With a break in Premier League action for the November international break, we’ve taken a look at the competition’s standout U21 performers. Players from Burnley, Chelsea, Nottingham Forest, Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City are represented in the XI. To be included, players must have been aged 21 or under as of the 1st August 2023.
England U21 goalkeeper James Trafford has started each of Burnley’s 12 matches in the Premier League so far this season, and though he may not have a huge amount to shout about thus far, he has evidently earned the trust of manager Vincent Kompany, for the way in which he can play with the ball at his feet. Trafford’s WhoScored rating of 6.45 ranks him as Burnley’s ninth best player so far this season.
Having come into the starting XI after captain Reece James sustained an injury against Liverpool on the opening day, 20-year-old Malo Gusto impressed in a home victory over Luton two weeks later, providing the assist for two of Chelsea’s three goals that evening. Gusto started six consecutive matches in James’ absence, and will have reassured Blues supporters that the club have finally secured a capable understudy for their somewhat injury-prone skipper.
Of the players to have made more than three appearances in the Premier League this season, Brazilian centre-back Murillo ranks second highest for Nottingham Forest, with a WhoScored rating of 7.00 - his score can only be bettered by defensive partner Willy-Arnaud Boly (7.19). Having arrived in the final days of the summer window, Murillo did not play a part for Forest until the welcome of Brentford on October 1st. Since then, the 21-year-old has cemented his place in Steve Cooper’s first-choice XI with a number of impressive performances, with the standout coming in the trip to Crystal Palace (7.66).
After spending last season on loan at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, Jarrad Branthwaite has returned to Everton as the player many supporters will have hoped he’d be. The 21-year-old centre-back has formed a strong partnership with James Tarkowski and helped the Toffees to a revival of form in recent weeks, with four wins from their last seven in the Premier League. Branthwaite’s standout performance so far this term came in the 1-0 victory at West Ham three weeks ago, when he made a total of four tackles and interceptions along with 10 clearances, to earn a WhoScored rating of 7.64.
Levi Colwill’s story is similar to that of Branthwaite, having returned to Chelsea after a successful loan spell at Brighton last season. Colwill started each of Chelsea’s first 11 Premier League matches under Mauricio Pochettino, only missing the clash with Manchester City through illness, and has looked right at home. The 20-year-old’s strongest performance thus far came in the 2-0 victory away to Fulham at the beginning of October, where he registered an assist, three tackles, one interception and three clearances, for a WhoScored rating of 8.00.
In his second season at Goodison Park, Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana continues to put in midfield performances far beyond his years. Arguably one of the club’s most important players, Onana has started 11 of 12 Premier League matches under Sean Dyche this term, with his best display coming in the 3-0 home victory over Bournemouth in early October, where he made four tackles and one key pass to return a WhoScored rating of 7.69.
Senegalese midfielder Pape Matar Sarr made just two starts in the Premier League last season, and has already surpassed his total of appearances last season, this time around. Sarr has proved a vital cog in new Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou’s midfield, and has started each of their last 11 league matches. The 21-year-old, who often sits alongside Yves Bissouma in a more defensive midfield role, has also chipped in with three goal contributions this term, including a crucial goal against Manchester United in August to secure a first win of the season.
Arsenal star Bukayo Saka, who only turned 22 at the beginning of September, continues to position himself among the Premier League’s best players, particularly when it comes to attacking output. The England international winger has registered four goals and four assists so far this term, finding the net just as often as he sets up a teammate to do so. Saka’s standout performance thus far came in the 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham, where he made four key passes, two successful dribbles and three accurate crosses, as well as putting his side ahead from the penalty spot in the second half, to earn a WhoScored rating of 8.25.
Since swapping Manchester City for Chelsea in the summer, Cole Palmer’s Premier League career has truly sprung into life, and the 21-year-old has already notched six goal contributions for the season, with each of those coming in his last five matches. Palmer’s most impressive performance came in the 4-1 victory away to Tottenham two weeks ago, where he converted a first-half penalty and provided the assist for Nicolas Jackson to complete his hat-trick late in second-half stoppage time. Palmer also made one key pass and completed four successful dribbles, to land a WhoScored rating of 8.70.
Going level with Bukayo Saka as the highest rated U21 player in the Premier League is Manchester City’s Jeremy Doku, who has proved a revelation since his summer move from Rennes. The Belgian winger has been a breath of fresh air in Pep Guardiola’s side, with his expressive dribbling style allowed to persist, particularly against weaker opposition. Without a doubt, Doku’s standout performance came in the 6-1 home victory over Bournemouth two weeks ago, when he registered a whopping four assists (along with finding the net himself), to earn a perfect WhoScored rating of 10.0.
Leading the line in this best XI is Ireland international striker Evan Ferguson, who has picked up where he left off last season for Brighton, with five Premier League goals to his name so far this term. Ferguson netted his first ever Premier League hat-trick in the 3-1 victory over Newcastle in early September to earn his highest ever WhoScored rating, of 9.96.