With the 2020/21 Premier League season coming to an end, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three best young finds of the recently-concluded campaign.
The 2020/21 Premier League is behind us and with it, the most hectic and intense season of the English top-flight has finally come to an end. While the title race was essentially over well ahead of the May finale, the chase for two of the top four, as well as the other European qualification places went right down the wire.
At the other end of the table, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United went down to the Championship, mostly on a whimper, although Fulham did impress with their tenacity at times. Naturally, at the end, of the season, there is a lot of introspection to be done, as to which transfers ended up paying the most dividends and which failed spectacularly.
There have been a fair few value for money additions as well, while several clubs unearthed some young gems once again. In this feature, that is exactly what we are going to discuss, as we look to list the three best young finds to have emerged in the Premier League in the season gone by.
There is a caveat to our selection, though, as only those players who were 21 or younger at the time of the start of the season and played their first full season in senior English football have been up for selection. Therefore, the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka, Pedro Neto and Eberechi Eze miss out, although Eze does deserve a separate shout-out for just how well he fared for Crystal Palace in his first top-flight campaign. Nevertheless, we now take a look at our list.
Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal)
The first name on our list is that of a player who has been heralded by Arsenal fans for a couple of years now at the very least, but never quite got the opportunity to make an impression by featuring week in week out in the Premier League. That finally changed for Emile Smith Rowe this season.
The 2020/21 campaign did not start on the best possible note either for Smith Rowe, who hardly featured from the off in the Premier League until push came to shove. That all changed as we approached the turn of the year, with the young playmaker finally establishing a foothold in the first-team setup in December. This is when he turned his fortunes around superbly.
Such was Smith Rowe’s impact that he ended the campaign with the third-best xA in the Arsenal squad, with only Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney faring better. Smith Rowe also created 43 shot creating actions in the Premier League while also producing 0.44 goal creating actions per 90 minutes – the fourth-highest for Arsenal.
All of these in isolation does appear to be impressive, but Smith Rowe also chipped in with a few important goals, notably scoring in Arsenal’s wins over West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea in what was a superb run-in period for the Gunners. In turn, Smith Rowe has created a base for what is sure to become a top class Arsenal career, with the north Londoners being alleviated of the need to sign multiple creative midfielders this summer. A bright future beckons Smith Rowe.
Luke Thomas (Leicester City)
Up next on our list is a player who has made a name for himself for being a grafter, both in terms of his displays on the pitch as well as off the field, where he has had to work extremely hard to earn his place in Brendan Rodgers’ side, especially in the second half of the season.
When Ben Chilwell left Leicester City to join Chelsea last summer, the Foxes chose not to sign a natural left-back, with Timothy Castagne instead being signed from Atalanta. That meant that there was just one out-and-out left-back in the first-team squad, although Thomas had to wait for his opportunities, as Rodgers instead chose to deploy James Justin in a makeshift role.
The 23-year-old did impress before suffering a season-ending knee injury early into the second half of the season. This is when Thomas finally got rewarded with his chance and he then put in the hard yards to well and truly earn his place in the side. While not always easy on the eye, the 19-year-old does what is required of him.
This is best illustrated in the fact that he was successful with over 30 percent of his pressures in the defensive phases of the games, which is quite impressive. He also produced 2.59 blocks per game – only Wilfred Ndidi (2.73) and Ricardo Pereira (2.62) performed better among Leicester players. All in all, it was a fine start to his time as a regular for Leicester and he will now hope to feature even more regularly next term.
Tariq Lamptey (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Last but not the least is a player who might be a bit of a surprise pick. After all, Tariq Lamptey only managed to make 11 appearances for Brighton & Hove Albion before a long-term injury brought the 2020/21 campaign to a premature end for the former Chelsea defender.
However, in the short time he did spend on the pitch, Lamptey made such a widespread impression that he has since been heavily linked with a few big-name suitors. In particular, the ex-Chelsea prospect has captured the attention of Arsenal, while the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Bayern Munich have also been linked with the 20-year-old.
In his 11 Premier League outings, the 20-year-old managed an impressive tally of 1 goal and 3 assists. The right wing-back role indeed suits him perfectly, with Lamptey producing 2.44 shot creating actions per 90 in addition to 0.41 goal creating actions per 90 (only Percy Tau and Andi Zeqiri fared better).
However, that does not mean that Lamptey was not impressive off the ball, with the youngster also succeeding with a third of his pressures. And, his absence was dearly felt as the season wore on, even though Pascal Gross stepped up as a makeshift right wing-back. 2021/22 ought to be a big one for Lamptey, though, following a largely disappointing campaign this term.
Honourable Mention: Tyrick Mitchell
Tyrick Mitchell narrowly missed out on our list after what proved to be a memorable first full season with the Crystal Palace first-team for the youngster. And, with Patrick van Aanholt set to exit Selhurst Park as a free agent, the 21-year-old is staring at a bright future at a time when a new era is beckoning the Eagles.