Andrew Thompson takes a look at the key young players to watch from each of the 20 Premier League teams in the 2018-19 season.
Arsenal: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (20/Utility)
Perhaps it is not the name you were expecting, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles is ready for the next step with Arsenal. Many would have – probably – guessed that either youngster Emile Smith-Rowe or newcomer Mattéo Guendouzi would feature here. Despite the pair of them performing quite well in pre-season under new boss Unai Emery, what AMN brings to the table is his first-team experience last season under Arsène Wenger. After breaking through last term and putting in quite a handful of credible performances, many Gooners the world over are ready to see even more of him, but the one question that will be asked is where. Maitland-Niles has shown competency in several roles, and last season he featured in four or five different capacities. With Arsenal hosting City on Sunday and a left-back crisis to solve at the official start of the new regime, he may well find himself featuring at left-back; something he is familiar with from last season. Many still see his future centrally, but with the business Emery and the backroom staff have conducted this summer, it could well be that his future lay in defense.
Bournemouth: Lewis Cook (21/Central-Midfield)
Bournemouth truly have it all to do this season. Though Eddie Howe’s stock continues to rise on his young managerial career, Bournemouth’s impressive debut season in the league two years ago was followed up by a decrease in performance last term. To their credit, the Cherries do try to play positive football despite being one of the league minnows. With Premier League survival the goal of this season given the business done by clubs relative in size, Bournemouth’s bid to successfully navigate difficult waters will come to two factors; how well Howe can continuously drill them, and if they can win midfield battles. This is where Lewis Cook comes in. Having been heavily relied on by Howe in the second half of last season, the England youth international should be in line for the same amount of faith placed in him by his manager, if not even more. The former England U-21 captain knows a thing or two about leadership but has the goods as a player to make a real difference in the XI.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Yves Bissouma (21/Central-Midfield)
Chris Hughes and Brighton performed miracles last season to survive the drop in one of their rare forays into life in the top-flight. Despite staying up, Hughes had a tough task in improving the squad, but he passed with flying colors. Completed deals for Florin And one, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Bernardo, and Leon Balogun signaled some business that should reinforce the first-team with some very good pieces to play with. The youngest of their summer deals, for LOSC Lille’s Yves Bissouma, may quietly be a key signing for the Seagulls. In Pascal Groß and Davy Pröpper, Brighton brought in two forward-thinking midfielders, both of whom offer creativity and a goal threat beyond the forward line. One thing lacking for Hughes, however, was a genuine ball-winning midfielder, and Bissouma fits the bill to perfection. He shown well for Lille after he broke into the first-team not long after he arrived from AS Real Bamako in his native Mali, and such was his progression in northern France that he was a standout performer during their 2017/18 season. Brighton quietly brought in a very good key piece of the puzzle.
Burnley: Aiden O’Neill (20/Central-Midfield)
No one expected a Sean Dyche-led Burnely to achieve what they did last season. Truly, their season-long heroics that saw them finish seventh is one of the biggest achievements the Premier League has seen. Moving forward, however, with their Europa League qualification campaign in full swing already, it is a season of both expectation and worry. How Dyche’s well-drilled yet talent-lacking squad fairs with balancing their efforts on the continent plus Europe’s most rigorous club schedule will be worth watching. It is this very fact that will – likely – force Dyche to rotate his squad far more regularly, which could see Aiden O’Neill receive time with the first-team, especially with Steven Defour still on the treatment table. It’s unquestioned that Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood will remain the go-to central pairing, but with Defour out and no return date set, O’Neill is only one of two remaining central players left. This is a golden chance for him to provide Dyche with a selection headache.
Cardiff City: Mark Harris (19/Left-Wing)
It is a difficult road ahead for Cardiff. Despite Neil Warnock’s track record of helping teams reach the promise land and win promotion, staying there is the problem. Unlike Wolves and Fulham, Cardiff have not pulled off significant business to shore up a team who looks like it could well be out of its depth once footballs are kicked in anger. Warnock may in fact employ a bit of the dark arts over the course of the year, but for a side that lacks real genuine quality in any area of the team, it is difficult to see a stay past one season. Despite the questions and the negatives, it could be a chance for Warnock to finally find time for a young player that could help Cardiff in the future; Mark Harris. Truth be told, it’s difficult to see where Harris would find the minutes. He is currently on-loan with Newport County, and coupled with Josh Murphy’s move to the club, Warnock has three left-sided options to pick from. Harris would need a few dominos to fall in his favor to be recalled and feature this season, but he is at the very least one to watch out for moving forward.
Chelsea: Tammy Abraham (20/Center-Forward)
At first glance it may not seem like it, but the center-forward birth at Chelsea is very much for the taking. It’s clear that Alvaro Morata has not taken his ample chances at Stamford Bridge and the fanbase seem to have lost all faith in him. Michy Batshuayi is rumored to be in-line for another move (this time to Valencia), while Olivier Giroud – though still a good option – is pushing 32. While he may not be relied on as the first-choice option for Maurizio Sarri, Tammy Abraham could well and truly make an official breakthrough into the first-team. He has featured prominently for England at youth level, while having a solid loan-spell at Swansea last season. His versatility in deployment will not hurt his chances either, as he is able to feature on either flank in an advanced role. There will be chances for him this season, it is just a matter of where they will come, and how often.
Crystal Palace: Jairo Riedewald (21/Center-Back)
Crystal Palace have, like many Premier League sides this summer, have been subject to positive moves in the transfer market that most didn’t expect. Bringing in Cheikhou Kouyaté from West Ham was a solid acquisition, but the business for German international and promising younger Max Meyer turned heads in all corners of the country. Palace look to be in decent order in attack and midfield, but the questions will remain at the back. Roy Hodgson will have a tough task ahead of himself this season if Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins remain his first-choice pairing in central defense, and it could be Dutch international Jairo Riedewald that could supplant one of them. His performances for Ajax domestically and in Europe were credible, and at his age there is every indication that he will continue to improve; much of that will come down to how much time he sees on the pitch. With Scott Dann on the injury table still with ligament damage, Riedewald is one of three center-backs in the first-team. A breakthrough is inevitable.
Everton: Richarlison (21/Left-Wing)
Marco Silva is blessed with two very young and talented left-sided attacking players in Ademola Lookman, and new-signing Richarlison. It’s the very fact that Richarlison was signed that surely signals Lookman’s permanent departure to RB Leipzig. Though Yannick Bolasie is still at Goodison Park, the young Brazilian winger, who has performed well under Silva’s charge before at Watford, is primed for a full breakout season in the blue-half of Liverpool. Together with Cenk Tosun and – likely – Theo Walcott, Richarlison can cement himself as part of a front-three that Everton could well garner success with; especially given that it will be supported by one of the Premier League’s most creative outlets in Gylfi Sigurdsson. His season at Watford can very much be referred to as a tale of two halves, but such was his form under Silva that Everton fans should have little concern if they will see the best of him.
Fulham: Ryan Sessegnon (18/Left-Midfield)
Fulham have targeted a prolonged stay in the top-flight after achieving a return last season. Under the care of Slavisa Jokanovic, the Cottagers played some lovely football, only bested by another-worldly campaign by Wolves, and a tight race with Cardiff. Despite having to navigate the promotion playoff, Fulham played some of the most attractive football on offer. Jokanovic has made waves in the market to rival Wolves as well; deals for Alfie Mawson, Calum Chambers, Maxime Le Marchand, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and most impressively, André Schürrle and Jean Michaël Seri has signaled their intentions this season. But if Rúben Neves is the star for Wolves and a shoe-in for Young Player of the Year consideration, then Ryan Sessegnon is guaranteed to be his stiffest competition. You don’t claim Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, and Apprentice of the Year in the same season if you are not supremely talented. Many will laud his pace, technical ability, tactical flexibility, and eye for goal from wide areas (he banged-in fifteen last season), but it’s his creativity in a wide role that may serve him strongest in a league where pace is hardly everything. His influence is such that credible goal tallies for Mitrovic and Schürrle should be the minimum expectation.
Huddersfield Town: Ramadan Sobhi (21/Left-Wing)
Ramadan Sobhi will be a name familiar to most Premier League supporters given his time with Stoke City. Upon relegation, however, the inevitable fire sale of some first-team assets saw David Wagner swoop in for the Egyptian international. Sobhi suits Wagner and Huddersfield perfectly, with his technical ability and direct approach out wide being sorely missed last season. With pace to burn on the left, coupled with one of Elias Kachunga or fellow newcomer Adama Diakhaby on the right, there should be ample service and space creative in the final third for the likes of Steve Mounié and Laurent Depoitre to bang in the goals in what will be another fight for survival in West Yorkshire.
Leicester City: Wilfred Ndidi (21/Defensive-Midfielder)
Leicester City have developed somewhat of a habit of coming across under-the-radar midfielders who turn into dynamos. We saw it with N’Golo Kanté and his heroics for the club in their run to becoming Premier League champions that has since saw him become a stalwart with Chelsea and the French national team. His successor came in the form of Wilfred Ndidi. After cutting his teeth in the youngster proving grounds of Belgium with KRC Genk to much praise, Ndidi made the massive jump to the Premier League last season and never lost a step. The Nigerian international quickly became one of the Foxes’ key assets. But there is more to come from him, and much like Kanté before him, Ndidi has all the ingredients to reach a level or two above the King Power Stadium this coming season.
Liverpool: Trent Alexander-Arnold (19/Right-Back)
Though the youngest of all four of Jürgen Klopp’s options at right-back, England international Trent Alexander-Arnold is primed to make the position his own this season. Despite only featuring nineteen times for Liverpool in the Premier League last term (most of which came in the second-half of the season), it was TAA’s impressive performances in their Champions League run that has given enough evidence to the qualities that he brings to the table; such were his performances that he was included in Gareth Southgate’s expedition to Russia. He will have to fight off advances from Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez for the right-sided birth, but should he successfully to do, Alexander-Arnold should not only become the Reds’ mainstay in that role, but potentially England’s as well sometime down the line.
Manchester City: Phil Foden (18/Central Midfield)
In a first-team as star-studded as they come, it’s difficult to envisage an 18-year-old with a chance to break into the XI. There is a real chance that such an event may occur. England youth international Phil Foden has carved a name for himself for club and country at youth level, but it’s the way he has impressed Pep Guardiola that has him in line for first-team duties this campaign. Though City supporters initially were disappointed in missing out on Jorginho, Foden’s performance in the Community Shield not only quelled concern but showed that he can do the same job as the now-Chelsea midfielder. Mature, poised, and good on the ball, Foden showed he is ready for more responsibility this season. His assist for Agüero’s opener didn’t hurt either.
Manchester United: Marcus Rashford (20/Center-Forward)
Coming into his third season in United’s first-team, it’s tough to – still – include Marcus Rashford in a list of young players to watch. Everyone knows the level of potential he possesses and what type of player he is, but the question remains – while under José Mourinho – if Rashford will be given enough chances to truly make good on the player he can be. Barring injury or poor extended form from Romelu Lukaku, Rashford’s path into regular first-team starts may be on the right-side of the attack, putting him in contention with England team-mate Jesse Lingard, or potentially in a two-man center-forward pairing alongside Lukaku. There will be questions on where and how Mourinho will fit him into the side, but at still just 20-years-old, there is time for him to have a true breakout season; it could very well be in 2018/19.
Newcastle United: Fode Yannick Toure (17/Center-Forward)
One of the bigger less-likely scenarios to occur, Fode Yannick Toure still deserves mention. With Newcastle parting ways with Aleksandar Mitrovic and replacing him with Salomón Rondón (on-loan) and Japanese international Yoshinori Muto from Mainz 05, Rafa Benítez must still question the center-forward position at Newcastle; not just now but moving forward as well. With other options in Joselu and Ivan Toney, it’s safe to say the days of Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, and Les Ferdinand are but a fond memory. But the acquisition of Toure on a free was a brilliant bit of under-the-radar business. Prolific for BSC Young Boys and the Swiss national team (both at youth level), the Dakar-born center forward could be on a fast track to the first-team in short order should issues – both form and injury-based- rear their ugly heads this season, at least for the cup competitions.
Southampton: Josh Sims (21/Right-Wing)
Southampton are in real danger this season. OOTB’s own Ross Bramble – a massive Saints supporter – spoke to me at length earlier about the sentiments around the coming year; survival is not guaranteed. Questions aplenty surround Mark Hughes, who many feel is living off the success he had with Blackburn Rovers, but isn’t the right sort to patrol the touchline at St. Mary’s Stadium. Saints still pride themselves on “doing it the right way” and look to promote and rely on young players when and where they can, but Josh Sims is in danger of falling through the cracks. Ross feels Hughes will bypass the English youth international despite his promising attributes in favor of newcomer Stuart Armstrong. But with Armstrong’s strength coming centrally, it will not be before long that Sims will get ample opportunities to showcase his ability on the right side of the attack, in a position where he’s the only natural player in the first-team.
Tottenham Hotspur: Cameron Carter-Vickers (20/Center-Back)
One of the biggest questions coming into the Premier League season for Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs surrounds the future of defensive stalwart Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian international is undoubtedly one of the premier central defenders in the league, but a potential move north to Manchester rumored to be near completion, one must wonder how Poch will replace their most prized defensive asset. Some will clamor for a replacement via the market, as the only center-backs left who featured heavily last season are in the shape of Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sánchez. But what if Alderweireld could be replaced inhouse and in the process save Spurs from spending while amid financial concerns given the stadium move. United States international Cameron Carter-Vickers could be that replacement. After successful loan-spells at Sheffield United and Ipswich Town, the Southend-native could be in line to be a depth option this coming season.
Watford: Pontus Dahlberg (19/GK)
Watford are hardly lacking in experience between the goal posts. Javi Gracia has veterans Heurelho Gomes and Ben Foster to call on in a pivotal league campaign for the Hornets this season. After finishing fourteenth last term and with one of the leakiest defenses in the Premier League, it’s crucial that this are be addressed. Despite the wealth of keeper experience, Swedish international Pontus Dahlberg has every chance to work his way into Gracia’s thinking. Having been purchased from IFK Göteborg in January, Dahlberg remained with the club until his return to Watford in June. Already a full international, the nature of Watford’s troubles last season – which Gomes was part of – could see the big Swede heavily involved in the first-team and earmarked for cup appearances at the very least.
West Ham United: Issa Diop (21/Center-Back)
Apart from Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham, no other team outside the top six has had such a strong summer window as West Ham United. With Andriy Yarmolenko, Felipe Anderson, and Jack Wilshere headlining their summer shopping spree, the Hammers will look to place a bid for a return to the Europa League dog fight. Despite the high-profile nature of the signings, it was the deal done for Issa Diop that could be the best of the bunch. After coming through the youth ranks at Toulouse, Diop went on to feature prominently for Les Violets over the last two and a half seasons. The big center-back (a French youth international), has been one of the standout youngsters in Lique 1 over the past few campaigns. With Manuel Pellegrini facing a league campaign that begins without Winston Reid and may see Reece Oxford move permanently to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Diop has every chance to add his name to the long list of central defenders that France has become an expert at developing.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Rúben Neves (21/Defensive-Midfield)
From a tactical and style of approach standpoint, Wolves certainly have quite a bit going for them on their return to the Premier League. Without question, Nunu Espírito Santo has presided over the best transfer business of the summer. But it isn’t business to provide a short-term shot in the arm; Wolves are targeting top-flight longevity. Diogo Jota, Adama Traoré, and Rúben Vinagre are all deals completed for players twenty-two or younger. Supplemented by astute signings in João Moutinho, Raúl Jiménez (loan), Jonny Castro (loan), Willy Boly, and Rui Patrício, Santo has prepared for survival and then some. Despite everything that has been done, Rúben Neves remains the standout young player at Wolves. When you think of Neves you think of THAT goal he scored last year; one of the best I have seen in my thirty-four years. His overall ability as a footballer and level of maturity for his age is such that many will question how Wolves have held on to him. Simply put, Neves will unquestionably be in the running for Young Player of the Year this season.
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