We continue with our 2013-14 Premier League review, this time focusing on the top five young players who broke through this season.
When we say young, we mean young. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard may have won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but at 23, having played regularly for two seasons at Chelsea prior to which he played for Lille in Ligue 1 and the Champions League, he cannot really be called that young. We have, therefore, picked players in our list who are not over 20 years in age and tried to rank them according to their contributions to the first team and their estimated future potential.
5. Gerard Deulofeu (Everton)
Pass %: 78.5
Key Passes per game: 0.4
A product of La Masia, the famed Barcelona academy, Deulofeu was Barcelona B’s stand-out player last season. Deulofeu represented Spain in the under-20 World Cup last year and the Catalan club obviously felt their prodigy could benefit with a season on loan before they involve him in first team activities at Barcelona. Enter Roberto Martinez, who signed him for a season at Everton, a transfer that excited many who had heard of Deulofeu’s talents. And the Spaniard didn’t disappoint.
Martinez eased him into the team, not giving him a start before November end against Stoke City, perhaps to get him acclimatized to the new surroundings. Little did he know that Deulofeu didn’t need much time to get used to Merseyside, getting a goal and an assist in a man of the match performance at home to the Potters. This was followed up by a goal against Arsenal in December at the Emirates and another against Cardiff in March, and two assists in the win against Newcastle at the SportsDirect Arena.
Deulofeu is a talented dribbler who likes to get past defenders and get to the by-line. Roberto Martinez would certainly have liked to extend the youngster stay at the Goodison Park, but for now it looks like he’s headed back to the Nou Camp. Whether new Barca boss Luis Enrique wants to send him out on loan for another season remains to be seen. The Toffees would welcome him back with open arms.
4. Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Position: Left Back
Tackles per game: 2.1
Clearances per game: 3.5
Interceptions per game: 1.1
At 18, the Saints left back is the youngest on our list. His potential was there for all to see when Southampton won promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13, but last season is when he finally came of age, playing 35 games for the Saints, earning accolades and interested glances from big clubs.
Shaw is an attack-minded left back who gallops down the channel a la Gareth Bale of young. Like Bale, he possesses speed, dribbling ability and courage to get into attacking positions. It’s no surprise that England manager Roy Hodgson considers him experienced enough to play at the World Cup as Leighton Baines’s under-study.
Shaw has also shown maturity beyond his years in his play. Even at the age of 18, Shaw has only been booked once this season, an indication of his great composure and defending technique. One can see why big clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea are after the youngster’s signature. Shaw himself might want to make the switch from Southampton to one of the bigger clubs around to gain more experience in bigger competitions.
3. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Position: Attacking Midfielder/Winger
Dribbles per game: 1.9
Key Passes per game: 1.1
Januzaj looks like an average thin boy next door, but there is nothing average about the Belgian’s ability to terrorize opposition defenders. The Manchester United youngster has pace and dribbling ability in his locker, along with brilliant close control of the ball. Januzaj’s transformation this season is perhaps the only silver lining under the dark cloud of the David Moyes era at United.
Such has been the teenager’s rise to prominence within a year that United, desperate to hang on to this marvelous talent, increased his wages from £1,000 a week to £30,000, prompting his agent to declare that his client right now earns, through wages and advertising rights, more than what Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned when they were 19. Januzaj scored four times this season, announcing himself to the world with a brace on his first start for United against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, earning his side a 2-1 win. Since then Januzaj has become a frequent feature in the United line-up, exciting the fans with his change of pace, long strides and the ability to leave defenders for dead.
Courted initially by many countries – he was born in Belgium, has Albanian heritage, Turkish grandparents, Serbian parents and could gain English citizenship, Januzaj was flooded with offers to choose the country he would represent on the international stage. He finally chose Belgium, the country of his birth and has been included in Marc Wilmots’s 24-man preliminary squad. With a season like the one he just had, it’s not much of a shocker.
2. Ross Barkley (Everton)
Position: Centre Midfielder
Shots per game: 2.3
Dribbles per game: 2.4
Key Passes per game: 0.8
The second Evertonian in this list, Barkley has come by leaps and bounds this season. English fans look at him as the new Wayne Rooney, who had a similar beginning at Goodison Park as a youngster. And these Everton boys love scoring spectacular goals against the big teams. Rooney got one against Arsenal as a 16 year old and Barkley got a similar goal against now-Premier League champions Manchester City.
Barkley is a phenomenal presence for Everton in the middle of the park. Much credit for his development must go to David Moyes, but it was Roberto Martinez who finally oversaw the player coming of age. Perhaps it was the awareness that Barkley was in line for a good season for the Toffees that led Martinez to part with Marouane Fellaini, even as he beat off United interest for Leighton Baines. His faith stemmed from Barkley’s first game of the season against Norwich when he got a goal.
Barkley’s goal threat is evident from his impressive 2.3 shots per game and 2.4 dribbles per game. Another one of young talents Roy Hodgson has put England’s World Cup hopes on, Barkley will be looking to influence England’s campaign off the bench in Brazil. Barkley is an adept free kick taker as well as a long distance striker of the ball.
1. Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Position: Attacking Midfielder/Winger
Dribbles per game: 2.8
Key passes per game: 1.8
No young player has surprised more than Raheem Sterling this season. This is not to say that people were unaware of his ability, for Sterling had shown glimpses of them in Liverpool’s 2012-13 campaign. However after Coutinho’s entry into the first team in January 2013 and Victor Moses in the summer, Sterling was reduced to playing as a reserve, starting only one game before December.
Roy Hodgson, when he unveiled his England squad for the World Cup, admitted that had he named the squad in December, Sterling wouldn’t have even been considered. But such has been the turn of events since then for the 19 year old, that he has forced his way not only into Brendan Rodger’s Liverpool starting eleven, but also onto the plane to Brazil.
Sterling gave an excellent return of 9 goals and 5 assists, all in the second half of the Premier League campaign. He played an impressive 1.8 key passes every game and made 2.8 dribbles per game. Still far from the finished product, Sterling will be looking to improve his game as Liverpool look to bury the disappointment of watching the title slip out of their hands and try afresh to win their first Premier League title next season.
stats courtesy: whoscored.com