Premier League's Top 23 Footballers Under 23 Right Now
If you want to know the top 23 English Premier League footballers 23 years or under, you’re reading the right article.
Please understand that this article is based on this season’s form and not on reputation.
For footballers who haven’t played that many games, the only way they can make the list is if they’ve been outstanding in their limited appearances.
Isn’t under 23 meant to be 22 years and younger? Literally speaking, yeah.
But, FIFA and UEFA tournaments have allowed 20 years or (sometimes even older) to play in U-20/21 tournaments, even though it contradicts the title.
So, this article will include players who are 23 years old.
The Long List
Thomas Carroll: one to keep an eye out for
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Here are the players who qualified for the main list but were cut.
Aaron Ramsey, DM/CAM/WAM, Arsenal, Age: 22
Not a strong-ball winner to play as a pivot; lacks creative guile to be a No. 10; has neither the pace nor crossing accuracy to start out wide.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, RAM, Arsenal, Age: 19
Precipitous decline into mediocrity must be a concern for Gooners. Though, AOC has massive upside.
Andre Wisdom, RB/CB, Liverpool, Age: 19
Not a right-back (ask Kevin Mirallas) but has the attributes to be a quality CB.
Andreas Weimann, WAM/CF, Aston Villa, Age: 21
Plays like a No. 9 but starts out wide; needs to pass the ball more to Christian Benteke; for a tall guy, Weimann is meek in aerial contests.
Angelo Henriquez, CF, Wigan Athletic (Manchester United Loanee), Age: 18
I don’t rate Franco Di Santo at all but he’s still retaining a starting position. Roberto Martínez should have thrown on Henriquez against Liverpool.
Ben Davies, LB, Swansea City, Age: 19
Has made the most of his opportunity after Neil Taylor’s long-term injury; Davies has been steady.
Chris Smalling, CB/RB, Manchester United, Age: 23
Development has been hindered by a series of injuries; has the potential to be an elite defender.
César Azpilicueta, RB, Chelsea, Age: 23
By and large, has been good for the Blues. Some question marks still linger with his positioning. Tomás Kalas has been determined at right-back for Vitesse.
Danny Welbeck, WAM/CF, Manchester United, Age: 22
Puts in a shift as a wide attacking midfielder, but his productivity is not good enough. Needs to play as a centre-forward (at another club) if he wants to maximise his talent.
Davide Santon, LB, Newcastle United, Age: 22
All over the place in the 1-0 loss to Swansea City. The Italian’s tackling has improved, but I’d rather see Massadio Haidara be given an extended run.
Emmanuel Frimpong, DM, Fulham (Arsenal Loanee), Age: 21
Does he want to be C-list celebrity or a footballer? Dench…
Fabio, LB/RB, Queens Park Rangers, (Manchester United Loanee), Age: 22
With Alexander Büttner the appointed heir apparent to Patrice Evra, Fabio may not have a future at Old Trafford.
Fabio Borini, WF/WAM/CF, Liverpool, Age: 21
Borini has been non-existent when he’s played for Liverpool but his tenure has been disrupted by injuries. Filippo Inzaghi had a torrid time at Parma but went on to become one of the best forwards of his generation.
Francis Coquelin, Utility Player, Arsenal, Age: 21
When he comes back from his hamstring injury, he should take up Aaron Ramsey’s minutes.
Gastón Ramírez, CAM, Southampton, Age: 22
Expected more from the Uruguayan, who along with Alessandro Diamanti dazzled for Bologna.
Jack Rodwell, CM/DM, Manchester City, Age: 21
£12 million for an injury-prone midfielder who doesn’t even tackle well. Typical Manchester City transfer deal.
James Ward-Prowse, CM, Southampton, Age: 18
Hard to judge him when most of his appearances have been nondescript.
Jay Rodriguez, WAM/CF, Southampton, Age: 23
Only worth £7 million because he’s English. Premier League-standard footballer, nothing else—meaning the Saints were ripped off.
Joe Allen, DM, Liverpool, Age: 22
Brendan Rodgers’ desperate attempts in validating Allen has been a factor in the Welshman’s poor displays.
Jonjo Shelvey, DLF/WF/WAM, Liverpool, Age: 21
Serious attitude problems. His four goals in the UEFA Europa League are misleading because three of them came against BSC Young Boys, who defend like young boys.
Junior Hoilett, WF/WAM, Queens Park Rangers, Age: 22
Got his money after some great individual displays for Blackburn Rovers but isn’t living up to the billing with QPR (like most of their overpaid players).
Kyle Walker, RB, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 22
Not the same Walker who won the PFA Young Player of the Year and made the PFA Team of the Year.
Lewis Holtby, CAM/CM, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 22
Can play defensive midfield, a box-to-box role or as a No. 10. Spurs are easing him into Premier League football; will make a bigger impression next season.
Luke Shaw, LB, Southampton, Age: 17
Early bloomer or future world-class left-back?
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, CB, Newcastle United, Age: 23
Hasn’t burst onto the EPL scene like Moussa Sissoko. Give Mapou some time because he can be a rock in Le Toon’s back line just like his former teammate Hilton has been for Montpellier.
Marko Marin, WAM, Chelsea, Age: 23
Played out of position in his last season with Werder Bremen and hasn’t even been given a chance with the Blues. Why sign him in the first place? May as well have promoted some kid from the academy.
Martin Kelly, RB/CB, Liverpool, Age: 22
He’s had problems with his groin, back and hamstring (per BBC Sport). Following his ACL injury, it remains to be seen if Martin can be fit enough to be a top-class defender for the Reds.
Nick Powell, CAM/CM, Manchester United, Age: 18
Why wasn’t he loaned back to Crewe Alexandra?
Oriol Romeu, DM, Chelsea, Age: 21
Well, he’s not going back to Barcelona anytime soon following knee reconstruction.
Philippe Coutinho, WF/WAM, Liverpool, Age: 20
Was the last player cut from this list. Stunning performance against Wigan Athletic. If the same list was done this time next season, he’d probably be in the top five.
Raheem Sterling, WF, Liverpool, Age: 18
The intensity he presses has dropped; he doesn’t score enough or create enough goals; shooting has been wayward. Still has plenty of time to live up to the hype.
Ryan Bertrand, LAM/LB, Chelsea, Age: 23
Not a good defender and offers nothing in an attacking role. Kieran Gibbs improved 10-fold, so he should be Bertrand’s inspiration to prove the naysayers (i.e. me) wrong.
Ryo Miyaichi, WAM/WF, Wigan Athletic (Arsenal Loanee), Age: 20
So disheartening to watch Ryo attempt to overcome setback after setback. It’s the dreaded P word—potential. Takayuki Morimoto arguably had more potential and he couldn’t take it anymore after persistent impediments; he’s now playing in the United Arab Emirates.
Scott Sinclair, LW, Manchester City, Age: 23
Does money buy happiness?
Sebastián Coates, CB, Liverpool, Age: 22
He was in the wrong frame of mind when he played against Oldham Athletic. No form, no confidence and a lack of playing time.
Steven Caulker, CB, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 21
Will be a solid centre-back in years to come but has made a few gaffes. It’s no coincidence that a William Gallas-led back line has seen Caulker and Walker fail to replicate last season’s form. Gallas needs to stay on the bench for the rest of the season.
Suso, WF/WAM/CAM, Liverpool, Age: 19
Technically adept to play at this level but drifts in and out of games. May not last with the Reds, so he’ll need to make the right move, otherwise risk ending up like Fran Mérida.
Thomas Carroll, DM, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 20
Certainly the most intriguing prospect on the long list. Effortlessly lofts cross-field passes; applies pressure to opposing players; has shown creativity in midfield. If he doesn’t become a Spurs regular next season, he’ll walk into most Premier League starting XIs, presuming his displays in the UEFA Europa League aren’t a flash in a pan.
Victor Moses, WAM, Chelsea, Age: 22
Good role player for Chelsea; was excellent in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Wojciech Szczęsny, GK, Arsenal, Age: 22
He may be one of the best keepers in a few years’ time, but he needs to cut down on the mental lapses in concentration.
23. Phil Jones, Utility Player, Manchester United, Age: 21
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Phil Jones should be much higher on this list, but his ranking is affected by only starting 5.6 percent of Manchester United’s Premier League games.
Jones’ all-action Bryan Robson-like style of playing the game will continue to put his career at risk.
He plays each game in such lion-hearted manner that his body will break down like Carles Puyol, whose career is teetering on the brink of collapse at just 34 years of age—Paolo Maldini played another six years at the top level.
It’s this relentlessness which empowered Jones to get into the head of Marouane Fellaini in a 2-0 Red Devils win.
Fellaini, a defensive midfielder who has transitioned into a complete forward, destroyed United in the first Premier League game of the season.
Nullifying Gareth Bale—one of the most potent players in football right now and a footballer with better physical attributes than Jones—demonstrates how tactically sound the Englishman is; he’s not just an athlete.
The ability to play multiple positions, his willingness to sacrifice for the team and the leadership qualities he exhibits draws parallels with Puyol.
What is Jones’ best position? Midfield.
22. Ki Sung-Yueng, DLM, Swansea City, Age: 23
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Ki Sung-Yueng completes 92.1 percent of his passes and 87.9 percent of long balls.
It’s not like 70 percent of his passes go backward, because 57.3 percent of his distribution are forward passes.
If you’re not a stat geek, you only need to watch Sung-Yueng for an entire game to come away with the conclusion: Oh gosh, this lad’s passing is spic-and-span.
KISY filled in at centre-back in Swansea City’s 5-0 League Cup final win over Bradford City.
He spoke about his readiness to put the team ahead of individual glory (via Steve Han at KoreAm): “I wasn’t used to playing in this position, but the most important thing is to sacrifice for the team regardless of where I play.”
Ki has the potential to be top-notch deep-lying playmaker but he doesn’t make enough key passes.
He creates 1.0 shots per game and has one assist compared to Andrea Pirlo’s 3.3 and five assists from the regista position.
In this aspect, it’s more appropriate to call the South Korean a deep-lying midfielder rather than a deep-lying playmaker.
21. Nathaniel Clyne, RB, Southampton, Age: 21
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Nathaniel Clyne was a widely acclaimed footballer at Crystal Palace, winning the club’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year.
Even when he was included in the Championship PFA Team of the Year, he was fully aware of what his limitations were when it came to making his next move.
Manchester United came calling and Clyne decided to make a long-term decision in signing for the less glamorous Southampton, where he was guaranteed more playing time than at United (per The Sun):
I had run out of contract at Palace and there were talks with a few clubs who were looking at me like United. I knew if I came to Southampton I would get lots of game time. It is an up-and-coming club and they have a project here. Our aim is to stay in the league this year but go on after that. They do not just want to sit with what they have, they want to push forward for European football.
Clyne takes the initiative in winning back the ball (2.8 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per league game) whilst only committing 0.6 fouls per game, which shows defensive discipline.
Rafael made the leap from ordinary right-back to an elite defender in a span of the season, so Clyne—who does a job at the back—should aspire to improve like the Brazilian.
20. Carl Jenkinson, RB, Arsenal, Age: 21
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Carl Jenkinson spent the offseason refining his game to safeguard his future with the club he loves.
His first season with Arsenal was pitiful: constantly caught out of position; didn’t display any tactical nous; and played so badly that he was the right-sided Armand Traoré.
Jenkinson’s steadfast improvement is a testament to his work ethic, and that’s the reason why his season got off to a good start.
Arsène Wenger’s stubborn refusal to ditch the deteriorating Bacary Sagna halted Jenkinson's development.
The Jenkinson that played against Sunderland was last season’s version, but remember that it had been 71 days since he last started a Premier League game.
He should be the Gunners’ first-choice right-back.
19. Tom Cleverley, DM, Manchester United, Age: 23
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Tom Cleverley may not have Roy Keane's presence, but the 23-year-old Englishman is a proficient ball-winner.
He has won back possession 13 times in four UEFA Champions League games whilst not committing a foul, let alone receiving a yellow card.
Cleverly's passing is clean but not spectacular (90 percent pass completion; one league assist from 981 passes).
If Cleverley can up his defensive productivity, he has the capacity to become an elite pivot.
18. Daniel Sturridge, CF, Liverpool, Age: 23
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
With Bolton Wanderers, Daniel Sturridge was a superior striker to Chelsea's Fernando Torres.
When Sturridge returned to the Blues, he was forced out wide, where he decided not to play ball.
Instead of fulfilling the duties of a wide forward, which is a supporting role, he decided to play himself as a quasi-No. 9 and took shots from preposterous angles.
His relationship with Torres was so acrimonious that Sturridge rarely created clear-cut goal scoring opportunities for the Spaniard.
Having moved to Liverpool, Sturridge has scored five goals and created two goals in seven games.
17. Shinji Kagawa, AM, Manchester United, Age: 23
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Shinji Kagawa scored more Premier League goals in one match than he had in the previous 11 EPL games.
His hat trick against Norwich City was class; however, how can people ignore the tactical glitch from Manchester United?
A false winger and two nine-and-a-halves in a supposed 4-2-3-1…that won’t work against a team with a dominant right-sided midfielder and an attacking right-back.
Play a 4-3-2-1 with Kagawa, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie making up the 2 and 1.
United attack through the centre anyway and haven’t had sustained support from wide players, so add another player into the middle to protect the back four rather than leaving the entire left flank exposed.
Kagawa made a risky decision to move to United, but his frenemy Robert Lewandowski is about to make one of the biggest mistakes in Bundesliga history by ditching Borussia Dortmund for Bayern Munich.
16. Moussa Sissoko, DLF, Newcastle United, Age: 23
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Moussa Sissoko's days of playing in midfield are over.
His league-game averages of 0.4 tackles and 0.6 interceptions so far for Newcastle United suggest management have given him the option of not defending, to which he has taken it up gleefully.
He was a misfit at Toulouse as a box-to-box midfielder, where he hardly fulfilled his defensive assignments.
Moussa is one of the new breed of deep-lying forwards operating in the No. 10 zone, who aren't pass-first footballers.
I'm talking about players like Gareth Bale, Alexander Meier, Marouane Fellaini, Michu, Fredy Guarín and others.
15. Adel Taarabt, CAM/LW, Queens Park Rangers, Age: 23
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Adel Taarabt is a supremely accurate crosser (34.7 crossing completion percentage; 10-12 percent higher than most top-flight footballers), who can leave opposing players in at sixes and sevens with his quick feet.
He's great at facilitator, so why does he take 3.6 shots per game (higher than Robin van Persie, Olivier Giroud, Christian Benteke and Sergio Agüero) when he fails to convert 92.6 percent of goal-scoring opportunities?
He wants the glory, hence why he'll always be a big fish in a small pond if he doesn't change his ways.
14. Oscar, CAM/WAM, Chelsea, Age: 21
Julian Finney/Getty Images
If you take away the UEFA Champions League performances, people would be brandishing Oscar as another costly Chelsea flop.
His form in the Premier League has been so up and down for the Blues: vanishing in some games; displaying errant shooting (one league goal from 44 shots); showing a tendency to make high-risk passes; yet his assists and shots created per game don't compensate for the turnovers.
Despite this, there's a lot to like about him: he's technically brilliant; he works hard without the ball (averages more tackles per game than Frank Lampard and Juan Mata combined); and he surely will progress to another level in the seasons to come.
13. Kieran Gibbs, LB, Arsenal, Age: 23
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Did you know that 5.2 percent of Kieran Gibbs' defensive activity come by way of blocks?
He went from a decent full-back to a defender who was seemingly destined to be a world-class left-back.
How can you argue against him winning back the ball 6.3 times per league game whilst only receiving one yellow card?
At the same time, he was creating 1.2 shots per league game (remember, he's running around making tackles), which is the same productivity as Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott.
Speaking of Podolski, he was influential in Kieran's defensive renaissance because the German tracked back, thus limiting the risk of the Englishman being caught out if an attempt to intercept a pass went wrong.
Can Gibbs win back his starting position from Nacho Monreal?
12. Eden Hazard, LAM/CAM, Chelsea, Age: 22
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Eden Hazard scored once and created four goals in his first three Premier League games, so you can’t use the argument of him acclimating to life as a Chelsea player whenever he has a bad game.
His biggest problem is disappearing in the meaningful matches—where was he in the UEFA Champions League?
It’s frustrating to see him regress from last season, but you have to be patient because he represents the club’s future.
In his last 12 Ligue 1 games for Lille, he scored nine times and created eight assists.
If he replicates that form as the season winds down, he would have 16 goals and 15 assists in the Premier League, which would be an exceptional return for someone in his first EPL season.
11. James McCarthy, CM, Wigan Athletic, Age: 22
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
James McCarthy typifies what you seek in a central midfielder: he's robust in the tackle (3.0 tackles per league game); is a safe passing outlet (88.3 passing completion percentage); and he possesses a firm grasp of what his role entails.
McCarthy, the FAI Young International Player of the Year (per RTÉ.ie), has a bright future ahead.
10. Christian Benteke, CF, Aston Villa, Age: 22
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Christian Benteke has scored seven goals and provided an assist in his last 10 Premier League games.
He dominates in the air (contests 8.2 headers per league game) and is equally at home with the ball at his feet (Liverpool know). Give him space and he’ll thread an assist.
9. Sandro, DM, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 23
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Sandro will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery (via BBC Sport), but prior to his injury, he was dictating terms in the middle of the park.
His defensive output was world class (3.3 tackles and 3.6 interceptions per Premier League game).
The partnership he has developed with Mousa Dembélé has the potential to be the best pivot partnership in the EPL.
8. Romelu Lukaku, CF, West Bromwich Albion (Chelsea Loanee), Age: 19
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Romelu Lukaku or Fernando Torres? Wait, why is that even a question? That's the equivalent of asking a Liverpool supporter to pick between Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll.
Lukaku in; Torres out.
Oh, and Chelsea should take note of what West Bromwich Albion did with Lukaku—they gave him a fair chance.
7. David de Gea, GK, Manchester United, Age: 22
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
David de Gea is world class when he believes in himself. When he doesn’t, he makes mistakes left, right and centre.
He took out the club’s February Player of the Month award (via ManUtd.com), saying, “I can hear the supporters during the games so I know they’re singing about me. I’m very grateful for that.”
If De Gea committed the blunders Joe Hart made this season, the Spaniard would have been eviscerated by the English media.
6. Theo Walcott, RAM/CF, Arsenal, Age: 23
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Theo Walcott is not a natural winger, and if he wasn't so quick, no one would play him there because he's a dreadful crosser (15 percent completion percentage), lacks the football intellect to play out wide and drifts out of games.
He needs that peace of mind where he is the No. 9, because he destroyed Newcastle United as the centre-forward.
What about Olivier Giroud? Why not change the 4-2-3-1 to a formation with two strikers?
5. Matija Nastasić, CB, Manchester City, Age: 19
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Matija Nastasić has only attempted 26 tackles, but do you know how many he has won? Twenty-five.
He isn’t as proactive or as dominant as Roma’s Marquinhos, but Nastasić has been a more reliable defender than his illustrious counterpart Vincent Kompany.
Joleon Lescott, who lost his place to Matija, claims the Serbian is an outside chance to take home the club’s Player of the Year award (via David McDonnell at Mirror Football).
4. Rafael, RB, Manchester United, Age: 22
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Rafael had a night to forget in the UEFA Champions League first leg against Real Madrid.
Though, who was he up against? Cristiano Ronaldo.
Throughout the season, Rafael has been immense on both sides of the field; he wins back the ball 6.0 times per game whilst scoring, and has created a combined six goals from right-back.
He still has a long way to go if he wants to beat out Philipp Lahm for the title of world’s best right-back.
3. Morgan Schneiderlin, DM, Southampton, Age: 23
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Morgan Schneiderlin is the only player in the Premier League to average 4.0-plus tackles and 3.0-plus interceptions per league game.
Morgan is a world-class defensive midfielder, one who would walk straight into Chelsea's starting XI.
Yes, this is splitting hairs, but he needs to get his passing completion percentage into the 90s.
He's another level-headed Southampton player having extended his contract to 2017 (per Fox News).
2. Gareth Bale, DLF/WAM, Tottenham Hotspur, Age: 23
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Gareth Bale has accumulated nine goals and an assist in his last seven games for Tottenham Hotspur—why would he want to leave?
Even if Spurs want to sell him, he should sink the deal because he plays the Cristiano Ronaldo role for the club: he doesn’t need to defend; he can make as many bad decisions as possible; and he can shoot without the fear of recrimination from management.
In fairness to Bale, the solitary league assist isn’t indicative of his selfishness, since he has created 57 goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Though, how many times has he ignored teammates who were free in the box because he wanted the adulation? Too many.
The old Bale would have made a defence-splitting pass which ensured the teammate’s chances of scoring were higher than missing.
1. Jack Wilshere, B2B MF, Arsenal, Age: 21
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Jack Wilshere can surge past three or four players in a tight space whilst making everyone around him better.
Believe it or not, he completes more dribbles per league game (2.9) than Gareth Bale (2.1).
Wilshere is a team player who generally always makes the right decision when he’s in possession of the ball.
Wilshere is the composer/midfield dynamo/quasi-captain (how does Thomas Vermaelen have credibility when he’s one of the most culpable players in the squad?).
If Wilshere’s teammates didn’t give up so easily, Arsenal wouldn’t be in this predicament.
The only bad aspect of Jack’s game is him suffering from the Paul Scholes syndrome—highly intelligent with the ball, not as smart without it.
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