John Stones and others ready to shine this season

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Football News

With a greater emphasis on producing home-grown talent within the Premier League due to the national team's woes and Financial Fair Play regulations, academies are beginning bearing fruit more often.

The 2013/14 season saw an encouraging number of young, talented players being giving chances - seeing them thrive with more game time in an ultra-competitive environment.

So, the incoming 2014/15 season promises to see many of these hopefuls assert themselves as regular starters for their clubs, and maybe even become key players.

These are five young prospects who could cement themselves as first team players.

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5) James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, 19)

Having clocked up 49 appearances already for Southampton, the 5ft8in midfielder already has a reasonable amount of experience. Ward-Prowse saw his huge potential being carefully managed at first by Nigel Adkins and then Mauricio Pochettino.

But, due to the mass exodus taking place at the south coast club, newly-appointed Ronald Koeman may opt to use the talented midfielder more regularly, instead of forking out millions of pounds for a new replacement.

Technically gifted, equipped with a sweet right foot and an intelligent football brain, there is little reason why the Portsmouth-born player cannot force his way into Southampton's starting line-up.

4) Connor Wickham (Sunderland, 21)

In March 2014, the promising striker was recalled from an ultimately brief loan spell with Leeds, after Sunderland were left desperate for goal-scoring options in their battle against relegation.

As a result of being loaned out to three clubs before his Sunderland return, Wickham was becoming a sort of 'journeyman' - one who has had his attitude questioned on several occasions.

However, Gus Poyet gave him a rare start, and rewarded him with a two-goal salvo against Manchester City. This proved to be the trigger for a late-season patch of form.

Scoring five goals last season - including two braces - the powerful Englishman seems to have made a late claim to become the club's main man for the 2014/15 season. Tall, athletic and having excellent aerial ability, Wickham has all the ingredients to become a force to be reckoned with. 

3) Andros Townsend (Tottenham, 23)

After being loaned out to an astonishing nine clubs during his Tottenham career, the relentless winger has had to wait for a very long time to get the chance to play regularly for his boyhood club. But, last season, he got it, and took it with aplomb... initially.

After his England debut, and his goal in the 4-1 victory against Montenegro, his form dipped dramatically. This saw his game time greatly reduced under Tim Sherwood's tutelage - he ended up being used as a bit-part player, with injury also taking a significant toll.

Nevertheless, new Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has been impressed by Townsend's directness, energy and pre-season form.

This could see the speedy wideman flourish as Pochettino implements his philosophy on his new club. The club's management team are hopeful that he will become the man to strike fear into opponent's defences.

2) John Stones (Everton, 20)

Acquired from Barnsley for £3 million on 31 January 2013, the composed young defender took the Premier League by storm, after putting in a string of excellent performances during Phil Jagielka's absence due to a knee injury.

Possessing remarkable composure and leadership skills for someone of such a tender age, many people are beginning to hail the Barnsley-born centre back as a future England captain. In fact, his recent performances have been so impressive, that Stones narrowly missed out on a spot in England's 2014 World Cup squad.

With Sylvain Distin not getting any younger at the age of 36, Roberto Martinez could shortly replace the ageing Frenchman with the classy, young defender. Also, having extended his contract by an extra year, the signs seem to indicate that it's only a matter of time before he becomes Everton's defensive rock for years to come.

1) Ross Barkley (Everton, 20)

Barkley has been part of Everton's productive academy since he was 11, and has represented England from their U16s and upwards. The 6ft2in attacking midfielder has potential so great that he has already been likened to the legendary Paul Gascoigne.

However, before his breakthrough season for Everton, the he was sent out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. Despite having impressed their managers with his technique, he wasn't meeting the lofty expectations of the Everton fanbase.

Upon his return to Everton, Roberto Martinez put his faith in the mercurial youngster, and gave him the chance to impress. He did just that - scoring on the opening day of the 2013/14 season in a 2-2 draw to Norwich.

The manner of his goal, though - smashing the ball in the net from 20 yards with his supposed 'weak foot' - led to critics praising Barkley's sheer footballing ability and potential.

From then on, the 20-year-old has been carefully managed by the Spaniard, which meant that Barkley was in and out of the starting line-up, partially due to his inconsistency. But if he manages to improve his consistency, then this could be the season the Englishman begins to truly fulfil his immense potential.

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Andros Townsend
Tottenham Hotspur
Premier League
Connor Wickham

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