10 Young Players to Watch in the Premier League Next Season
The new Premier League fixtures are in, the transfer window is almost open and teams are ramping up their preseason preparations ahead of their players returning from their summer breaks and tournaments.
Butt who should we be watching out for next season?
England's top division is full of great players and great promise, and although some young players' names stand out more than others, there are always those who have an unexpected (or long overdue) breakout season, or otherwise shine for their teams.
Here we examine 10 youngsters to keep a close eye on over the course of the 2012-13 season, and not all of them are listed merely because they are the best players—a range of factors make these players, all 22 years of age or under, ones to watch.
Ciaran Clark, Aston Villa
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Aston Villa's versatile Irish player Ciaran Clark is first on the list.
After appearing in 15 Premier League games last season, Clark was one of several youngsters who left their marks on the Villa first team under the now-deposed Alex McLeish.
Able to play in midfield or at left-back as well, Clark will perhaps go on to make his best position centre-back.
Being left-footed and confident on the ball, he will give Paul Lambert a more cultured option in defence than the panicky hit-it-long approach that Villa fans saw too often last season from the likes of Richard Dunne or James Collins.
Clark might be some way off of being the stellar name on this list, but he is a solid player with the potential to carve out a good career for himself in the Premier League—and if he does that next season then he will also take big strides towards cementing his place at the international level as part of the new wave of Irish players.
Kerim Frei, Fulham
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Turkish advanced midfielder Kerim Frei could be Fulham's big star this season.
Fleeting appearances over the second half of last season in particular, both as a starter and an impact substitute, saw Frei offer glimpses of his natural dribbling ability, fleet of foot nature and eye for the unexpected.
That he attempted 36 dribbles in just six starts and a further 10 appearances off the bench shows the kind of influence he likes to exert over the game.
Frei is talented, creative and has plenty of confidence, and together with the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele, they can give Fulham a real flair in the final third if they all click.
Also don't discount big performances this season from winger Alex Kacaniklic and attacking midfielder Pajtim Kasami.
Jack Rodwell, Everton
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Jack Rodwell was a year ago very much in demand with transfer rumours abound, linking the midfielder to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.
After an injury-hit season though, Rodwell almost needs to start from scratch again and win his place back on the Everton team, before trying to sustain a run of games.
Last campaign he managed just 14 league appearances in all as he struggled to maintain his fitness.
Naturally a box-to-box midfielder, Rodwell has a good short passing game, but also likes to look for the more difficult pass at times. Athletic, powerful and ready to burst into the box whenever possible, he could be a real threat for Everton if he can sustain form and fitness.
Last season his form dipped, understandably, but statistically he improved on every key area from the 2010-11 season—ground and aerial duals win percentage, tackle success rate, interceptions, frequency of losing possession, shooting accuracy and pass completion rate—showing an increased awareness and understanding of the game.
He could have a huge season with the Toffees.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
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Liverpool's gifted young attacker Raheem Sterling showed glimpses of his talent in the final games of last season as he made his Reds debut, and went on to be featured three times as a substitute in the Premier League.
A real flier with skill on the ball, pace to burn and a clinical goal edge to his game, Sterling has plenty of natural attributes, which have been honed at reserve and academy team level over the past couple of years.
Seen by many Liverpool fans as the answer to their left-sided woes, Sterling is almost a perfect fit for Brendan Rodgers' usual proforma of an attacking wide player, who will cut inside, commit full-backs to challenges and use craft and guile as well as pure pace to create goalscoring opportunities for himself and others.
Sterling is small and of slight build and so has plenty of growing up to do yet, but should continue to get game time under his belt, especially in the three cup competitions Liverpool will play this season.
After the new year he may well look at breaking into the first team for the domestic league, and if he does so, when ready, expect him to make many a full-back look foolish and amateur.
Jack Wilshere, Arsenal
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Here's an interesting one.
Two seasons ago, Jack Wilshere cemented his place in Arsenal's midfield and broke into the England full squad, making five appearances so far for his country.
Aged just 18, he completed 84 percent of his passes over the entire season, won three-quarters of his tackles and set up 59 chances on goal for his teammates—and did it all with the confidence and creativity of a playmaker with a decade of experience behind him.
Last season, Wilshere spent the entire campaign on the sidelines with an injury and played not a single minute of first team competitive football.
After the testing times and lack of real top drawer form suffered by Aaron Ramsey last term, (following his own long term injury) plenty of eyes will be on Wilshere to see if he can claw himself back to the same level of form and fitness which saw him heralded as the new face of the England team.
The talent is there, Arsenal will be hoping the fitness and confidence still will be too.
Mario Balotelli, Manchester City
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What's not to watch about Mario Balotelli?
Talented, talismanic, prone to tantrums and red cards and hugely controversial or stupid incidents off the field.
Last season alone, he was sent off twice, walked around the pitch in a Europa League match because of a grass allergy, threw a dart at a youth team player, had a firework set fire to his house, broke a pre-match curfew to visit a curry house and randomly appeared at the press conference to announce the new Inter Milan manager.
Who knows what 2012-13 might have in store for him!
Ross Barkley, Everton
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Ross Barkley started off last season around the fringes of the Everton first team, but soon lost his place as more senior names returned from their injuries to steal his spot.
Six first team appearances in the Premier League though, point to plenty of trust in the midfielder from David Moyes, his manager, and Barkley will be expected to progress again this season.
Operating from both a central role and the right side of midfield, he has been signalled out as the Toffees' next great homegrown player, but certainly needs to hone both the tactical and technical side of his game to go with his power and determination.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
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Chelsea's latest big-money signing is the Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard.
Signed from Lille after the culmination of the 2011-12 season, Hazard has forged a reputation for quick dribbling, constant movement and being a match-winner.
The biggest signing of the summer (so far) to appear on this list, Hazard is a fairly experienced player despite being only 21 years of age, having racked up close to 150 league appearances so far in his career (almost 200 in all competitions) and 28 international caps.
Playing from either flank or behind the forward, Hazard will be a real threat for Chelsea next season and plenty of fans—both of Chelsea and rival teams—will be looking out for him.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal
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Having enjoyed a fairly productive debut season for Arsenal having made 16 appearances overall, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain received a call up to the full England squad for Euro 2012 and impressed on his only start, in the first group stage match against France.
Bizarrely, he barely featured after that, but "the Ox" will return to Arsenal full of heart and confidence as the teenager looks to really burst onto the scene this season.
While some will be expecting him to be a match-winner in every game already, Arsene Wenger will likely ensure another season of steady progression for the attacking midfielder. Oxlade-Chamberlain will face competition for places next season from Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Theo Walcott for a wide position, or Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky for a role behind the striker.
Jack Colback, Sunderland
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Maybe another less-expected name on the list, Jack Colback of Sunderland had a good 2011-12 campaign where he made a name for himself as a reliable and versatile player under Martin O'Neill in the second half of the season especially.
Having played just 11 times the season before last, Colback featured in 35 of the Black Cats' 38 Premier League games last term and became one of the names O'Neill relied upon the most.
A central midfielder by trade, Colback also played on the left side and at left-back when required. A fierce tackle (81 percent win rate) and a steady passing range (81 percent completed) are his two biggest traits on display.
Colback turns 23 this season so is in an important phase of his career; having made himself a first team regular last season, he will this time around need to add consistency to his game and become a real first-name-on-the-teamsheet player for his side.
Hard work comes as standard in an O'Neill team, and Colback certainly gives everything for the cause. He stands a real chance of becoming a much bigger name in the Premier League than he currently perhaps is.