11 players under 23 who are ready to light up the Premier League in 2019/20
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Let’s ignore what Pep Guardiola said (reminder: "most, most, most talented player" he has ever seen), because he does have form for that kind of outlandish hyperbole.
Let’s also start with an asterisk: Foden’s ability will count for nothing if he doesn’t play. He started three Premier League games in 2018/19, playing for just 330 minutes, and that kind of sporadic involvement is the fast lane to stagnation.
But there are openings at Manchester City. David Silva is getting older and can no longer be expected to play two (or sometimes three) games a week, and Kevin De Bruyne remains strangely fragile. The emphasis is on Foden to force himself into those gaps, but if he is able to then that delicate touch and knifing finesse will only become more refined and effective.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)
Wan-Bissaka’s talent isn’t in question, but his ability to continue growing in Manchester United’s hothouse is a different matter. Given his transfer fee and United’s ubiquity, he might – with the exception of Joao Felix – be about to become the most scrutinised young player in Europe. That’s an inhibiting pressure which he’ll need to learn how to cope with fast.
The Londoner is a better defender than he is an attacker, and will have to develop the offensive side of his game while finding a home in a defence which is more concept than reality. United need a full-scale rebuild, meaning that Wan Bissaka’s personal progress will be dependent on more than just his own ability to cope with pressure.
Does he have the ability? Absolutely – what a rounded full-back (maybe even centre-half) he could be one day. There are a few hurdles to jump first, though.
Lloyd Kelly (Bournemouth)
Any club spending a big fee on a Championship player is taking a risk, but the £11m paid by Bournemouth for Bristol City’s Kelly seems sound enough.
Or maybe it’s more than that? Kelly is upright and elegant on the ball, already a better defender than many of the full-backs currently in the Premier League, and that package – which includes his excellent distribution – will immediately improve the left side of Eddie Howe’s defence.
Don’t rule out an England cap at some point, either. Kelly isn’t quite ready for that level yet, but Gareth Southgate isn’t as spoilt for choice on the left as he is the right, and he’s generally loyal to players who have grown up within the international age groups.
Moise Kean (Everton)
The reaction among a club's fan base when they lose a player is usual telling. Juventus supporters are not happy that they have allowed the 19-year-old to slip the net this summer, but their loss is Everton's significant gain: in the 19-year-old, the Toffees are gaining one of Europe's most exciting strikers.
His minutes-per-goal record in Serie A last season was excellent, culminating in six goals across 13 appearances (eight of those off the bench). Everton were crying out for some quality up front to complement the talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison in behind – and now they've got it for a price that looks very fair (£29m).
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Does this need any justification? If there were any doubts about Alexander-Arnold a year ago they’ve been dispelled now. He’s a beneficiary of Jurgen Klopp’s style of play and the emphasis it places on the full-back role, but he’s also grown as an individual – those caveats 12 months ago nearly all related to his defending and that area has seen marked improvement.
Perhaps that can be attributed – in part – to Virgil van Dijk’s momentous impact at Liverpool, but Alexander-Arnold deserves personal recognition too – he's added greater security to the incendiary skill set he already possessed. If he can avoid injuries, he’ll be a fixture on Liverpool and England’s right for the next decade.
Maybe it’s cheating, but it seems right to bracket these players together: Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes. What a core of developing ability that is.
More importantly, the incubating warmth at Leicester seems just right. All of those players, while different, share attributes which tally with their head coach’s belief system. Brendan Rodgers wants possession to be retained, he wants to play stylish and aggressive football, and his best results in the past have typically been achieved with the young and the pliable.
So the potential for improvement is vast, and if Leicester do barge – or finesse – their way into the top six, these five players will power that rise. Maybe make it six and add Hamza Choudhury to this list. He remains blighted by the occasional misjudgement – see England’s defeat to France at the European U21 Championship – but he’s another who seems to get stronger with every touch.
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
From an England perspective, Mount is really the brightest light of all. The good news – for Gareth Southgate and for Chelsea - is that Frank Lampard has inherited Mount at precisely the moment the young midfielder is ready to take his first Premier League steps.
Mount is a footballer’s footballer, all vision and simple class. His impact at Stamford Bridge this season will depend on just how much faith Lampard is willing to show but, were he to be supported by N’Golo Kante and surrounded by either Ross Barkley or Matteo Kovacic, he could feasibly provide much of the forward thrust that was lacking in Chelsea last season.
That’s his game: he’s a creator of attacking momentum and opportunity. He can slice a pass between the lines, drop his shoulder and take players on, or change the score himself. If all of that talent is multiplied by the earnest characteristics which underscored Lampard’s own career, then Mount can be whatever he wants in the game.
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
Watch footage from Greenwood’s time in Manchester United’s U18s and you notice trends: his expression on the ball and his craft, his range of finishing and reliability in front of goal, and his self-confidence.
It’s not just that he’s talented, because that’s really a prerequisite for anybody on the fringe of a Premier League first team. It’s that his talent is supported by bold intangibles; he looks like he could be a star, as if Old Trafford’s bright lights would only make him strut more.
Where he fits into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team is a different matter. In time, he has the game and positional traits to become a first-class false nine, but for now he’ll likely have to subsist on relief appearances and applying that broad range of attacking abilities within whatever space becomes available to him.
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