The Wonderkid Power Rankings: Chelsea, Man Utd & Everton youngsters battle to be the best
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Welcome to the weekly Wonderkid Power Rankings, our best effort at answering a perennial question – who is the best young player in the Premier League?
Each week, we put together a top ten of the finest under-21s in the top flight and rank them based on their recent form at senior level. Last time around, we concluded that Jarrad Branthwaite’s excellent recent form had earned him the top spot, but can he hold on under pressure from red-hot players like Rasmus Højlund and Cole Palmer?
Read on to find out where those three place, but there are a few names you won’t see this time around. Conor Bradley takes a likely very brief break from the list because he hasn’t been able to play following the sad death of his father, while Facundo Buonanotte and Murillo both get a rest after breaking into the top ten last week. That, of course, leaves room for two re-entries and one brand new face…
10. James Trafford – Burnley (re-entry)
It’s not often that a goalkeeper ships three goals and still comes out with credit, but Burnley would have been battered without the former Manchester City man between the sticks – something of a theme with Trafford’s outings over the past couple of months.
It took a little while for the summer signing to warm up to the task of being a starting goalkeeper but he’s right up to speed now and made seven saves against Liverpool as he made sure the scoreline stayed respectable. His distribution, normally solid, was a little lacking this time around and he only made 35% of his passes, but the shot-stopping was not a problem. The defence in front of him, however, was.
9. Harvey Elliott – Liverpool (RE)
Elliott has been bounced in and out of the team a lot lately but consistently performs well when he does get some minutes, as he did when replacing the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold in the 3-1 win over the Clarets.
He was excellent in possession, creating several thoroughly presentable chances from dangerous areas and keeping it sensible and economical when further away from the goal. He only lost possession five times across the game, too. Another very mature outing from a midfielder who surely deserves more minutes than he’s been getting lately.
8. Malo Gusto – Chelsea (new entry)
The Frenchman was one of many Chelsea players at fault amidst the back-to-back four goal thumpings that they took at the hands of Liverpool and Wolves, but he’s picked his form up impressively since then, and now has assists in back-to-back matches against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.
And while his cross to tee Conor Gallagher up for Chelsea’s equaliser on Monday was deeply impressive, as was his attacking contribution throughout the match, he did plenty of good work at the back too, making four tackles and not allowing any Palace players to dribble past him. An excellent all-round showing from a very talented defender.
7. Alejandro Garnacho – Manchester United (⬇️ 2)
The Argentine has been excellent of late but does take the wrong option a little too often, and that habit was on display again in the somewhat fortuitous 2-1 win at Villa Park on Sunday, when Garnacho took six shots on but didn’t managed to hit the back of the net.
He was also a pretty isolated figure for large tranches of a game which Villa largely dominated, and only managed a relatively lean 41 touches overall – a lot of the fault with that lies with United’s midfield but Garnacho could perhaps learn to get himself involved more effectively when the natural ebb and flow of the game doesn’t help to get the ball up to his part of the pitch. Still, he’s been excellent of late so he only drops a couple of places.
6. Kobbie Mainoo – Manchester United (⬆️ 4)
One young United player who continues to trend consistently in the right direction is dynamic midfielder Mainoo, who is growing in stature and confidence with each passing game and was the only player in the midfield who was able to keep things moving with any consistency against Villa.
He was his side’s best passer, with 85% accuracy and four key passes forward, but also excellent out of possession, forcing four turnovers as he worked harder and more effectively to win the ball back and make good use of it than any of the more experienced players on his side. This wasn’t a flashy performance, but offered the kind of solidity and sensible decision-making that bodes very well for his future. A call-up to the England Under-21 squad is expected next month.
5. Destiny Udogie – Tottenham Hotspur (⬇️ 1)
Udogie is currently on a slightly strange run of games in which he is either lethal in the final third and a liability at the back, or is rock solid in defence but offers precious little going forward. Over the course of Spurs’ last-gasp 2-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, he was the latter.
He only offered up 0.11 expected assists and didn’t get forward with much effect but still popped up with three important tackles and an interception in a solid defensive display in which he kept things tidy and gave little away. A decent performance, but it will be interesting to see if he can strike a better balance between attack and defence going forward.
4. Pape Matar Sarr – Tottenham Hotspur (⬆️ 4)
Conversely, Udogie’s team-mate Sarr didn’t have his best defensive performance at all – he didn’t force many turnovers and was weaker than usual in one-on-one situations, winning just one such duel all day. But with the ball, he was superb.
He scored Spurs’ first, of course, a very cool side-footed finish from a tight angle at the near post which came to him quickly after his pass to Richarlison, but the goal was just a cherry on top of an enterprising performance in which he moved the ball around with grace, ease and intelligence throughout. A lovely midfielder, developing very nicely indeed.
3. Jarrad Branthwaite – Everton (⬇️ 2)
The colossal Everton centre-half loses his grip on top spot after the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, not that anyone could really place the blame for the defeat at his feet. His performance largely summed up Everton’s as a whole – stolid, resilient, but ultimately just not quite good enough against the very best.
Branthwaite managed to contribute two blocked shots and an impressive four successful tackles to the cause, but this wasn’t really a fight he was well-equipped to win. He’s a brilliant aerial defender but City simply kept the ball on the ground all day, and he didn’t end up attempting a single duel in the air. To be fair, he did cope pretty well on the ground, winning 75% of his one-on-ones, but 75% doesn’t quite cut it against the champions. Still a very decent performance indeed by the youngster.
2. Cole Palmer – Chelsea (⬆️ 1)
Palmer now has four goals and three assists in his last five Premier League games after teeing up two goals for his team-mates in the late win over Palace, making him one of the most in-form players in the entire division as it stands – and Chelsea would be in deep trouble without him.
Both his pull-back for Gallagher’s second and his gorgeously-weighted through-ball for Enzo Fernández to wrap it all up were judged to perfection, and that kind of precise passing and vision combined with a genuine goal threat are pretty much all that are keeping Chelsea in the hunt for European football and silverware this season. A massive prospect shining when his club needs him the most.
1. Rasmus Højlund - Manchester United (⬆️ 1)
The young Dane takes top spot for the first time after scoring for the fifth league game in succession, a hot streak which has put the painful memories of his early-season struggles firmly in the rear view mirror. What makes his run all the more remarkable is that he’s making these goals from scraps.
Sure, he’d have had a hard time missing United’s opener against Villa after finding space to turn Harry Maguire’s knock-down in, but those five goals have now come from just eight total shots and suggest a striker in seriously confident mood in front of goal. If United could get the ball to him with anything approaching regularity, who know how many he’d get – but for now, he’s keeping United’s European charge firmly on track with goals that are papering over a lot of cracks in the overall performances. Frankly, it’s the kids that are doing all the heavy lifting for the Red Devils right now, and Højlund is bearing more weight than anybody else.