The Wonderkid Power Rankings: Chelsea and Spurs starlets battle to be named Premier League's finest

Ranking the ten best young players in the Premier League, as Chelsea, Spurs and Nottingham Forest starlets vie for top spot.
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Over the course of 2023, we ran the Wonderkid Power Rankings, a weekly rundown of the ten most talented and in-form young players in the global game. Now it’s back from its winter break, but with a difference. From now on, we’ll be asking a slightly simpler questions – who is the brightest spark in the Premier League?

There’s a couple of reasons for the newly narrowed focus, one of which was the fact that we were sick of Jude Bellingham winning every single week - to the extent we almost banned him - but we also wanted to make sure the articles were aligned with the interests of our readership – which, as far as we can tell, is getting good ammunition for pub debates regardless of whether your friends watched Benfica or Athletic Club play last week. From now on, you’ll only need to have caught Match of the Day to have the all information you need to vehemently disagree with us, and in the meantime we’ll continue to provide in-depth scouting reports on top global talents elsewhere on 3 Added Minutes.

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Before we launch into our first new-format top ten, a quick reminder of the rules. This list is for players who are 21 or younger at the time of writing, so the likes of Bukayo Saka are too old to be included even if they're still 'young' by most reasonable standards. We’re also ranking players on form over recent weeks at the senior level (domestic and international), so this isn’t intended to be a list of the ten most promising players, or the ten best over the course of the season – it’s the ten best right here, right now, in this case after the third round of the FA Cup.

Players who miss games will slide down the rankings, and those who are injured will typically drop out entirely. That explains why, for example, Pape Matar Sarr has a pretty low position (he didn’t play this weekend) or why Jarrad Branthwaite misses out entirely (as good as he’s been this season, he’s not been at his best over the last few weeks). And if your club’s players aren’t in the top ten just now, please be patient – we promise we don’t just hate your team. Well. It depends who they are…

10. James McAtee – Sheffield United

Young Manchester City loanee McAtee has struggled to provide the same impact in the Premier League as he did with Sheffield United in the Championship last season, but he seems to be up and running now – since scoring his first top-flight goal against Brentford in early December, he’s picked up an assist against Luton Town on Boxing Day and has now a brace in the FA Cup against Gillingham.

Granted, his first wasn’t the toughest finish he’ll ever have to make, a close-range effort following a catastrophic miscommunication in defence which allowed him a free go at goal, but the second was superb, slammed into the side netting at a 45 degree angle after a short corner routine. Mention should also be made of William Osula, the 20-year-old striker who bagged the Blades’ other two goals – if they’re going to have any chance of survival, Chris Wilder’s side will need both on form and firing.

9. Noni Madueke – Chelsea

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The former PSV winger hasn’t had the easiest start to life at Stamford Bridge, but finally seems to be hitting his stride over the winter. He was restricted to a 30-minute cameo in the win over Preston North End on Sunday (although it’s worth noting that three of Chelsea’s four goals came after Madueke came on) but edges into our first top ten based on his recent Premier League form, which has been excellent.

He scored a brilliant goal in the harum-scarum win over Luton at the end of the year, using his dancing feet to engineer half a yard of space before lashing it into the roof of the net at the near post, gave the Hatters’ defence palpitations throughout the game and even bagged a penalty against Crystal Palace a few days before all of that. His talent has never really been in doubt, but he’s finally producing for the club that splashed over £30m on him.

8. Pape Matar Sarr – Tottenham Hotspur

The beating heart of the Spurs midfield whose call-up to the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal will be a big blow to Ange Postecoglou – but at least he signed off in style for his side, scoring against Bournemouth with a strong low strike from the edge of the area to set his team on the way to a typically entertaining 3-1 win.

Sarr was one of the players benched and rested for Senegal’s first warm-up match against Niger on Monday, and wasn’t involved in what turned out to be a rather leaden performance by the reigning African champions, but his performances in the Ivory Coast will affect his standing in these rankings as the weeks go by.

7. Alejandro Garnacho – Manchester United

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The young Argentine has been frustrating for most of the season so far, more than capable of moments of magic but too often drifting anonymously out of games – but he seems to be on his best run for the Red Devils so far, bagging a hugely impressive brace against Aston Villa before setting up United’s goal against Nottingham Forest to close out 2023.

And while Wigan Athletic may not be the toughest opponents he’ll face this season, he was still one of United’s best players in a 2-0 win – testing superbly-named goalkeeper Sam Tickle twice, hitting the woodwork once and setting up a couple of fantastic chances, at least one of which, a point-blank header from Rasmus Højlund, should certainly have been a goal. If he can keep this form up consistently over the coming weeks and months, it will go a long way to solving United’s problems up front.

6. Rico Lewis – Manchester City

An increasingly regular presence in Pep Guardiola’s side, freshly-minted England international Lewis has picked up a goals and two assist across his last four starts for City, including a sharp side-footed pass to feed Julián Álvarez in Sunday’s 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield Town.

Not that his assist was the sum total of his contribution – he made 111 accurate passes across the game as City dominated possession, four of which went down as key passes which led to clear-cut chances for his side. Lewis looks more assured and more technically sound with each game, and could well keep some of his more experienced team-mates out of the line-up as the title race heats up.

5. James Trafford – Burnley

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The 21-year-old goalkeeper would have been higher if he hadn’t been given a break for Burnley’s FA Cup defeat to Spurs on Friday – he hasn’t been getting the plaudits he deserves but has been the Clarets’ best performer by a country mile over recent weeks, keeping them in the relegation battle with some massive outings, especially against Brighton & Hove Albion when he made no fewer than 10 saves to keep the score at 1-1.

He's since made eight stops against Liverpool in a 2-0 defeat which would have been far worse if not for the 21-year-old City academy product, and five with a clean sheet in a sorely-neeeded win over Fulham. Burnley are still in trouble, but it would be one heck of a lot deeper if it weren’t for Trafford, and if he can keep up his recent form down the home stretch then Burnley might just have a chance of survival.

4. Joško Gvardiol – Manchester City

The Croatian’s stay in our top ten will be a brief one – at the time of writing, he’s only official ‘a kid’, wonderous or otherwise, for another fortnight. But he’ll ascend to adulthood in good form – City have kept four clean sheets across his last five appearances and he hasn’t put a foot wrong.

The archetypal Guardiola defender on many levels, Gvardiol may not have been severely tested against Huddersfield but did rack up over a hundred touches of the ball, the vast majority of which consisted of calm and economical recycling of possession. Even when City have it easy, he still does a lot to help them keep a stranglehold on the game whether he’s playing at left-back or through the middle.

3. Anthony Elanga – Nottingham Forest

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Another player who is a little lower down the list than they would be if they’d played in the FA Cup – but a goal and three assist in his last three Premier League games means Elanga debuts in our top three despite being rested for the 2-2 draw against Blackpool.

While his former club United struggle to make an impact up front, the young Swede has been serving up goal contributions in spades and even rubbed some salt in the wound by setting up the winner against his former employers at the City Ground to wrap up the year. He was arguably even better on Boxing Day, when he set up two of Forest’s three goals in an equally impressive victory over Newcastle United. It’s probably not a coincidence that Forest have started winning as soon as Elanga has hit his best form.

2. Destiny Udogie – Tottenham Hotspur

Udogie came into December on a pretty rough run of form and seemed discombobulated by missing games through injury and suspension, but has come roaring back to life since scoring in the 4-1 dismantlement of Newcastle United a couple of weeks before Christmas, and he was excellent once again against Burnley last week.

The 21-year-old Italian won most of his one-on-one duels down the left flank and got the ball in plenty of dangerous areas, with two key passes and two fouls drawn in dangerous areas as he marauded between the touchline and the edge of the area in Burnley’s final third. He’s strong in defence, quick getting forward and dangerous in attack – the complete package for the modern full-back.

1. Cole Palmer – Chelsea

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Palmer has been one of the success stories of the season so far, and has quickly become Chelsea’s most important attacking player – and an assist against Huddersfield, his seventh goal contribution in five matches, has helped to establish him as a deserving first number one of the new era of the Wonderkid Power Rankings.

A good game in the Cup came off the back of perhaps his best game in the top flight yet, against Luton when he teed up Madueke’s excellent strike and scored two absolutely brilliant goals of his own to put his side three goals up. They did their best to bottle the lead Palmer gave them but his creativity, incisive passing and confidence in front of goal made sure they had enough to hang on to an important win. A fabulous player, and one wonders whether Guardiola is rueing the decision to let him leave the Etihad.

So it's official(-ish). Cole Palmer is the best young player in the Premier League - at least for this week. We'll be keeping the rankings updated every week for the rest of the season, so there's plenty of time for someone else to pinch top spot, plenty of time for your favourite youngster to make their mark, and every chance that some exciting January signings join the party very soon. See you next time...

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