Football fans at every level are always on the lookout for the next young talent ready to break into the first-team from the junior ranks. And with Premier League clubs increasingly looking to develop and polish their own talent than rely on expensive transfers, the likelihood of seeing more and more youngster blooded in England is only gong to increase.
This month alone, coronavirus outbreaks at a number of clubs has forced managers to turn to young players to plug gaps and even make a name for themselves. That was indeed the case when Aston Villa sent out an academy team to face Liverpool in the FA Cup third round.
Here’s a look at the top Under-23 talent at every Premier League club…
Arsenal hope that Folarin Balogun becomes the next home-grown player to make the permanent step up to the first-team, but only if they can agree a new contract with him.
The 19-year-old striker is out of contract at the end of the season and manager Mikel Arteta has said the club wants to keep him and the player wants to stay. The problem, however, appears to stem from negotiations with an agent.
Louie Barry is the most promising youngster Aston Villa have on their hands, having marked his senior debut with a goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup.
Born in nearby Sutton Coalfield, Barry has been a lifelong Villa fan. But he actually started his football career in the academy ranks at midlands rivals West Brom, before spending half of the 2019/20 season at Barcelona’s famed La Masia.
Brighton have sent a handful of promising youngsters on loan this season, including Taylor Richards who cost an estimated £2.5m from Manchester City. Yet Max Sanders has stayed with the Seagulls and has been reaping the rewards.
A central midfielder, Sanders has been splitting his time between the Under-23 squad and the first-team and played in three rounds of the Carabao Cup in the autumn.
Burnley are hoping for another Dwight McNeil to rise out of their academy ranks and the Clarets may have found that in 17-year-old attacker Lewis Richardson.
Richardson was 16 when he scored on his Under-23 debut and has already been invited to join first-team training this season. He was also named on the bench by manager Sean Dyche for a Premier League game against Chelsea in October.
Tino Anjorin is already on the fringes of the Chelsea first-team squad, having made two first-team appearances last season and making his full debut in the Champions League against Krasnodar earlier this season.
Chelsea dominated youth football in England in the 2010s, but now the fruits of their prolific academy are starting to get proper first-team chances.
In consecutive years, Malachi Boateng has been named Crystal Palace Under-18 and Under-23 player of the season, underlining his potential as a star of the future at Selhurst Park.
Palace have a reputation for developing top players, from Wilfried Zaha, to Nathaniel Clyne and Aaron Wan-Bisska. It is hoped that Boateng, an 18-year-old centre-back, could be next.
Having previously been at Manchester City, striker Ellis Simms is one of the leading marksmen in Premier League 2 this season, with eight goals in 11 appearances at the time of writing.
Simms, who recently turned 20, was named on the first-team bench by Carlo Ancelotti for a Premier League fixture against Newcastle earlier this season and Everton fans will be hoping for the club’s academy to produce again.
Playing primarily as a winger or attacking midfielder, Fabio Carvalho has seven goals and four assists to show for seven appearances in Premier League 2 so far this season. He got five goals in ten PL2 appearances last season as well, not turning 18 until August.
Carvalho, who was born in Portugal but represents England at youth international level, was on the first-team bench for a Carabao Cup game earlier this season.
Oliver Casey has split his time between Under-23 level and the Leeds first-team this season and is clearly well liked by head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
The 20-year-old has made nine appearances in Premier League 2 in 2020/21, but has also been named on the bench seven times in the Premier League as well. He can play as a centre-back or defensive midfielder and made his senior debut in the Championship last season.
Leicester picked up right-back Vontae Daley-Campbell when he was released by Arsenal in 2019, eventually calling up the teenage defender to train with the first-team during ‘Project Restart’.
Daley Campbell has played fairly regularly at Under-23 level this season, as well as against senior EFL clubs in the EFL Trophy. His opportunity to break into the first-team is still there while Ricardo Pereira completes his long journey back to full fitness.
19-year-old attacking midfielder Jake Cain has made his mark for Liverpool’s Under-23 side in the first half of the 2020/21 season, with seven goals and assists in eight Premier League 2 games.
Cain has also spent plenty of time in and around the first-team squad this season. He is yet to make his debut but was on the bench for each Champions League group stage game, as well as getting selected for a Premier League squad against Fulham in December.
The son of ex-Stoke long throw-in specialist Rory, Liam Delap has scored almost a goal per game for Manchester City in Premier League 2 this season. The only reason he has missed Under-23 games is because he has already spent time with the first-team squad.
17-year-old Delap even scored on his senior City debut in the Carabao Cup and netted for the junior side in the EFL Trophy against senior Mansfield and Tranmere teams.
Manchester United have a number of talented players in the junior ranks, including centre-back Teden Mengi, winger Anthony Elanga and midfielder Arnau Puigmal. But ‘number 10’ Hannibal Mejbri is perhaps the most highly rated of the lot.
The Frenchman cost up to €10m to bring in from Monaco in January 2019 aged just 16. But his natural ability gives him incredible potential and he was training with the first-team as early as February 2020 when he had only recently turned 17.
Newcastle midfielder Elliot Anderson made the step up to Under-23 level last season, despite still being 17 at the time. But he quickly made an impact and has kept that up this season, which has even led to inclusion in some first-team squads.
Now 18, Anderson can occupy deep-lying and attacking midfield roles and has proven to be a goal threat from both positions.
16-year-old Antwoine Hackford actually bypassed Sheffield United’s Under-23 setup en-route to making his first-team debut recently. But by manager Chris Wilder’s own admission, the Under-23 squad isn’t up to scratch compared to the rest of the Premier League.
Wilder has explained that the Blades have effectively overachieved by being a Premier League club so soon after being in League One and recruited youngsters haven’t been prepared enough.
Having turned 19 on Christmas Day, Alexandre Jankewitz is Southampton’s reigning ‘Scholar of the Year’ after picking up the youth team at last season’s annual awards.
The Switzerland youth international is a versatile midfielder and has been playing regularly for the Saints’ Under-23 side in Premier League since he was 17. He was also on the first-team bench a handful of times during ‘Project Restart’ last summer.
Left-back Dennis Cirkin was a Tottenham talent identified early by manager Jose Mourinho when he arrived at the club in November 2019, namedropping the teenage defender in a press conference.
Mourinho said at that time that Cirkin has ‘a lot of quality’ and has since called on the player to join first-team training. He was also on the bench for Europa League group games against Royal Antwerp and Ludogorets Razgrad earlier this season.
West Brom picked up striker Cheikh Diaby in October 2019 a few months after his departure from French club Le Havre, renowned for developing players. But the coronavirus pandemic impacted his progression when the Baggies made the decision to send him home as lockdown approached.
The 20-year-old is now back up to speed following that substantial setback and scored in four consecutive Premier League 2 games in the run up to Christmas.
Ireland Under-21 midfielder Conor Coventry has been with West Ham’s academy since the age of 10 and has captained the club’s Under-23 side this season.
The youngster got a taste of senior football out on loan by spending last season with Lincoln in League One, while he was involved in the Carabao Cup and impressed in the EFL Trophy.
Canadian-born with additional Romanian citizenship, winger Theo Corbeanu is firmly knocking on the door of the Wolves first-team this season and has been on the bench for a run of five consecutive games in late December and early January.
The 18-year-old’s last game with Wolves’ Under-23 side yielded a brace in a 4-2 win over fierce local rivals West Brom and he looks more likely to stay with the first-team than return.