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Top 5 Premier League Youngsters To Watch Out For

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The stars of the World game seem to be appearing at an increasingly younger age; demonstrated perfectly in this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, and I expect this trend to hold true in the coming Premier League season also. With so many team’s tactics and game plans now revolving around pace and athleticism on the counter attack, the youthful energy that some of these players bring is crucial for their sides’ success, often overriding a lack of experience which used to limit their appearances in the past. Some of the world’s very best young players ply their trade on these shores, but just who are the top 5 youngsters to watch out for in the Premier League this season.

Raheem Sterling

While all eyes were focused on the SAS partnership of Suarez and Sturridge last season, it was neither of them who impressed me most in the overachieving Liverpool squad. Despite the outrageous volume and quality of the Uruguayan’s goals or Sturridge’s versatility in attack, Raheem Sterling stood out above all others. Of course, everyone acknowledges that he had a terrific season of Premier League football, but from afar it did not seem to reach the level of the lethal striking duo or captain Steven Gerrard. However, watching Liverpool’s games with a great attention to detail threw a spotlight on the QPR academy graduate, placing him on a pedestal in my mind as the key to the future success of Liverpool over the next decade.

Still at only 19 years of age, Sterling is arguably the best teenager in world football. I am certainly struggling to think of a player at his age who even comes close to his level of performance and consistency on a weekly basis. Since his Anfield breakthrough, he has been transformed from a raw individual talent who relied largely on his electric pace to a well-rounded performer with many fantastic attributes. Similar achievements are what we expected from Theo Walcott when he shot to stardom as a 16 year old, however the Arsenal man is now 24 and you could argue does not have as many strings to his bow as Sterling. While this is far from your typical prime age as a footballer, Sterling has already fulfilled much of the promise invested in him that Walcott is yet to fully repay.

The arrival of Brendan Rodgers as manager of Liverpool has had a huge positive boost on the youngster, as their relationship helped him knuckle down on his football and steer clear of the negative press that had followed him around since alleged altercations in his private life. Eased into first team action in the first half of the season, Rodgers has not rushed his development, instead nurturing his obvious talent at the right rate. As the season progressed, England’s bright teenager became a fixture in the first choice Premier League side, often starting from the right flank but could easily interchange and pop up on the left.

In the latter stages of the campaign however, Rodgers commonly employed the system 4-1-2-1-2, entirely depending on the opposition Liverpool were facing. It shows the extent of the overall improvement in Raheem Sterling’s game that Rodgers had the faith to move him inside into a floating number 10 role. The Jamaican born attacker certainly did not flinch at the chance and in the more keenly contested region of the pitch, he flourished. Fabulous first touch, awareness, upper body strength, and a developing eye for a pass meant that he became the most reliable attacking threat in the team, and a player who was widely known as one whom you could give the ball to even in tight situations. He did not forgo his defensive work either, never happy without the ball at his feet and always willing to chase an opponent towards the Liverpool goal in order to win back possession.

With the departure of Suarez and the addition of so many new recruits in attacking midfield positions, the role that Sterling will take this season has grown ever more important, both in the Premier League and away from the domestic scene. He needs to continue the goal scoring form of the latter half of last year to take the pressure off Sturridge somewhat and grasp the nettle of Champions League football. If previous performances are anything to go by, then I have complete confidence in his ability to step up and become recognised as Liverpool’s newest star.

Adnan Januzaj

Bursting onto the world stage seemingly from deep in the shadows, Adnan Januzaj was the name on everybody’s lips for a significant portion of the last Premier League campaign. He shone in a struggling Manchester United side for many games on the spin until he was withdrawn from the action by David Moyes towards the tail end, suffering from the infamous ‘burnout’. After scoring a brace of fine goals in his Premier League debut, expectation unsurprisingly sky-rocketed, but what did shock me was that he rose to the challenge.

Several ex-professionals throughout the season were commenting how a teenager was the only one performing to their maximum in the team of defending champions. As his fame increased exponentially however, he did not retreat into his shell as many have done before and many will do in the future. Taking up the mantle of set-piece specialist on several occasions, Januzaj seemed to relish the limelight and grew as a player for the experience. David Moyes did not get a great deal correct at Man United I think most would admit, however sparing the Belgian international from the action for the last few weeks of the season could have been a good move. His batteries should be fully recharged, ready for a full frontal assault on the Premier League this term under Van Gaal, and he could thrive with the Dutchman at the helm.

It is widely expected that Louis Van Gaal will employ the same 3-5-2 formation that was so successful for the Dutch national team at this summer’s World Cup. As Juan Mata has demonstrated so adeptly during pre-season, the number 10 role can be pivotal and when played correctly, is devastating for the opposition defence. Januzaj showed last year that his skills allow him to be equally threatening when deployed on either flank or behind a striker. With such a quick brain; matched only by his feet, defenders closing him down should prove no concern and I can see Rooney and Van Persie thriving off his assists. While Juan Mata will most likely begin the campaign as first choice in this position, the former Chelsea man is by no means ultra-fit or injury free so expect Januzaj to have his fair share of chances in this position. There is of course the possibility of Van Gaal changing system throughout the year, perhaps to a more conventional 4-2-3-1, which provides 3 positions in which Januzaj to flourish. He has the talent to seize the opportunity when the time is right.

Ross Barkley

The best Everton academy graduate since Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley has had a wonderful 12 months, and his future performances in the Premier League could well be enhanced by the signings that Roberto Martinez has made this summer. We saw how Barkley blossomed when he was able to make runs beyond Belgian beast Lukaku, whilst also having the option to knock the ball into him at any height and pace, knowing that there was a good chance that possession could be retained. Gareth Barry is vital too for Barkley, as we were able to observe last season that the former Manchester City and Aston Villa midfielder gives him the license to commit to forward runs. This is where he is most effective in causing damage to the opposition and Barry removes the shackles that would otherwise restrict his performance.

New signing Besic’s tough-tackling style and James McCarthy’s extra legs can also combine in the high tempo Premier League matches to assist Barkley’s utility in an offensive sense. Christian Atsu has just arrived on loan from fellow Premier League side Chelsea, and can take up the same role that Gerard Deulofeu had last season while borrowed from Barcelona. Scintillating pace allows them to stretch the defence, making more space in which Barkley can work his magic, and additionally gives another option for where to deliver a scything final pass.

A seemingly lost art in football these days is the naturally two-footed player. Santi Cazorla at Arsenal and Ross Barkley are the two prime saviours of this dying breed, and the Everton midfielder showed off this trait in the opening weeks of the Premier League last season when he scored a stunner against Norwich. The ball was passed to him on the edge of the opposition area and, creating space for himself with a dummy off his right onto his left, he thundered a drive past John Ruddy with his ‘weaker’ foot. Other attributes that he possesses are being able to dribble at pace and power, fantastic stamina and desire, along with a barrel chest allowing him to shrug off defenders. He exhibited all of these in his goal against Newcastle in March as he broke from deep inside his own half, beating defenders with ease and leaving them trailing in his wake, to then blast the ball into the net, again with his left foot.

Ross Barkley had been plagued with injuries for a few seasons before finally making a sustained breakthrough in the Everton first team for many Premier League games in succession last year. Prior to this, he had been forced to go out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, purely to gain experience of regular football and to get some playing time under his belt. Now that he has managed to achieve a full Premier League season; playing regularly at the highest level, he will be all the better for it. Barkley must have the sense now that he really belongs on the World stage too after being taken to the World Cup in the summer with England, and this can only help him to express himself even more during games.

Martinez felt at times last year that it was prudent to rest Ross Barkley on occasion. This could be for any number of reasons, such as saving him from excessive exertion at a young age or fearing the presence of a lurking injury. Simply as Premier League football fans, we have to hope that he has the capacity to play 30+ league games for several years to come, so that he can grace the country’s pitches with his blend of power and technique. If Barkley somehow manages to top last year, he could push Everton into Champions League football.

Luke Shaw

The former Southampton full back is the only one of the players in this list who have changed clubs over the summer, and as a result may find it more difficult at first to nail down a first team spot. Shaw’s start at Manchester United has not been helped by news on Wednesday that he will be out of action for around 4 weeks with a hamstring injury, thus missing at least the first three games of his side’s Premier League campaign. This has interrupted his pre-season preparations, well known to be highly important to a footballer’s well-being and as such, he will not get a full run at the Premier League from the get go. Although Van Gaal is yet to draft in a replacement at left back, Shaw’s absence will inevitably hand the advantage to a team mate to get in ahead of him and make a positive impression, possibly even keeping him out of the side upon his return.

However, Luke Shaw did not come cheap from Southampton at all, requiring a significant outlay of £27 million; typically extortionate for any Englishman in the Premier League these days. This deal may have been secured before Van Gaal was officially in place as Manchester United boss, but you can’t imagine that he did not have any input towards the signing as he was appointed only a short time after. The 19 year old fits perfectly as a left wing back in a 3-5-2 formation which the ex-Dutch national coach seems to be favouring with his current crop of players. Shaw’s attacking approach is a very quick and direct one, he crosses well, and possesses the necessary exuberance to get up and down pitch all game. It is possible that work is needed on the defensive side of his play, but you could not wish for a better coach to be responsible for that. Van Gaal is certainly one of the best to have in charge of the youngster at this formative stage of his career and I expect him to instil the right principles in him, growing Shaw into a more rounded footballer. This is exactly what every Englishman wants and I predict even more improvement from the full back over the next 12 months.

This season, Luke Shaw is only having to deal with a single game a week in the Premier League, due to the fact that Manchester United are not in any form of European competition for the campaign ahead. This is perfect to allow him to retain his fitness while not having a derogative effect due to excessive minutes on the pitch. Shaw was taken to the World Cup with England which will only improve his self-confidence. Simply the fact that he can now feel included at national level should override the poor showing that the England squad gave in Brazil. Over the next couple of seasons, Man United’s recent recruit will be embroiled in a fierce fight with Leighton Baines for the first choice left back shirt in the Euro 2014 qualifiers. If this doesn’t give him the determination to be constantly improving then I’m not sure what will. I personally don’t think that Hodgson will hand the shirt initially, but he is the long term solution in this position so it would be the best idea to play him later in the campaign for sure. Luke Shaw gives us so much to look forward to and with such potential that; with the right attitude, he is destined only to do well.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Arsenal’s youthful midfielder had a mixed Premier League season last year, suffering from more than his fair share of injury problems but at the same time, impressing greatly when he did manage to string a few games together. Previously, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been seen essentially as a wide player, and an effective one at that. His pace, dribbling ability, and determination to reach a lost cause have produced a wide variety of issues for all sorts of top defenders throughout his short career so far. However, last season Wenger began to deploy him in a more orthodox midfield role, with great success.

While we always knew that Oxlade-Chamberlain had good skills on the ball, his game intelligence had not been seriously tested and it is this facet of a player’s game that is perhaps the most important in the hustle and bustle of central midfield. Whether through a moment of brilliant foresight or out of necessity due to injury problems at the time, Arsene Wenger placed the necessary faith in him and he was repaid with interest! The Southampton youth academy graduate blossomed magnificently and it turned out that not only did he have the composure to receive the ball in tight and congested areas, but he was still able to use his refined speed in this area of the pitch. The drive that wing-play had developed in him meant that his first thought upon picking up the ball was always “Can I possibly take it forward and spring an attack for my team?”. In an age where the incessant passing at the back and in a deep midfield position has become far too much of a default option; in the Premier League and across Europe, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s attitude was refreshing and I could not wait to see his impact at the World Cup. Sadly for all concerned, a twisted knee injury coming from a rather innocuous challenge in a warm-up match put pay to his tournament. Hodgson’s desperation to have him available as an option meant that he was still a member of the touring party but never actually saw action as he struggled to recover fully.

With a complete and uninterrupted pre-season behind him under the watchful stewardship of Arsene Wenger, I hope and expect to see the Oxlade-Chamberlain that lit up so many Premier League games last season. With the impressive addition of Alexis Sanchez and the return to full fitness of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, it will not be easy for the young superstar to cement a starting place. However, nothing drives self-improvement like real competition for places and we have seen enough of The Ox so far to know that he will not settle for a place on the bench. He has proven his value; both in terms of quality and versatility, so Wenger will not hesitate in trusting him in the biggest of games. Injury permitting, I believe that he will learn a great deal from Chilean star Sanchez, apply it to his own game, and finish the season as one of the first names on Wenger’s team sheet.


Do you agree that these are the top 5 youngsters in the Premier League right now, or do you think there is someone else who we should be paying even closer attention to? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

Arsenal

How Arsenal could line-up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal prefer not to do business in the January transfer window, but their hand has been forced this month due to the contract situations of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere.

They could all leave the club before the start of next season and Arsene Wenger will recognise the need to prepare for those departures. Sanchez is the only one to have left the club already this month, as he has joined Manchester United.

In return, the Gunners have secured the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The former Borussia Dortmund player has struggled in England, but he has the talent to produce more at the Emirates Stadium.

Considering they are facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League, there could be more arrivals this month to improve their chances of making the top four.

Sky Sports reported that Arsenal are attempting to secure a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dortmund could be tempted to make a clean break from the striker

The Gunners are at risk of missing out on the Champions League for the second successive season, but their reputation remains strong across Europe. It would be a statement of intent to sign the Gabon international and an exciting move for supporters.

How could they line-up at the end of the window?

Arsene Wenger has favoured a 3-4-2-1 formation this season and it has achieved relative success. It was a major reason for their FA Cup win last season, as it provided more balance and made the side solid at the back.

However, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are both attacking players and will be expecting to start most matches. It could be that a switch back to 4-2-3-1 is required to fit both into the starting eleven.

One major problem that Arsenal have faced this season is their lack of quality at the back. Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal are serviceable as a three-man defence.

However, it has been rare for all three to be fit at the same time and the squad is lacking in depth. Per Mertesacker is passed his best, while Rob Holding and Calum Chambers remain inexperienced at the highest level.

A change back to a four-man defence would be a smart move unless a quality centre-back is signed this month. A tactical switch would likely mean Monreal loses his place in the starting eleven.

This would be a shame considering his impressive season to date, but he would offer stern competition to Sead Kolasinac.

It would be a boost if they were to sign another centre-back. Sky Sports reported earlier this month that Arsenal had made a fresh enquiry for Jonny Evans, but no reports suggest that a deal is in the pipeline for this month.

If they were to make no defensive signings, their back five would pick itself when everyone was available.

Petr Cech is not the player that he once was, but he remains the best goalkeeper at the Emirates Stadium.

The full-backs would provide the width, as Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac are both excellent at going forwards. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal would offer good competition on the left side.

By playing two attack-minded full-backs, Arsenal can afford to play with narrow attackers, which will get the best from those playing in the forward positions.

There has been a resurgence in the career of Jack Wilshere, but he is unlikely to make the starting eleven when everyone is fully fit.

The midfield pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka has been the most balanced of those chosen by Wenger this season.

The former has provided the drive and attacking support from deep, with three goals and six assists in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the latter sits deep and contributes in both halves of the pitch.

There is still more to come from the Swiss international and it will be next to Ramsey that he takes the next step forward.

The four attacking players would be best suited in a fluid attacking set-up as they are all intelligent players and capable of fulfilling any role. It would likely be a narrow formation with the full-backs providing width.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be the ones asked to start on the wing. It would be great to see the former be given a sustained run on the right flank, giving him a great opportunity to re-capture his Dortmund form.

Although Aubameyang is primary a striker, he has played on the left-wing during his career and he would be given freedom to interchange with the rest of the front-line. His pace will cause problems and he has the dynamism to excite supporters in the Premier League.

The 28-year-old has 13 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances this season. In addition, despite Dortmund’s poor Champions League form, the forward found the back of the net on four occasions.

He is a top-tier striker and will add goals to the Arsenal attack. It will be exciting to see him link-up with Mkhitaryan again if a move does go through. Arsene Wenger will be hoping they can be as productive as they were in Germany.

Alexis Sanchez may have left, but Mesut Ozil is probably going to stay at the club until the end of the season.

The Evening Standard report that Arsenal are hopeful that the German international will extend his contract if they do sign Aubameyang alongside Mkhitaryan.

The 29-year-old will be given a central role in the team as the club try to convince him to stay and as the number ten position is his favoured role, this will likely be where he plays.

Alexandre Lacazette has had a mixed first season in the Premier League. It wasn’t easy to come into an Arsenal side that was short on confidence and Wenger will be wanting the Frenchman to kick on alongside the new arrivals.

If Aubameyang does sign, it will increase competition to start up front.

The current Gunners’ number nine has scored nine Premier League goals and contributed three assists. He is involved in a goal every 142.25 minutes, which is not bad, but he will be hoping to improve during the second half of the season.

If the club do sign Aubameyang, it will be a major statement of intent and serve as a reminder to the rest of Europe that Arsenal remain a force to be reckoned with.

A front four of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Ozil promises to be exciting to watch and provide lots of goals.

No one player will be guaranteed a start and that is beneficial to the squad. The rest of the team needs strengthening, but this window would represent a good start to the rebuild.

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Arsenal

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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