EPL Predictions: Top 10 Candidates for PFA Young Player of the Year
There may have only been seven matches played in the 2011/12 English Premier League season—six in Everton's and Tottenham's case—but it has none the less been an electrifying and enthralling start to the campaign, as world football's most watched and highest regarded league continues to uphold their impeccable standards.
Despite the minuscule amount of matches played, 173 goals have been scored and high quality encounters have been produced. The standard of players currently in the Premier League is at an incredible high and it is clear that this will be a standout season.
Furthermore, one can envision milestones and records being broken and set, but not just at a team level. Individually, the class some players are exhibiting is phenomenal, and it exposes the question of not only what team will be crowned Premier League champions but also who will grace the individual end-of-season honours.
There is an array of players who will produce worthy calls for the PFA Player of the Year, but one award that often arises much attention is the PFA Young Player of the Year.
Players under the age of 23 are eligible to achieve the prestigious award, and past winners justify what is required to secure the accolade. Ryan Giggs, Robbie Fowler, Andy Gray, Tony Adams, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas have all won the award since it began in the 1973-1974 season.
But just who might win it this season?
There are so many talented and inform young players in the English Premier League at the moment, and Bleacher Report establishes the top 10 candidates for the PFA Young Player of the Year.
10. Micah Richards, Manchester City
It is surprising to realise that Micah Richards is actually still eligible to win the PFA Young Player of the Year. After all, the English defender made his debut for Manchester City as a 17-year-old in 2005 and has since gone on to amass 188 appearances for the Sky Blues.
With Roberto Mancini's side thriving through their large influx of high quality players, City are the form team of the Premier League and are serious contenders to secure the crown. Richards is set to play an integral role in the Eastland giants' push for Premier League glory, and his defensive efforts have been impressive in the early stages of the campaign.
The 23-year-old has always been highly regarded by City and England but has always appeared to lack that genuine consistency. However, with experience and maturity now a huge part of Richards' game, the England international will be highly considered for the PFA Young Player of the Year should his form continue.
9. Jack Rodwell, Everton
The 20-year-old has long been touted as the next star of English football, having made his debut as a 16-year-old in 2008 for Everton. The likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have always maintained a huge interest in the Englishman who has become an pivotal part of the Toffees' lineup.
A strong, composed presence who is equally powerful in the midfield or defensive line, Rodwell has amassed 97 appearances for David Moyes's side and is expected to have his best season yet in English football.
8. David "Junior" Hoilett, Blackburn Rovers
The Canadian-born forward has emerged as one of the most dangerous and skillful young players in the Premier League after developing rapidly at Blackburn Rovers. A graduate of Rovers' academy, the 21-year-old is a devastatingly fast and balanced attacker who has impressed in recent seasons.
Hoilett has gained sufficient experience in English football, having secured 59 appearances and seven goals for Steve Kean's side. With the Blackburn attack in need of a defiant striker, the young dynamo is expected to rise up and deliver as the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton all show a genuine interest in him.
7. Fabian Delph, Aston Villa
Aston Villa endured a large refurbishment during the recent summer, with Alex McLiesh arriving and key midfielders Ashley Young and Stewart Downing both departing for large fees. However, the impressive array of young players was maintained at Villa Park holding the Villians in promising stead for 2011/12.
One young gun in particular is midfielder Fabian Delph. The Englishman had thrived with Leeds United, having made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2007, and in the 2008/09 made the PFA League One Team of the Year, achieved the Leeds United Player of the Year and the Football League Young Player of the Year.
Despite interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton, Delph signed with Villa in the Summer of 2009 but has since been burdened by injuries. However, fully fit, the England U-21 star has impressed in Alex McLiesh's side's opening matches and is set to play a vital role in Aston Villa's campaign.
6. Mario Balotelli, Manchester City
The arrogant yet hugely talented 21-year-old striker finally looks settled at Manchester City, after an inconsistent debut season with the Sky Blues that consisted of 28 appearances and 10 goals. A refreshed and matured Balotelli has performed strongly so far in 2011/12, with three goals in five appearances, and is set to finally enhance the lacking consistency and efficiency in his game.
The Italian, who shone with Inter Milan while producing 28 goals in three seasons and winning the UEFA Champions League and Serie A alongside the Golden Boy Award, is touted as a favourite for the Premier League Top Scorers. Keep an eye on Super Mario in 2011/12.
5. Phil Jones, Manchester United
The Englishman made his debut as a 17-year-old for Blackburn Rovers in 2009 and has since developed to become one of the best defenders in England. Jones has become a star at Manchester United following his summer move to Old Trafford for £16.5 million and was recently rewarded with an England cap.
Furthermore, the defender is just 19, yet he exhibits phenomenal leadership and maturity on the field alongside an impressive attacking mentality. Sir Alex Ferguson expects the Englishman to only improve, and with United in fantastic form with Jones playing a vital role, expect the teenager to secure an end-of-season honour.
4. Sergio "Kun" Aguero, Manchester City
The Argentine striker looks set for the buy of the season following his amazing adaption to the tough, tenacious English Premier League. A £35 million move from Atletico Madrid, where the 23-year-old was considered one of the best strikers in the Spanish La Liga, was always going to catch attention but Augero's form has been superb.
The Argentina international has eight goals in seven appearances for City, including a hat trick against Wigan Athletic alongside scoring within minutes of his debut. Many believed Aguero would struggle with the physicality of English football and that has proved to be a myth, ensuring the striker should have no such struggle securing end-of-season accolades.
3. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea
The 22-year-old has long been touted as one of the next best strikers in England, but in recent years he has struggled for opportunities at both Manchester City and Chelsea. However, following a hugely successful loan spell with Bolton last season, where the Englishman managed eight goals in 12 appearances, Sturridge has emerged as a renewed, efficient striker.
Enjoying more first team action under new Chelsea manager Andres Villas-Boas, the England U-21 star has looked confident and dangerous in attack, boasting five matches and three goals with an assist. Expected to enjoy a breakthrough season in 2011/12, many expect Sturridge to make his England debut and possibly achieve more.
2. Chris Smalling, Manchester United
The Englishman had only played a handful of matches for Fulham prior to his move to Manchester United last summer, before a stellar debut season of 33 matches as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's men who won the Premier League crown firmly established the 21-year-old.
A tough, imposing defender, Smalling has excelled at Old Trafford, emerging as one of the most composed and efficient defenders in the league. Recently rewarded with an England debut, the youngster is set to become one of the best defenders in world football.
Keep a close eye on Chris Smalling.
1. Theo Walcott, Arsenal
Injuries have severely hampered the talented winger, but 2011/12 sees Theo Walcott with added responsibility and leadership at Arsenal after the Gunners endured a tough Summer and their attacking options limited.
The 22-year-old is well established in English football having made his debut for Southampton as a 16-year-old in 2005 and amassing over 180 appearances for the Gunners. Last season, Walcott managed 13 goals, and this season the England international appears even more clinical with three goals in his opening nine matches.
As Arsenal desperately seek a consistent goal scorer, Walcott is expected to enjoy his best season yet in the English Premier League.