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Premier League: Ranking the Best 25 EPL Players Under 25

Daniel TilukFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

Premier League: Ranking the Best 25 EPL Players Under 25

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    After a summer transfer window where English Premier League clubs spent a record £835 million ($1.375 billion) on players, via BBC Sport, the notion England has the world's best domestic competition should be confirmed.

    Of the 519 footballers currently on EPL rosters, who are the best up-and-comers? Those either ahead of the curve or those entering their prime?

    Glad you asked.

    B/R has taken the liberty of compiling the best 25 Premier League footballers under 25 years of age for your viewing pleasure.

    Something to mull over whilst we eagerly await this international break to recede; we just had the World Cup, an international break? Really?

    One might truthfully say: "Football never stops."

    To the ranking...

Methodology

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    The pool of players exactly 25 years of age who deserve recognition are many, namely: Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Wilfried Bony, Seamus Coleman, Dejan Lovren, Jay Rodriguez and Diego Costa, but in keeping with the title, we have a compromise.

    Names listed above are not included in this ranking because they were 25 before the season started on 16 August; any 25-year-old in this list was 24 when the 2014-15 season commenced and was grandfathered into the pool of contending players.

    A curious case was Newcastle United's Moussa Sissoko, whose birthday is August 16. The French international would not have been an automatic selection, but his birth date eliminated him from consideration regardless.

    Insofar as the rankings themselves: Form, potential, reputation and positional comparisons were the key-determining factors in the placement of available players.

25. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Age: 22 (Birth Date: June 12, 1992)

    Position(s): Central Attacking Midfielder / Winger

    Providing a rampant Liverpool with five goals and seven assists from 32 Premier League outings last year, Philippe Coutinho has proven the faith shown in him warranted.

    Yet the arrival of Mario Balotelli, resurgence of Jordan Henderson and maturation of Raheem Sterling has muddied the midfielder's squad outlook.

    Reds supporters—plus the Brazilian himself—should take solace in knowing Liverpool have many more games to play this year, so Brendan Rodgers' squad rotation will likely see every available player used but, unlike last season, Coutinho is far from an automatic selection.

    How Rodgers navigates the man management required for each competition will be the biggest test he has this campaign—chief among that list is keeping former certainties, such as the adroit Coutinho, content with their new roles.

24. Victor Wanyama (Southampton)

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Age: 23 (Birth Date: June 25, 1991)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    In Swahili, the word "nyama" translates to "meat."

    One of the official languages in Victor Wanyama's native Kenya, the Swahili translation describes the midfielder ever-so aptly.

    Strong in challenges—seemingly unworried about the glamorous side of proceedings—Wanyama is the hearty midfield anchor every Premier League side requires to function. His nine tackles on opening day vs. Liverpool as evidence.

    Surprisingly though, in lieu of the Saints selling five major pieces and losing their manager this summer, Wanyama avoided Southampton's mass exodus.

    Their second most expensive player—£12.5 million from Celtic, via BBC Sport—the Kenyan international staying at St. Mary's (added with retaining Morgan Schneiderlin, the eventual return of Jay Rodriguez and new signings) may signal Ronald Koeman's side are relatively safe this season.

23. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Age: 24 (Birth Date: June 17, 1990)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    More than a few outsiders had lost belief in Jordan Henderson. Before Brendan Rodgers' arrival, the Englishman was struggling to say the least. Rodgers even offered to let Henderson go to Fulham before the 2012-13 season, according to The Telegraph's Chris Bascombe.

    The £20-million midfielder elected to stay at Anfield and was given 30 Premier League appearances, producing five goals and four assists.

    Last year was Henderson's coming-out party. He played in 35 games—missing three games due to a straight red card—and was directly responsible for 11 of Liverpool's impressive 102 goals.

    Tasked by Rodgers to score 10 EPL goals this season, the England international will certainly be a key cog in Liverpool's near and distant future.

    What a difference two years makes.

22. Phil Jones (Manchester United)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Age: 22 (Birth Date: February 21, 1992)

    Position(s): Centre-back / Right-back

    In April 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson stated, via ESPN FC:

    [Phil] Jones—arguably the way he is looking—could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players [Manchester United] have ever had...

    So—17 months later—where is Jones on the "Sir Bobby Charlton-scale?"

    At best a three, and through very little fault of his own.

    Being one of United's most versatile players and incessant injury has not been exactly ideal. Playing right-back and holding midfielder, Jones' time at his preferred position of centre-back is being quelled. Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 should finally allow the 22-year-old to play centre-back regularly.

    One complete 38-game season while playing in the middle of central defence: Only then can we fairly adjudicate Jones on the "Sir Bobby Charlton-scale."

21. Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)

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    Age: 24 (Birth Date: November 8, 1989)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    While squad-mate Victor Wanyama was subjected to very little during the summer transfer window, Morgan Schneiderlin went through something rather more dramatic.

    After seeing Calum Chambers, Adam Lallana, Ricky Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw depart after Mauricio Pochettino left, the Frenchman thought to rejoin with his former manager at Tottenham. Having apparently sold all they could, Southampton decided relinquishing their best player was beyond the pale.

    Schneiderlin tweeted the following in frustration:

    6 years of an amazing journey #saintsfc DESTROYED in 1 hour !!!

    — Morgan Schneiderlin (@SchneiderlinMo4) July 29, 2014

    Playing on though, the midfielder has started 2014-15 scoring two goals in three EPL matches.

    The danger for the Saints is Schneiderlin still wishing to leave come January. If Southampton are secure in the league table, however, a club wagering near TransferMarkt's value of £17.6 million should tempt the St. Mary's hierarchy in every sense.

20. John Stones (Everton)

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    Age: 20 (Birth Date: May 28, 1994)

    Position(s): Centre-back / Right-back

    "How long can Sylvain Distin last," John Stones must wonder on a daily basis.

    With Seamus Coleman, 25, and Phil Jagielka, 32, automatic selections for Roberto Martinez, Distin, 36, seems the man preventing Stones from playing regular minutes, but the French defender looks an immovable object despite his age.

    And on Stones' waiting game plays.

    When the 20-year-old eventually takes his place in Everton's defence, he looks primed to be England's best centre-back for the next decade—starting his first game for the Three Lions on 3 September at Wembley Stadium vs. Norway.

    Standing 6'2" with great anticipation and a serene demeanour under pressure, Stones has all the hallmarks of an excellent top-flight centre-half; whether the Merseyside Blues can ward off the impending, often ubiquitous, talent vultures remains to be seen.

19. Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur)

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Age: 22 (Birth Date: March 4, 1992)

    Position(s): Winger / Central Attacking Midfielder

    Erik Lamela was deemed a poor purchase last season, but he only played in nine Premier League games. Traditional thinking says one needs four to six months of adaptation to English football. The learning curve is faster for some, slower for others, but nine games is hardly a fair sample size.

    Under new Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, Lamela has seemed more comfortable. The former Roma man produced only two EPL assists last season—a total he has already matched in three fixtures this season.

    Costing Tottenham upwards of £30 million—via the Daily Mail's Declan Warrington—the purchase may have merit yet.

    New management at White Hart Lane could also rescue Lamela's international career. Unnamed in Argentina's 2014 World Cup squad, the attacker was called up by La Albiceleste during the current international break.

18. Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City)

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    Age: 23 (Birth Date: February 13, 1991)

    Position: Centre-back

    Purchased for "about £32 million," via BBC Sport, on 11 August, former FC Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala is—theoretically—the long-term solution to finding Vincent Kompany a viable partner in Manuel Pellegrini's back four.

    As the Chilean manager is known to prefer elder-statesman Martin Demichelis, 33—there will be opportunities for Mangala to prove his worth at the Etihad.

    Manchester City will play four competitions in 2014-15 and possess titanic aspirations in the UEFA Champions League. Grouped with CSKA Moscow, Roma and Bayern Munich, the French international will undoubtedly earn a place in the Citizens' defence—if for nothing else than squad rotation.

    Tall, powerful and an aggressive tackler, once penciled in City's starting XI, Mangala may be difficult to erase for Pellegrini.

17. Luke Shaw (Manchester United)

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    Age: 19 (Birth Date: July 12, 1995)

    Position: Left-back

    Luke Shaw is, arguably, the most lauded teenage Englishmen of the past decade. Shaw's play, combined with propaganda, made his Old Trafford move cost an initial £27 million—per BBC Sport—the highest transfer fee ever paid for a teenager.

    Yet to make an official appearance for Manchester United, Shaw—even with his hefty fee—will certainly have competition for places.

    Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and a cast of wingers are available to play in Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 as left wing backs. Needs elsewhere may procure some competition away from the southpaw side of defence, but Shaw's place is by no means guaranteed.

    Nevertheless, United elected to sell Patrice Evra and Roy Hodgson felt confident enough to drop Ashley Cole from England's World Cup roster in favour for the 19-year-old, so something must be there.

16. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Age: 22 (Birth Date: January 1, 1992)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    During the 2010-11 season, Jack Wilshere played 35 games for Arsenal and looked another promising Arsene Wenger project. Injuries, however—especially a season-ending stress fracture in 2011-12—have stunted the young Englishman's trajectory.

    Since the season's final day in 2011, there have been 117 Premier League matches, Wilshere has featured in just 51.

    Missing 57 percent of your would-be development cannot be a great sign but, despite his omissions, the England international is just 22 years old and still has time to get things right.

    With the ability to combine, distribute and tackle, Wilshere has all the qualities needed to be an Arsenal legend; his limitations will not be mental—or even a lack of talent—but determined by how far his body allows him to travel.

15. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)

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    Age: 19 (Birth Date: February 5, 1995)

    Position: Winger

    In Sir Alex Ferguson's 4-4-2, finding Adnan Januzaj a position would be simple, but Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 deems attacking wingers virtually obsolete, wing-backs do the heavy lifting in wide areas. Januzaj is young enough to learn the role, but it seems a waste.

    Add the arrival of £60 million man Angel Di Maria and the teenager's place looks further subjugated.

    Were Januzaj to play three consecutive years in a system compatible with his talents—despite being handed Ryan Giggs' No. 11 shirt—Manchester United could have their next David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo; under Van Gaal, though, his future looks uncertain in a 3-5-2.

    In for a penny: United's best piece of play this season came when, vs. Swansea City, Van Gaal changed to a 4-2-3-1 in the second half, playing Januzaj and Nani wide with Wayne Rooney as the lone striker.

14. Andre Schurrle (Chelsea)

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    Age: 23 (Birth Date: November 6, 1990)

    Position(s): Winger / Centre-forward

    Barring Samuel Eto'o and Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle was Chelsea's highest Premier League goalscorer in 2013-14, netting eight goals in 30 appearances (15 of which came off the bench), certainly acquitting himself well during his introductory season to English football.

    After a trophyless season at Stamford Bridge, Schurrle was included in Germany's 2014 World Cup 23-man roster, producing three goals and the cup-winning assist to Mario Gotze in the final.

    A World Cup winners medal has done Schurrle wonders, as the German looks to have taken a more prominent role this year in west London—starting two of the Blues' first three matches, scoring once.

    Should Chelsea retain their current position atop the Premier League, come season's end—with sprinkled cup success—Schurrle may be enjoying the best year of any footballer on the planet.

13. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)

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    Age: 22 (Birth Date: February 14, 1992)

    Position: Central Attacking Midfielder

    Some have lamented Andre Villas-Boas' signings of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue last summer, but—regardless of presiding manager—the addition of Christian Eriksen has been a resounding success at White Hart Lane.

    Tottenham Hotspur's "Player of the Year" in 2013-14, with seven goals and eight assists in his first Premier League campaign, the Danish midfielder is carving out a reputation in north London.

    What sets Eriksen apart from most is dead-ball proficiency. There is little more frustrating in football than watching corner-after-corner and free-kick-after-free-kick meet the head of the first defender. When Eriksen is on the pitch, rarely do Tottenham supporters bemoan set piece delivery.

    Beyond dead ball situations, Spurs have a young, blooming world-class "No. 10" with great vision and wonderful technical ability.

12. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

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    Age: 25 (Birth Date: August 28, 1989)

    Position(s): Right-back / Left-back

    [Cesar] Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot.

    I think a team with 11 Azpilicueta's probably could win the [Champions League] because football is not just about pure talent; football is also about character and personality, and Azpilicueta has all the traces of that winning personality.

    Jose Mourinho, talking with Chelsea sponsor Adidas, unveiled high praise for his Spanish full-back. Possibly even more exalting is who Azpilicueta has ousted from Chelsea's starting XI.

    Arguably the Premier League era's best left-back, Ashley Cole, was replaced by the natural right-back. Following Filipe Luis' summer arrival, many thought Mourinho would drop Branislav Ivanovic and the Brazilian would play left-back.

    A testament to Ivanovic keeping his place, sure, but Azpilicueta warding off competition from the best complete left-back in world football last season is nothing of which to thumb your nose.

11. Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

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    Age: 21 (Birth Date: May 13, 1993)

    Position: Centre-forward

    Nevermind international team-mate Christian Benteke having a better EPL-scoring ratio, nevermind Divock Origi starting more games for Belgium at the World Cup, Romelu Lukaku has the makings of a brilliant Premier League striker.

    Roberto Martinez would be inclined to agree, saying on 29 August he: "...would have paid £100m for Lukaku. If I had the money, why not? The figure is insignificant. It is about the character and type of player you want in the group," as noted by the Daily Mail's Dominic King.

    The "type of player" Everton acquired for £28 million owns serviceable pace, a powerful Premier League frame and—most importantly—an unsympathetic left boot.

    Now free of the "on loan from Chelsea" preceding his name, Lukaku's task is forging an identity independent of his former employers.

10. Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)

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    Age: 23 (Birth Date: December 3, 1990)

    Position: Centre-forward

    Would Christian Benteke's attributes function as well in Italy or Spain? Who is to know, but insofar as the English Premier League, the clinical 6'3" centre-forward is goal dust—especially for an Aston Villa side in dire need of production.

    Benteke—despite injuries—has scored 33 percent of the Villains' EPL goals (29 of 89) since his 2012 arrival from KRC Genk. By comparison, Robin van Persie has scored 25 percent of Manchester United's EPL goals (38 of 152) during the same time span.

    Sidelined by a ruptured Achilles, how the Belgian powerhouse returns from one of sports worst injuries should be discovered sooner rather than later. On 28 August, manager Paul Lambert told the press, via AVFC.co.uk: "[Benteke is] looking fantastic. He's desperate to get back."

    Currently third in the table, Lambert's returning talisman is sure to breed smiles Villa Park way.

9. Ross Barkley (Everton)

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    Age: 20 (Birth Date: December 5, 1993)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    Eligible to play internationally for Nigeria, due to his paternal lineage, the Super Eagles rather fluffed their lines in not convincing Ross Barkley to don their green kit.

    Now securely an English international, the retirements of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard should see Barkley bossing the Three Lions' midfield for the next decade-plus.

    Where Barkley will be playing his club football, though, seems contentious.

    Everton were able to keep their fledgling superstar this summer—handing him a new contract—but the higher his game elevates, so will exorbitant transfer fees offered from perennial top-five sides.

    Still recuperating from knee-ligament damage, Barkley is not expected to return to Goodison Park until October; Roberto Martinez must be cognisant of the midfielder's marauding style after injury. "The better part of valour, is discretion" once penned William Shakespeare.

8. Mario Balotelli (Liverpool)

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    Age: 24 (Birth Date: August 12, 1990)

    Position: Centre-forward

    Invariably controversial, incessantly problematic, tremendously gifted: Mario Balotelli in six words.

    Liverpool may have the transfer of the decade on their hands should Brendan Rodgers get the cut-rate £16 million Italian onside. By the same token, the Northern Irishman may have scuttled his project should Balotelli continue his behaviourally-spasmodic trend.

    Why the risk? Super Mario's potential.

    Playing his first Serie A match at 17, the striker has 66 goals in 159 domestic league appearances; but entering his prime—and yet to score 20 goals in a season—Anfield may be Balotelli's last opportunity to fulfil the bags of talent many believe he possesses.

    Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho, among others, have attempted to tame the eccentric forward; how Rodgers' touch fares post-honeymoon we have yet to see—but we shall be watching.

7. Oscar (Chelsea)

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    Age: 22 (Birth Date: September 9, 1991)

    Position: Central Attacking Midfielder

    Playing in the 2012 Olympics, Chelsea's marathon 2012-13 campaign, the 2013 Confederations Cup, Chelsea's 2013-14 season and the 2014 World Cup, there has been little time for Oscar to recuperate since his Stamford Bridge arrival.

    One problem, however: Oscar is a terrific footballer, so dropping him from any XI is difficult. Able to shoot, dribble, pass and tackle, the midfielder is an all-round talent, but "burnout" may be a noteworthy concept in this case.

    Jose Mourinho rested Oscar in three of Chelsea's final six matches in 2013-14, and left the Brazilian out of his squad during the magnificent 6-3 goalfest at Goodison Park on August 30.

    Should Selecao be reading the same book as Mourinho, Oscar receiving a much-deserved rest could be vital in prolonging what looks to be a promising career.

6. Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

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    Age: 19 (Birth Date: December 8, 1994)

    Position(s): Central Attacking Midfielder / Winger

    Raheem Sterling was on Brendan Rodgers' bench through Liverpool's first dozen league matches in 2013-14; since 23 November, however, the English international is yet to miss a start.

    Adding six assists to 11 goals since his inclusion, Sterling has taken his opportunity by the proverbial neck.

    Even with the rapid teenager being Liverpool's second-youngest ever goalscorer, his shooting boots can appear lost on occasion; but at 19 years old, with the backing of his manager—and playing regularly—one should expect his goal ratio to increase by bounds.

    Interesting to think Sterling cost the Reds an initial £500,000 fee, per the Daily Mail's Daniel King, from Queens Park Rangers in 2011, and TransferMarkt now appraises the Jamaican-born Englishman at £17.6 million.

5. David de Gea (Manchester United)

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    Age: 23 (Birth Date: November 7, 1990)

    Position: Goalkeeper

    "Anders Lindegaard or David de Gea?"

    The question seems ages ago.

    De Gea—the Premier League's most expensive goalkeeper at £18.9 million, per BBC Sport—was handed the No. 1 shirt by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011-12 and has yet to render the Scottish legend's decision lamentable.

    Playing with a transitional Manchester United side in 2013-14, the Spanish shot stopper aided in keeping 12 clean sheets from 37 Premier League starts—making at least four saves on seven different match days.

    United are synonymous with excellent "No. 1s" and De Gea looks to fit the mould, but still getting acclimated to Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2, the Red Devils may require their promising goalkeeper to work even harder.

4. Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)

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    Age: 25 (Birth Date: September 1, 1989)

    Position: Centre-forward

    How Daniel Sturridge was able to evade the "No. 9" position with both Manchester City and Chelsea is rather baffling.

    In Manchester he was raw and needed seasoning, but the talent was apparent enough for Chelsea to come knocking. Behind the likes of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres, the wing was given to Sturridge by Carlo Ancelotti, Andre-Villas Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez, which left the adrift forward seeking a new home.

    Brendan Rodgers and £12 million later—what a striker exists: Scoring 32 EPL goals in 46 appearances, the England international has taken to Anfield like a fish in water.

    With 58 top-flight goals already to his name, one wonders how many Sturridge will finish his career having netted? There is a possible decade left to navigate.

3. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

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    Age: 23 (Birth Date: December 26, 1990)

    Position: Central Midfielder

    Since the start of the 2013-14 season Aaron Ramsey has played 25 league games for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal and scored 12 goals—a great ratio for a striker and distinctly world-class for a central midfielder.

    With all his goalscoring, what often goes unnoticed is the Welshman's defensive contribution. Despite missing 15 games last year, Ramsey completed 65 tackles, level with Chelsea hardman Ramires who missed eight games.

    How often is the best British player born outside England?

    More often than one might assume: There are George Best, Kenny Dalglish and Gareth Bale for examples.

    Should Ramsey's curve continue trending upwards, the Welsh midfielder could soon find himself in rarefied air—it would seem fitness, not ability, will determine which sphere he reaches.

2. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)

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    Age: 22 (Birth Date: May 11, 1992)

    Position: Goalkeeper

    Chelsea bought Thibaut Courtois from KRC Genk for £7 million in 2011, loaned him to Atletico Madrid for three seasons and over those 36 months, Courtois blossomed into the world's best goalkeeper—not named Manuel Neuer.

    Proof transfer fees mean virtually nothing in terms of forecasting one's development.

    Returning to his parent club this summer, the young shot stopper was pitted against 2013-14 PFA Team of the Year goalkeeper Petr Cech and was appointed Chelsea's "No. 1" to begin the 2014-15 campaign.

    No doubt Jose Mourinho saw what many in Madrid and across the world did—a tall, decisive and commanding presence with bounds of potential who deserved an opportunity to prove himself in a Chelsea shirt.

1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

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    Age: 23 (Birth Date: January 7, 1991)

    Position(s): Winger / Central Attacking Midfielder

    Chelsea's young nucleus is spearheaded by attacking wunderkind Eden Hazard.

    Blessed with pace, balance, control and the ability to ghost past defenders, Hazard's position atop this ranking was almost a formality. That said, Jose Mourinho, will expect his pupil to shed the "next big thing" label by producing more on the pitch.

    The 23-year-old winger has lived largely on potential during his west London career—scoring 31 goals in 112 Chelsea appearances. If Hazard is to receive the mantle from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, his goalscoring ratio must improve.

    Mourinho, however, would have to oblige by playing more open football; the Belgian just may get his chance at world domination should 6-3 at Goodison Park be any indication.

Comments Section: Who Ya Got? // The Honourable Mention Starting XI

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    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wojciech Szczesny are wondering, "who they got?"
    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wojciech Szczesny are wondering, "who they got?"Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    As stated in the methodology slide, positional rankings were a factor in determining the final order.

    For example, in the centre-forward category, Danny Welbeck was the fifth-best option behind the four listed and Wojciech Szczesny the third-best goalkeeping option behind the two listed—hence the English and Polish internationals feature in our commiserative starting XI.

    The U25 Honourable Mention Starting XI #EPL #PremeirLeague pic.twitter.com/OszyUgiEei

    — EPL Predictions (@EPLPredictions_) September 3, 2014

    In any event, there are sure to be differences of opinion depending on one's loyalties and/or personal preferences.

     

    Three Talking Points

    Who was overrated or underrated?

    Who was left off who should have been included?

    Who are your top five under-25 players in the Premiership?

     

    Also—shameless plug—stay on the lookout for B/R's match-weekly Premier League preview and prediction series.

     

    *All statistics, with no in-text citation, were provided by Squawka or WhoScored.

     

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