Picking a Next Generation Premier League XI
Who are the best young players currently at Premier League clubs? It is a difficult question to answer, with many of the rising stars touted completely untested at football's highest levels.
What separates the Jack Wilsheres and Wayne Rooneys from the Gael Kakutas and Federico Machedas? Luck, attitude and talent all play a part, but it is very difficult to differentiate between those who will make the step up and those who will never come good.
Thus, in selecting our Next Generation Premier League XI, there is an emphasis towards those who have begun to prove themselves at senior level.
The criteria for selection is that the player must be born in 1994 or later, as well as being on the books of a Premier League side, meaning that all those included are teenagers at the time of publication.
Who, though, makes our Next Generation Premier League XI?
As there is no actual match being played, there is no issue with packing the substitutes' bench with attacking talent, so that is what we have done.
On the bench, we are able to be a bit more adventurous and take calculated gambles upon some younger stars with burgeoning reputations at youth team level, as well as including a couple of more established names unlucky to miss out on a place in our XI.
The following, then, are our Next Generation XI substitutes:
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
It is easy to forget just how young England international Sterling is, with the right winger having only turned 19 last week. Already a first-team squad member at Liverpool for more than a year, he could be a major player for club and country in the future with the right mentality on and off the pitch.
Bertrand Traore (Chelsea)
Burkina Faso midfielder Traore was perhaps on trial at Chelsea longer than any other footballer in history, with the Blues having to wait until he turned 18 earlier this season to register his arrival officially at Stamford Bridge. A senior international and brother of Lorient forward Alain, his performances on the club's pre-season tour of Asia indicated a special talent ready to explode on to the big time.
Islam Feruz (Chelsea)
Diminutive and pacy striker Feruz caused a fuss when joining Chelsea from Celtic in 2011, per the Daily Mail, but has gone on to play an important role in helping the side reach the NextGen Series final and win the FA Youth Cup. Feruz was another involved in the Blues senior squad in pre-season.
Nick Powell (Manchester United)
Box-to-box midfielder Powell's start to life at Old Trafford was disrupted by injury. However, a loan spell at Wigan this season is progressing well, with Powell scoring in both the Championship and Europa League as his reputation grows as one of England's best young goalscoring midfielders.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Grealish is seen as the potential next big thing to emerge from the Aston Villa academy. His weaving dribbles and impressive close control make him a natural fit for the No. 10 role in any side, and the confidence and composure he shows for one so young is promising.
Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Perhaps unlucky to miss out on a place in the starting XI, Redmond is one of the most established names in our prospective squad. A raw talent, Redmond has proven that he can trouble Premier League defenders with his pace and trickery. With a bit more refinement, he could be a high-level Premier League performer for many years to come.
Rony Lopes (Manchester City)
Portuguese forward Rony Lopes moved to Europe as a youngster from his native Brazil and, having established himself in the youth set-up of Benfica, was signed by City as a 15-year-old in 2011. His first senior outing for the club brought an FA Cup goal, while he was the club's Academy Player of the Year in 2012-13.
Goalkeeper: Gregor Zabret (Swansea)
Swansea beat off competition to sign 18-year-old Zabret from NK Domzale this summer, with the then 17-year-old already a first-team regular and Slovenia Under-19 international.
While yet to appear for the South Wales side, he has appeared on the bench in the Premier League and is learning his trade from the established pair of Michel Vorm and Gerhard Tremmel.
A strong shot-stopper, Zabret still has to improve upon his management of the penalty area but has plenty of time to build upon that aspect of his game before he will be regularly called upon at first-team level.
Goalkeeper, though, is a notoriously difficult position to predict who will emerge to be a top-level player, with development often occurring later in their career than their outfield colleagues.
Right-Back: Callum Chambers (Southampton)
At the age of 18, Chambers has been handed plentiful opportunity to impress by Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino this season and, thus far, has made a significant impact.
While colleague Luke Shaw may be further along in his development, Chambers has shown himself to be an excellent attacking full-back prospect—both comfortable on the ball and demonstrating fine quality in his delivery into the penalty area.
He still has areas to work on and will have to spend extended spells on the sidelines behind Nathaniel Clyne over coming seasons but has shown himself to have all the basics needed to be a Premier League defender for many years to come.
Centre-Back: Nathan Ake (Chelsea)
Having stepped up to first-team level under Rafael Benitez last campaign, 18-year-old Netherlands defender Nathan Ake has found himself back in the reserve and youth team set-up under Jose Mourinho this campaign.
The Dutchman, though, remains one of the most highly rated prospects at the club and has been a regular captain of the Blues' Under-19 side during their current UEFA Youth League campaign.
While not yet as physically strong as he will need to be when stepping up to senior level, Ake is an excellent technical defender and distributes the ball well from deep.
His ability on the ball has enabled him to play in defensive midfield and at full-back when required, but his long-term future undoubtedly lies at the centre of defence.
Centre-Back: Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea)
Chelsea youngster Chalobah's long-term future looks set to lie in midfield, having impressed in the Championship with both Watford and now Nottingham Forest over the past two seasons.
Born in Sierra Leone, Chalobah emigrated to England as a child and has been part of the Chelsea academy from an early age, progressing well ahead of his age group for much of his time at academy level.
Just 17 when he moved to Watford on loan, he quickly settled into Gianfranco Zola's side and earned a place in the England Under-21 setup for the 2013 European Championship—albeit that the tournament would end in disappointment.
Life at Nottingham Forest has begun well and it would be a major surprise if Chalobah was not seen in the Premier League in 2014, although it is most likely that opportunities will come in midfield.
Left-Back: Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Shaw's rise to becoming a regular and trusted member of a side firmly in the top half of the Premier League has been rapid, with the 18-year-old only having made his debut little over a year ago.
An England Under-21 international, his attack-minded nature has seen him become a major feature for the Saints in attacking areas, while also showing the speed and intelligence to recover defensively when needed.
It will not be long, on current form, before Shaw is promoted to the senior England set-up, while his list of admirers is said to include Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United per the Daily Mirror.
Southampton will hope to keep their rising star a while longer but will be well compensated when he does eventually come to depart.
Central Midfield: Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)
Just 16 years of age, Zelalem was involved in the Arsenal first team during their pre-season tour of Asia this summer before taking his place on the bench for a couple of early-season Premier League encounters.
An excellent passer of the ball and a mobile presence in the centre of the pitch, he is tipped for greatness in the coming years and is eligible to represent Germany, USA or Ethiopia should he so choose, per BBC Sport.
Zelalem joined the club in 2012 at the age of 15, having been spotted playing in the United States, and quickly progressed to Under-21 level by the end of his first year in England.
A supreme natural talent, it will be no surprise if he makes his senior debut by the end of the season and begins his almost inevitable progress towards becoming an Arsenal first-team regular.
Central Midfield: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
A third Southampton player makes our side in the shape of midfielder James Ward-Prowse, who has found himself operating from a wide right position for much of the current campaign.
An excellent striker of the ball, Ward-Prowse's crossing expertise lends itself well to a wide role, while he has also already taken on the mantle of taking set-pieces on a regular basis.
Ward-Prowse recently turned 19 and has already been a member of the Saints side for more than a year, standing up impressively to the demands of Premier League level.
One of England's leading lights of his generation, it wont be long until he also attracts major interest from some of the country's elite clubs.
Attacking Midfield: Jeremie Boga (Chelsea)
French teenager Jeremie Boga is one of the most hotly anticipated young talents in the Premier League at present, having shown enormous potential as part of Chelsea's NextGen Series final-reaching side of 2012-13.
Boga joined Chelsea at the age of 11 and made his reserve debut at 15, terrifying defenders several years older with his extreme pace and dribbling abilities.
Now 16, the Blues playmaker has great balance and poise when on the ball, while also having shown that he can remain calm in front of goal on the big occasion—including in victory over a well-fancied Barcelona side en route to European success.
A France youth international, he will hope to be integrated at senior level during preseason next summer but could well be forced to wait a while longer before a space in the Chelsea senior squad opens up on a regular basis.
Attacking Midfield: Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Manchester United's young jewel Adnan Januzaj has enjoyed a terrific start to the current 2013-14 season, quickly becoming an important member of David Moyes' first-team plans.
The poise and grace with which he plays is exciting to watch, with even the most basic of contributions executed with an elegance that suggests a truly special talent.
However, the 18-year-old has also shown in flashes that he is capable of producing the type of individual moments of magic that separate the very best players from the crowd.
There is still a considerable way to go in his overall development, but everything about his adaptation to first-team level suggests that he will go on to enjoy and a long and successful career in elite level football.
Attacking Midfield: Serge Gnabry (Arsenal)
Another German gem in the Arsenal set-up, Gnabry recently signed a new five-year deal with the Gunners, per the Daily Mail, who also report that he is being pursued by Ivory Coast ahead of next summer's World Cup.
However, with Joachim Low also keeping an eye on the youngster with a 2014 place in mind, per the Express, Germany are not set to relinquish his services lightly.
An excellent dribbler, whose speed and power also make him a real handful to deal with, Gnabry has made a handful of Premier League appearances this campaign and bagged a first goal against Swansea in September.
Now 18, he will hope to see his first-team involvement increase over the next year, while a loan move is not beyond the realms of possibility as he seeks to gain senior level experience.
Centre-Forward: Lucas Piazon (Chelsea)
Although there are some excellent young centre-forwards in Premier League academies, our side shoehorns versatile Brazilian Lucas Piazon into the central striking role in order to acknowledge his terrific development of late.
Generally playing from the left of the attack, the Brazilian has scored eight goals and provided seven assists in just 14 games during a current loan spell in the Eredivisie.
Piazon was the Chelsea academy Player of the Year in 2011-12, despite spending just the second half of the season officially on the books of the club. It was enough, though, to help the club to FA Youth Cup glory.
A direct runner from deep, with intelligent positioning and an eye for a pass, he has the potential to be an important player for club and country over the next few years. Thus far, he is seizing his Vitesse opportunity with both hands.