and his decision-making has gradually improved. Quick, strong, dominant in the air and excellent at winning second balls, his interceptions and passing skills make him a potentially complete defender.

Donyell Malen | 22 | Forward | Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund picked up the Netherlands international for €30m from PSV following Sancho’s €85m move to Manchester United. He won’t replace the England man like-for-like, as Malen is essentially a central striker who’s learning his trade as a wide forward, rather than a roaming, playmaking winger.

There are some similarities though and, while Sancho possesses more creativity and contributes more defensively, Malen is arguably a more incisive finisher (41 goals in 80 league games for PSV). The former Arsenal academy graduate has been closely monitored by many European top clubs over the past 18 months and has recently taken his game to another level, as seen during Euro 2020.

Having just lost two outstanding French centre-backs — Dayot Upamecano to Bayern Munich (€42.5m) and Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool (€41.5m) — Leipzig secured the services of this imposing Strasbourg defender as a replacement for around €16m. Simakan enjoys the physical side of defending and can often be seen winning the ball high up the pitch, as well as being proactive and assertive in his style of defending. With his steady, safe distribution and fine understanding of the game, he can also deputise as a holding midfielder. Marsch will be hoping the France U20 star can eventually build a partnership with another exciting young centre-back, the left-footed Croatia international Josko Gvardiol.

Having arrived from sister club FC Salzburg in January for €20m, Szoboszlai is finally due his long-awaited RB Leipzig debut after picking up an injury a few weeks prior to his move. The Hungary international should benefit from joining forces again with former Salzburg coach Marsch, with a reputation of one of the top young talents in European football. Once settled into the more competitive environment of German football, the tall attacking midfielder, who prefers to drift in from a wide left position, has all the necessary technical and tactical abilities to become star for Leipzig this season.

Florian Wirtz | 18 | Midfielder | Bayer Leverkusen

Already important for Leverkusen last season (with five goals, six assists in the Bundesliga), this supremely gifted attacking midfielder was unlucky to miss out on a spot in Germany’s final Euro 2020 squad after proving his worth for the European Under-21 champions. The 18-year-old’s skills in possession catch the eye — his close control is exquisite, he carries the ball well and has the vision to make a telling pass in the last third. Oh, and he’s a good finisher too. Wirtz’s positioning skills also come in handy in defensively: last season he picked up a respectable 5.1 second balls per game.

Youssoufa Moukoko | 16 | Striker | Borussia Dortmund

The Germany U20 international broke several records after being given his Bundesliga debut the day after turning 16, and scoring a month later. While there’s no pressure on the teenage sensation at this stage to create headlines on a weekly basis, high expectations are inevitable for a forward with such outstanding attacking qualities, let alone a brilliant goal-scoring record at youth level. Moukoko’s calmness and precision in front of goal are extraordinary for a player of his age and, being a natural goal scorer, he prefers playing as a central striker who can cut infield from the right. Also look out for winger Ansgar Knauff this season as the 19-year-old is likely to compete for a spot in a youthful Dortmund attack.

Lukas Nmecha | 22 | Striker | Wolfsburg

Born in Hamburg, Nmecha moved to Manchester as a kid but, despite showing great promise for City at youth level, he never managed to properly kick on after being handed his first-team debut at the age of 19. Following underwhelming loan spells at Preston, Wolfsburg and Middlesbrough, Nmecha found the net 18 times while on loan at Anderlecht last season. A Germany U21 international (who has also represented England at youth level), he was particularly impressive at this summer’s European Under-21 Championship, scoring the winner in the final. Nmecha returned permanently to Wolfsburg in an €8m move this summer, and you can watch out for his penchant for a Panenka penalty kick.



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Adams, Malen, Moukoko highlight Bundesliga’s next breakout stars

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