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

With the Bundesliga’s next generation of stars on display in the 2018-19 season, fans are getting a taste of what’s to come. Here are three players who could make an impact this season and beyond.

The German Bundesliga is well-known for helping to produce and nurture some of the game’s most promising players. The league is brimming with next-level talent in virtually every position, from Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham, and Giovanni Reyna to Bayern Munich’s Jamal Musiala, Alphonso Davies, and Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby.

Many young players are set to take on larger roles this season, and all of them have significant breakthrough potential. ESPN’s resident scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen picks out some of the players aged 22 or younger who meet the description ahead of the 2021-22 season, which kicks off on Aug. 13 with Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+ in the United States).

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Cunha had an outstanding start to last season, scoring six Bundesliga goals in his first eight appearances. Although his influence and consistency waned as Hertha battled during the season, the ex-RB Leipzig star obviously has a lot more to offer. Despite being classified as a centre-forward, he likes diving deep to find the ball and participating in the build-up. He also helped Brazil reach the Olympic final this summer, scoring the game-winning goal in the quarterfinals against Egypt.

Since making his Bundesliga debut towards the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, Baumgartner’s influence has increased gradually. He had a good Euro 2020 campaign for Austria, playing as either an inverted wide winger on the left or a deep-lying center attacker. The energetic midfielder sometimes plays in the center for Hoffenheim, where he has a strong pressing game and can make effective interceptions. Baumgartner, on the other hand, is at his finest when he arrives late in the box with a well-timed run from which he may make a crucial pass or take a shot.

Tyler Adams is a 22-year-old midfielder for RB Leipzig.

Tyler Adams has already established a name for himself in the United States. Getty Images/Andreas Schaad

The American international will be looking to improve on his 21 Bundesliga appearances last season. Adams is most recognized for his ability to locate space, his aggressive pressing style, and his ability to hold possession. He is mostly deployed as a high-energy center midfielder, with cameos at right-back and right midfield.

The American, who missed the Gold Cup for the second year in a row due to injury, could also enjoy a reunion with his mentor at the New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch, who has just been named head coach of RB Leipzig.

Lacroix was signed from Sochaux in the French second division, and during his first season in Germany, he stood out as one of the best center-backs in the country, attracting the attention of a number of major teams. Though he is prone to taking risks and isn’t always the favorite in a 50-50 fight, Lacroix has grown much in the past year and his decision-making has improved. His interceptions and passing abilities make him a potentially complete defender, since he is quick, powerful, dominating in the air, and good at winning second balls.

Donyell Malen, 22 years old, is a forward for Borussia Dortmund.

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Following Sancho’s €85 million transfer to Manchester United, Dortmund acquired the Netherlands international for €30 million from PSV. Malen is basically a center striker learning his trade as a wide attacker, rather than a roving, playmaking winger, so he won’t be a direct replacement for the England man.

While Sancho has more inventiveness and helps more defensively, Malen is probably a more incisive finisher (41 goals in 80 league games for PSV). Many European elite teams have been watching the former Arsenal academy graduate carefully over the last 18 months, and he has lately elevated his game to a new level, as witnessed during Euro 2020.

Leipzig acquired the services of this imposing Strasbourg defender for approximately €16 million after losing two excellent French centre-backs, Dayot Upamecano to Bayern Munich (€42.5 million) and Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool (€41.5 million). Simakan loves the physical aspect of defense and is often seen winning the ball high up the field, as well as defending in an aggressive and forceful manner. He can also play as a holding midfielder due to his steady, safe delivery and excellent knowledge of the game. Marsch will be hopeful that the France U20 international can form a combination with another promising young centre-back in Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol.

Dominik Szoboszlai has yet to make his professional debut. SEPA.Media/Getty Images/Josef Bollwein

Szoboszlai, who joined RB Leipzig for €20 million from sister club FC Salzburg in January, is set to make his long-awaited debut after suffering an injury a few weeks before his arrival. The Hungary international could benefit from reuniting with former Salzburg boss Marsch, who has a reputation as one of Europe’s best emerging prospects. The tall attacking midfielder, who likes to drift in from a wide left position, has all of the technical and tactical skills to become a star for Leipzig this season once he has adjusted into the more competitive atmosphere of German football.

Florian Wirtz | 18 | Bayer Leverkusen midfielder


Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a former chief executive and sports director of AS Monaco and a Norwegian football scout and executive. He’ll be writing for ESPN on a regular basis on the business of soccer and the scouting process.

After showing his value for the European Under-21 winners last season (with five goals and six assists in the Bundesliga), this highly talented offensive midfielder was unfortunate to lose out on a place in Germany’s final Euro 2020 roster. The 18-year-possession old’s skills are impressive; he has excellent close control, carries the ball effectively, and has the vision to make a crucial pass in the final third. Oh, and he’s also a strong finisher. Wirtz’s positioning talents came in help on defense as well: he averaged 5.1 second balls per game last season.

Youssoufa Moukoko | 16 | Borussia Dortmund striker

After making his Bundesliga debut the day after turning 16, and scoring a month later, the Germany U20 international set numerous records. While there is no pressure on the teenage wonder to make headlines on a weekly basis at this point, a striker with such great attacking skills, let alone a fantastic goal-scoring record at junior level, is certain to face high expectations. For a player of his age, Moukoko’s composure and accuracy in front of goal are exceptional, and as a natural goal scorer, he likes to play as a center striker who can cut infield from the right. This season, keep an eye out for winger Ansgar Knauff, who is expected to fight for a place in Dortmund’s young attack.

Lukas Nmecha | Wolfsburg | 22 | Striker

Nmecha was born in Hamburg and relocated to Manchester as a child. Despite showing tremendous potential as a junior player for City, he never able to make an impact after making his first-team debut at the age of 19. Nmecha scored 18 goals on loan at Anderlecht previous season after disappointing loan stints at Preston, Wolfsburg, and Middlesbrough. He was especially outstanding during this summer’s European Under-21 Championship, scoring the winning goal in the final. He has also represented England at youth level. Nmecha joined Wolfsburg on a permanent basis for €8 million this summer, and you should keep an eye out for his propensity for a Panenka penalty shot.