Lionel Messi might be gone, but LaLiga is still loaded with talented players, many of whom have their whole careers ahead of them. Continually producing and nurturing top young talent -- see Ansu Fati, Pedri, Marco Asensio and Jules Kounde in recent years -- there seems to be a conveyor belt of talent in Spain's top flight.
With so many highly rated youngsters poised for bigger roles again this season, the 2021-2022 LaLiga campaign is sure to produce another class of breakout youngsters. ESPN's resident scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen picks out some of the top players aged 22 or younger who could make their mark this season.
Samuel Chukwueze | 22 | Forward | Villarreal
Few LaLiga players would fancy their chances in a sprint against the Nigeria international, who missed the Europa League final because of a hamstring injury. Chukwueze -- who's fun to watch with his sharp moves and confidence -- is closing in on his 100th LaLiga game despite only having turned only 22 in May. Predominantly a wide player on the right, he prefers to cut in on his left foot, though sometimes his adventures infield lead him to lose possession.
While still being overly dependent on his left foot, Chukwueze is still a threat with his unpredictable movement, intense playing style, quick change of body direction and his eye for a penetrating pass.
Arguably the least celebrated of the Camp Nou arrivals this summer, the Brazilian will nevertheless provide strong competition for American Sergino Dest at right-back. Emerson was "co-signed" by Barcelona and Real Betis in the summer of 2019 and has spent the past two campaigns with the latter steadily preparing himself for a move to the Catalan giants.
While Dest is the more refined footballer -- safer in possession and more creative in his passing game -- Emerson is just as athletic and is more inclined to go for a cross rather than move the ball around in the final third. A resolute defender who is also reasonably strong in the air, Emerson featured three times for his country during last month's Copa America.
Alexander Isak | 21 | Forward | Real Sociedad
There are high expectations for the Swede following the promise of last season and -- despite not scoring -- an impressive Euro 2020. Still only 21, the former prodigy is back on track to develop into the complete centre-forward that many predicted. Though he earns the most attention for his aerial game, Isak also has the pace and timing to be a threat playing off the shoulders of defenders.
As his technical abilities improve, he's also becoming more of a team player, taking on more defensive responsibility. He'll be keenly aware that he's going to be closely tracked by even bigger clubs this season.
Diego Lainez | 21 | Forward | Real Betis
The Mexican has yet to fulfill his immense promise following his €12 million ($14m) move -- the second highest transfer fee ever for a player leaving Liga MX -- from Club America in January 2019. However, this could well be the season when the left-footed winger finally enjoys his breakthrough in European football.
Mainly a creative forward who prefers to operate as an inverted winger cutting in from the right side, Lainez has so far struggled to make more than an occasional impact on games. He has shown odd flashes of inspiration in the last third, but perhaps still needs to work on the physical side of the game if he's to take control of games.
Lee Kang-In | 20 | Forward | Valencia
A player who emerged from the Valencia youth system (Lee moved to Spain at the age of 10), the industrious and versatile left-footed forward has every opportunity to really kick on to another level this campaign. The 2019 Under-20 World Cup Golden Ball winner returns to his club full of confidence after scoring three goals for South Korea at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Last summer, this technically gifted, agile and energetic player was close to joining FC Salzburg (plus reported interest from Juventus and Borussia Dortmund), but the move fell through due to Valencia's firm asking price of €40m. With just one year left on his contract, Lee may soon be the subject of more interest if he starts the new season well.
Jose Macias | 21 | Forward | Getafe
Having been constantly linked with European clubs for the past few summers, the Mexican's move to LaLiga was overdue. Given all the attention Macias has enjoyed since winning his first senior cap at the age of 19, he might have hoped for an even more illustrious club than Getafe, but the loan move (Getafe reportedly have a €4m purchase clause for 50% of the transfer rights) will prove a test for the striker.
Though his form with Chivas somewhat dropped since the turn of the year, at his best, Macias is an instinctive, natural finisher who scores with ease with either foot.
Marcos Paulo | 20 | Forward | Atletico Madrid
Picking up the Brazilian on a free transfer might turn out to be an astute piece of business by the LaLiga champions. Despite being born in Rio de Janeiro and until now playing all his club football in his home country, the quick, physically strong and tricky forward (he enjoys a well-timed back-heel flick) also possesses Portuguese citizenship and has played for them at youth level.
Presumably brought in with the future in mind, Marcos Paulo is likely to be slowly eased into first team action by Diego Simeone. That said, the 20-year-old -- who prefers to play on the left in order to create or finish on his stronger right foot -- looks to have the potential to one day feature as a regular for Atletico.
Yunus Musah | 18 | Midfielder | Valencia
One of last season's breakthrough teenagers, the American -- who grew up in Italy and England (playing for the Arsenal academy) -- is hoping to make an even bigger mark this campaign. Capped five times by the U.S. senior team, the player started an impressive 17 LaLiga matches for Valencia in 2020-21, and came off the bench in another 15, which speaks volumes about how highly he's rated by the club's coaching staff.
Mainly a lively right-sided midfielder who can also deputise in the middle, Musah is an excellent ball-carrier with great pace and balance -- and a keen (sometimes too keen) dribbler who loves taking on opponents in any area of the pitch.
Yeremi Pino | 18 | Forward | Villarreal
Despite mainly being used as an impact substitute for Villarreal during his first season at senior level, the 18-year-old was surprisingly handed a starting place in the Europa League final by Unai Emery -- which incidentally made Pino the youngest-ever winner of the competition. Born in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, the exciting winger can operate on both sides (he's right footed), and typically adds pace and directness to the Villarreal attack through his willingness to run at -- and beat -- defenders.
Already capped at the under-21 level by Spain, he was also called up to the senior side for the pre-Euro 2020 friendly against Lithuania.
Martin Zubimendi | 22 | Midfield | Real Sociedad
Yet another talent to emerge from the San Sebastian club, the defensive midfielder finished last season on a high before putting in a series of fine displays for the Spain's Olympic side this summer as they claimed a silver medal in Tokyo. Having been coached by Xabi Alonso at youth level, Zubimendi -- much like his mentor -- very much acts as a "server" to keep the ball moving from his deep role in midfield.
The intelligent, mobile midfielder -- who's efficient at intercepting and breaking up opponents' play -- conducts himself calmly when under pressure and is positive in his passing, often looking to pick out movements further up with an early ball.