Top Teenage Prospect from Each EPL Team
The introduction of a new youngster to any team is always an exciting time; possibilities of a future hero for the club appeal to fans while the manager is almost always pleased at the chance to strengthen the squad without having to spend funds.
For the player himself, of course, breaking through to the first-team scene is the ultimate ambition, often dreamt of and strived for for years on end through academy schooling and reserve-team football.
Some clubs more than others pride themselves on bringing through quality youngsters on a regular basis, but for all teams, it has become more important that a pathway exists from youth-age football to the first team.
Here are the current starlets to watch out for from each Premier League team.
Arsenal: Serge Gnabry
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already generated plenty of headlines and featured at a major international tournament, but in Serge Gnabry, Arsenal have got another young flier ready to make an impact.
The wide attacker has already appeared in the first team this season, aged just 17, making four appearances in all competitions.
Clearly, he still has plenty of developing to do, but the German youth player is immensely talented and could be set for a breakout campaign next year.
Aston Villa: Graham Burke
Aston Villa are developing a young Premier League side right now, and having won the NextGen competition this season, their future looks bright with an even more impressive group of youngsters aiming to make the grade.
Top of that group of talent is Graham Burke, a centre-forward.
B/R's Sam Tighe gave me the lowdown:
He's a very clever forward who operates in deep areas, with a good understanding, ability to suddenly surge forward, can pass the ball, drops into space and scores goals. I saw him in a preseason match against Basingstoke and he impressed, in particular with his terrific movement.
Chelsea: Nathan Ake
Nathan Ake is an extremely highly rated young player who can play either in defence or in midfield.
He combines a solid physique with an innate ability and calmness on the ball, and recently made the breakthrough to Chelsea's first-team scene. A brief substitute appearance in the Premier League before the New Year was a highlight, but he has also played the full 90 minutes in both the FA Cup and Europa League this season.
Ake has been on the bench a handful of times this season in the league, so expect him to feature more regularly next term if he continues to progress and impress.
Everton: Ross Barkley
Ross Barkley is Everton's promising young midfielder who has been a part of the first-team squad for the past couple of seasons. He is still on the verge of making himself a regular, but a loan spell in the Championship League with Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the season gave him some good game time.
A positive-thinking and mobile attacking midfielder, he can play either from the right flank or through the centre and is seen as a big part of Everton's future.
He has yet to score for Everton's senior side, but big things are expected of the local-born youngster.
Fulham: Kerim Frei
It says something about the current Fulham team and their approach to young players when the average age of their first-team squad is in excess of 29 years, and only a small handful of players under 26 even.
However, they do in Kerim Frei possess a teenager of blinding ability on his day, with great skills and pace on the ball and a good desire to fight for the cause. The winger is already a Turkish international at just 19 years of age and was a big player over the second half of last season for his team.
This season he has been interrupted by injury and having lost his place, but he has still played eight times for his team as well as enjoying a short loan spell with Cardiff City. Frei has much more to offer and should be a star in the making for Fulham.
In contrast to Fulham, Liverpool are one of the sides that currently has a plethora of young talent in and around its squad to choose from.
Attacking playmaker Suso is right up there with the most talented of them and has made 18 appearances in all competitions in his debut season. Suso hasn't featured much since the turn of the year, when his team strengthened the attack in the transfer window, but his ability on the ball is remarkable to behold in such a young player.
He isn't the fastest or the strongest, but his ability to find space and his at-times exquisite control and passing make him a real talent. He could go on to prove himself one of the best of his age group in the league.
Manchester City: Karim Rekik
It's a toss-up between two or three players at Manchester City, but Karim Rekik is one who has already started to make a name for himself.
The young Dutch defender can play equally well either from the left side or in the centre and made his Premier League debut earlier this season against Reading. He has recently signed a long-term contract with Manchester City and is spending the rest of the season on loan at Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.
Rekik was named on the bench in the Premier League for City a number of times around the turn of the year and will hope to figure more prominently next term.
Manchester United: Nick Powell
Manchester United signed Nick Powell last summer from Crewe Alexandra, and the midfielder has made a good impression in his debut campaign.
Though he hasn't featured heavily in the Premier League this season, he has been handed opportunities in the League Cup and Champions League, and looks a good bet to play a bigger role in the coming seasons.
At 19 years of age, he has had the benefit of training for a year with the likes of Ryan Giggs in a similar position, while he is also a regular with the England under-21 team.
Newcastle United: Gael Bigirimana
Newcastle United's most promising teenager is a central midfielder who has been a regular in their squad this season, if not actually in their team.
Gael Bigirimana has come off the bench 10 times in the Premier League and started three games for the Magpies, showing glimpses of a tenacious and determined midfield presence. It is in the UEFA Europa League where he has really been able to get some serious game time under his belt, getting good experience when the side is rotated.
The Burundi-born midfielder is 19 years old and signed for Newcastle last summer.
Norwich City: Josh Murphy
Norwich City have talented twins Josh and Jacob Murphy on their books—we'll go for Josh as the one to watch for, by virtue of perhaps being an inch closer to the first team.
The two are wide attacking midfielders, with Josh having made the bench for the first team earlier in the season for a League Cup fixture. He has also represented England under-19s on three occasions so far and signed a new long-term contract with the club at the beginning of this year.
Murphy is a pacey attacker with good skills on the ball and has claimed a number of assists in the Premier League U21 league this term.
QPR: Sam Magri
Big things are still expected from defender Sam Magri, though it hasn't quite happened for him since leaving Portsmouth for Queens Park Rangers in the summer.
Magri was a highly regarded centre-back at Pompey, for whom he played in the first team aged 17, and he has been a regular at England youth levels from the under-16s upward. He appeared for the under-19s at the beginning of this season, but has featured only once for QPR in an unfamiliar midfield role in the League Cup.
He has only recently turned 19, though, so has plenty of time to make his mark and realise his undoubted potential.
Reading: Jordan Obita
Promising young winger Jordan Obita has been on the fringes of the Reading first team for a couple of seasons, playing twice in the FA Cup this season and in a host of league games while on loan at Portsmouth.
At 19 years of age, he may find that the club's impending relegation to the Championship has come at a good time for him personally, as he bids to break through next season.
Obita has represented England at the under-19 level and looks a good enough talent to have a regular impact in the second flight next season.
Southampton: Luke Shaw
Southampton are blessed with several young talents, but surely the player who has had the biggest impact this season is 17-year-old left-back Luke Shaw.
Shaw has played 25 times this season for the first team, cementing his place in the Premier League side and drawing admiring glances from rival teams and fans alike. He also won his first call-up to the England under-21 side this season, though has not yet played for them.
Direct, good on the ball, confident going forward and a steady defender despite his inexperience, Shaw has all the tools to go a long way in the game.
Stoke City: Jack Butland
Here's the one wild-card freebie on the list: Jack Butland turned 20 just last month, so technically is no longer a teenager.
However, he's yet to play for his parent club, having been signed from and loaned back to Birmingham City in January. He is an excellent prospect, and Stoke don't have any other outstanding candidates to select. It is fair to say that in terms of style of play and build of players, Stoke's youth side mirrors the first team.
In Butland, they have potentially a challenger for the national team goalkeeper jersey, having already made his senior debut for England. Butland will join up with Stoke in the summer and has kept 10 clean sheets in 43 Championship appearances for Birmingham this season.
Sunderland: Jordan Pickford
Sticking with the theme of international goalkeeping prospects, Sunderland's Jordan Pickford is an outstanding young stopper for the under-19s side.
He has not yet made his senior bow for the Black Cats, but spent time on loan at Darlington last season and Alfreton this term, gaining some good experience at Blue Square Bet Premier level. He has also represented his nation three times this season, most recently keeping a clean sheet against Turkey last month.
Pickford is a good distributor of the ball and, though not yet the most imposing, looks set for a decent future in the game.
Swansea City: Ben Davies
Like Southampton, Swansea City have been able to hand their own teenage left-back a number of opportunities in the first team this season. With regular defender Neil Taylor sidelined through injury, Ben Davies has stepped up to grab his chance and has made himself first choice, playing 32 times in the Premier League this season.
Not only has he made himself a mainstay of Swansea's side, but Davies has also broken into the Wales team this season, playing in four World Cup qualifiers.
A steady and reliable presence down the left, Davies links up well with his midfielders and is technically comfortable in the final third. It will be very interesting to watch how well he performs under pressure for his place when Taylor returns from injury.
Tottenham Hotspur: Souleymane Coulibaly
Powerful Ivorian striker Souleymane Coulibaly is a forward with a big future at Spurs if he progresses the way they expect him to. Having joined the club two seasons ago, he is now playing out this term on loan at Grosseto in Italy's Serie B.
At 18 years of age, Coulibaly has plenty more learning to do, but the expectations are high for him, and he has impressed with his goalscoring exploits at youth level.
It is expected he will continue with the Spurs' elite development squad next season, if he does not go out on loan, but over the next couple of campaigns, he could make a big impact on the first team.
West Brom: Adil Nabi
West Bromwich Albions' Adil Nabi is one of the most promising youngsters on the club's books, an attacking midfielder or second striker who has represented England at youth level.
The 19-year-old has not made a senior appearance for WBA, but is part of their elite development squad and is tipped for a bright future.
Nabi has scored seven times for the Baggies' youth teams in league play this season and represented England up to under-17 level.
West Ham United: Daniel Potts
West Ham United's young left-back, Daniel Potts, has made two Premier League appearances this season, as well as featuring in cup fixtures, giving him the chance to line up against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United at the first-team level.
Against the former, he suffered a bad clash of heads with Bacary Sagna, but has come back into the matchday squad since then. He also had a short loan spell with Colchester earlier in the season.
Potts, 19, has played for the England under-19s and is seen as one of the next young Hammers ready to make the breakthrough.
Wigan Athletic: Josh Sumner
Wigan Athletic attacking midfielder Josh Sumner is one of the more promising youngsters on the books at the DW Stadium.
He joined the club in the summer, having left Liverpool, and can play in either a central-attacking role or from the right side. Technically good on the ball and able to run at defenders and make good passes, Sumner is a capable attacker with versatile attributes.
He has yet to make a senior appearance for the side but has been a regular this term for the under-21s.