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Premier League U-21 plan confirmed

Premier League and Championship clubs have approved proposals to revamp the current reserve team set-up with a new competition for Under-21 players.

The clubs, 17 from the top flight and six from the Championship, agreed to the proposals, meaning the Premier League overhaul of youth team football will be brought forward and will kick in this season - a season earlier than planned.

The new competition is intended to bridge the gap between academies and first teams by providing a consistently competitive environment for young players.

The first round of matches for U-21 players will take place on August 17, when Chelsea host Manchester City and Reading visit West Ham.

The 23 clubs are those who have applied for Category One status for their youth academies under the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan.

QPR, Swansea and Wigan are the three top flight clubs who will not feature in this season's competitions, while Middlesbrough and Wolves are among the Championship sides who will take part.

Teams from the 23 clubs will be divided into three groups before Christmas. From January, they will be put into three pools based on performance, with a knockout stage and a final to follow.

The emphasis on U-21 players means each team will be limited to just three overage outfield players and one overage goalkeeper.

"Each stage of a player's development is tailored to ensuring they have the best possible chance of progressing," Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, said.

"The new Barclays U-21 Premier League addresses one of the most critical points - the transition from academy football to the highest standards in the first team.

"We believe this competitive environment, where fans can also come along to watch the next generation of Premier League and international players, will help deliver more talented home-grown boys to that next level.''

The groups have been drawn as follows:

National Group 1 (eight teams): Arsenal, Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Norwich, Reading, West Brom, West Ham.

National Group 2 (eight teams): Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, Watford.

National Group 3 (seven teams): Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Wolves.

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