Picking a Rising Stars Premier League XI for 2013-14
On Sunday, B/R picked an English Premier League Team of the Season following the culmination of the 2012-13 campaign.
In the same 4-2-3-1 formation, we've picked out a "rising stars XI"—a set of 11 players who've improved drastically over the course of the season and look primed to hit 2013-14 in great form.
The label "rising star" is difficult to quantify, so we've laid on a few restrictions: Every player is 23 or under, and each of them have seen their reputations explode over the course of one single year in the game.
See if you agree with our selections, and comment below if you've any to add!
GK: Alex McCarthy, Reading
Alex McCarthy's stock was in danger of taking a massive hit after going down with a bad shoulder injury, but he recovered in time to make a string of impressive appearances before the curtain came down on the campaign.
His performance in Reading's 0-0 draw with Liverpool was the crowning moment on an impressive, if short, season, and Brendan Rodgers lauded his performance as world-class when speaking to the BBC.
The Guildford-born stopper has been at the Royals since 2007 but only caught the spotlight thanks to promotion. His inclusion in the England team represents the cherry on top of a breakout season.
RB: Matthew Lowton, Aston Villa
At one stage it was going oh-so badly for Aston Villa, but form picked up after a dismal January, and the Midlands club will play in the English Premier League next season.
A big part of that upturn in form was Matthew Lowton's rise, and the Sheffield United academy product has developed his game to become an all-round star.
He intercepts and tackles well, but what sets him apart is his cross-field pass to switch the play: He's become one of Villa's chief playmakers from right-back.
CB: Matija Nastasic, Manchester City
One of the few bright spots in a heavily blighted Manchester City season was the emergence of 20-year-old Matija Nastasic.
The circumstances were difficult—be it Vincent Kompany's injury and form issues or the behind-the-scenes disdain of the treatment of Joleon Lescott—but Nastasic focused solely on his own game and stole plenty of plaudits over the course of the season.
The Serbian should have been honoured with a nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year but remains a criminal omission.
CB: Steven Caulker, Tottenham Hotspur
The second centre-back spot was a tough choice, but Steven Caulker's low-key rise to relevance in a top Tottenham side has impressed many this season.
Fresh from a loan spell at Swansea City, Andre Villas-Boas made the decision to use Caulker as a squad option in his first season at the club. Many wondered how the Englishman would cope, and he's shouldered the expectation and pressure very well.
Caulker pips Phil Jones and Nathan Baker here.
LB: Luke Shaw, Southampton
Luke Shaw is a candidate for surprise of the season given his seamless transition to first-team football.
The 17-year-old left-back came into the side and displaced the disappointing Danny Fox with ease, keeping his feet on the ground after a terrific flurry of performances.
The future of England's left side appears secure.
DM: Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton
We jump from one Southampton prospect to another, and Morgan Schneiderlin becomes the only player to feature in both our Team of the Season and Rising Stars XI.
The Frenchman has been with the South Coast club since their Championship days (pre-League One) and is now ingrained in the fabric of St. Mary's Stadium.
DM: Ashley Westwood, Aston Villa
Upon joining Aston Villa, Ashley Westwood announced that he saw himself as a bit of a Michael Carrick, according to this Sky Sports report.
The casual fan scoffed, but the Crewe academy product has proved this season he belongs in the top tier and takes care of the football with consummate ease; If Westwood has the ball, you can be sure he'll find a teammate.
He's been used to dictate the tempo of games, thread balls through to strikers or take the sting out of situations where Villa need to claw their way back into the game. Useful.
RW: Andros Townsend, Queens Park Rangers
Andros Townsend joined Queens Park Rangers on loan in January after failing to get a look in at Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas.
Having played sparingly throughout his career, he was still something of an unknown quantity, but he showed more thirst and desire to escape relegation than most of the R's players on full-time deals.
He broke a Premier League record in completing 14 dribbles against Wigan Athletic and looks a valuable, pacey option for Spurs next season.
AMC: Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
Much the same as Andros Townsend, many were unsure of the Philippe Coutinho transfer on account of the little exposure he'd received as an Internazionale player.
He came with a reputation as a killer-ball merchant who's also trying to thread the perfect through-ball, and he's added a riskier, dangerous side to Brendan Rodgers' previously safe-looking attack.
He drifts in and out of positions and remains incredibly difficult to track; Good luck blocking his pass, as he can seemingly hit them perfectly with any part of his boot.
LW: Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
He cooled off significantly toward the end of the season due to January arrivals, but Raheem Sterling stepped into a void at Liverpool and did them a real favour early on.
Back in October he was one of the first names on the team sheet, showing an exuberance and a hunger for the game that clearly comes very naturally to him.
Brendan Rodgers has rested the 18-year-old to temper expectations, but 19 Premier League starts is a real achievement for the now-England international.
Honourable mention to Alexander Kacaniklic here.
ST: Christian Benteke, Aston Villa
Another tough call between two Belgians, but Christian Benteke pips Romelu Lukaku here.
Aston Villa's new hero has completed the transition from complete unknown to Tottenham's most wanted in less than 12 months, according to the Daily Mail, scoring 19 league goals after displacing Darren Bent in the starting XI.
He'll be out next season to prove he's no one-season wonder, and Paul Lambert will likely hang his hat on the powerful forward once more, as he gets Villa moving in the right direction.