With Jose Enrique sidelined with a long term injury and Aly Cissokho out of form, the 21 year-old was thrust into the Reds’ first team at left back – a position unfamiliar to him. But since making his first Premier League start in 18 months at Arsenal the no-nonsense full back has gone from strength to strength. Applauded into the dressing room by his team mates following the 3-3 Merseyside derby, he has made the left back position his own and been a consistent factor in the team that a exceeded all expectations to challenge for the title. Known for his tough tackling and a willingness to put his body on the line, an England call-up is surely only a matter of time for the man dubbed by the Brazilian legend himself – the “Red Cafu”.
When he became Liverpool’s second youngest scorer of a competitive goal at the start of last season it seemed as though 2012/13 was going to be Raheem Stirling’s breakthrough season. Unfortunately for the former QPR youth player he failed to build on a good start and the season ended with a lot of unfulfilled promise. But rather than dwell on the past the winger has taken 2013/14 by storm. Stirling’s lighting pace and frightening skill have always made him a tricky costumer to handle but a newly found versatility and drastic improvement in his decision making are what have taken his performances to the next level. The Jamaican-born 19 year-old has been deployed not only as a winger but as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers this season which shows how much faith Rodgers has in his discipline and intelligence. It was no surprise when Stirling’s fine form was rewarded with a first England senior call-up and he is in with a great chance of going to Brazil this summer. Stirling is now not only one of the top English teenagers but possibly one of the best youngsters in Europe.
Despite injury limiting “the Ox” to less appearances than he would have liked, we have seen some Oxlade-Chamerlain’s best performances in an Arsenal shirt this season. Another youngster who has been trusted with more responsibility this season, Wenger has used Chamberlain as a winger and a central midfielder – a position many think he will eventually settle in. The 20 year-olds’ stand out performance this season was perhaps the Gunners’ away tie against Bayern Munich, in this game he was the stand-out player on the pitch, Chamberlain roamed purposely from deeps, terrorising defenders with his direct running and power for which he has become famous for, it was a coming of age for the former Southampton player who showed he could do it on the biggest stage. England fans will be hoping he can recreate these kind of performances in Brazil, where he is destined to be one of Hodgsons’ most dangerous weapons.
Everton’s local boy has perhaps been one of the biggest revelations of the season. Roberto Martinez’s attacking system appears to be a perfect fit to get the best out of the 20 year-old. After a couple of loan spells in the Championship last season, Barkley burst onto the Premier League scene with several top quality performances, notably getting his first goal in a draw with Norwich City. Barkley has been utilised by the Toffees mainly behind the striker and his strength, vision and speed have driven Everton to within touching distance of a Champions League spot. In the process he has bagged one of the goals of the season, with a smart finish after a run which showcased all his best attributes at St James’ Park. Described by his boss as a mixture of Michael Ballack and Paul Gascoigne, Barkley is another player England fans will be hoping can step up to the plate in Rio and many future World Cups.
Deulofeu was signed by Everton on loan on the back of scoring 18 goals for Barcelona “B” the previous season, he was very much an unknown quantity to your average Premier League supporter. But it has taken the 20 year-old no time at all to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League and he has terrorized some of the best full backs in England. Deulofeu is full of pace and trickery, he never stops running and is clearly loving his time on Merseyside, his only criticism can be that he holds on to the ball too long, but this is a trait he is sure to grow out of. He has certainly made the most of his first team opportunities under Martinez and is being touted as the future of Spanish football. This summer will be important in the Spaniards’ development, he will either stay at Everton for another season or return to Barcelona, Premier League defenders will be hoping for the latter.
When the dust settles on a difficult season for Manchester United, they can look back and see the emergence of Adnan Januzaj as a real success story. The 19 year-old burst onto the scene with a glorious brace at Sunderland in his first start for the team and he hasn’t looked back. Perhaps benefiting from the poor form of the more experienced wingers, Januzaj was getting a lot of game time, United were almost too reliant on him. Seemingly unaffected by the current pressures that surround the club, Januzaj plays the game with incredible confidence, a beautiful technique and an ability to drift past defenders “Iniesta-style” making up for his lack of blistering pace. Some would say the true heir to United’s famous number 7 shirt.
The French born, Algerian international was brought into the Spurs side by Tim Sherwood at the start of his reign as manager. Bentaleb grasped his unlikely opportunity with open arms and has been a regular fixture in the side ever since. Bentaleb is a player that performs with maturity well beyond his 19 years, and amid a strange season for Spurs, has been a calm influence in the centre of midfield. Bentaleb’s main attributes are his pinpoint passing, his vision and his mobility across the park, making him perfect for a deep-lying role in a possession-based team.
Little was known about Berahino whe he was thrown into the Baggies side at the start of the season, but the 20 year-old has had a season to remember, making 29 appearances and scoring 7 goals in all competitions. The forward possesses great power, pace and an eye for goal, although he is far from the finished article, his form at the beginning of the season had people calling for him to get an international call up. If WBA manage to stay up this season, Berahino will have to start the new season with a whole lot more expectation and a pressure weighing on him, it will be interesting to see if he can build on his solid debut Premier League season.
Luke Shaw is the name on everyone’s lips, the youngest player on the list at just 18 years old, but possibly the most complete of them all. The left back has had a truly magnificent season, his form as Southampton’s established left back has been sensational and has seen him earn a call up to the England squad. Shaw bombs up and down the left flank, combining pace and incisiveness in attack and determination and courage in defence with a wand of a left foot. This season has given Shaw a great chance of going to the world cup this summer, something he surely thought impossible. With Ashley Cole in his final years it is hard to see past Shaw as being the England left back to take over from him. Whether he stays or leaves Southampton this summer, he has made a great to to proving the people who have called him the next Gareth Bale right.