Phil Foden tactical analysis
Artwork by @chapulana

It is often said that in the modern soccer, young talent is increasingly overlooked at the highest levels as wealthy club owners instead opt to throw millions at established players, with there being so much demand for instant success.

This has particularly been the case in the English Premier League, where home-grown talent and academy stars face an even more difficult battle to break into the starting ranks.

But despite this, there still remains an abundance of exciting young talent in England’s top division.

Here we take a look at the top five young Premier league stars to look out for, all of them aged 21 or under:

Richarlison

Brazilian wonder-kid Richarlison made his name in the Premier League at Watford last season, but this season at Everton the 21-year-old is really coming into his own.

The forward has already scored 8 goals in 14 appearances this term as Everton keep pace with the league’s big six. Richarlison is priced up as high as 30/1 with Ladbrokes to challenge to be this season’s Premier League top scorer –  will it go hand-in-hand with Everton qualifying for European football next year?

Imagine the odds you’d get on that…

Simon Doyle took a closer look at Richarlison following his debut for Everton back in August and noticed his ability in front of goal, writing;

Brilliant individual skill alone, however, won’t get you 30 goals a season. Being able to score tap-ins and scrappy goals is just as important if you want to beat the likes of Salah, Kane and Aguero to the Golden Boot accolade. But Richarlison also has that knack of being in the right place at the right time when the ball is in the box, scoring Everton’s opening goal against Wolves after their free-kick had dropped favourably in the penalty area and the Brazilian pounced to open his 2018/19 account.

His Goodison Park debut would not disappoint either as Richarlison got Everton’s second and ultimately winning goal of the game, this time utilising his heading ability. If he keeps this up, we’ll be adding ‘poacher’ to Richarlison’s ever-growing list of positive traits.

Richarlison Everton Tactical Analysis
As Everton push high into Southampton’s half in possession, the winger’s are given licence to push inside while the full-backs provide the width. With the ball wide right, Richarlison looks to take advantage of the space between the Saint’s right-back and centre-back.
Richarlison Everton Tactical Analysis
The cross is delayed and the Southampton defence regroups but Richarlison fancies his chances against Saint’s right-back Cedric Soares and occupies the space around him.
Richarlison Everton Tactical Analysis
Clever movement by Cenk Tosun toward the back post has created space in front of the goal and Richarlison sees it before his marker. The Brazilian makes a dart into the space before aerially attacking the cross, beating Cedric in the air to finish the move and claim the Toffees’ second goal of the afternoon.

Richarlison’s finishing abilities in differing situations and his ability to find space in the box make him a serious goal threat for Everton’s opponents and has likely already made himself the first forward on the Everton team sheet. Maintaining this form will be Richarlison’s true test, especially since he notably dropped off in the second half of last season, though issues such as fatigue and change of manager could well have been contributing factors then.

Phil Foden

A star of England’s FIFA U-17 World Cup winning side in 2017 (so much so that he took home the Golden Ball from that tournament), it’s incredible to think that Phil Foden is still only 18.

Foden has been used sparingly thus far at Manchester City but manager Pep Guardiola continues to rate him highly and although he has a tough ask to break into the first team, Foden has racked up 23 senior appearances for the club, including 8 in the Premier League already this year.

As Stew Gurney learned when he analysed Foden after his England U21 debut, it is off the ball movement that makes him exceptional, writing;

What stood out to me particularly was the intelligent work that Foden does off the ball. The Manchester City midfielder pressed relentlessly for 90 minutes but also pressed intelligently. Far too often we see footballers fixated by the ball and the action directly in front of them but a key aspect of Foden’s pressing is his proactive thinking when his side doesn’t have the ball. (Below are some examples)

phil foden england u21 manchester city tactical analysis analysis

Here we can see Phil Foden has positioned himself on the edge of the box as the ball is lifted into the Andorra area. Foden’s body shape here is ideal as he is looking to anticipate where the ball will land if it is cleared. The ball evades Ryan Sessegnon in the middle and Foden begins his movement across the edge of the box as shown by the dotted line stretching out from his feet. Andorra’s number 2 attempts to dribble out from the box but is cut off by Foden who wins the ball back for England U21 and they can restart the attack.

phil-foden-england-u21-manchester-ctiy-tactical-analysis-analysis

A similar situation is unravelling here. Andorra are looking to play their way out of the back following a breakdown in England U21’s attack. Again we can see Foden has positioned himself cleverly so he is able to press the ball carrier of Andorra as quickly as possible. On this occasion, the pass by the Andorra defender who has the ball is slightly loose and Foden covers the ground quickly and cuts out the pass again allowing England U21 to restart another attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Liverpool have made an outstanding start to this season and find themselves favourites to win the League at 2/1 with Betfred. There’s no doubt that their revelatory young stars in defence have been a key element in their success.

Along with teammate Joe Gomez, Alexander-Arnold will surely be among the favourites for the PFA Young Player of The Year. The Liverpool native has only just turned 20 in October, but so far this season has nailed down a regular place in the starting line-up at right-back.

As Simon Doyle learned earlier in the season when he took a closer look at Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool have a player who could eventually be their main midfielder, writing;

Having played many of his academy years in midfield, Alexander-Arnold possesses an excellent passing range, not typical for full-backs. His ability to play with his head up in possession and execute penetrative passes gives Liverpool an extra weapon in attack, particularly against stubborn defences. With right-winger Salah typically looking to dribble in possession or make runs beyond the central striker, a lot of offensive responsibility falls on the young Red’s right-back to deliver quality service to the forward players. But for a 19-year-old, Alexander-Arnold displays an impressive calmness and bravery on the ball and his illustrious teammates trust him to create opportunities in possession.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
Liverpool’s high press is on display here as Alonso plays a one-two with Kante and looks to play forward. Alexander-Arnold closes the space and intercepts the pass.
Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
He then immediately looks for options and plays the perfect pass into Mane who has found space in front of the Chelsea defensive line.

As he’s not the greatest in terms of aerial ability, Alexander-Arnold will often be the furthest withdrawn Liverpool player during set-pieces (unless he’s taking them). His duty if the ball is cleared by the opposition is to press and retain the ball so that Liverpool can keep possession in advanced areas. Since he is often situated in a central position in such moments, Alexander-Arnold can utilise his passing range from a quarterback like position and swiftly restart the onslaught of Red’s pressure.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
As Brighton clear the ball from a corner and push up to the halfway line, Alexander-Arnold looks for any gaps in their advancing block as he receives the ball from James Milner.
Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
Surveying the situation, Alexander-Arnold invites the press before playing a long range pass out to the right flank.
Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
He has superbly found Mo Salah in acres of space wide-right and the Egyptian begins one of his remarkable dribbling runs. This pass is highlighted in light blue (key pass) in Alexander-Arnold’s pass chart against Brighton seen earlier in this piece.

Almost considered essential for a full-back in the modern era, crosses are another one of Alexander-Arnold’s most obvious qualities. Since he is often the widest right option for Liverpool in attack, Trent is often tasked with crossing the ball from the right flank which he consistently provides.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
Creativity is making something out of nothing and when an opposition’s defence is compact and well drilled you need your creative players to come alive. Above Bournemouth are in a comfortable defensive situation with no obvious danger in sight. Alexander-Arnold has the ball on the right flank and is looking for a forward runner, although only Salah seems interested.
Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
But 1 runner was all Trent needed as he bend the ball expertly over and around the Bournemouth defence onto the head of an on-running Mo Salah who loops an excellent header over the keeper.

His quality delivery is also evident in his set-pieces. Not many 19 year-olds would be given such responsibility in a team of Liverpool’s calibre, but Trent Alexander-Arnold can be frequently seen taking free-kick responsibilities for the Reds, he’s even scored one against Hoffenheim.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Tactical Analysis Statistics
All of 28 yards out in a crucial Champions League qualifier, Alexander-Arnold brilliantly whips this ball over and around the Hoffenheim defence and into the bottom corner before the goalkeeper could react.

Ryan Sessegnon

At just 18-years-of-age, Ryan Sessegnon has already featured 87 times for Fulham, making his debut as a 16-year-old and proving to be a key cog in their promotion to the Premier League last season.

Despite spending big in the summer, Fulham are struggling this season and currently sit at the foot of the Premier League table with 9 points from their first 16 games. They are odds-on favourites at 1/1 with bookmaker Ladbrokes to be relegated, but Sessegnon’s performances have been one of few positives this year for the club’s fans.

Dynamic and intelligent, if Fulham are to beat relegation in May then Sessegnon will have played a considerable part in it.

As Lee Scott discovered when he delved deeper into Sessegnon back in 2017, the young man is a much better defender than he is given credit for, writing;

As much as fullbacks are used as attacking outlets in the attacking game they still have to be able to contribute to the defensive phase and Sessegnon is strong if unspectacular defensively. He uses his pace well to cover for the occasional lapse in concentration defensively and possessed sound defensive instincts when using his body shape to cover and block attempted crosses in to the penalty area.

Sessegnon tends to passive in defending the far post from high balls and needs to be more assertive in this area given that he stands 5ft10 in height, this should however improve as he gains more experience.

Here we see the opposition attacking and looking to switch play out to the wide area. Sessegnon is initially tucked inside with the defensive line having pivoted over to cover the ball positioned on their right.

As the ball is switched over to the Fulham left flank Sessegnon is able to shift over to cover the pass and win the ball comfortably before transitioning quickly in to the attacking phase.

The pace of Sessegnon allows him to cover central and wide areas of the field comfortably.

Here we see Sessegnon playing for his country’s youth team as the ball is played out into the wide area. Sessegnon takes up a position to block any attempted cross or pass and to try to force the man in possession of the ball to move towards the constricted space of the byline.

Initially, when Sessegnon engages the man in possession it seems as though he is off balance as the wide player tries to fake Sessegnon in to thinking that he is looking to attack centrally before moving along the outside.

We see the balance and awareness of Sessegnon as he retains his poise and blocks the route in to the penalty area.

Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves was integral to Wolves winning the Championship last season (see the latest English Championship betting odds 2018/19 here)  and is already proving to be a star in the Premier League this term.

Despite still only being 21, Neves has compiled more than 100 senior club appearances as well as becoming an international star for Portugal. It’s no surprise that a host of clubs – including Manchester City – are keeping their eye on him, but for this season at least Neves’s performances look like they will keep Premier League football in Wolverhampton.

Jake Flock, our Wolves analyst, analysed the numbers of Neves when he was linked to Man City in the summer and wrote;

Porto’s youngest Champions League captain arrived at Molineux last summer, linking up with old manager Nuno Espirito Santo and their relationship has blossomed once again. His class was evident from the word go last season, raking cross-field balls, crunching tackles, and some unbelievably good goals. Regardless of what the official awards say, Ruben Neves was by far and away the best player in the Championship last season. He hasn’t started too badly in the top flight either, with a goal and assist on the opening day against Everton and another busy performance last time out against Leicester. A lot of people are raving about those two performances. Although, I don’t think he’s got anywhere near the levels of last season yet, watch this space.

Comparison

Ruben Neves Wolves Man City Tactical Analysis Statistics
Credit: Squawka.

Just to put the stats into some sort of context before we begin; Jorginho is twenty-six and Fernandinho is thirty-three. Neves is only twenty-one and while his stats should be more favourable in some departments due to the fact he was plying his trade in the second-tier. I’d expect them to be similar, if not better come the end of the season.

Neves’ pass completion is less than the other two and I’d say that that has something to do with the insane number of switches he tries. Key passes are understandably low for Neves as he tends to do the assist of the assist of the assist which doesn’t come under the key pass remit. Jorginho’s 1.52 per ninety minutes gives you an idea as to why Pep wanted him.

Ruben Neves is becoming rather well-known for his tendency to shoot from outside the area as is indicated from the above. 2.2 per ninety minutes for the Portuguese prodigy, who was unlucky to miss out on Portugal’s World Cup squad. Much like Jorginho, Neves loves a tackle and the pair of them are comfortably ahead of Fernandinho. We close with total duels won, Neves once again sits second.