William Sinsky brings you 10 players that could enjoy breakthrough campaigns in the Premier League this season.
It’s back. The richest, most watched, and (debatably) most exhilarating league in football returned to English stadium pitches and televisions around the world this past weekend. Though giving minutes to youth products has been an oft-argued topic in the Premier League as of late, there is plenty of potential waiting in the wings. Here are 10 young players to watch this season.
Tammy Abraham // Swansea City (on loan from Chelsea) // 19 // Striker
On loan last season at Bristol City, Tammy Abraham tore apart EFL Championship defenses, knocking in 23 league goals, tied for 2nd on the scoring chart. On loan again this season, this time at Swansea City, expectations are high, even in a crowded front line including Fernando Llorente and Jordan Ayew. Abraham has a long, lanky, 1.90m(6’4”) frame that lacks muscle, but nevertheless makes him a nightmare for defenders to contain in the box. While his heading ability is strong due to his height, he prefers to poach goals using his feet, with 11 of his 26 total goals coming from inside the six-yard box. It’s not just his prolific scoring that makes him a threat; his dribbling leaves much to be desired, but he can bring down the ball well and makes smart one-touch passes. He also drops back into midfield on occasion either to receive the ball or defend, something managers always look for even in out-and-out strikers, giving him the versatility to play a possible CF role behind one of the aforementioned strikers.
Abraham performed admirably for England at the European Under-21 Championships this past summer, despite missing from the spot in the semifinal in penalties against eventual tournament winners Germany. Swansea manager Paul Clement, who coached Abraham while managing some of Chelsea’s youth sides, has tipped the loan move to be a coup this season. Chelsea is renowned for their loan system, with a mixed bag of results. Abraham has the potential to be one of the best items from that bag and take the Premier League by storm.
Trent Alexander-Arnold // Liverpool // 18 // Right Back
Manager Jurgen Klopp’s pressing system, known as “gegenpressing”, is effective at Liverpool because it is a very active, offensive form of defense. The basic definition is to pressure the opposition immediately after losing possession, suffocating passing lanes and pressing the man with the ball into giving it up. Trent Alexander-Arnold, a young right-back, who formerly played midfield in the youth ranks, is a very offensive minded defender. Appearing in a mix of league and cup matches last season for the senior side, Alexander-Arnold hinted that he has the tools to thrive in this system.
Alexander-Arnold’s best trait is his running. He has the quickness necessary to make runs up and down the right flank, whether he’s dribbling the ball or overlapping the winger, and he excels at it profusely. With the ball at his feet he looks very calm, making accurate passes before pushing forward. He even has the speed to cut in between the opposing left-back and center-back, breaking the line and pulling defenders with him. His decision making and defending will become more refined with experience.
Liverpool’s first-choice right-back Nathaniel Clyne is out for at least the first match of the regular season, so Trent Alexander-Arnold should slot into the starting XI. If he has a good string of matches, he just might supplant Clyne as the Reds’ top right-back.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah // Crystal Palace (on loan from Manchester United) // 19 // Defensive Midfielder/Defender
Last season, Manchester United’s Academy graduates were the most abundant throughout the Premier League and played the most minutes of any club’s academy graduates, more than twice as much as the next club, Tottenham Hotspur. While many were plying their trade at other clubs, one player was forming a budding reputation at Old Trafford: Timothy Fosu-Mensah. The young Dutchman has a combination of skills. He is very strong for his age, matching perfectly with the physical style of play the Premier League has become known for. He has an excellent reaction; he frequently times his tackles to near perfection, a rare tool in such a young defender. His explosive acceleration allows him to catch an attacker from behind or reach a loose ball first, and he often uses his strength to dispossess the opponent. Fosu-Mensah’s versatility could see him play an array of positions before finally settling; he could be seen as a long-term replacement to right-back Antonio Valencia, or as a center-back, ideally in a three at the back formation, or as a defensive midfielder that can push forward.
The new, youth-focused Crystal Palace manager Frank de Boer, Fosu-Mensah, and recently signed teammate Jairo Riedewald all came from the prestigious Ajax Academy. De Boer has said he feels Fosu-Mensah can play both center back and in the midfield this season, so expect to see him feature considerably at Selhurst Park.
Emerson Hyndman // Bournemouth // 21 // Midfielder
Bournemouth has continued its Cinderella story into this season, going from the brink of bankruptcy just over ten years ago to continuous promotions all the way to the Premier League. Many attribute this near miraculous climb to young manager Eddie Howe and frugal spending, as the club has paid £10m for a player only twice in their entire history. Emerson Hyndman was far cheaper, signing with the Cherries for free after his contract with Fulham expired. He had a very successful loan stint at Scottish club Rangers last season, and is looking to take the next step in his career. Hyndman has played various positions in the midfield during his career, from deep-lying playmaker to box to box midfielder and even out on the left wing. He is a very hard worker, pressing opponents and creating plays. He possesses very impressive technical skills, including exceptional vision of the entire pitch, resulting in impressive distribution.
Manager Eddie Howe made a push to make sure the American would return to Bournemouth instead of leaving for another club this summer, leading to the conclusion that Hyndman should make an appearance at some point this campaign.
Jonathan Leko // West Bromwich Albion // 18 // Forward
West Bromwich Albion finished 10th in the Premier League last season, one of the best finishes in club history. The stout defending in a 4-4-2 formation was lauded as they defeated Arsenal 3-1 and drew with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 and 1-1 respectively. The attack however needed improvement. Jonathan Leko could aid that attack this season. Often deployed as a winger, Leko can move in and play center forward when needed. He loves to whip in crosses, which fits striker Salomon Rondon’s heading skills. He has shown he can make key passes, with five assists in Premier League 2 and two assists in 14 Premier League appearances over the last two seasons. He has a tendency to dribble down the touch-line, make an obtuse cut in, and hit a short pass to an attacker open for a shot on goal. His ball control is magnificent for his age, moving the ball smoothly and skillfully past defenders with technique.
Leko is one of four players on this list to have played with their current club their entire career so far. That could change for him with a loan move possible this season, but manager Tony Pulis says the squad is too thin to let players, especially the talents of Leko, midfielder Sam Field, and Welshman Tyler Roberts, leave. This means some will inevitably be staying put, possibly gaining first team experience at The Hawthorns. With the lack of attackers on the roster, Leko might be one of them.
Kasey Palmer // Huddersfield Town (on loan from Chelsea) // 20 // Attacking Midfielder
Chelsea’s youth squad won the rather new UEFA Youth League twice, consecutively in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Kasey Palmer was a big component of both wins, scoring in the Round of 16 the first season and knocking in five goals the next season, including the match-winner in the Final against Paris Saint-Germain. He also won the Toulon Tournament in summer 2016 with the England Under-21 side. This trophy-winning mentality is now on loan at Huddersfield for his second consecutive season, another product of the Chelsea youth machine. At Huddersfield last season, Palmer played in the attacking midfield, becoming a regular in the starting XI and scoring four goals and assisting three before succumbing to injury. As a prototypical 10, Palmer is very good with the ball at his feet. While he has a habit of receiving the ball with his back to goal, he is able to hold onto the ball and make a meaningful pass. He can dribble well, and gets himself fouled often.
David Wagner, who was Jurgen Klopp’s protégé at Borussia Dortmund as well as best man at his wedding, has been hailed as one of the bright up-and-coming managers in Europe. Alongside an attack of Aaron Mooy, Tom Ince, Elias Kachunga, and Steve Mounie, Palmer and Huddersfield might have a chance to stay up.
Jerome Sinclair // Watford // 20 // Striker
Jerome Sinclair impressed coaches very early on in his life. He was with West Brom’s Academy at the age of 10, and with Liverpool’s by the age of 14. Unfortunately, his future hasn’t taken off quite as it was expected, but he might have a new reason to hope at Watford this season.
Sinclair is a strong, sturdy forward with power. In the youth squads, he could run down the touch-line with ease and slam the ball in past the keeper with accuracy. But a fallout with Liverpool, inconsistency at Watford, and lack of playing time on a loan spell at Birmingham City has stunted his growth as a footballer. Coming into this season however, should he stay at Watford and get some opportunities up top, he’ll have plenty of midfielders to assist him, in the forms of Etienne Capoue, Roberto Pereyra, and new youthful signings Will Hughes and Richarlison.
Sinclair hasn’t exactly had his share of breakthrough moments in the Premier League, but with the questionable depth at the striker position for Watford after Deeney and newly-acquired Andre Gray, and an innovative manager in Marco Silva, this might be his best chance at a successful football career.
Harry Winks // Tottenham Hotspur // 21 // Midfielder
Tottenham Hotspur has seen a revival in the club over the past few years. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Hugo Lloris have created a highly formidable nucleus that could hold strong for years to come. Harry Winks is a Spurs youth player that could add to this already daunting core.
Nicknamed “Little Iniesta”, Harry Winks is clearly a rare talent. Like teammates Josh Onomah and Marcus Edwards, who are also in line for a promising season, Winks benefits from a very youth-focused manager in the brilliant Mauricio Pochettino. He has been able to make 21 appearances for the prestigious club’s professional side, giving him invaluable experience. His passing is impeccable, using some of the best vision seen in a youth player in some time. He sees the entire pitch, watching for teammates making runs and defenders closing in. Playing positions throughout the midfield, Winks’ passes include brilliant through balls, and with the plethora of attackers at Tottenham Hotspur, he’s destined to thrive.
Tottenham Hotspur are again in the Champions League this season, something that is becoming a consistent challenge. But if the club finally focuses on the competition, and uses its highly-touted youth players as depth, the Spurs very easily could be the Premier League club that goes furthest in the tournament.
Ben Woodburn // Liverpool // 17 // Winger
Ben Woodburn made his mark in Liverpool lore as the youngest goal scorer in club history when he scored against Leeds United in an EFL Cup match last season. He is also the youngest player on this list. At the age of 17, Woodburn has forged the reputation as one of the most highly-rated young players to come out of Liverpool in years.
Playing on either wing, but preferring the left, Woodburn makes quick decisions with the ball. His sharp passing and constant running make him an excellent match for Klopp, who has stated we could see a variety of formations from the club. His movements on the pitch are mature for his age, making runs in behind the fullbacks with superior balance, a very helpful skill for all top-tier wingers in the game. All of his hard work paid off personally for him this spring as he was given Liverpool’s Academy Player of the Season Award.
Liverpool is another club that has turned a leaf on their troubles and are looking to challenge for the league title in the near future. Ben Woodburn could very well be one of the focal points in that future, and the Kop might have a new homegrown hero at Anfield.
Freddie Woodman // Newcastle United // 20 // Goalkeeper
Newcastle is a club that has seen vastly disparate results during its time in the Premier League. Ranging from 2nd place and Champions League qualification to 18th and relegation, the Magpies are finally looking for consistency back in the top tier under decorated manager Rafa Benitez. While most of the squad is still a work in progress, one position that has a future regular waiting to impress is goalkeeper, and that player is Freddie Woodman. The Englishman won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship as well as the 2017 U-20 World Cup, making an incredible penalty save and winning the Golden Glove award for the latter. The national team is the place where Woodman has had more success, as his playing time for club has been limited to various appearances on loan spells, and that could be his fate this season too. Newcastle don’t really have a standout goalkeeper on the team sheet however, and with a spectacular showing at the tournament this past summer, there’s a chance we’ll see Woodman have significant opportunities this season.
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