If there's anything that the team at VERSUS can look back on with pride from the 2020/21 season – while COVID, the European Super League and no fans in grounds made it one of the most peak seasons in recent memory – it’s that we were on the money with some of our shouts and selections before the campaign ever kicked off.
Even if haters might say it was straightforward to highlight Emile Smith-Rowe's breakthrough season at Arsenal before a ball was kicked, or that Pedri, Doku and Isak enjoying stellar Euro 2020 campaigns was glaringly obvious, we like to think we’ve been fairly bang on when it comes to selecting who's #NextUp in recent times.
As another season kicks into gear and another wave of talented young players get ready to step up and set the timeline alight, we've looked at every Premier League team and picked out one young player who could have a season to remember in 2021/22. Get to know the youngest in charge.
1. Folarin Balogun
This young striker has been ripping it up in PL2 and scored on his Europa League debut last season. Off the back of a new four-year contract, he seems primed and ready to challenge for Arsenal’s no. 9 spot this time out. With confidence in Alexandre Lacazette dropping and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang unable to regain his electrifying form of two seasons prior, if ever there was any year for him to mount a serious case, now is a perfect opportunity.
2. Carney Chukwuemeka
Club: Aston Villa
“We have one right now” – while this might sound like a bar the Admin would drop after a Young English baller dropped a clinic, this was actually the response of Villa CEO Christian Purslow when talking about Carney Chukwuemeka. Going on to say that Chukwuemeka is “probably the best 16-year-old in England” is serious backing – but one that we can fully get behind having watched him ball out last year. Carney constantly makes things happen when he gets on the ball, where he’s blessed with a catalogue of 5-star skills and an eye for goal. Chukwuemeka helped Aston Villa win the FA Youth Cup in May 2021 and finished as the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals to land him the Academy Player of the Season. With backing like that and the stats and trophies to match, expect the England U18 international to feature for Villa in cup competitions this season.
3. Marcus Forss
While the irreplaceable Ivan Toney and big baller Bryan Mbeumo hold it down up top for the Bees, Marcus Forss is a man that’s exciting a lot of Brentford fans with his potential at the start of this season. Forss, 20, began last campaign out on loan at AFC Wimbledon in League One, where he scored 11 goals in 19 appearances – making it clear that this Finn knows finishing. Marcus could be a Forss to be reckoned with as part of Brentford’s forward line this season, possessing both power and finishing prowess in equal measure.
4. Taylor Richards
Club: Brighton and Hove Albion
One of the biggest unsung heroes when it comes to off-pitch drip, Taylor ‘TJ’ Richards is steadily making a name for himself on it. The marauding midfielder went on loan at Doncaster Rovers last season and thrived at the Keepmoat – scoring 11 goals and claiming five assists in 45 appearances from the middle of the pitch. With boss Graham Potter holding on to Richards for 2021/22 and a big believer in backing players who have done well in the lower leagues, expect the Corteiz Coutinho to make a splash in the Barclays and cup comps this season.
5. Lewis Richardson
We’re running this shout back up for another year because Lewis Richardson is still due to blow at Turf Moor. He’s still the undisputed hottest prospect in the club’s U23 side right now, and could push for inclusion as the season progresses. He signed his first pro contract with the team earlier this year and has been banging in goals at every level – including six goals in his first U18 appearance and a hat-trick for the U23s just three months later. He’s also scored goals for England youth teams and made the bench for Burnley in the Carabao Cup last season. This young hitman could be one to watch.
6. Tino Anjorin
Position: Attacking Midfield
While lots of La Cobham graduates have gone on to pastures new, Tino Anjorin is a homegrown baller who could be given his chance to shine this season. Thomas Tuchel clearly rates Anjorin just as much as his predecessor, having been ready to get him in contention with the first XI. Having spent a lot of time with the European Champions’ first team set up last season, expect him to bounce back from his recent illness and secure some overdue limelight in Tuchel’s side this time around.
7. Michael Olise
Club: Crystal Palace
Position: Attacking Midfielder
We tipped this certified baller for greatness last season and we expect him to step up even further this time around in a bigger and better set up. No matter what the stage is, this guy balls out on it. Blessed with confidence on the ball like fellow Palace players Eze and Zaha, Olise possesses that spell-binding quality that will get the terraces jumping at Selhurst Park. Olise is set to be a key figure in the Eagles’ revolution under Paddy V fresh from becoming the Championship’s Young Player of the Season last time around. Watch his rise closely and you won’t be disappointed.
8. Thierry Small
Position: Left Back
Thierry Small has a big future. The left back secured himself a spot in the Everton history books when he made his senior debut against Sheffield Wednesday on 24 January 2021, becoming the club’s youngest ever player aged just 16 years and 176 days old. Looking up to Cristiano Ronaldo for his determination to be the best and Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies in terms of his play style, Small will be aiming to follow on from his development this season and secure some first team game time under Rafa Benitez in 2021/22.
9. Joe Geldhart
Club: Leeds United
When Marco Biesla labels you a “danger man”, you know you’re going to be involved in his vision of murderball in the not-too-distant future. Step forward Joe Geldhart, a stocky Scouser signed from Wigan Athletic, blessed with tireless tenacity and a cold-blooded ability in front of goal. The teenager has all the attributes to press and poach like the current Leeds United front line – and should his development continue as scheduled, you’ll be seeing him star at Elland Road sooner rather than later.
10. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Club: Leicester City
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall is a local Leicestershire lad looking to get minutes for his boyhood club, and 2021/22 looks like the year it will finally happen more regularly. KDH is set to feature in Leicester City’s squad for the upcoming season after Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers said the midfielder had “really taken my eye” in pre-season. The Shepshed-born 22-year-old grabbed the first goal of City’s pre-season campaign after showing his levels in the Championship with Luton last season – and with Rodgers renowned for blooding in young talent, expect to see KDH get more than just a run out this campaign.
11. Mateusz Musialowski
You’re all too familiar with Bundesliga and Champions League commentators screaming “Lewandowskiiii!”… but in the next few years, don’t be surprised if you hear a similar cry bellowed out for Liverpool youngster Mateusz Musialowski. The Pole is a certified dancer on the ball and about as 5-star weak foot and 5-star skills as it gets, having torn defences new ones various times in development football last season. Known as “the Polish Messi”, his trajectory is being as keenly anticipated in some quarters of Merseyside as a certain Raheem Sterling’s not too long ago – and if you wheel up a highlight reel or two, you can see why. With all the talk about needing to sign a new forward at present, the future of Liverpool’s frontline looks in safe hands for the future with Harvey Elliott and this man on the flanks, while Kaide Gordon is just behind them.
12. Liam Delap
Club: Manchester City
Liam Delap is the definition of footballing heritage. While his dad made everyone Watch The Throw back in the noughties, Liam is making people Watch The Throne when it comes to PL2 bagsmen today. He won the Premier League 2 Golden Boot last season as City’s elite development squad won the title for the first time – and he memorably also scored on his senior debut in a Carabao Cup win over Bournemouth. A serious big man with tek and finishing ability in equal measure, Delap’s star is set to rise like one of his old man’s throws into the mixer.
13. Shola Shoretire
Club: Manchester United
“INSANE TALENT”, “UNSTOPPABLE” and “AMAZING” are just some of the words you see labelled on Shola Shoretire’s highlight reels for Manchester United. And while compilations can often make ballers look better than they appear, Shoretire is the real deal. The amount of talent La Carrington has right now is crazy – but Shoretire is one of the leading lights. He dictates the tempo, has versatility on lock, and all-round ability that shines through everytime he touches the ball. 10 goals in 21 PL2 games last season prompted Ole to give this hitter his first taste of senior minutes last season and that will inevitably step up a gear this season.
14. Elliot Anderson
Club: Newcastle United
Elliot Anderson is different with it. Tenacity, goals from distance and innovation from midfield give him a throwback vibe in a sort of Steven Gerrard mould – with his ability to think fast on the pitch setting him apart from his peers. Despite being slight in stature, Anderson has consistently played in sides above his age group, having scored six goals and registered an assist in eight games for the club’s under-23 ranks during 2020/21. The 18-year-old is yet to make his first-team debut, but such is the hype around his game, expect Steve Bruce to give him some minutes in 2021/22.
15. Billy Gilmour
Club: Norwich City
Position: Central Midfielder
We’ve been tipping wee Billy for greatness for a minute – but this is set to be the season he truly blows up. His loan move to Norwich will see him secure much needed starts in the Premier League week-in and week-out, with the ‘Scottish Iniesta’ due to run games from midfield in yellow and green all season long. It’s time for him to step up and be counted upon for his future at Chelsea.
16. Valentino Livramento
Tino Livramento was thrown straight into the thick of it following his move from Chelsea to Southampton when he was asked to mark Richarlison in Saints’ first game of the season. Despite his side taking the L, he emerged out the contest with his reputation intact, dealing with the Brazilian’s trickery and physicality very well. Able to operate as full-back or a wing-back on either flank, the youngster will be looking to kick on from that performance and secure his spot as a starting Premier League full back this season.
17. Bryan Gil
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
While Gil looks more likely to say “haha yes, shorts weather lads” than he looks like your standard Spanish winger, Gil actually belongs to a vanishing breed of players. He is a pure dribbling specialist with a very marked strength – one-on-ones. The electricity of his moves, his quickness, his coordination, the use of his light body for feints, and the repetition of his dribbles make the most of his virtues. As one of the hyped young ballers to come out of La Liga in recent seasons, Gil should be ready to turn it up in Tottenham in 2021/22.
18. Kwadwo Baah
Kwadwo Baah arrived at Watford from Rochdale off the back of a breakthrough 2020/21 season which saw him rack up three goals and two assists in just 13 League One starts. Born in Germany to Ghanaian parents, Baah was raised in south London and spent four years in Crystal Palace’s academy from 2013-17. He was named EFL Young Player of the Month for January 2021 after scoring a show-stopping brace against Charlton Athletic before going on to play for England U18s. Expect to see Baah ball out off the bench for The Hornets at some stage this season once he’s given the chance to shine.
19. Jamal Baptiste
Club: West Ham United
At 17, Baptiste is probably the highest-rated and best young player West Ham have right now. Blessed with incredible consistency and assurance at the back – where he looks like a true seasoned vet – David Moyes looks likely to give Baptiste a run in the first team set up very soon having featured heavily in pre-season and making the subs bench in the club’s opening PL fixture. Hammers fans of a certain vintage have been watching Baptiste ball and comparing him to a certain Bobby Moore while he’s been playing for their U23’s – so you best believe this kid is destined for greatness.
Wolves added yet another exciting Portuguese starlet to their roster with the loan signing of Francisco Trincao earlier this summer. Despite his struggles at Barcelona last season, make no mistake this baller is different gravy if his breakout season at Braga was anything to go by when he scored 8 league goals. The link up with childhood friend Pedro Neto could bring out the sort of spark that Molinuex faithfuls are crying out for. You can be sure Trincao and his twinkle toes will be sending Premier League full backs for a twirl all season long.