The emergence of a prodigious footballing talent manages to captivate interest from a wide audience in a rather distinct way.
There is lots of guess-work involved in predicting how a player will develop and it’s that air of unpredictability over whether raw potential will ever be realised that underpins the high level of interest in up-and-coming talent.
A handful of intriguing young players have broken through in the Premier League this season, and in the midst of an international break it feels appropriate to assess how they have fared thus far.
With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT have ranked the 21 best Premier League players under the age of 21 based on their form so far this season.
Only those youngsters who have featured in more than 90 minutes of football have been included on the list.
Take a look at how the players rank below…
21. Will Smallbone
There was little to write home about in Will Smallbone’s pair of appearances against Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur, but he should get a handful of opportunities to impress under Ralph Hasenhuttl as the season develops.
20. Rhian Brewster
Rhian Brewster is yet to get off the mark since swapping Liverpool for Sheffield United and the centre-forward has struggled to make an impact amid the Blades’ torrid opening to the season.
19. Ian Poveda
Marcelo Bielsa has called upon Ian Poveda to make an impact from the substitutes bench in four games but he has looked a touch out of his depth.
The same could have been said for Jack Harrison when he first joined Leeds United, though, so it’s too early to write off the Manchester City loanee.
18. Curtis Jones
There’s no doubting the enormity of Curtis Jones’ talent but he hasn’t had enough time on the field to truly showcase his tantalising technical ability just yet.
He’s one to watch despite his lowly position here.
17. Mason Greenwood
It’s been a tough opening to the season for Mason Greenwood both on and off the field.
The best is yet to come for a player who could easily top the charts here.
16. Callum Hudson-Odoi
Frank Lampard has only handed Callum Hudson-Odoi one start so far this season and there is plenty of competition for the winger to compete with for a regular starting berth.
A fine finish against West Bromwich Albion is the highlight of his season so far.
15. Eric Garcia
Eric Garcia’s public desire to leave Man City will certainly impact Pep Guardiola’s decision making this season.
Despite the fact he looks destined to join Barcelona in 2021, Garcia has started two league games and looked accomplished in central defence without quite hitting his usual high standards.
14. Aaron Connolly
The scuttling Aaron Connolly has already scored one and assisted one this season and could stand to benefit from Graham Potter’s apparent falling out with Neal Maupay.
13. Rayan Ait-Nouri
Having signed from Angers in the summer, Rayan Ait-Nouri scored just 19 minutes into his Wolves debut against Crystal Palace and has shown raw promise during his first 166 minutes of English football.
12. Ferran Torres
Most of Ferran Torres’ headline-making performances have arrived in the Champions League but he has also been in fine fettle domestically, helping City to forget about the absence of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero prior to the former’s return.
11. Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas ranks in 18th for minutes played yet still manages to claim 11th place here, which speaks volumes about the impression he’s made during his short time on the pitch.
Filling in at left-back in Leicester’s 4-1 win at Elland Road last month, Thomas put in a mature display on just his second league start for the Foxes.
This looks like the beginning of a fine career for the 19-year-old.
10. Ethan Ampadu
Ethan Ampadu has been a bright spark in an otherwise bleak season opening for Sheffield United.
An astute defender with the vision and technique to step forward with the ball at his feet and spray long diagonal passes, Ampadu looks right at home in the Premier League.
9. Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher’s impressive rise to prominence has continued on loan at West Bromwich Albion this season following his transition from Championship to Premier League football.
If Chelsea decide there is no place for him in the squad, then there’s unlikely to be any shortage of potential suitors for the all-action midfielder.
8. Dwight McNeil
You have to feel sorry for Dwight McNeil, who is clearly a class above his teammates.
The 20-year-old has somehow managed to evade Gareth Southgate’s England squads despite starring for the Clarets since the start of last season, which suggests he may need to leave Turf Moor to realise his potential.
7. Illan Meslier
Physically Illan Meslier looks like a boy playing a man’s game but mentally he is as mature as a seasoned veteran.
Ice-cool in possession and unfazed by Bielsa’s possession-based demands, the Frenchman has been quietly impressive this season.
Meslier’s positioning let him down when Helder Costa inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net against Palace, but one freak incident should not overshadow a commendable start to life in the top-flight.
6. Bukayo Saka
Bukayo Saka has for the most part picked up where he left off last season and deserved his first England cap in October.
That he has started six of Arsenal’s eight league matches speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded by Mikel Arteta.
5. Tariq Lamptey
Tariq Lamptey, Brighton & Hove Albion’s road-running right-wing-back, has been one of the breakout stars of the season.
An excellent defender with the athleticism and technical attributes to offer an attacking outlet on the front foot, Lamptey has starred in Graham Potter’s system.
His first goal against Tottenham Hotspur was just reward for a series of eye-catching displays.
4. Pedro Neto
While Adam Traore fades onto the periphery at Wolves, Pedro Neto continues to establish himself as one of most exciting up-and-coming prospects in the division.
With one goal and two assists to his name so far this season, and a return of 1.9 key passes and the same number of dribbles per game, it’s easy to see why Nuno Espirito Santo has included him in all eight of his starting XIs.
When watching Neto it’s difficult to escape the feeling that a special talent is beginning to find his feet.
3. Wesley Fofana
Leicester City look to have pulled off a masterstroke by signing Wesley Fofana.
At the tender age of 19, Fofana has completed a seamless transition to the Premier League and played a key role in the Foxes’ climb into top spot.
Brendan Rodgers will be delighted with the club’s recruitment team.
2. Phil Foden
The 2020/21 season has long been dubbed as Phil Foden’s full breakthrough year and that promise has been delivered.
Bursting with energy, creativity and a tendency to arrive in the right place at the right time in the penalty area, Foden looks set to benefit from the departure of David Silva.
There’s plenty more to come from Stockport’s answer to Andres Iniesta.
1. Reece James
Topping the list is a player who looks so complete that Trent Alexander-Arnold, the world’s most valuable right-back per Transfermarkt (£99m), will be fearing for his status as England’s number one in his position.
Frank Lampard’s trust in James has been handsomely rewarded with a string of domineering displays, while his long-range stunner against Brighton proved that he has an outstanding moment of attacking brilliance in his locker.
What a talent Chelsea have on their hands.
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