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From Dele Alli to Leroy Sané, the Best Under-23 Premier League Xi

From Dele Alli to Leroy Sané, the Best Under-23 Premier League Xi

Friday, 28 December, 2018 - 07:45
West Ham’s Issa Diop, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Arijanet Muric of Manchester City, Everton’s Richarlison, James Maddison of Leicester and Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira. Photograph: Getty and Rex/Shutterstock
London - Paul Doyle
Aro Muric, Manchester City

Between the sticks is no place for the youngest men, at least not in the Premier League. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, is the youngest to have appeared in the top flight this season but he turned 24 in October. Premier League clubs have given emerging talents chances in the Carabao Cup. The 20-year-old Muric has shown during Manchester City’s run to the semi-finals that he is a fine deputy to Ederson. The 6ft 7in Kosovo international is agile, commanding and, as per Pep Guardiola’s demands of goalkeepers, has a good touch for a big man.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool

A teenager when the season began, the right-back continues to develop into an exceptionally accomplished player. Fast, clever and tenacious, he is progressive in possession and a superb striker of the ball, a fact he underlined by curling a wonderful free‑kick into the net at Watford in October a week after scoring his first goal for England. Has become much more consistent than last season, making very few mistakes as part of Liverpool’s mean defence.

Joe Gomez, Liverpool

Gomez has been so imperturbable alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defence that it is hard to believe he is a 21-year-old with a history of serious injuries and little top-flight experience as a centre‑back. Before being temporarily sidelined by a relatively minor ankle problem at the start of this month, he cruised through the season, snuffing out opposition attacks with precocious savviness and strength. He displays the same traits when carrying the ball forward. “He has a big future at Liverpool, no doubt about that,” said Jürgen Klopp after the defender was awarded a new six-year contract this month.

Issa Diop, West Ham

The Frenchman was made captain of Toulouse at the age of 20 and now, after joining West Ham for £22m in the summer, is demonstrating remarkable authority in the middle of a West Ham defence that has not looked so secure for a long time. “Congratulations to the scout who found Diop, a monster who dictated everything,” said José Mourinho when West Ham beat Manchester United 3-1 at the London Stadium in September. Mourinho’s envy was understandable but Diop is too canny to let such praise go to his head. “I don’t think I played that good,” he said. “I need to improve.”

Ben Chilwell, Leicester

While right-back is a problem position for Leicester, there are no such worries on the left, where Chilwell has established himself as the first choice ahead of Christian Fuchs. A strong tackler with sound defensive instincts, he also shows a pleasing eagerness to get forward, where his running ability and precise left foot make him a big asset. He also showed those qualities during an impressive debut for England against Croatia in October. In fact, his performances have been so good they have aroused the interest of Manchester City. Maybe Leicester will soon have a problem on the left, after all.

Lucas Torreira, Arsenal

No summer signing has made a bigger impact on their club than this tiny 22-year-old. The Uruguayan’s combativeness and dynamism alone have gone a long way towards solving a long‑standing problem Unai Emery inherited in Arsenal’s midfield and instantly established the £26m recruit from Sampdoria as a fan favourite. His performance in the 4-2 victory over Tottenham at the start of this month even led the former Arsenal defender Martin Keown to declare: “It was the best all-round midfield display I have seen in an Arsenal shirt since Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva used to run the show.”

Philip Billing, Huddersfield

The Dane, nurtured at Huddersfield since the age of 16, has developed into a unique midfielder. Not only does he possess exceptional finesse, a fine range of passing, sweet shooting and a mighty throw, but this season he has shown the power that might have been expected to come naturally to a man of his size. “I can name you not one 22-year‑old player who is comparable with him,” said the Huddersfield manager, David Wagner, last month. “Six foot six, left-footed, unbelievable shot, quick, vision, technique, long throw-in, endurance and now fighting spirit as well.”

Leroy Sané, Manchester City

After being omitted from Germany’s World Cup squad and left out by Manchester City at the start of this season, the 22-year-old has reaffirmed his brilliant talent with months of wonderful performances. Few players can leave opponents in their wake as easily and regularly as he does, gliding through defences thanks to exquisite balance, speed and technique. And he consistently finishes his runs with smart decisions, which is why he has such a high tally of goals and assists. He could become one of the best players in the world.

Dele Alli, Tottenham

Whether giving opponents the slip or coping with being struck on the head by a bottle from the crowd, this 22 year old behaves like a veteran on the pitch. He retains the feistiness of youth but channels it smartly and has become less prone to petulant lapses. That leaves the focus fully on his play, especially the clever movement, nimble technique and wonderful finishes such as the one he produced against Arsenal in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup win. From 118 Premier League matches already for Spurs he has 40 goals, which is an excellent strike rate.

James Maddison, Leicester

The 22-year-old’s dismissal after a dive at Brighton and his laughably bad penalty against Manchester City on Tuesday were reminders that he still has improving to do, but they were rare aberrations from a player who has generally excelled since joining from Norwich in the summer. At Leicester he has usually been entrusted with a more central role than at Norwich and he has wielded his influence with class, bringing creativity while playing with deft skill and vision as well as an endearing impudence.

Richarlison, Everton

The £50m Watford received for the Brazilian will eventually seem like a trifle because he is much better than Gabriel Jesus and maybe even a cut above Marcus Rashford. He has certainly enjoyed a finer season than his fellow 21 year olds have. He began out wide for Everton but soon moved into the centre, where he has done even better thanks to a wiry toughness on top of speed, trickery and intelligence. Once he polishes his finishing to become more consistent, he will be close to the top of the scoring charts for years.

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