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EPL Young Bloods: The Top 16 U21 Players to Watch in 2011-12

Thomas AtzenhofferCorrespondent IIJuly 15, 2011

EPL Young Bloods: The Top 16 U21 Players to Watch in 2011-12

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    After a summer U21 European Championship that saw Spain reign supreme in yet another UEFA Competition, it brings to mind just what kind of U21 talent will be making their way up the ranks in the EPL this season.

    Some players look to make a loan switch within the league for increased playing time, while others will be expected to break into the first team. Several will already be expected to produce or face a lonely life back in the reserves or on the bench.

    Several U21 players have already made big money transfers within the league and they will be expected to start proving their worth to their new fans, and their new clubs.

    With no further delay, and here are the Top 16 EPL Young Bloods to watch out for this season.

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Ciaran Clark

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    Aston Villa and Irish International Ciaran Clark is poised for a breakout season under new manager Alex McLeish if he is utilized. Last season saw him make 21 total appearances and net four goals for the club as he proved a valuable candidate at the back.

    He is primarily a center half, but was used as a defensive midfielder and left back under Gerrard Houllier. Those two positions allowed him to break into the first team, and his versatility should make him a possible 30 appearance of more player for the coming season as he builds up his place on the squad.

Connor Wickham

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    Perhaps one of the most-hyped young players on the list, thanks to his recent transfer speculation between Liverpool and Sunderland that eventually saw the play make a move to the Stadium of Light is 18-year-old Connor Wickham.

    The former Ipswich Town striker took center stage for the tractor boys last season as he scored nine goals in 41 appearances for the club.

    The past season saw him rack up a land slide of awards and praise as he was named the 2011 Football League Player of the Year, 2011 Championship Apprentice of the Year, and was the Championship Player of the Month for February 2011.

    All in all he should make a decent number of appearances for Steve Bruce next season, and I could even see him partnering Asamoah Gyan for approximately a third to half of the campaign in the first team.

Steven Caulker

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    Tottenham Hotspur 19-year-old defender Steven Caulker will hope to have a strong season on-loan to Swansea City. He has already had two successful loan spells, the first during 2009-10 at Yeovil Town where he made 46 appearances. His second came last season when he made 30 appearances for Bristol City and scored two goals.

    He made his first team debut in a League Cup match this past season, and he will be getting his first true dose of a Premier League Campaign with Swansea his year. The loan is initially for the first half of the season with an option to renew in January. The performance of the player in this loan spell could truly make or break his career in the beginning.

    If he is successful he will continue to be groomed by Tottenham, but if he is below par he could be offloaded by Harry Redknapp at some point to finance other talent.

John Flanagan

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    Liverpool's desperate times last season called for desperate measures. As their full back problem grew as injury picked them off one by one, Kenny Dalglish made the call to blood his youngsters.

    One of those was 18-year-old right back John Flanagan. After already putting his well founded faith in Martin Kelly, whom impressed on all levels, he once again had to look to youth. Flanagan made his first appearance against Manchester City in what became a 3-0 victory over the citizens and saw Andy Carroll score his first two goals for the club.

    Flanagan never looked back from that point and made another six strong appearances for the club during their run in. His success was rewarded with a new contract just last week.

    I expect him to possible stay with the team for the first half of the season if they fail to sign a left back, and then go on loan during the January window.

Danny Welbeck

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    Danny Welbeck is still yet to reach his potential. He could become a great striker in time if he could avoid injury trouble which again hampered him this past season while at loan to Sunderland.

    Despite the hold up, he still managed a total of 28 appearances for Steve Bruce and netted six goals in that time frame.

    He gained more valuable experience this season working alongside of both Darren Bent, and Asamoah Gyan. I expect him to possibly make another loan move this season as he is still only 20 years old and Sir Alex Ferguson will want him to get experience in a first team somewhere.

Daniel Pacheco

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    Spanish international Daniel Pacheco has been on the fringe of the first team for two seasons now, but this year could see him move a step closer to making more senior appearances for the Reds. He was a prized prospect under Rafael Benitez, and was look at as such under Kenny Dalglish and formerly Roy Hodgson.

    Seven appearances in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 proved he was consistently improving enough to merit playing time, but his late season six game loan to Norwich City could be a game changer for him.

    In his six games with the Canaries he scored two goals and helped them to gain promotion to the English Premier League from the Npower Championship.

    Another loan this season, his first opportunity was to Coventry but has been rejected with the Reds wanting him a little closer to home, is what I expect to see from Liverpool and the player himself, and I can see him continuing to build his stock as a Red.

Phil Jones

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    England U21 Phil Jones has already made a big move this summer as he was sold to Manchester United from Blackburn Rovers for £16 million.

    He broke into the Rovers first team last season making 28 appearances at the back, and looked like a key figure in their future until United came to call.

    Jones looks to be the future of the Manchester United along with fellow Englishman Chris Smalling. He was named the captain of the English U21 side for the teams final game in the 2011 U21 UEFA European Championships showing he is capable of being a leader from the back.

    I look for Jones to get the majority of his playing time in the FA and League cups this season.

Josh McEachran

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    Chelsea's 18-year-old Josh McEachran made his first team debut in September of 2010 against Manchester City. He then would go on to make his European debut in November against MŠK Žilina, and in doing so was the first player to play in the Champions League that was born during the time since its creation.

    Last season the young playmaker made 17 total appearances and impressed many despite not scoring or collecting an assist in his time on the pitch. Many have tipped him as the Blues version of Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, although when used it was primarily as a defensive midfielder and not an attacking one.

    He was awarded the 2011 Chelsea Young Player of the Year award and I expect for him to continue his growth via loan moves the next few seasons as he is given time to grow into his talents.

    It remains to be seen what his new manager, Andre Villas-Boas, thinks of him as a player. However, it appears that his new boss sees a bright future for him as ChelseaFC.com report that he has penned a new five-year deal with the club.

Jordan Henderson

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    Liverpool made Jordan Henderson their first signing of the 2011 summer transfer window when they inked a £20 million deal with Sunderland. The England U21 midfielder is expected to take a squad player role between the reserves and the first team as the current line up looks to have Raul Meireles, Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and now Charlie Adam ahead of him.

    Henderson spent the last two seasons as a squad regular in Steve Bruce's Sunderland side making 38 appearances in 2009-10 and 39 in 2010-11. He scored five goals for the Black Cats during that time, and his first team experience already gives him EPL exposure to a greater degree than many of the Liverpool players his age.

    Although Henderson is likely to take a reduction in appearances his first season at Liverpool, should they qualify for Europe next season he will most likely see a jump in playing time.

Aaron Ramsey

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    On May 1st, 2011 Aaron Ramsey scored a goal against Manchester United that nearly caused the Red Devils to falter and gift the Premier League to a charging Chelsea side. However, Sir Alex Ferguson would not let his ship sink.

    Two loan periods to Nottingham Forrest for five games and to Cardiff City for six games, where he scored a goal and delivered one assist, saw Ramsey return to the Gunners ready for action. As Wenger looked to continue the development of the player it may pay off more than recently this next season.

    With Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas both possibly moving on, the midfield roles could fall to Aaron Ramsey and his partner Jack Wilshire. His last full season at Arsenal in 2009-10 saw him make 29 appearances for the Gunners, and I believe he could see that many or more this coming season if he is not sent back out on loan.

Federico Macheda

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    Roman born and SS Lazio trained striker Federico Macheda joined Manchester United in 2008. Macheda broke into the spotlight for the Red Devils in the dying months of the 2008-09 season when he made four appearances for Sir Alex Ferugson and netted two goals.

    Since then he made 10 appearances in 2009-10 scoring once, and then a further 12 appearances in 2010-11 scoring only once again. The last half of the 2010-11 season he was sent on loan to Sampdoria back in Italy for 14 matches, scoring only once again. However, his loan spell was rather damaging on his moral as Sampdoria fell victim to a shocking relegation.

    At only 19 years old he, like Danny Welbeck, is looked at as a future star at the front of United's attack. During the first leg of Manchester United's United States tour this summer he scored two goals in the opening match against the New England Revolution.

    I look to see Macheda go on loan again this season, but he prefers to remain at an English club to continue his development.

Marc Albrighton

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    Aston Villa's Marc Albrighton had his break out season last year at the Birmingham club. He made 37 total appearances scoring six goals and providing a further six assists.

    With the departure of Ashley Young to Manchester United, and Stewart Downing currently finalising his move to Liverpool, the youngster will be expected to make a big step up under Alex McLeish.

    Rumor has it that Charles N'Zogbia could be drafted in to provide support from the opposite side to wherever Albrighton lines up for the Villains.

    I expect Albrighton to have another solid year at Villa and he could be the next bright star in their side.

Jack Rodwell

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    Everton's 20-year-old English defensive midfielder Jack Rodwell is on the verge of taking center stage in David Moyes' midfield for years to come. The last two seasons have seen him make 56 appearances and score five goals.

    He was the youngest ever player to participate in a European match for the Toffees at the time of his debut when he was just 16 years of age. Injury caused him to miss much of this past season at the beginning and the end, but he appears to be back to full strength after he still managed to make 20 appearances in 2010-11.

    His performance for the England U21's was enough to re-earn his spot in the team alongside future Merseyside Derby opponent Jordan Henderson.

    The coming season will once again give Rodwell the chance to stake his claim to a spot in the Everton midfield and he looks to be in line for another 30-plus appearance season if he stays healthy.

Martin Kelly

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    Liverpool's full back crisis last season led to two unexpected things. The emergence of Martin Kelly as a top class right back under Kenny Dalglish was one of them.

    The 21-year-old made 24 appearances for the Reds across all fronts, and his 11 league performances were outstanding. His unfortunate injury against West Ham prevented him from seeing out the season, but it allowed even more interesting developments for the Reds.

    He has already made his first appearance back on the pitch for Liverpool as they won their opening preseason friendly 4-3 while on the China visit period of their 2011 Asian Tour.

    Kelly is expected to battle it out with Glen Johnson for the right back position this season. Johnson has already signed a contract extension with the club over the summer, so it should be a healthy competition for years to come.

    The vacancy at the left back position could allow Kelly more playing time, as the Reds are yet to sign a new left back, and Fabio Aurelio is constantly injury prone. This season could see Johnson move back to the left side once again with Kelly on the right.

Daniel Sturridge

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    Without a doubt Chelsea's young Striker Daniel Sturridge has a great career ahead of him, and he could truly be the future of the Blues attack in several years if he has a manager in Andre Villas-Boas that will develop youth for the club and use them in the future.

    His loan switch to Bolton for the second part of last season showcased the talent that he was bought for when the Blues purchased him from Manchester City. In 12 League appearances for the Wanderers he scored eight goals tying club Captain Kevin Davis for second place on the teams overall score sheet.

    This season he has been tipped for a possible loan return to Bolton, but the managerial and regime change at Stamford Bridge seems to have been holding up any type of move. He has also seen interest from Stoke City for a possible permanent switch.

Jack Wilshere

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    Nothing was more apparent about young Jack Wilshere growth this season than him being awarded the 2011 PFA Young Player of the Year, and being a member of the 2011 PFA Team of the Year.

    After a 49 appearance season for Arsenal, 19-year-old midfielder Wilshere will be looking to build on his permanent place in the Gunners midfield. He came alive on the world stage during his 14 match loan spell at Bolton Wanderers at the end of the 2009-10 season and has seemingly never looked back.

    His campaign this year saw him earn a full season in the top of Arsene Wenger's midfield depth chart as his time saw him score two goals and assist in nine others during his excellent first full season with the first team.

    This coming season he will be expected to do as much or more than last year, and if Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas both get their want away wishes, then young Wilshere will be the main man in the middle.

    He has all the talent and potential in the world, and he looks to be the future of England's National team as well as the future midfield leader for Wenger.

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