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Young Gunners knock out holders Inter in NextGen Series

March 8th, 2013

bellerin vs Intermilan

Inter Milan    0-1    Arsenal

Hector Bellerin and the rest of his Arsenal team mates will be confident of success in the NextGen Series after defeating holders Inter Milan 1-0 on a torturous pitch in Italy.

The Gunners’ reward for the hard fought win is a quarter-final tie at home, possibly played at the Emirates, against CSKA Moscow.

When Inter and Arsenal were drawn together it was predicted to be a glamour tie, with both teams known for their slick passing football, and the Italians in formidable form.

But the conditions at the Centro Sportivo Giacinto Faccheti put an end to any hopes of that, with large parts of the pitch almost under water. Indeed, the game only got the go-ahead 30 minutes before kick-off after torrential rain in Milan.

There were few surprises in Terry Burton’s team selection with Arsenal denied the creative duo of Jon Toral and Thomas Eisfeld through injury. Isaac Hayden was preferred ahead of Jordan Wynter in midfield, while Burton could call upon regulars such as Nico Yennaris, Serge Gnabry, Zak Ansah and Chuba Akpom.

Both teams struggled to adapt to the conditions in the opening period of the game, with the pitch more like a quagmire. The home side went closest midway through the first half with Lorenze Tassi failing to take advantage of a decent goalscoring chance. At the other end, Isaac Donkor was lucky not to put into his own net and give the visitors the lead.

Other than a couple of rash challenges, for which Bellerin and Saed Hajrovic found themselves booked, the rest of the opening half was played out without much incident.

The game sparked into life in the 69th minute when captain Yennaris controlled the ball 20 yards out before fizzing an unstoppable effort into the back of the net.

Inter huffed and puffed as tried to find the equaliser, but Arsenal’s defence never looked too troubled.

Wynter came on for Arsenal as they looked to shut up shop and the introduction of Lipman towards the end helped run the clock down even further.

Inter resorted to sending long balls into the box, but the Arsenal rear guard held on for the famous win.

The Gunners have come a long way in a short space of time, having struggled to defeat lesser quality teams in the group stages of the competition. Now, after beating the holders, they are just a couple of steps away from a stunning triumph in Europe.

Team: Iliev; Bellerin-Monteiro-Hajrovic-Angha; Yennaris-Hayden; Gnabry-Olsson-Ansah; Akpom

Subs: Vickers, Ormonde-Ottewill, Mugabo, Jebb, Iwobi, Wynter, Lipman

Sergi Samper vs Chelsea

February 21st, 2013

Passing %: 94% (59/63)
Completed Long Balls: 2
Successful Tackles: 5
Shots: 2
Successful Dribbles: 3
Interceptions: 2
Fouls: 2
Yellow Card

Sergi Samper and his teammates were unceremoniously dumped out of the NextGenSeries on Wednesday. Barcelona’s Juvenil A side faced a well-organized and impressive Chelsea side who managed a 2-0 victory despite being a man down for most of the second half.

You could argue that Sergi and company were unlucky; they had the lion’s share of possession, and even had some quality chances. The fact of the matter is, they did not create enough chances for the possession that they had, and Chelsea were efficient and finished the two chances they had.

Soccer - The NextGen Series - Tottenham Hotspur U19 v Barcelona U19 - White Hart Lane

We did get to see the many facets to Sergi Samper’s game during the full ninety minutes which only cemented for me the young midfielder’s prominence at the youth levels at both La Masia and with the national team.

For most of the first half, Samper was contained by a high Chelsea line, meaning that the eighteen year-old had to rein himself in and show some of his intangible qualities. He was often found as part of the back-line, covering for one of the full backs or centre-backs as they marauded forward. His positioning and sense for the ebb and flow of the match is remarkable for a lad of his age and his movement reminds me of Sergio Busquets. Like Busquets, Samper is not the player with the most pace, but his footballing intelligence and positional awareness is second to none for players his age.

After Hunte was sent off for his second yellow offense, Sergi Samper was really let loose and begun bossing the game, bringing his more offensive talents to bare. His passing became more dynamic as he fed his wingers and strikers in an attempt to level the match.

Samper had a number of chances himself, including an attempted lobbed shot trying to catch goalkeeper Beeney off of his line but the Chelsea keeper did well to tip it over the bar. Samper got frustrated late on in the match and received a yellow card for dissent.

His competitive spirit and obvious strengths in defense and attack make him a complete midfielder. He is not long for the Juvenil A team and will soon play for Barca B. It is only a matter of time before he receives his first team debut, maybe even this summer.

Chelsea Ruins the Dream for Barça’s Juvenil A (0-2)

February 20th, 2013

Juvenil A

From the very start it was an even game that the spectators at MiniEstadi got to witness when FC Barcelona’s Juvenil A took on Chelsea FC in the last 16 of the NextGenerationSeries. It was the blaugrana kids who created the most dangerous chances. With their youngest player Adama (born 96) impressing on the right hand side from the very start creating chance after chance for the home side. After 15 minutes the clearest chance so far in the game arrived as Ebwelle broke free on the left side getting a shot on goal that was saved by Beeney. However the rebound would find Adama who’s shot slipped past Beeney’s hands but the Chelsea keeper would manage to grab the ball before it found the net. Barça was the team that kept on creating the most dangerous chances but Chelsea were never out of the game and in the 27th minute defender Kane got a shot on that forced Barça keeper Ondoa to an impressive save. It’s hard not to argue that MiniEstadi got to see a great game of football this evening, with two young sides that impressed enormously. With Sergi Samper and Adama playing beyond their years it looked like the blaugranas were closest to a leading goal. But the first half also saw a skillful Chelsea with Boga and Kiwomya especially standing out, and it was also Chelsea that would take the lead. A good attack from the London team saw ex-Celtic man Feruz finding the net just before halftime (42).

The second half started just like the first had, with Connor Hunte receiving a yellow card, this time after a horrible tackle on Godswill. With Hunte sent off, the 11-man Barça possessed the ball mostly while 10-man Chelsea focused on defense. The duo Samper and Adama kept on impressing but the blaugranas now failed to create any real chances as Chelsea defended well. Juvenil A coach Jordi Vinyals decided to put on four fresh new players during the second half bringing on Enguene, Babunski, Maxi Rolón and Sanabria. And a desperate Barça side would start creating chances in the ending minutes of the game. With MiniEstadi cheering on while chance after chance arrived and they were close, but only close. And frustration could be seen both in the stands as on the pitch. As Chelsea kept it clean. With the clock hitting 90 min Chelsea found a second goal off of a counterattack. And instead of a chasing Barça getting their equalizer, the MiniEstadi got to see Boga make it 2-0 for the visitors and it was game over. Barça Juvenil A was knocked out of the NextGenerationSeries at home versus a very well organized Chelsea.


Barcelona: Ondoa, Godswill, Robert, Bagnack, Lucas, Samper, Quesada (c) (Sanabria), Calvet (Babunski), Ebwelle (Rolón), Adama, Herrera (Enguene)
Subs not Used: Riera, Tienda, Quintilla

Chelsea: Beeney, Kane, Davey, Christensen, Nditi, Saville (c), Baker, Boga, Kiwomya (Ssewankambo), Hunte, Feruz (Mitchell)
Subs not Used: Killip, Loftus-Cheek, T.Musonda, Wright, Conroy

Goals: Feruz 42, Boga 90

Booked: Samper, Godswill (Barcelona), Kane, Hunte (Chelsea)
Sent off: Hunte (Chelsea)

(Report from MiniEstadi)

Adama Traore

January 7th, 2013

Full Name: Adama Traore Diarra
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Right Winger
Age: 16
Birth Date: 25th January 1996
Birth Place: Barcelona, Spain
Height: 1,78

You have probably heard about how Lionel Messi jumped through the youth teams at Barça and played for three different teams in one single season. It sounds quite extraordinary, but he is not the only player to do so. The latest one is Adama Traore, who also like many before him has been called the new Messi at La Masia. Adama started the 2011/12 season with his peers in Cadet A, before graduating to Juvenil B and then ending the season as a starter for Juvenil A.


Among the many talents at FC Barcelona’s famous La Masia some go quite unnoticed. This was exactly the case for Adama during a few years as teammates like Fran Alvarez, someone Adama played with since he was 7 years of age, collected the glory as the next big thing. Lately however it’s been Adama who taken the spotlight in the much talked about and highly touted ‘96 generation at La Masia. With some incredible performances at Cadet A in 2010/11 including a stunning hat-trick against arch-rivals Espanyol, Adama more or less exploded in the coming 2011/12 season. After starting the season with Cadet A he would take on an important role with the club’s Juvenil B team mid-season before making an astonishing debut with Oscar Garcia’s Juvenil A. His debut was a 16 minute maste rclass in a game against Reus in which he proveded two assists to Dongou as the team were victorious in a 4-0 win. The Catalan boy with Malian roots has kept on impressing this season as part of the Juvenil A team even though he is two years younger than the majority of his teammates. He has featured in the NextGen Series this season starting as a bench player but quickly making himself indispensable to Jordi Vinyals’ team. His performances have made him one to watch even though he is one of the youngest in the tournament.


Adama was born on the 25th January 1996 in Barcelona just meters from Camp Nou. He was born to Malian parents who had immigrated to the city during the 80’s. He started playing football at a very young age before joining FC Barcelona’s youngest team, Benjamin as a seven year old after already playing football at Florida and L’Hospitalet. Today, the Spanish U-16 international is a very disciplined and hardworking player. He is a master in one on one situations and very technical. He also possesses extraordinary speed, quite like the newly promoted FC Barcelona first team player Cristian Tello, which helps him create space away from his rivals with ease. During the last few seasons, Adama’s development in the Barça youth academy caught the eyes of coaches, scouts and spectators around Europe and Adama is without a doubt one of the most promising talents at the club.

See some of Adama’s highlights in the below video:

Ones to Watch 2013: Hector Bellerin

December 26th, 2012

Full Name: Hector Bellerin
Team: Arsenal U21
Position: Right Back
Age: 17
Birth Date: March 19, 1995
Birth Place: Barcelona, Spain
Height: 1.77 meters

There is a lot of pressure on Hector Bellerin and his teammate Jon Toral. After all they were lured from La Masia as part of the Cesc Fabregas deal. Bellerin is a real diamond for the Gunners and despite his comments that he would love to return to FC Barcelona later in his career, he has the potential to become a real fan favourite at Emirates Stadium.


The seventeen year old signed his first professional contract with the club this past summer and the pacy right back is brilliant in attack having played as a winger since he was twelve years of age. He has tremendous technique and his positioning and work-rate off the ball makes the quick-silver right-wing back a reliable player at both ends of the pitch. He has featured four times with the reserves since joining Arsenal and scored when the reserves played Chelsea, otherwise he is a regular with the U21 side. Jon Toral has called his compatriot and close friend “the most talented player in the youth team”, high praise coming from the scintillating attacker.

The youngster was in line for an early debut with the first side last season, unfortunately a serious knee injury side-lined him for eight months. He is back now and has helped lead this current Arsenal side into the next round of the NextGen Series. Bellerin has terrorized the Barclays Under-21 Premier League this season where he has been given the freedom to run at defenses and has shown his defensive ability when asked, producing impressive performances against Bolton and Newcastle and drawing praise from his coaches on his defensive improvement. He has scored twice in this season and earned a call up to the first team for Arsenal’s Capital One Cup match against Reading but he did not feature. He has yet to debut for Arsene Wenger’s team but it will come sooner or later as he continues to impress with the Reserves.

Hector Bellerin has yet to feature consistently for his country, but at some point he can no longer be ignored by the national coaches. He has the potential to be one of the top right backs in the world and his performances for the rest of the season, especially in the NextGen Series will be important next steps in his career.

Highlights from his match against Newcastle United:

Arsenal’s Young Spaniards Impress in NextGen

December 7th, 2012

Jon Toral

The two youngsters Arsenal signed from FC Barcelona around the time of the Cesc Fabregas transfer saga continue to show their promise with the London side’s academy teams. Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin both started for Arsenal in their NextGen Series showdown with the Juvenil A squad of Spanish side Athletic Bilbao this week.

Arsenal ran rampant in attack against the Spaniards thanks to one of their own Spanish lads. Jon Toral opened the scoring for the Young Gunners as he headed home past Bilbao and Spanish U19 keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga from a corner. Bilbao tied it up and dominated much of the first half but whatever Arsenal manager Terry Burton said at half-time got the desired result. Jon Toral was again at the center of Arsenal’s success with nice combination play with Hayden before Angah provided the finish. Toral proceeded to score his second of the night with another headed goal which turned out to be the clincher.

At seventeen, the technically gifted Toral could be in line for a first team appearance this season. His compatriot and former Arsenal player Fabregas made his debut at sixteen and Toral looks like a potential replacement for the Gunner’s former star. He has featured a handful of times for the reserves already and his eye for goal and vision could be an interesting option for a team that has lacked it at times this season. The prospect of Toral playing beside, and being mentored by, Santi Cazorla has to have Arsenal fans’ excited.


Toral’s compatriot and teammate Hector Bellerin has a bright future at Arsenal’s right-back position. The seventeen year old signed his first professional contract with the club this past summer and the pacey right back is dangerous in attack having previously played as a winger. He has played four times with the reserves since joining Arsenal and scored when the reserves played Chelsea. Toral has called Bellerin friend “the most talented player in the youth team” high praise coming from the scintillating attacker. The youngster was in line for an early debut with the first side last season, unfortunately a serious knee injury side-lined him for eight months. He is back now and has helped lead this current Arsenal side into the next round of the NextGen Series. Look for these two players to potentially feature for the Spanish U19 side this summer.

NextGen Series: Sergi Samper vs Anderlecht

August 17th, 2012

Passing %: 93.59% (73/78)
Long Ball %: 60% (3/5)
Dribbles Completed: 2
Tackles Won: 7
Interceptions: 2

Sergi Samper was the pivot of FC Barcelona’s Juvenil A team in the club’s opening Next Gen Series match against Belgian side Anderlecht. His play was not glamorous, playing as the deep lying midfielder immediately in front of the defensive line. But he was efficient and accurate, barely putting a foot wrong in over ninety minutes of play. He was playing in the Sergi Busquets role and his footballing sense and positional awareness was terrific for a seventeen year old. He knew when to drop into defense, when the wing-backs pushed further up the field, and he chose his moments to move up the pitch and join the attack.

Samper did not avoid going into a fifty-fifty challenge, he was eager to commit and managed seven successful tackles without committing a single foul. Some of his tackles during the match were so clean that he did not have to slow his stride moving forward after winning the ball. In the air Samper won two challenges as well, showing a tenacity that many of his young counterparts do not. His passing was typically immaculate, but it was when he was passing forward and starting attacks that I really noticed his vision and outstanding ability. His first half was quiet and Samper was more conservative, staying further back and keen to keep possession, even if it meant passing backwards. The second half he was more comfortable, making some Xavi-esque long balls over the opposing defense. His involvement in attack showed the more exciting part of his game, and as he matures he will have a better sense of when he can move forward and when to stay back. Regardless, Samper is an outstanding talent and is likely to have a great tournament in The NextGen Series this season.

FC Barcelona: The NextGen Series Squad

August 8th, 2012

FC Barcelona’s Juvenil A squad for the 2012/13 NextGen Series has been announced. Here’s a brief look at each players role in the squad and the one’s you need to keep an eye on:

Goal Keepers:
Fabrice Ondoa (16) and Sergi Tienda (18) will be the goal keepers for Juvenil A, with the talented Cameroon youngster Ondoa as first choice. Tienda was part of the Juvenil A setup last year, so expect him to get some game time too.

Highly rated Spain U19 left back Alejandro Grimaldo (16) was included in the squad, despite being promoted to Barca B. A player, who I believe needs no introduction to the keen followers of youth football. Brian Olivan (18), who was part of last seasons Next Gen setup, along with new signing Lucas Gafarrot (18), are the two other left backs in the squad. Expect Grimaldo to be first choice, with Brian and Lucas as backup.

Frank Bagnack (17) who has just recovered from a tibia fracture that kept him out for more than 15 months, will be competing for the right back spot with Carlos Julio Martinez (18). Bagnack is also versatile, and is equally adept playing at CB. He has some great qualities, but his performances after recovering from the injury will be decisive as to who starts at RB.

At centre-back, Juvenil A have enough quality in Robert Costa (18), Roger Riera (17), Elohor Godswill (17), Xavi Quintilla (15). Quintilla and Godswill are my personal favourites, especially the former (despite being only 15), but I expect coach Jordi Vinyals to rotate his squad to good effect.

Sergi Samper (17), Nando Quesada (18), Pol Calvet (18), Lionel Enguene (16), Joel Huertas (17), David Babunski (18), Pau Otero (17), Olivier Moussima (18) are the eight midfielders in Juvenil A squad.

Samper and Enguene are the one’s with most potential. Samper is a classic La Masia style midfielder in the mould of Busquets and Xavi. Enguene is of Cameroon origin, and is a player with tremendous technique and individual quality. He still needs to improve on his collective game, but the potential is immense. Pol Calvet is a hard tackling midfielder, with a fierce shot and good distribution. He’s a Spanish youth international, and is capable of playing both DM or CM. Babunski is a Macedonian U21 international, a classy midfielder with excellent technical qualities. Quesada, another Spanish youth international, has just been voted MVP of the PSV Otten Cup, a tournament which included fellow Nextgen sides Ajax, Anderlecht etc. Joel Huertas was the standout midfielder in last season’s Juvenil B side, where he was paired alongside Otero and Moussima, although the latter two will find it hard to gain playing time this season.

Jean Marie Dongou (17), Sandro Ramirez (17), Adama Traore (16), Alain Richard Ebwelle (17), Cristian Herrera (18), Toni Sanabria (16).

Dongou, Adama, Sandro are the most promising ones. Dongou was a surprise inclusion given he has been promoted to Barca B this season. He was the top scorer in last season’s Nextgen series and I expect him to fire in goals this time around too. In Dongou and Sandro, Juvenil A have two brilliant goal scoring machines. Adama is the player I’m looking forward to most. Arguably the player of the season in La Masia last season. Adama is a right winger with incredible speed and close control, he’s an expert at creating something out of nothing and will be hard to contain for the opposition. Expect him to be amongst the top assist providers. Ebwelle and Herrera are both excellent backups. Ebwelle known for his speed and Herrera for his versatility. Sanabria was part of the Cadet A side last season, he is primarily a centre-forward but is also capable of playing on the left.

Players to lookout for: Ondoa, Quintilla, Grimaldo, Samper, Enguene, Adama, Dongou, Sandro.

For more on Barcelona’s youth follow this space and follow this article’s author on Twitter at @YoungCules.

U-19 Champions League

July 5th, 2012

Rumours of an official UEFA U19 Champions League surfaced last week and it looks like it will happen. UEFA have confirmed that they will be launching an Under 19 shadow Champions League tournament in 2013. This is in response to the growing popularity and obvious financial feasibility of The NextGen Series which had its inaugural season last year. The NextGen Series was hugely successful, with some of Europe’s best academies taking part (including Barcelona, Ajax, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Chelsea, Juventus, and Manchester City). This year the tournament organizers have taken things to a new level with twenty-four of the best clubs in Europe sending their youth sides to compete, including newcomers and youth development juggernauts; Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao, and Arsenal.

UEFA look to halt The NextGen Series’ progress and take over the market. Plans for the UEFA tournament which would begin in 2013 include limiting the playing field to the thirty-two teams that qualify for the Champions League proper, with identical group compositions and match calendar. This has the disadvantage of meaning that top youth sides such as Liverpool, Athletic Bilbao, and last season’s finalists Ajax could not take part. The knock-out phases of the tournament will all be single leg ties and the semi-finals and final would be held at a neutral ground.

Inter Milan’s youngsters celebrate their title in the first season of The NextGen Series.

As much as UEFA are being criticized for their recent actions, I cannot help but think all of this is positive. The more attention and money poured into football at the youth levels the better position our sport will be in for the long run. There will still be tremendous opportunities for The NextGen Series with the many academies that will not be able to take part in UEFA’s new tournament.

To read more on The NextGen Series:
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Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.