Editor’s note: Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive and is the former chief executive and sporting director at AS Monaco. He will write regularly for ESPN on the business of soccer and the process of scouting. In his latest column, he looks at some of the most promising young players in the Premier League with the English top flight returning on Saturday for the 2020-21 season.
With a new Premier League season about to kick off, the likes of Kai Havertz, Donny van de Beek and James Rodriguez will be attracting more than their fair share of attention to see if they live up to their price tags. But equally excitingly for me to look out for are the talented youngsters on the fringes of the first team, for whom this could prove a breakthrough season.
I’ve picked 11 to look out for — players who, from the glimpses we’ve already seen of them, have the potential to make a mark this season and even go on to become as renowned as this summer’s blockbuster signings.
The first group are pure academy graduates who have come up through their club’s own youth system, whereas the second group features signings from abroad (already established stars like Ferran Torres are logically not included) or domestic talents who are new to the Premier League scene. While their backgrounds and journeys to the English top flight are diverse, they all have a few things in common: they’re all yet to start a Premier League game and they’re all born in 2000 or later.
Harvey Elliott | Liverpool | 17 | Midfielder/forward
Elliott made headlines when he made his senior debut for Fulham at the age of 15 and became the youngest-ever player to feature in the Premier League just after turning 16. Since joining Liverpool last summer, he’s already been on the fringes of the first team with appearances in both domestic cups and two short Premier League cameos.
The England U17 star loves drifting into the middle to perform playmaking roles from his right-wing position (predominantly with his left foot). He is tremendously gifted technically with a low centre of gravity.
Rhian Brewster | Liverpool | 20 | Forward
Another Melwood product who’s ripe and ready for Premier League football, though thanks to scoring 10 goals in the Championship during a half-season loan at Swansea last term, there’s now interest in Brewster from other Premier League clubs. (He might still be loaned out or sold with a buyback option before the transfer window closes in early October.)
A natural finisher and winner of the Golden Boot at the U17 World Championship in 2017, Brewster is exceptionally skilled at sniffing out second balls in the penalty area and is able to finish with just one or two touches. Possesses a potent right foot, but is equally capable of neatly chipping the goalkeeper with his left.
Faustino Anjorin | Chelsea | 18 | Midfielder
Finding a starting spot in the Chelsea midfield is no mean feat, but Frank Lampard’s determination to fast-track his academy kids is showing no signs of slowing down. The imposing attacking midfielder — who, incidentally, is named after Faustino Asprilla — will certainly look to add to the 20 minutes he was given in the Premier League against Everton in March. Anjorin has a natural knack for goal, and it says a lot about the England U19 international’s potential that he is rated by some as the most promising Chelsea youth product that’s yet to properly break into the first team.
So far, the England U19 international has only tasted sporadic first-team action through the domestic cups and one single substitute appearance in the Premier League, but the grandson of City legend Mike already has the understanding of the game and the industry to hope that Pep Guardiola gives him more than just a sniff this season. Though Doyle faces ample competition for his favoured spot in the centre of the Manchester City midfield, he can take heart from the way his teammate Phil Foden has gradually worked his way into the first-team mix at the Etihad.
Three years after signing for the Birmingham club — having impressing at the U17 World Cup — the American of Bulgarian descent has made his way to the fringes of the Villa first team. In fact, with four substitute appearances last season, he’s already tasted Premier League action, and a starting spot is likely just around the corner.
Vassilev is a busy, versatile midfielder who most regularly features in a box-to-box role or as a winger on either side. In addition to a fine footballing brain, he’s equipped with a wonderful left foot and is hard to knock off the ball. A call-up to the United States men’s national team might also be on the cards.
Following a disappointing loan spell in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig (where he made just three substitute appearances), the Welsh international is due to spend this season at the Yorkshire club. Ampadu is equally comfortable at centre-back or as a holding midfielder, being quick, agile, good at anticipating the opposition and breaking down counterattacks or build-ups. He also loves to hit a well-struck cross-field diagonal ball.
Having performed consistently for his country at senior level despite not seeing regular first-team action, he’ll no doubt prove to be a useful addition to Chris Wilder’s squad.
Though he’s up against fierce competition even for a seat on the bench (and his chances aren’t helped by his reluctance to extend his contract, which expires next summer), there are so many exciting aspects to Balogun that it would be unwise to discount him. The New York City-born teenager — who has represented both his country of birth and England at youth level — is a straightforward attacker who’s hard to catch when he sets off with space to exploit. Being also strong, brave in the box and a calm finisher, he’s one who could suddenly transform from a budding talent to a fully fledged Premier League goalscorer.
Premier League new arrivals
The Frenchman was thrown in at the deep end of Leeds’s promotion bid when first-choice Kiko Casilla was banned for eight matches for his use of racist language, yet with his calm, mature style of goalkeeping, he kept seven clean sheets from ten league games. As a result of these assured displays, the tall keeper with decent feet saw his initial loan move from Lorient made permanent for £5 million. Now Marcelo Bielsa must decide whether to stick with the impressive 20-year-old at the expense of the experienced, but somewhat erratic, Casilla.
Having been bought from FC Porto for an extraordinary €40m, if the reports are to be believed — double what Manchester City paid for Spanish international Ferran Torres — Silva shouldn’t have to wait too long for his Premier League debut. The tall, but mobile and enthusiastic Portuguese centre-forward possesses an effortless, natural finishing technique and an impressive hold-up and aerial game. As he only started one league game for the Portuguese champions last season, presumably his stratospheric price tag is based on an unusually high potential and his exploits at U19 level for his country, which include an impressive hat-trick against Italy last year.
The full-back changed colours in the summer as he turned down a new contract from boyhood club West Bromwich Albion to join Crystal Palace for a nominal fee (training compensation). While it will be interesting to see whether the move pays off, there’s no doubt that Ferguson is ready to take on the challenge of establishing himself at the highest level. With good feet — he’s right-footed, although he can play on either side — he has the much-valued ability to whip in a quality cross.
William Saliba | Arsenal | 19 | Defender
Signed from Saint-Etienne for €30m last summer and immediately loaned back to the Ligue 1 club, Saliba has finally joined up with the Arsenal squad and should soon be ready to fight for a place in Mikel Arteta’s first 11. At just 19, the Frenchman is a centre-back of the dominating kind; he’s got great presence and is strong in the air. A credible option regardless of whether Arteta decides to play with two or three central defenders, he could even be in line for an opening-day debut.