With the season moving into its final stretch, we profile the best under-21 players in the Premier League this season.
5. Adnan Januzaj
In a season filled with gloom for Manchester United, Adnan Januzaj has been the one bright spark. The 19 year old has established himself as one the Premier League’s finest young talents with his performances for David Moyes’ side. Januzaj has earned the trust of Moyes and has looked at home in a United shirt this season. For a player in his first season, Januzaj has been fearless and his teammates have recognised this by not being afraid to give him the ball in advanced areas. He has contributed two assists and managed three goals this season, including two on his full debut against Sunderland. He showed his capacity to be a match-winner that day, and going forward he will be a large part of United’s team as they attempt to rebuild.
4. Luke Shaw
Luke Shaw’s performances have seen him earn his first senior England call-up in recent weeks. Not only that, but his performances have also brought about talk of him replacing Ashley Cole on the plane to Brazil, a feat that would have been unthinkable at the start of the season. Shaw is a player who shows qualities well beyond his years. The left back shows excellent composure on the ball, is good defensively and is extremely dangerous going forward. The modern full back needs to be able to contribute going forward, and Shaw offers pace and directness going into the final third. Defensively, he has a tackle success rate of 84.31% which is an excellent success rate. With a good balance of defensive and attacking qualities, Shaw is due to continue the improvement he has shown in the last 18 months. In the future Shaw could be comfortable in a more advanced position, such is the quality that he possesses. Southampton may have some trouble holding on to him in the future.
3. Ross Barkley
After a blistering start to the season Ross Barkley’s performances have slowed down of late. Despite this, when he has been good, he has been extremely good for the Toffees this season. Barkley is unique in that he is 6 ft 2, but has the poise and balance to run at players with ease. Being tall but also technically gifted means that Barkley is adept at playing with his back to goal as well as turning and running at pace. These are attributes that are rare to find and at only 20 years of age, Barkley should have an extremely bright future. Barkley has only managed three goals this season and is yet to contribute an assist, but his performances have been highly impressive. These are attributes that he can add to his game in the coming years and if he does so, he will become an exceptional player for any team to possess.
As the season has gone on, Raheem Sterling has established himself as a first team regular in the Liverpool side. After a good start to last season, Sterling came off the boil towards the end of the campaign and found his opportunities limited. This season he has grown in both confidence and in stature, which has helped his game twofold. The winger has now played himself back into contention for a place at the World Cup with England. Sterling has managed six goals so far this campaign, trebling his total of two from last season. He has also contributed three assists, one more than the two he had last term. It is not just his goals and assists that have been good, but his all round play for the Reds. Sterling has improved his game offensively and defensively, even being moved to right back in some games. That is the confidence that Brendan Rodgers now has in Sterling and if he continues he will become a real asset for both club and country.
1. Romelu Lukaku
It is still hard to believe that he is only 20 years old. Romelu Lukaku has a stature and playing style well above his age and he has performed well on loan at Everton this season. The Belgian international has managed 10 goals in 19 appearances, a fantastic return for such a young prospect. He averages a goal every 167 minutes this season, which is slightly lower that his average of a goal every 118 minutes last season. Despite this, he has given a good account of himself during his second loan in two seasons. When he has been fit, he has been a very important cog to Everton. Without the addition of Lukaku, Everton would be without a strong focal point, who not only holds it up, but scores goals. Blessed with strength, pace and good technique, Lukaku is perfectly suited to the English game and would thrive in most teams. With his Chelsea future reportedly in doubt, there will be a number of Premier League suitors interested if he becomes available.
Special mentions to: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal, who has been fantastic since returning from injury in January. Ben Davies of Swansea, who has been in great form all season, establishing himself ahead of Neil Taylor. John Flanagan of Liverpool who has put in some good performances since establishing himself in the team.