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Aug 10, 2011

Premier prospects

Whether it's because of injuries and suspensions to team-mates or just through raw talent, there will be a number of talented youngsters who will be given a chance to shine in the new Premier League season. Here, ESPNsoccernet looks at some of the players who could make an impact.

Tom Cleverley (21, Manchester United)

Sir Alex Ferguson has placed great emphasis on sending young players out on loan to cut their teeth over the years, but only a select few have impressed sufficiently to find first-team opportunities more forthcoming on their return. It's unlikely Tom Cleverley will ever replicate the success of Manchester United's most famous loanee, David Beckham, but after an excellent 2010-11 season with Wigan, the ambitious England Under-21 international is eager to make an impact at Old Trafford.

An enthusiastic box-to-box midfielder, who will just as happily chase back as surge forward, Cleverley does the simple things well and was superb when he came on as a substitute in the Red Devils' Community Shield victory against neighbours Manchester City. United have a plethora of emerging talent at their disposal this season and will also be able to call on Danny Welbeck, David De Gea and Phil Jones, while youth players Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison may break through.

What's been said: "I hope he will get a lot of opportunities this season. He is not afraid, he has a lot of energy and Manchester United need a player like this. He's a quiet lad - he's a bit like Scholesy in that way. He never talks much, he just does his job on the pitch. Players like him are the future." Team-mate Patrice Evra after the Community Shield.

John Flanagan (18, Liverpool)

While 21-year-old Martin Kelly has received many of the plaudits for a series of accomplished displays since breaking into the Liverpool team, there is a full-back three years his junior who is equally deserving of the high praise lavished on his Merseyside comrade. At 18, John Flanagan was thrown into the lion's den last season for big matches against Manchester City - his debut - and Arsenal as he made seven Premier League appearances. In both contests he looked mature beyond his years, stifling the threat of Adam Johnson and David Silva from his natural position at right-back against City and handling the pace of Theo Walcott admirably when playing in a more unfamiliar left-back role versus the Gunners.

He still has plenty of room to develop but is already a sharp defender who tries to read the game rather than rely on physical strength. He is a little bit susceptible in the air and has not yet demonstrated that he can offer the same explosive overlapping option as Glen Johnson, but his solidity earned 'Flanno' - as he is affectionately know at Anfield - a lengthy new contract this summer. His chances this season will depend on injuries to others but he fits perfectly into Kenny Dalglish's future plans to have a core of local players and could potentially form the bedrock of the Reds' defence alongside Kelly for years to come.

What's been said: "His attitude is absolutely terrific. As you see him on the pitch - committed, dedicated, the intensity of his game - is what he's like off the pitch. He's very professional, he knows how to look after himself and who to listen to, and I think that's why he's improved so quickly." Liverpool sporting director Damien Comolli.

Emmanuel Frimpong (19, Arsenal)

Last season, Jack Wilshere grasped his first-team chance with both hands and never let go - starring for the Gunners and earning widespread acclaim for his performances. In 2011-12, it could be Emmanuel Frimpong who's afforded the platform to shine by Arsene Wenger. Described by the Frenchman as a "fighter and a winner", it is easy to see how Frimpong's physicality and aggression could appeal to a manager who has seen his side criticised for a lack of both recently.

It's possible Frimpong, who impressed at the 2010 Emirates Cup, would have enjoyed similar success to Wilshere had he not been struck down for nine months by a cruciate ligament injury last summer, but his time on the sidelines has made him more hungry for success. He has featured regularly in pre-season and with Denilson out on loan to Sao Paulo the Ghana-born defensive midfielder will be first reserve to Alex Song at the least, and may well end up competing with the Cameroon international for a starting berth.

What's been said: "He was the most important player for Arsenal ... him and Wilshere were our toughest opponents," Argentina ace Juan Roman Riquelme after playing against Frimpong for Boca Juniors.

Daniel Sturridge (21, Chelsea)

A new manager at Stamford Bridge has brought fresh backing for Daniel Sturridge, with Andre Villas-Boas selecting him to start in six of the club's seven pre-season matches; quite an endorsement considering Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka all only started three games each. It seems the Portuguese coach is ready to put his faith in the England Under-21 striker, whose impressive eight goals in 12 games on loan at Bolton earlier this year provided a stark contrast to the travails of misfiring record signing Torres.

Sturridge has previously admitted he wanted to become a wrestler when he was younger but he now plays the role of Ultimate Warrior on the pitch, working hard to create opportunities for himself and team-mates. He has the potential to become one of the Premier League's most exciting strikers if he can replicate the form he showed at Bolton, where his driving runs, anticipation and natural finishing ability shone through. Sturridge will miss the first three games of the season through suspension, but expect him to feature heavily thereafter.


What's been said:"He has been brilliant all pre season. He went away last season on loan and gained from the experience of playing week in week out. He has grown into how good he believes he can be and everyone is seeing that now." Chelsea captain John Terry at the end of pre-season.

Connor Wickham (18, Sunderland)

Just over two years after becoming Ipswich's youngest ever player at 16, Connor Wickham completed his meteoric rise from Championship youth-teamer to £8 million Premier League marksman when joining Sunderland in June. Signing the highly-rated teenager was a big coup for Steve Bruce, who convinced Wickham to snub his boyhood club Liverpool in order to move to Wearside.

It should be the right move for Wickham, though, with Bruce having a proven track record when it comes to getting the best out of young English players - Danny Welbeck and Nedum Onouha can testify as much - and the rangy striker can certainly expect more regular football at the Stadium of Light than he could have at Anfield. His imposing 6ft 3in frame will make him a tricky prospect for top-flight defenders and he relishes the pressure of big games, as shown at last year's UEFA European Under-17 Championship by his coolly-taken match-winning brace against France in the semi-finals and a superb solo effort, which proved to be the tournament-winning goal, against Spain in the final.

What's been said: "Connor is a target man with a touch more. He holds the ball up well, he's fantastic in the air. It's like with Peter Crouch. If you say he's just a target man, you are doing him a disservice. He's a clever player and clever players find a way to cope." England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce.

Ruben Rochina (20, Blackburn Rovers)

Ambitious moves for Kaka, Ronaldinho and David Beckham may have failed to materialise for Blackburn in January but the signing of a young Spanish forward, which slipped under the radar somewhat, may yet prove to be their best in recent memory. Swapping Barcelona for Blackburn can't have been the easiest career move for La Masia graduate Ruben Rochina, but he has taken little time to get acclimatised to both the uninspiring Lancashire weather and the rigours of English football.

Flourishing for Rovers' reserve team, Rochina's seven goals fired them to the Premier Reserve League North title, with his match-winning brace against Manchester United in the final unquestionably the highlight. His path to the first XI will initially be blocked by Junior Hoilett, Jason Roberts and new signing David Goodwillie, but Rochina certainly has the potential to usurp those currently ahead of him. Boasting superb close control, the former Spain Under-19 striker has a fearless approach to running at defenders with the ball at his feet and possesses a rasping left-foot shot.

What's been said: "Ruben is a genuine addition to our senior squad, a young player with great ability, who can play in a number of attacking positions...this is a significant, exiting signing for us." Blackburn boss Steve Kean.

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