Premier League 2019-20 review: young players of the season
Welcome to The Bloomgist review of the 2019-20 Premier League season. The Guardian, UK have nominated some contenders for this category but this is just to get the discussion going: offer your suggestions below the line …
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
This is only the third time the Guardian has had this category in its end-of-season awards, and Alexander-Arnold has been in all of them. Given that he doesn’t turn 22 until October, there’s still time for one more. It has been another season of wild achievement for the right-back, one of only three qualifying players to appear in every Premier League game (the others being West Ham’s Declan Rice, who hasn’t missed a single minute but who like his team has not always reached his full potential, and the excellent Burnley winger Dwight McNeil). For the second year in a row Alexander-Arnold hit double-figures in top-flight assists – only Kevin De Bruyne registered more – but he has improved his goal output; he scored with a lovely low shot in the Boxing Day thrashing of Leicester, probably his and his team’s finest display of the campaign. Jürgen Klopp says he is “one of the most relentless professionals I’ve met when it comes to focusing on getting better each and every day”. Cafu thinks “he will be regarded as one of the best players in the world”. He is still only 21.
Max Aarons (Norwich)
Most clubs are constantly searching for first-team-ready young talent, but Norwich seem particularly good at it. Perhaps, in fact, a little too good. The three defenders with the most appearances for the club this season are Aarons, a 20-year-old right-back, Jamal Lewis, a 22-year-old left-back, and Ben Godfrey, a centre-back born 10 days before Lewis in January 1998. All three qualify for this list, along with the midfielder Todd Cantwell, 22, while their key creative force, Emiliano Buendía, is only 23. But there is a value to experience, and starting a first Premier League season with a back four largely populated by players 21 and under with no top-flight experience is not the best way to secure a second Premier League season. They have duly conceded more goals than any other team. Individually, however, they remain excellent prospects, with Aarons perhaps the pick. Since making his league debut in the East Anglian derby against Ipswich in September 2018 he has started all but two league games and never been substituted, a remarkable record for one so young.
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
Last season Greenwood made three league appearances and played three minutes in the Champions League; this season he has crept slowly into the team – he didn’t start a league game until December – but it ends with him in Manchester United’s starting XI and looking ready to stay there, having developed the endearing habit of lashing balls into nets with either foot. He is clearly a fine instinctive finisher, is a faster sprinter even than Marcus Rashford, and has a knack for taking shots early that befuddles goalkeepers. “He’s developed fantastically this season,” says Ole Gunnar Solskjær. “The sky’s the limit.” One of three players at Manchester United who might easily have made the list, alongside Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
In contrast to others on this list, Foden doesn’t really have the stats to back up his inclusion. For every game he has started he has spent one and a half on the bench; before the new year he spent more than 23 minutes on the pitch only once. But when he has played he has looked extremely classy. He is comfortable on either foot, has got more and more game time as the season has progressed, and has had Pep Guardiola gushing ever more effusively about his potential. “I’ve seen many players in my life – I have trained incredible, incredible players,” says the Spaniard, “and Phil will be one of them.”
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
It feels like a long time since England had so many young players bursting impressively into top-flight teams. Every side playing in Europe next season has at least one key player who is English and was 21 or younger when the campaign started (Leicester’s Harvey Barnes is the only one not to have got a mention elsewhere), and Chelsea have a handful (as well as the American Christian Pulisic, whose post-lockdown form has been sensational, and several impressive cameos from the 19-year-old Scot Billy Gilmour). Mount in particular has been exceptional. He has been involved in every league game but one – as well as every England match – this season, and brings dynamism and constant effort to midfield as well as attacking threat.
Aaron Ramsdale (Bournemouth)
Goalkeepers often catch the eye in struggling teams, but Ramsdale has played with consistency and maturity in his debut top-flight season despite the chaos sometimes taking place in front of him. He was particularly outstanding in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton, including a fine penalty save in which he refused to be taken in by Danny Ings’ mid-run dummy, and did not deserve the dejection with which he slumped to the turf on the final whistle. Six Premier League teams this season have first-choice goalkeepers aged 33 or above, and it takes a brave manager to put promise over experience in this of all positions. Not a lot has worked out for Eddie Howe this season, but for this at least, he deserves credit.