From Pedri to Vinicius Jr… with Lionel Messi gone – who will be the new stars of LaLiga?

The Lionel Messi-shaped hole in LaLiga will not be easily filled but there is hope a new superstar can be found among the talented upcoming prospects in Spain.

After Messi left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain, the Catalans are hoping Pedri can be their next poster boy with the 18-year-old already a central part of Ronald Koeman’s first-team. 

Ansu Fati is also back from injury in a much-needed attacking boost for the Catalans, who managed 85 goals in LaLiga last season.

LaLiga will be without Lionel Messi after the forward left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain

Over in Madrid, Vinicius Jr has a big season ahead of him. Real are clearly desperate to bring Kylian Mbappe to the Bernabeu but with Messi now at the Parc des Princes, the Frenchman is not leaving Paris any time soon. Vinicius will be out to prove he can be the man to lead Real’s front line for years to come.

There are plenty of other exciting talents throughout the division, with Real Socidead hoping their youngsters can fire them into the Champions League this season. 

As LaLiga prepares for its first campaign without Messi, Sportsmail takes a look at some of the young hopefuls who could be the next stars of Spain’s top flight.

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Pedri 

Club: Barcelona

Age: 18

Pedri is the man tasked with being the Catalans’ new poster boy and is one of the most exciting talents in LaLiga. 

The midfielder played 4,996 minutes last season, turning out 73 times for club and country in his first full season for Barca. 

He was back in training just five days after winning a silver medal with Spain at the Olympic Games. He also played all of Spain’s Euro 2020 matches, including extra-time in three knockout games.

The youngster, who is highly regarded by Ronald Koeman, will be looking to build on his three goals and three assists in the 2020-2021 campaign and will be given plenty of opportunties to do so. 

Barcelona are hoping that Pedri can become their new poster in boy in Messi’s absence

  Alexander Isak

Club: Real Sociedad

Age: 21 

The Sweden international was hugely impressive in his second season in LaLiga, netting 17 times in 34 games before putting in promising performances at Euro 2020.

The striker has always carried an aerial threat but he also has pace and is technically gifted. He is on his way to becoming a more complete centre forward and there are high hopes he can have another successful campaign.

Sociedad finished fifth last season and will need their frontman on form if they are to push for a place in the Champions League.

Real Soceidad striker Alexander Isak was hugely impressive in his second season in LaLiga

  Joao Felix 

Club: Atletico Madrid 

Age: 21  

The attacking midfielder has had two successful campaigns in LaLiga and played a part in Atletico Madrid’s title win last season – but you sense the best is still to come from the Portugal international.

Unfortunately for Atletico, Felix is set to miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on an ankle injury in July, but he is expected to be back by September.

Atletico paid over £100million for Felix in 2019 and know he has the potential to be one of the best players in LaLiga. Last season he managed 10 goals and six assists in all competitions but he will be hoping for a bigger return this term. 

Atletico Madrid will be hoping that the best is still yet to come from midfielder Joao Felix

  Yunus Musah 

Club: Valencia

Age: 18

The midfielder broke into Valencia’s first-team last season, making 32 appearances in LaLiga with 17 starts. 

The American grew up in England and played in Arsenal’s academy from 2012 to 2019 before making the move to Spain.

He also won caps for England from U15-19 level but accepted a call-up from the United States in November 2020 and made his senior international debut in the same month.

Musah mainly plays on the right side of midfield but can also operate in the centre and his pace and balance on the ball makes him exciting to watch. 

Yunus Musah broke into Valencia’s first-team last season and made 32 appearances

  Vinicius Jr 

Club: Real Madrid

Age: 21

The forward may not have set LaLiga alight yet but he is well thought of by Real Madrid’s coaches and president Florentino Perez.

The Brazilian managed six goals and seven assists in all competitions last term and will know he will have to produce a greater return this season if he is to cement his place at the club.

Carlo Ancelotti is determined to get the best out of the youngster and he will have the chance to demonstrate he is the man who can lead the line for Real for years to come. Real managed 116 goals during Ancelotti’s last season at the club – no other side has scored more since. 

Real Madrid striker Vinicius Jr needs to ensure he has a good season at the Bernabeu

  Yeremi Pino 

Club: Villarreal 

Age: 18

The winger became the youngest person to win the Europa League when Villarreal beat Manchester United on penalties in May and the Spaniard will be hoping it was the first of many trophies to come.

Pino missed the start of last season through Covid but looked fired up during Villarreal’s UEFA Super Cup defeat by Chelsea and will be looking to make a quick start to the new campaign. 

The pacy winger gave Marcos Alonso a difficult battle and will cause LaLiga full-backs problems going forward this season. 

Villarreal’s Yeremi Pino became the youngest person to win the Europa League last season

  Oihan Sancet 

Club: Athletic Bilbao

Age: 21 

The attacking midfielder earned his promotion to the first-team in the second half of the 2019-2020 season and his performances ensured he was part of the fold in the following campaign.

The Spain U21 international became the first player to be born in 2000 to score for Athletic Bilbao and will be hoping to add to his tally this season.

Sancet’s strength is his dribbling and his ability to drive at defenders – something fans will be hoping to see more of in stadiums this year. 

Oihan Sancet became the first player born in 2000 to score for Athletic Bilbao last year

  Ansu Fati 

Club: Barcelona

Age: 18 

Barca rate the forward so highly they inserted a £367m release clause into his new five-year contract last season and reportedly rejected a bid of £137m from an unnamed club.

Fati had scored four goals in seven games at the start of last season before his campaign was cruelly ended by a knee injury. 

But the youngster is back fit again and the Catalans will be desperate for him to light up the Nou Camp following Messi’s departure. 

Ansu Fati is fit again and Barca will be desperate for the forward to light up the Nou Camp

  Ander Barrenetxea 

Club: Real Sociedad 

Age: 19 

The winger has already drawn comparisons to Messi because of his pace, small stature and dribbling ability.

There is a lot of hype around Barrenetxea, who is the latest in a long line of youngsters to progress from Sociedad’s academy. Many believe Berrenetxea has the potential to be the best the club have produced in recent years.

The Spaniard scored three goals in 31 games last season but will be looking to improve on that number this term. 

Ander Barrenetxea has already drawn comparisons to Messi because of his pace and dribbling

  Federico Valverde

Club: Real Madrid

Age: 23

The midfielder made a promising start to last season with three goals and an assist in his first eight games but he saw the second half of his campaign disrupted by injuries and Covid.

The Uruguay international was one of the few young players who broke into Zinedine Zidane’s fold and avoided being sent out on loan.

He will be hoping Carlo Ancelotti shows the same faith in him and that he can enjoy an injury free campaign. At the age of 23, Valverde needs a big season and show he can cement a place in Real’s midfield.

Federico Valverde was one of the few young players to break into Zinedine Zidane’s team

 

Don’t miss a moment of the 2021/22 LaLiga season live on LaLigaTV via Premier Sports or Amazon Prime Video Channels 

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Ashley Cole claims Chelsea will be favourites to win the Premier League after signing Romelu Lukaku

Chelsea made a splash in the transfer market this week after Romelu Lukaku rejoined the Blues for £98million and Ashley Cole believes the signing could be the key to their title success. 

The former Chelsea star claimed Thomas Tuchel’s side can now challenge top-flight rivals Manchester City and Liverpool and add the Premier League title to their recent silverware collection. 

‘I think bringing in someone like Lukaku who can score every type of goal means Chelsea now will be favourites,’ Cole tells Sportsmail, speaking in celebration of the new Three UK store opening on Kings Road.  

Romelu Lukaku rejoined the Blues for £98million after leaving Stamford Bridge in 2014

Ex-Chelsea star Ashley Cole claimed Lukaku’s arrival now makes the Blues title favourites

‘Tuchel probably reflected on last season and maybe found little reasons for why they fell short and it was maybe not converting chances in big games and big moments.

‘Lukaku was probably maybe the missing link last season. That’s where they maybe fell a little bit short in terms of converting opportunities and chances they created.

‘So having someone like that now, hopefully he’ll get many goals, but then he will be occupying defences and then we’ll start to get the best out of the other young players and Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.’

Cole believes that Lukaku could get the best out of young players including Kai Havertz

Lukaku could make a great addition to a young squad featuring Mason Mount and Havertz

Lukaku re-joins the Blues having left for Everton in 2013 for £28m, and returns to the club a player transformed from the raw talent that failed to make an impact at Stamford Bridge first time round.

Now, Cole claims the 28-year-old has returned to Chelsea with the goal to prove himself as an improved and evolved player who can turn the tables for the London side.

‘I think he can be a great addition. He knows the premier league inside out,’ he added.

‘He’s going to come back with a point to prove and we’re going to see the best of him now. Hopefully he goes up another level. From his point of view, he came here as a young boy 10 years ago, and now he’s grown and he’s evolved as a player and as a person.

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‘With me being an ex-player, I know what it means to leave one team, not maybe hitting your full potential.

‘To come back now, after what he’s done for the national team and for Milan after so many years, winning the Serie A title. I think he’s come back as a big personality.

‘His point to prove is that he was good enough and that he could move Chelsea on to that next step and that next stage of the evolution of this club.’

According to reports from The Athletic, the striker is set to pocket somewhere between £325,000 and £450,00-per-week, dwarfing new team-mate N’Golo Kante by as much as £160,000-per-week.

The Belgian is set to ear as much as £160,000-per-week more than team-mate N’Golo Kante

Despite Lukaku’s mega-money move rocketing him to the status as Chelsea’s top earner, the former Chelsea defender doesn’t believe the Belgian striker needs to prove he is worth his value to the Stamford Bridge faithful.

‘When players do return, I don’t think it is down to the players to actually prove themselves to the fans, they’ve spent money on him because they know he’s one of the best players in the world,’ Cole continued.

‘He has just got to focus on what he has been doing for the last 10 years. Always be willing to grow and improve, and hitting the back of the net.

‘Chelsea have got a good style of play, which will hopefully serve him and he can take Chelsea to the next step and be consistent in winning trophies.’ 

Tuchel has secured the Champions League and the Super Cup in his debut season at Stamford Bridge and will be looking to add the Premier League to the trophy cabinet in the forthcoming campaign. 

Thomas Tuchel secured the Champions League and the Super Cup in his debut season

While Cole claimed Chelsea’s newfound confidence could clinch them the title, he insists the Blues boss and his side will remain calm and collected as they face stern challenges from Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United. 

‘I don’t think Tuchel and the players will get too ahead of themselves,’ he said. 

‘Because with Manchester City and the quality players they have, Liverpool wanting to come back good again and getting their players back from injury and Manchester United adding top quality players, it’s going to be very difficult.

‘But again, with the squad and the players, Chelsea will have that confidence and belief going into the season.’

Chelsea begin their 2021-22 campaign with an opener against Crystal Palace on Saturday but Blues fans’ must wait to see their new mega-money signing make his second debut as Lukaku remains in quarantine. 

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Read more:

  • The push for Haaland, the Inter U-turn, the negotiations – how Chelsea brought Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge – The Athletic

Golf prodigy Elexis Brown dies in sleep aged 13 hours after being found sleepwalking

Elexis Brown passed away after being found sleepwalking earlier in the night

Speaking to Lincolnshire Live, Peter said of the incident: "She went to bed as usual on Saturday night.

"She woke up sleepwalking and unfortunately had been a little bit sick.

"We put her back to bed to make sure she's okay, as you would do as a parent. A few hours later we found her and she was gone."

Elexis was one of the most talented junior golfers in the area having reached a handicap of 8.5 at Woodhall Spa Golf Centre.

Peter added that he had been touched by the plentiful messages of support that the family had received via social media about Elexis.

He said: "I'd not realised how popular she was until I saw all the tributes on her Instagram.

"She never knew herself how popular she was because was a very modest person.

"If she could see what people are saying about her and her achievements, I think she'd be shocked."

Peter was not alone in paying tribute. Her golf coach Anders Mankert responded to the news on Twitter, posting: "I'm devastated to hear that golf has lost one of its brightest stars.

"I had the privilege of coaching her and witnessing first-hand her extraordinary rise in the game. A genuine star."

His sentiments about Elexis were echoed by another coach of the youngster, Alison John. John spoke of how unselfish she was around the golf club and beyond. She said: "She was a talented golfer, whose work ethic showed her passion for the game.

Elexis Brown was renowned as a golfing prodigy in Lincolnshire
(Image: Linconlshire Live/MEN Media)

"As her short game coach, I saw how she helped others. She was approachable and yet modest.

"She is much missed and will not be forgotten."

Elexis parents are keen to share the story of their daughter's remarkable talent.

Peter said: "The coaches always said she was talented, had a fantastic swing and was far too good for her age already.

"She worked so hard to get where she was. Her dream was to play in America and play for England Golf Girls.

"She was about to go to Ireland to play World Amateur Championship on the Sunday that she died. She was so looking forward to it.

"She loved being in Lincolnshire. She loved playing golf there and she loved the people. She was there at least three times a week working on her golf.

"She's done so well. We are all so proud of her. Everyone's just in a state of shock at the moment."

Peter also reiterated his desire that everyone keep Elexis in their thoughts.

He added: "We want to talk about her and remember her.

"People who I hadn't even spoken to before were sending messages saying their kids looked at Elexis and said they wanted to be as good as her.

"I didn't realise how much of an inspiration she was. We miss her so much."