The rebranded Premier League 2 replaced its Under-21 predecessor this summer, and for the 12 teams in Division One there’s plenty to look forward to
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal)
Maitland-Niles is currently most famous for his mother-turned-agent's X-rated voicemail to Mick McCarthy - his manager during a loan spell at Ipswich last season - but he could soon become a household name for more positive reasons.
The youngster made his Arsenal debut aged 17 in December 2014, having swapped the wing for central midfield and excelling with his fine range of physical and technical qualities.
Before the “Mum, meet Mick” incident stalled his loan in Suffolk, Maitland-Niles was benefiting from regular game time and performing well for the Championship side, making 32 appearances in all competitions. Now back with Arsenal's Under-23s, his promising partnership with striker Stephy Mavididi could propel the pair into first-team contention sooner rather than later.
Jake Clarke-Salter (Chelsea)
Guus Hiddink handed the centre-back his senior bow against Aston Villa in February, before he lifted the FA Youth Cup two months later
Clarke-Salter's been out with a knee injury since May, but he could secure himself a place in Chelsea’s first-team squad upon his return.
Guus Hiddink handed the centre-back his senior bow against Aston Villa in February, before he lifted the FA Youth Cup two months later. Antonio Conte's not exactly blessed with defensive options at present - Kurt Zouma's injured and a deal for Alessio Romagnoli has still not been completed - which could be good news for Clarke-Salter, whose composure on the ball has led to inevitable comparisons with John Terry.
Charles Vernam (Derby)
Vernam's started the Premier League 2 campaign brillianlty, scoring twice in Derby’s 3-2 loss to Manchester City last week. The teenage striker, who spent the end of last season at Icelandic club IBV, is now aiming to impress Rams boss Nigel Pearson, telling the BBC that "if you are good enough you will get a chance here – that's so encouraging”.
Callum Connolly (Everton)
The versatile youngster can play anywhere across the defensive line as well as in midfield, although his preferred position is at left-back
Following in Mason Holgate’s footsteps is fellow Englishman Connolly, who's aiming to secure more first-team opportunities following his senior debut in April. The versatile youngster can play anywhere across the defensive line as well as in midfield, although his preferred position is at left-back.
“He’s so brave and wants to get on the end of things,” U23 boss David Unsworth said of Connolly. “He’s an eight or nine out of 10 every week and gets among the goals. It doesn’t matter if he’s right-back, left-back or centre midfield, he’s starting to influence games from whatever position and that’s the sign of a really good player.”
Elliott Moore (Leicester)
Moore was essential as Leicester reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2014/15
Moore was essential as Leicester reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2014/15, with his form that year earning him a promotion to the Under-23 side at the tender age of 18.
Hamza Choudhury is Leicester’s best prospect at this level, but the 18-year-old midfielder's spending the season on loan at Burton Albion. Moore will be hoping for a first-team chance – or more likely, a solid loan move – as the Foxes' fixture schedule begins to clog up with Premier League and Champions League football.
Harry Wilson (Liverpool)
The winger, who became Wales' youngest-ever player at just 16 years and 207 days against Belgium in October 2013, is full of pace and direct running
Under-23 captain Wilson has begun the season well for Liverpool, even if his team have lost both of their opening fixtures 4-1.
The winger, who became Wales' youngest-ever player at just 16 years and 207 days against Belgium in October 2013, is full of pace and direct running, while his country's U21 boss has described him as “a young man with great talent” who “can nullify the physicality of other players by getting into spaces and running with the ball”.
Lukas Nmecha (Manchester City)
Nmecha netted 20 times in the U18 Premier League last season, while he's already struck twice in this term's newly-formatted competition
The presence of Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho at Manchester City won’t help Nmecha’s bid for first-team football under Pep Guardiola, although his impressive scoring rate for the club's youth teams shows he's certainly going about it the right way.
Nmecha netted 20 times in the U18 Premier League last season, while he's already struck twice in this term's newly-formatted competition. Born in Germany, Nmecha has represented England at various levels, and will hope to force Guardiola into handing him his first-team debut at some point this year.
Happy to beat Sunderland 4-2 after being 2-0 down. Got 1pic.twitter.com/qyr5yizo4f
— Lukas Nmecha (@LukasNmecha) November 14, 2015
Axel Tuanzebe (Manchester United)
If anyone sees him for the first time, 10 minutes is enough to see the potential
The 18-year-old central defender was given a chance to impress by new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho during pre-season; the Portuguese may be hesitant at handing young players a chance, but he was still enthused by Tuanzebe – and for good reason.
The DR-Congo born stopper has impressed United's coaches with his composure and football intelligence, even if he's still guilty of the occasional error. “If anyone sees him for the first time, 10 minutes is enough to see the potential,” chimed Mourinho in the summer. Watch this space.
Dominic Hyam (Reading)
At the end of the game, I had one note next to Dominic’s number: Jonny Evans
An Anglo-Scot, centre-back Hyam has promised he’ll represent the Tartan Army having already done so at U19 and U21 level. More importantly for Reading, he signed a new contract at the Madejski in May, and could build on that by getting his first taste of Championship football this season. Hyam, who spent part of the 2015/16 campaign on loan at Dagenham & Redbridge, has already been compared to one Premier League defender in particular by Scotland U21 boss Ricky Sbragia.
“The first time I saw Dominic was in a youth cup final two years ago between Leeds and Reading,” Sbragia recalled. “The strange thing was, on the teamsheet, it was only the Leeds line-up.
“At the end of the game, I had one note next to Dominic’s number: Jonny Evans. He was coming out with the ball, looking very comfortable and relaxed on it. But he could also defend. He’s got speed and power so he stuck out.”
Jack Stephens (Southampton)
Stephens is looking for a chance at his parent club this season - the defender has nearly 80 senior appearances for five clubs to his name at the age of 22, but none yet at St Mary's
After a half-season of first-team football at Coventry, Stephens is looking for a chance at his parent club this season - the defender has nearly 80 senior appearances for five clubs to his name at the age of 22, but none yet at St Mary's.
“This past season has probably been the biggest learning curve of my career so far,” Stephens told Southampton’s official site last term. “I can take that into next season and hopefully show the manager here at Saints that I’m ready to be trusted in his team.”
Stephens was in England U21s’ victorious Toulon Tournament squad alongside James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett, two Southampton first-teamers who he'll be hoping to know even better by the time the season's out.
Joel Asoro (Sunderland)
He started the campaign well by scoring against Chelsea for the U23s in Premier League 2, helping to make up David Moyes' mind ahead of the clash with Boro
Asoro became the youngest player to feature for Sunderland in the Premier League in their Tees-Wear derby defeat by Middlesbrough. The 17-year-old striker, although clearly talented, was a surprise debutant – last season he was still playing for the Black Cats’ U18s after signing from Swedish side IF Bromma.
He started the campaign well by scoring against Chelsea for the U23s in Premier League 2, helping to make up David Moyes' mind ahead of the clash with Boro. The Scot has previously given young players opportunities at both Everton and Manchester United, and Asoro could benefit from his presence at the Stadium of Light.
“For a 17-year-old – if it was me watching him for the first time – I’d say ‘wow this boy has got something’,” Moyes said. “For young boys to get in the team they’ve got to really give you something that you makes you think it’s worth giving them a go.”
Harry Winks (Tottenham)
Winks’ progression to Tottenham’s first team has been gradual, but the fact he's yet to head out on loan suggests he could be in Mauricio Pochettino's plans this season.
Youth team-mate Josh Onomah is a little further ahead in the pecking order, and Winks has frequently dropped back down to the U23 side, but after his three Europa League appearances last season a chance in the Premier League should arrive in the near future.
"Naturally I’d love more minutes, but I do believe the training and the hard work I’m putting in means I’m playing my part every day,” the youngster said in March.