Close your eyes and let your imagination run wild for a second: if you had unlimited funds to put together the ultimate Bundesliga U21 Dream Team, who would you include? We suspect the starting line-up and substitutes would look something like this….
Florian Müller (Mainz)
Müller joined Mainz at the age of 15 in 2013 and although he had been on the fringes of the first team for a couple of years – he made his Bundesliga debut on Matchday 25 in 2017/18 – his big breakthrough did not arrive until last season. And what a season it was. Named as the first-choice custodian for the 2018/19 campaign, the Germany U21 international kept five clean sheets in 24 league outings – only missing out due to a ligament injury that kept him sidelined for two months. Hailed as "outstanding" by head coach Sandro Schwarz last year, Müller has extraordinary reflexes, is commanding in the air and has good distribution: 63 per cent of his passes (including long balls), found a teammate last season. If you're looking for a safe pair of hands in goal, Müller's your man.
Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund)
Looking for someone rock solid in their defensive duties at right-back, but with the pace and stamina to charge up the other end of the pitch and provide width in attack too? Then Achraf Hakimi's your man. Signed on a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid at the start of 2018/19, the 20-year-old announced himself on the Bundesliga stage in style when he made his debut on Matchday 5, scoring in a 7-0 thrashing of Nuremberg. The Morocco international was a mainstay in the side from that point on, winning 50 per cent of all his tackles and committing just 13 fouls before breaking his foot against Wolfsburg on Matchday 25, an injury that ruled him out for the season. Oh, and he managed another goal, four assists and a whopping 41 crosses into the opposition box, too.
Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
If you can intimidate your opponent before a ball is even kicked then that's half the battle won – and centre-backs do not come more imposing that Dayot Upamecano. The Frenchman's 6'1", 183-pound frame is more than enough for the rigours of top-flight football – as shown by his 63 per cent success rate in winning tackles, a figure that rises to 68 per cent in the air. There are brains to accompany that considerable brawn too, with his pace, positioning and ease on the ball – 86 per cent of passes found a teammate – helping Leipzig concede fewer goals than any other side last season (29).
Ibrahima Konate (RB Leipzig)
A share of that praise must also go to his compatriot, teammate and fellow centre-back Ibrahima Konate. Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen were the only outfield players at Leipzig to play more minutes than the 20-year-old last season (2,431). And if head coach Ralf Rangnick's faith in the youngster is not enough to persuade you, how about the fact that Leipzig kept 14 clean sheets in the 28 league appearances Konate made last season (50 per cent). Without him on the pitch, they only stopped the opposition scoring twice in six games (33 per cent). As the saying goes: you do the math!
Evan N'Dicka (Einracht Frankfurt)
Ok, admittedly N'Dicka was predominantly deployed at centre-back for Eintracht Frankfurt in his debut Bundesliga season in 2018/19, but the left-footer did also make a couple of outings on the left for the Eagles. And with a player this good, you'd want him in your team anywhere. Signed from Ligue 1 side Auxerre in summer 2018, the French U21 international was not initially expected to compete for first-team honours, but such was his "phenomenal development", according to head coach Adi Hütter, that he simply had to play. Strong, quick and seemingly unfazed by anything, the 19-year-old won a whopping 64.5 per cent of all aerial battles last term, starting 24 of the Eagles' Bundesliga matches.
Watch: Why N'Dicka was February's Rookie of the Month
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
Position: Defensive midfielder
A winter recruit from the New York Red Bulls, Tyler Adams showed what he's made of in a show-stopping debut away to Fortuna Düsseldorf. Adams covered more ground (7.28 miles), made more intensive runs (97) and won more tackles (17) than anyone else on the pitch that day, and he proved he was not a one-hit wonder by validating those statistics and boasting an unbeaten record in his nine outings in a RB Leipzig shirt before injury curtailed his campaign. "He’s a special person, he’s a special personality, he’s a special talent and the ceiling for him is massive," said Leipzig assistant coach Jesse Marsch. "Massive here in Leipzig, in the Bundesliga and beyond."
Arne Maier (Hertha Berlin)
The U19 team's loss was the first team's gain when Arne Maier was fast-tracked into the senior squad at Hertha Berlin 18 months ago. He had inspired the U19s to the league title and was bossing their midfield when then coach Pal Dardai called him to his office and told him he had outgrown the academy. He went on to be an ever-present in the second half of the 2017/18 season and was the first name on Dardai's teamsheet last season until an ACL injury cut his campaign short. "He's mastered the leap from junior to senior level and has shown how much potential he has," said Hertha's sporting director Michael Preetz. "We’re convinced that his great development up to now is far from over." Knocking on the door of 90 per cent pass completion, it is clear just why he's such a pivotal player in the Hertha engine room.
Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)
Having shown glimpses of his quality in 2017/18, Jadon Sancho justified all the superlatives thrown his way in his first full season in the Bundesliga, earning his first senior England caps as a just reward for some dazzling statistics. His 12 goals in 34 games barely scrape the surface, as he eclipsed even Barcelona's Lionel Messi in the assist stakes, teeing up a Bundesliga-high 14 goals for his teammates compared to the Argentinian's 13 in Spain. The 19-year-old has bypassed England's U21s and has already delivered two assists in his first six caps for the Three Lions, with many, many more likely to follow.
Watch: Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga mixtape
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
While Sancho's 12 goals caught the eye, that figure almost pales in comparison to the 17 steered in by Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, who enjoyed an emphatic campaign before turning 20 in the summer. The youngest player to debut in the UEFA Champions League in a Leverkusen shirt became, at the age of just 18 years and 307 days, the most precocious player to reach 50 appearances in the German top flight, and more records can be expected to tumble after he became the first teenager to score 17 times in a single Bundesliga season. "You can see why [Leverkusen sporting director] Rudi Völler has labelled him a once-in-a-century talent," Bundesliga legend Lothar Matthäus told bundesliga.com. Few would, or could, refute the claim that he is Europe's best young midfielder.
Leon Bailey (Leverkusen)
"He's got extraordinary pace, he's very skilful with the ball, and he will give further impetus to our attacking department," predicted Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler after signing Leon Bailey from Belgian club Genk, with whom he had scored 15 and set up 21 in 77 appearances. "We're convinced he'll be a big gain for us." That conviction was well-placed with the lightning-fast Jamaica international quick out of the blocks in the Bundesliga, scoring nine and assisting six in his first full campaign and adding a further five goals last term. "You can't acquire his technique and gifts by training," admitted his Leverkusen teammate Karim Bellarabi, recognising the natural talent of the blistering winger.
Marco Richter (Augsburg)
Augsburg's top-flight status was secured for another season by a 21-year-old forward few had heard about before he burst onto the scene last season. Carrying the weight of expectation after scoring 40 goals in 60 games for Augsburg's reserves, including seven in just one fixture back in 2016, Marco Richter went for the jugular against Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt with back-to-back braces which effectively secured survival. His reward was a place in Germany's U21s for the 2019 European Championship and he repeated the trick of scoring in consecutive games, netting three and assisting two against Denmark and Serbia to draw even more attention to one of Germany's hottest attacking prospects.
Christian Früchtl (Bayern Munich)
Being lined up as the man to fill the gloves of Manuel Neuer says enough about the talents of Bayern Munich's Bavaria-born Christian Früchtl. He was still 15 when then Bayern coach Pep Guardiola decided to take him along to Bayern's winter training camp, and the three and a half years he's since spent observing Neuer up close can only help as he bids to take his place for club and country in years to come.
Ozan Kabak (Schalke)
Some of Serie A's leading clubs were lining up to ensure Ozan Kabak would not be playing in Bundesliga 2 with Stuttgart this season, but it was Schalke who won the race for "one of the biggest young talents in Europe," in the words of their sporting director Jochen Schneider. Just 12 months after being poached from Galatasaray's U21s, the strong, athletic defender who won 64 per cent of his aerial challenges, and 60 per cent of tackles on the ground, will reinforce a Royal Blue rearguard, fresh from being named the Bundesliga's Rookie of the Season.
Watch: 2018/19 Rookie of the Season, Ozan Kabak
Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)
A UEFA Youth League winner with Salzburg, Amadou Haidara knew what winning was all about even before he filled the boots of Naby Keita at RB Leipzig. "He's an excellent footballer who doesn't worry too much," said his coach at Salzburg, Marco Rose, who will be plotting a way to stop him as coach of Borussia Mönchengladbach this season. "He just goes out and shows his qualities on the pitch. He has a lot of dynamism, particularly with the ball, and he's willing to work." After finding his feet with nine Bundesliga appearances last season – six wins, two draws and one defeat – more will be expected in his first full season in Germany's top flight.
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
The tireless Texan underlined his growing potential during the summer's Gold Cup, in which he inspired the USMNT to the final with goals and assists – not necessarily the remit of a defensive midfielder – combined with his now trademark stern resistance in the role. He scored on his senior international debut against European champions Portugal in 2017 too, with versatility being a major part of the game of a genuine all-rounder.
Fiete Arp (Bayern Munich)
The first player born in the 21st century to score in the Bundesliga, Fiete Arp has a lot to live up to having joined Bayern Munich in the summer. With a frame tailor-made for a career as a No9, Arp decided not to exercise an option to extend his stay in Hamburg by another year and instead chose to learn from the very best No9 in the business, Robert Lewandowski. If enough of the Pole rubs off on Arp, Bayern will have a ready-made replacement when the most prolific foreign goalscorer in Bundesliga history passes on the baton.