Premier League 2018-19 Review: Young Players of the Season

Sunday, 16 June, 2019 - 07:30
London - Michael Butler

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Is the full-back role the most important position for this Liverpool side? It is probably the most difficult in Jürgen Klopp’s tactical system, requiring elite athleticism, tactical awareness and outstanding passing and crossing, all of which Alexander-Arnold has in spades. The designated dead-ball specialist in the best Liverpool side for 30 years, Alexander-Arnold has more league assists (12) this season than any of his teammates; no defender has ever registered more in the Premier League era. Humble and intelligent off the field – he is a keen chess player – Alexander-Arnold is arguably the best right-back in the world right now at just 20 years old, and one suspects he is not even close to his full potential.

Declan Rice

Until Declan Rice broke through last season, you have to go back a decade to the Class of ‘89 and James Tomkins to find anybody that graduated from ‘The Academy of Football’ to being an established member of the West Ham first team. Thank goodness Declan Rice turned up and stuck around, with West Ham signing him to a five-year deal in December, eventually caving to his demands of £30,000-a-week. That looks like pennies now that Rice has established himself as an England international and one of the best holding midfielders in the league. Standing at 6ft 1in, his physical prowess is complemented by a knack for knowing where the danger is – covering for his less astute teammates with slide-tackles, toe pokes and brave headers – a rare skill that is highly sought after even at Europe’s biggest clubs. Summer bids of £40m-£50m from both Manchester clubs have been mentioned but Rice could be best served staying put, playing well week-in, week-out in for the Hammers.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

If Trent Alexander-Arnold is the most potent right back in England with the ball at his feet, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is surely the most defensively sound. In his first full season the 21-year-old was recently twice voted Crystal Palace’s player of the season by both fans and players and has been the stand-out performer in a defence that have conceded fewer goals than Manchester United. “He’s so good at defending,” teammate Wilfried Zaha said earlier this season, and it was a chance training session against the Ivorian last season that convinced Palace’s coaches to convert him to a defender from right wing. Only Wilfred Ndidi and Idrissa Gueye have made more tackles than Wan-Bissaka this season and he is fearless in one-on-one situations, often going to ground with a slide tackle but nearly always winning the ball. How he has acquired such exemplary defensive discipline on the job is nothing short of remarkable.

Dwight McNeil

The youngest player on our shortlist at 19 years old, McNeil has been a revelation for Burnley this season. No teenager has contributed directly to more goals in the Premier League than the Rochdale-born youngster and since he broke into the starting XI in late December, Burnley have won eight matches, drawn four and lost six, a marked improvement on their form which has seen them pull away from the relegation battle. Released by Manchester United as a 14-year-old, the left winger brings a touch of flair to Burnley’s robust style and has the pace to burst past full-backs to deliver crosses from the byline, a striker’s wet dream. Sean Dyche has also instilled a fierce work rate into McNeil, who was invited to train with England in March, proving you don’t have to play for a team near the top of the table to make an impact on Gareth Southgate. Dyche will be hoping McNeil remembers that if the offers come flooding in this summer.

Rúben Neves

The midfielder edges out his Wolves teammate and compatriot Diogo Jota for the final spot here, with Jota only really catching fire in the second half of the season. Anybody that has watched the promoted side this season can see that Neves is one of the biggest reasons they have finished seventh and if Wolves qualify for the Europa League, the Portuguese’s experience in Europe will be key, having captained Porto in the Champions League when he was just 18 years old. His range of passing is just as spectacular as his free kicks and shots from distance and a big reason why full backs Matt Doherty and Jonny have shone so brightly this season is Neves’s ability to switch the play with one stroke. Without the ball, he is sharp in the tackle and reads the game superbly: only two midfielders have more interceptions this season. A complete player.

The Guardian Sport

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