I looked at the age of the 11 starting players for each of the 20 Premier League teams in match week 1 in order to get an idea of how teams were balancing the use of promising youthful players and more experienced veterans (you can see that information in the chart on the previous post). For the sake of this post I was most interested in seeing to what extent the clubs likely to contest for the league title and Champions League places over the next 5 years (I look at Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United) are using young players (which I define as younger than 25). Clubs with older squads will of course have to spend more on incoming transfers in future seasons in order to revamp their squads and remain competitive. This could be significant given that FFP should in theory restrict the ability of clubs financed by super wealthy owners like Manchester City and Chelsea to spend as they wish. The days of those clubs bringing in five or more big name transfers in a single window are likely gone. It is therefore seemingly more important for big squads to have young players that can contribute well into the future or can be sold at a premium price to finance the purchase of other players.
There are of course limitations with looking at just one week of games and we can't make sweeping predictions based on this data. The absence of a young player or two due to injury or fitness will skew the data if they were replaced by significantly older players. Likewise, the opposite is true- veterans who normally start but were forced to miss the opening week and were replaced by young ones (eg Calum Chambers replaced Per Mertesacker at Arsenal) will skew the data the other way.
The measure of squad youthfulness I looked at was the number of players a squad had under 25. I'll discuss the quality of those players for each club and what they suggest the future may hold for their respective clubs.
Arsenal started more players under 25 than any other club in match week 1 with 6- Wojciech Szczesny (24), Jack Wilshere (22), Calum Chambers (19), Aaron Ramsey (23), Kieran Gibbs (24) and Yaya Sanogo (21). This isn't terribly surprising. Arsene Wenger has always had a talent for developing young players and the faith in them to play them. Szczesny isn't always the most convincing keeper but seemed to improve his decision making and propensity for big errors last season. Wilshere was the most hyped of all of Arsenal's young players and although it would be unfair to say he's been a disappointment, he's maybe not quite as far along in his development as some would have expected by now. Injuries haven't helped but it's difficult to say whether his best position is a #10 or more of a box-to-box #8. At the moment Arsenal have more talented players in both positions. Gibbs is a solid, reliable left back. Ramsey endured a difficult spell after suffering that horrific broken leg but surprisingly emerged last season as one of the Premier League's outstanding midfielders. He's athletic enough to track back and win tackles and run past defenders with the dribble, has the vision and passing ability to provide the final ball in attacking third and a strikers finishing ability in the penalty area- a true all around midfielder. The jury is still very much out on Yaya Sanogo. He looked awkward, uncoordinated and totally out of his place in his appearances last season and although he enjoyed a solid preseason, his performance in Arsenal's opening day win over Crystal Palace suggested he's along way from being good enough to play for a side hoping to contest the title. Joel Campbell (22) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (21) were on the subs bench for Arsenal with Oxlade-Chamberlain coming on in the second half. Both players look promising. Along with this collection of players under 25. Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez are all just 25. Arsenal appear to be in fairly good shape for the future in they can retain their players.
Young player grade: A
Manchester United have plenty of youthful players but not enough have shown they have the quality to play at a club with such consistently high expectations. Of the five players under 25 that started their opening day defeat to Swansea, Tyler Blackett (20) and Jesse Lingard (21) were making their Manchester United debuts. Phil Jones (22) and Chris Smalling (24) are solid enough squad players but have yet to establish themselves as first team regulars and they need to step up their performances in defense after the summer departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. For me Jones looks the more likely to do so. Only goalkeeper David De Gea (23) has been a regular starter at the club. At 25, new midfield signing Ander Herrera is still quite young and an upgrade on Tom Cleverley (also 25) while 26 year old Juan Mata should still have several seasons remaining at his peak. Danny Welbeck's (23) energy and work rate are useful off the bench but he's never given the impression he'll be a 20 goal a season scorer. New signing Marcos Rojo (24) offers versatility at the back- he can play center back or left wing back- and has big game experience having started in 6 of Argentina's 7 World Cup games including the final. Luke Shaw (19) was excellent at Southampton last season and came with a hefty price tag. Louis Van Gaal was unimpressed with his fitness this summer and he's probably more suited to playing as a traditional fullback in a four man defense than a wing back in Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 but LVG is tactically flexible and may well change shape in the near future. United's key big players Wayne Rooney (28), Robin Van Persie (31) and Michael Carrick (33) all have their best years behind them. Van Gaal has never been afraid to install youth players and he'll need to consider how he'll replace those three sooner rather than later.
Young player grade: B
Tottenham can be cautiously optimistic about [most of] their five young starters from week 1- (Christian Eriksen (22), Nabil Bentaleb (19), Eric Dier (20), Danny Rose (24) and Erik Lamela (22). Eriksen already established himself as a quality Premier League player in his first season, compiling 7 league goals and 8 assists. Bentaleb started in 3 of Algeria's 4 games at the World Cup and should continue to get opportunities to develop under Mauricio Pochettino, who showed in his time at Southampton he's more than happy to field capable youngsters. Dier's Spurs debut got off to a flying start as he picked up a stoppage time winner over Spurs and MOTM honors. Danny Rose is inconsistent and prone to errors but Spurs have just signed 21 year old Ben Davies from Swansea. Davies became a regular starter early last season under Michael Laudrup and was a surprising success- he could secure the left back position over Rose. The verdict is out on Lamela- Spurs' record signing was certainly a disappointment in his first season, struggling to get a game before succumbing to injury- but he enjoyed a strong preseason and should enjoy a stronger rapport with fellow countrymen Pochettino than with Tim Sherwood in the second half of last season. Spurs are also currently missing 24 year old right back Kyle Walker through injury. Walker is exceptionally athletic and likely would have been England's starting right back at the World Cup. Under Pochettino the young players will get their chances.
Young player grade: B
Four of Liverpool's five starters under 25 played an integral part in the Merseyside outfit's impressive second place finish last season. Daniel Sturridge scored 21 goals, second only to then teammate Luis Suarez in the Premier League. Raheem Sterling was something of a revelation, scoring 9 goals and assisting 5. Coutinho's 7 goals and 7 assists were likewise impressive while Jordan Henderson provided 4 goals and 7 assists of his own as he improved vastly from the previous season. Those four players combined for 41 goals and 28 assists. Liverpool's fifth starter under 25 from match week 1 was right back Javier Manquillo, on loan from Atletico Madrid. Brendan Rodgers has also added 20 year old winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica, a player with high expectations after impressing in Portugal. Liverpool look poised for a bright future but like Arsenal need to do what they can to hold on to their best players.
Young player grade: A
Chelsea boast an outrageously talented collection of young players. Of their five starters under 25 in match week one, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois were all regular starters at the World Cup. The fifth player, Andre Schurrle, was Germany's second leading scorer off the bench and provided the assist for Mario Gotze's winner in the final. Add in Diego Costa (25), Willian (26) and Nemanja Matic (26), it's a Chelsea side you'd expect to remain stable for quite some time. Chelsea also won the under-21 Premier League last season though few of the club's youth players end up getting a chance with the senior side. After years spent shelling out on big money signings at or just past the peak of their best, Chelsea's recent signing of younger talent bodes well for the future.
Young Player Grade: A
The five teams that started five or more players under 25 make up five of the six Premier League teams you'd expect to compete for a top four finish consistently. The sixth, Manchester City, have quite a different squad makeup. The defending league champions started just one player under 25 in match week one, forward Stevan Jovetic. New center back signing Eliaquim Mangala is the only other City player under 25 likely to play any sort of a prominent role this season. Jovetic and Matija Nastasic are the only City players under 25 to have appeared in more than 10 league games last season; Nastasic is certain to depart for Italy before the transfer window closes after the arrival of Mangala. The lack of young players in the squad suggests the club aren't terribly concerned with FFP compliance in the coming years since they'll need to continue to purchase players as current squad members pass their peak. City's plethora of veteran players with title winning experience certainly contributed in part to their success last season but in the near future its squad will need an overhaul. With FFP City won't be able to make that overhaul in one transfer window. Of City's five signings last summer only Jovetic is under 25 while Fernandinho is 29, Jesus Navas is 28, Alvaro Negredo is 29 and Martin Demichelis is 33. They need to start making signings with an eye towards the future. Their U-21 side finished 4th in the U-21 Premier League last season so there are promising young players at the club but, like Chelsea, promotion to the senior squad for youth players has been all but impossible in recent years.
Young player grade: C-