Let’s start with an obvious one – it has to be World Cup wonder James Rodriguez. He dazzled us in Brazil with his inspired attacking and that stunning volley against Uruguay. A deserving winner of the Golden Boot and arguably a better Golden Ball candidate than Messi, Real Madrid’s £60 million signing is reason enough to tune in to Los Blancos’ opening game against Cordoba.
Another midfielder to keep an eye on is Almeria’s Suso. Another obvious choice, perhaps, but at just 20 years old, the Liverpool loanee is set to get better and better. Pivotal in anything positive in Almeria’s last season, all he needs is to consistently play to his potential, rather than tease us with flashes of brilliance here and there. A season of regular game time should reveal how bright his future could be.
Celta Vigo right-back Hugo Mallo would be right to feel aggrieved – set for a breakthrough season in 2013, an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in January cut short his season and put paid to that. But after successful rehabilitation, the 22 year-old has re-established himself back in Luis Enrique’s starting line up. A strong and focussed defender, Mallo’s star is set to rise if he can stay fit and get a successful season under his belt.
Sticking with defenders, and you can’t ignore Aymeric Laporte. The teenager proved himself in Athletic Bilbao’s backline last season as one of the league’s most consistent performers, helping the Basque outfit from the bottom half of the table to genuine contenders for European football. A regular in the starting 11, he forged an effective partnership with club captain Carlos Gupegi, and proved to be more than capable of filling the void left by Amorbeita who departed for Fulham last year. A versatile defender who can play left or centre-back, the Frenchman is set for another stellar season.
Real Madrid’s Isco Alcaron is not a hidden gem. He’s already been described as Spain’s most promising youngster, and his move from Malaga to the capital was a wise one since he’s flourished under the guidance of Carlo Ancellotti. Although short of regular game-time, Isco has adapted to Real’s organised midfield. Add that discipline and intelligence to his goal-scoring aptitude, and the 22 year-old should surpass the hype that surrounds him.
A product of the Valencia academy, Paco Alcacer, took a while to make his mark last season. Consigned to the bench until January, the 20 year-old striker started just twice and failed to find the net in any of his five appearances. But at the turn of the year, Alcacer found his form, scoring in consecutive league outings, grabbing a winner in his side’s 3-2 over Barcelona at the Nou Camp. In April, a hat-trick in the Europa League against Basel sent Valencia through to the semi-finals, and forced us to sit up and take notice.
And lastly, let’s not forget the goalkeepers. One of the stars of Brazil 2014, Costa Rica ‘keeper Keylor Navas was a revelation for Levante last season.
A successful domestic campaign was followed up by heroics that helped his country to the last eight of the World Cup, as well as a move to Real Madrid. Let’s not discount the talent of Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, but until now, Navas has remained something of an unsung hero. Denying some of the world’s deadliest strikers in Brazil, only a Uruguay penalty could prevent him keeping a clean sheet throughout the entire group stage. And at 27, Navas surely has plenty of mileage left in him.