Football is left in the lurch as we speak with Covid continuing to wreak havoc, particularly in England. That being said, leagues around Europe aren’t seeing any postponements and it all rolls on as we build-up to the 2022 World Cup. From the English Championship to Ligue 1 in France, here are some players to watch who will excite going into the new year.
Players to Watch in Europe During 2022
Dominik Szoboszlai – RB Leipzig
Kicking things off in Germany and having emerged from an injury-hit year or so, Dominik Szoboszlai has the opportunity to be unleashed. It has certainly been a difficult season thus far for RB Leipzig with the Jesse Marsch era not lasting long and similar issues continuing under Domenico Tedesco. The Hungarian international scored twice and assisted another in the first home game of this campaign but since then, has only added one further goal and three assists. It is hard to judge Szoboszlai alone for the Leipzig turmoil but if they can get back on track, he could be at the fore of their success.
Taiwo Awoniyi – Union Berlin
Only Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland have scored more Bundesliga goals this season than Taiwo Awoniyi:
◉ 12 games
◉ 8 goals
Maybe Liverpool have a buy-back clause. 😉 pic.twitter.com/LHDGPiP15A
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 22, 2021
Union Berlin are enjoying a much better season than Leipzig and one man playing great football is Taiwo Awoniyi. Liverpool fans may recognise the name of the Nigerian forward, he had been on loan away from Anfield up until earlier this year when he moved to the German capital on a permanent basis. Awoniyi has nine goals in the Bundesliga for the seventh-placed side which has him tied in fifth in the standings along with Serge Gnabry of Bayern Munich.
Jadon Sancho – Manchester United
Awoniyi has switched England for Germany whilst, on the other hand, a certain Jadon Sancho has done the opposite. The wide-man was performing as one of the best in Europe in the black and yellow of Borussia Dortmund but his transition hasn’t been quite as smooth as many would have hoped. There have been glimpses of brilliance from Sancho with Manchester United – that goal against Villarreal and the general performance against Chelsea in the space of a week coming to mind. The expectations on his shoulders are particularly lofty and Premier League fans are keen to write him off. That being said, he should come good for the Red Devils.
James Maddison – Leicester City
James Maddison has rarely played better than this. Outstanding for a struggling #lcfc these past 5 weeks – in and out of possession. Pressing, tackling, tracking back and beating his man, passing and shooting. 6 goals in 8 games. Looks focused and free from that hip concern🙌
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) December 27, 2021
From one young Englishman fighting to find form in the lead up to Christmas to another and the last month or so has been remarkable for James Maddison. Injuries and poor form have seen Maddison fall down the pecking order: he was being compared with Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount to then struggling for a starting spot in Brendan Rodgers’ side altogether. The Foxes’ upturn in form has coincided with the form of Maddison, though. In his last four league games, Maddison has contributed to six goals, earning two Man of the Match awards as well as starring against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League. Can he battle it out for a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad again with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon?
Brennan Johnson – Nottingham Forest
Dropping down to the second tier of English football where Maddison made his name with Norwich City. The Championship is a hotbed for promising talent and that seems to have become particularly apparent in recent years. Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma, Ebere Eze, Emi Buendia and Ezri Konsa are just some of the many names to emerge from the division. Brennan Johnson is one who is next up. Since Chris Hughton has been replaced by Steve Cooper at Nottingham Forest, the style of football has improved which has benefitted Johnson. Adding in Alex Mighten, there is youth supporting Lewis Grabban going forward and Johnson may well explode next year.
Morgan Gibbs White – Sheffield United
Highest rated wingers in the Championship on @WhoScored:
1️⃣ Harry Wilson – 7.33
2️⃣ Sam Gallagher – 7.28
3️⃣ Marcus Tavernier – 7.18
➡️ Ovie Ejaria – 7.18
5️⃣ Jaidon Anthony – 7.11
6️⃣ Ben Brereton Diaz – 7.06
7️⃣ Ben Osborn – 7.00
8️⃣ Morgan Gibbs-White – 6.96#FFC #Rovers pic.twitter.com/kFQqYU0sCl
— The Second Tier (@secondtierpod) October 28, 2021
As is the case with Forest, Sheffield United have recently had a managerial change with their promotion chances waning away by the week. Slavisa Jokanovic was unable to make an instant impact at Bramall Lane but one silver lining was the presence of Morgan Gibbs-White. On loan from Wolves, the central midfielder took on a more advanced role which paid dividends. He netted against Cardiff City in the early days of the Paul Heckingbottom tenure and he has generally scored some incredible goals this season. The 21-year-old has contributed to nine goals which is only bettered in the squad by wily veteran Billy Sharp. He has already become more integral to the setup than the likes of Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster, 2022 is set to be huge for Gibbs-White.
Jonathan David – Lille
Jonathan David scored his 12th goal of the season last night meaning he enters 2022 as Ligue 1 top scorer.
The 21-year-old celebrated his winner with a tribute to his late mother who passed away two years ago. A rose raised in tribute of Rose, his mother.
A pure moment 🌹 pic.twitter.com/uge0eWfcwW
— VERSUS (@vsrsus) December 23, 2021
Over to France now and despite being pillaged after winning the league, it isn’t all doom and gloom for Lille. This season began as shaky as expected on all fronts but they have since turned that around. Canadian striker Jonathan David is at the heart of their upturn in form, leading the way in scoring when it comes to Ligue 1 action across the whole division. They lost just one of their six group games in the Champions League which saw them finish top and Chelsea await in the next round. David is a part of a hugely exciting national team set-up who are ahead of both USA and Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Lille currently sit mid-table but David is in the form of his life regardless.
Angel Gomes – Lille
Remaining with Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side and there is another Lille youngster who could be set for a big year. David has of course delivered whereas Angel Gomes is thriving more off of potential plus a few glimpses of brilliance. In recent games, he looked bright in his substitute appearance against Lyon as well as coming off the bench to score and assist in a Champions League win over Wolfsburg. Gomes is one of many youngsters touted for greatness out of Manchester United and so his decision to leave the north of England in search of more regular football is commendable. The loss of several key players plus Jonathan Ikone may be set to depart too in 2022 delivers a massive opportunity for Gomes to step up.
Nikola Milenkovic – Fiorentina
Highest success in aerial duels in Serie A 2021-22:
Central defenders who have won at least 25 duels.
Nikola Milenkovic 78.1%
Alessio Romagnoli 76.9%
Merih Demiral 75.3%
Gianluca Mancini 71.1% pic.twitter.com/xtp5ePAWdh
— Rossonero (@rossonero_fans) December 22, 2021
There has been no league more entertaining of Europe’s top five this season so far than Serie A and it is not even a debate. There are five or six teams that could feasibly win the title and more often than not, it is goals galore. That being said, Nikola Milenkovic is the one and only defender on this list! Dusan Vlahovic is taking all the headlines in Florence and rightly so, but long-time West Ham United target Milenkovic is one to keep an eye on. The Serbian centre-half is a bedrock in the backline for an intriguing Vincenzo Italiano team. Italiano worked wonders to keep Spezia in the league before now having Fiorentina fighting for a European spot. Will Milenkovic follow Vlahovic out of the door in the near future or remain a key cog in this enticing Italiano project?
Nicolo Zaniolo – Roma
Whilst Italiano is thriving at the moment and has a lot of credit in the bank, times are tumultuous for Jose Mourinho in the Eternal city. Prior to that devastating win over Atalanta, Roma were on a very shaky run that saw them lose to Bologna and get hammered by Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan, too. Tammy Abraham has been performing well despite his team struggling and one man that could help him out is Nicolo Zaniolo. The young Italian was thriving and was loved by the fans until he suffered a devastating ACL injury. He netted against Atalanta and it would be great to see such a coveted talent get back to his pre-injury form for 2022 and onwards.
Arnaut Danjuma – Villarreal
Finally to Spain and the move of Arnaut Danjuma from Bournemouth to La Liga raised plenty of eyebrows. In his last couple of seasons in the Championship, the Dutchman was arguably one of the best players. A £20 million move to a Villarreal side needing to provide support for Gerard Moreno made a lot of sense to me personally, despite the confusion of others. Moreno has been sidelined at times and has struggled in front of goal in others, Danjuma stepping up in his absence with five goals and two assists to date for the Yellow Submarine.
Vinicius Junior – Real Madrid
Vinicius Júnior in La Liga this season [league rank]:
63 Carries into the final 1/3 [🥇]
56 Carries into the box [🥇]
55 Successful dribbles [🥇]
14 Goals + assists [🥈]
Entertainment with end product. 🇧🇷💫 pic.twitter.com/kopao2u5ZG
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 21, 2021
The last name on the list is a future Ballon d’Or winner. The narrative that Karim Benzema is carrying this Real Madrid attack on his own is far from true. Granted, the Frenchman is ageing like a fine wine and has had a very underrated couple of years. However, Vinicius Junior so far this season has been quite something. The young Brazilian was criticised for being wasteful and not prolific and rightly so, but the plaudits then need to come back around and praise his excellence. He has ten goals and four assists in 1,343 La Liga minutes – his partnership with Benzema has Los Blancos in a position to romp to the title in Carlo Ancelotti’s homecoming season going into 2022.
There are so many other players that could make this list and have a big impact in 2022. Here are just some, from these same six leagues, that we should keep a close eye on: Emmanuel Dennis (Watford), Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo), Amir Rrahmani (Napoli), Oscar Trejo (Rayo Vallecano), Gavi (Barcelona), Jaidon Anthony (Bournemouth), Sorba Thomas (Huddersfield Town), Nico Schlotterbeck (Freiburg), Rafael Borre (Eintracht Frankfurt), Boubacar Kamara (Marseille), Martin Terrier (Rennes).