Three promising youngsters to watch when the A-League returns


The A-League has been considered as a stepping stone for Australian and New Zealand players to develop and secure big moves to foreign clubs, especially in Europe.

The likes of Mat Ryan or Aaron Mooy have played a crucial role for Brighton this season or James Jeggo and James Holland, who have established themselves as key midfielders for Austrian sides Austria Wien and LASK respectively.

But the league have also developed numerous young prospects to watch, who went on to secure big moves to Europe like Daniel Arzani or Sarpreet Singh. And before Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix kick the ball for the first time since quarantine ended this Friday, we will look at three promising youngsters to watch for the remainder of the season.

Liberato Cacace – Wellington Phoenix

Also known as “Libby” Cacace, the young New Zealand left-back has established himself as a first-team starter in Ufuk Talay’s lineup this season. He also played a crucial part in Phoenix’s amazing season that is currently seeing them occupying the third position, just four points off from Melbourne City’s second place.

Off-the-ball, Cacace is good in 1v1 situations where he utilises his anticipation to identify the ball carrier’s intention and makes a tackle to help his side regains possession. If the attacker manages to get away from him, he uses his pace to try and catch up with the attacker to win the ball.

In 18 matches this season, he registers nine defensive challenges and almost four attempted tackles per 90 minutes. Those numbers indicate how good he is for Phoenix this season, and he will continue to be a key defender alongside experienced names like Steven Taylor or Luke DeVere.

But what attracts the attention of many European clubs about him is his ability to join the attack through his overlapping runs. He is not very skillful but has the pace to shake off the pressure from the opposition’s full-back and enter the final third.

Inside the area, Cacace has the vision to pick out attackers inside the box who is ready to pick up his crosses. 2.9 successful dribbles and 0.56 successful crosses per 90 minutes (according to InStat) are decent numbers that show his efficiency when joining the attack.

Cacace might be the next youngster who will secure a big move to Europe this summer after Bayern Munich captured the signature of Sarpreet Singh. For now, he remains a key player in Phoenix’s system and will attempt to challenge for the title alongside Sydney FC and Melbourne City.

Cameron Devlin – Wellington Phoenix

Another Phoenix youngster has caught the eyes this season, and this time the focus lies upon defensive midfielder Cameron Devlin. Arrived from Sydney FC on a free last July, Devlin immediately stepped into Talay’s 4-4-2 formation alongside former Hamburger SV youngster Matti Steinmann.

He provided solid defensive support in front of the defensive line, allowing Steinmann to have more space to dictate the play and distribute the ball forward.

But it does not mean that he cannot make through balls or long passes to set up chances for his teammates. In fact, it is something that he does enjoy doing whenever he has the ball. Using his vision to scan for available teammates and his passing skill, he would try to pass the ball out of trouble if the opposition attempt to press Phoenix from the back.

At the same time, if he has enough space around him, he would be happy to try killer passes to start an attack for the team. On average, Devlin registers 61 successful passes out of 68 and created 0.29 chances per 90 minutes, impressive records for a young defensive midfielder like him.

On the other hand, his defensive ability is a crucial factor that significantly supports Phoenix’s defence this season. Similar to Cacace, he is fearless in making tackles to win the ball back for his side.

Devlin anticipates situations well to step in at the right time to nick the ball away and avoid fouling the opponent, which might result in an unnecessary free-kick near the box. With 18 challenges and seven tackles attempted per 90 minutes, he will continue to become the shield in front of the defensive line when his side face Sydney this Friday.

Louis D’Arrigo – Adelaide United

According to CIES Football Observatory, Louis D’Arrigo (marked green in the capture below) is one of the U21 players who are currently playing the most minutes this season worldwide alongside promising prospects such as Brescia’s Sandro Tonali, Norwich’s Max Aarons or Swansea’s loanee Conor Gallagher.

At the age of just 18, D’Arrigo has become a starter alongside Aussie prospect Riley McGree and experienced midfielder James Troisi in the center of Adelaide’s 4-1-2-3 formation this season, and there is a reason behind this.

Photo: PFA

D’Arrigo has occupied the defensive midfielder role just in front of Adelaide’s back-four, which also means he is responsible for shielding the defence while linking up the play with McGree and Troisi.

Off-the-ball, D’Arrigo shows his determined mentality whenever he attempts to win the ball back for his side. He is also aggressive but also tries not to foul the opposition’s player and gives away a dangerous free-kick that his side have to defence.

While he registers 14 attempted challenges and 5.5 attempted tackles per 90 minutes, he has only committed 1.29 fouls and received a total of three yellow cards up to now.

He is also decent with his passes as he can set up attacks and encourage teammates to move forward with his short passes. At the same time, he can also offer through balls or passes towards the players who position themselves in between the lines to help the team to move the ball forward.

Managing to complete 35 of his 43 passes per 90 minutes is a decent record, but he is also effective in setting up chances with 0.99 key passes and 0.54 chances created per 90 minutes.

D’Arrigo still has a lot of room to grow, especially in terms of his playmaking ability. But given that he has already established himself as a key player for Adelaide, it is possible to expect his development to rise significantly alongside McGree.


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