Premier League 2021-22 review: young players of the season | Premier League

Bukayo Saka, 20 (Arsenal)

These days, it’s a bad day to be a left-back when Arsenal come to town. Whether you view the Gunners’ season as a failure or one of improvement, there is no doubt that this has been the one where Saka, despite his tender age, has become the club’s talisman. There are few players in the league, perhaps the world, with the Ealing-born winger’s poise and balance, and the beauty of his dribbling off the right flank is that he is just as happy to drive to the byline on his right foot as he is keen to cut inside on his left. Saka is intelligent on the pitch, eloquent off it, and Arsenal are lucky to have someone so fiercely loyal to the club. What is frightening is how much better he could become, especially if Arsenal invest in a proper striker and a right-back capable of overlapping and creating more space for Saka.

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Dejan Kulusevski, 22 (Tottenham)

The only non-Englishman to feature here, Kulusevski has qualified for this list despite arriving from Juventus only in January. Since then, he’s racked up as many assists (eight) as Kevin De Bruyne has managed all season, and alongside Spurs’ other mid-season addition, Rodrigo Bentancur, has been a key reason why the club made a late dash for the top four. Rather than blistering pace or a dazzling array of skills, what stands out with Kulusevski is tactical nous and excellent decision-making – choosing the right pass under pressure – which Antonio Conte values deeply. Tottenham are expected to make his loan permanent this summer for €30m, which feels cheap for a player who quickly became a fan favourite, supporters showing their love for the Swede with a chant based upon Abba’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

Dejan Kulusevski
Dejan Kulusevski has been a revelation since arriving at Spurs in January. Photograph: Vincent Mignott/EPA

Phil Foden, 21 (Manchester City)

This is Foden’s third consecutive inclusion on this list, which goes some way to explaining how consistently brilliant he’s been since his Manchester City debut way back in 2017. Operating mostly off the left wing this season, though with the ability to play almost anywhere, Foden makes very difficult things look very easy, and seems to glide around world-class opponents at will. Wearing a perma-grimace – which seems to suggest that he always expects more from himself and his teammates – Foden’s passing completion verges on 90%, which is outrageous considering how progressive and brave he is with the ball. His best performances have probably come in the Champions League but without his nine league goals, including a rasping equaliser at Anfield and winners at Brentford and Everton, City would not be champions.

Conor Gallagher, 22 (Crystal Palace)

Thomas Tuchel has confirmed he wants Gallagher in Chelsea’s squad for next season, and it’s easy to see why. There have been numerous sensational all-action displays on loan at Palace, where he oscillated between a No 6 and a No 8 role and set the tone for Patrick Vieira’s high press with his energy, winning duels he had no right to win and snuffing out danger at source. Goals are only part of his game, but his screamer against Everton – curled in off the bar from outside the box after he won back possession high up the pitch – encapsulates his all-round game, and Gallagher put forward his nomination for First Touch of the Season to set up a strike against Watford, killing a cross stone dead and shimmying past Hassane Kamara in one glorious swoosh, before lashing into the top corner.

Conor Gallagher of Crystal Palace.
Conor Gallagher’s performances on loan at Crystal Palace have impressed Thomas Tuchel. Photograph: Micah Crook/Shutterstock

Ryan Sessegnon, 22 (Tottenham)

If Kulusevski has been a revelation since his first day in a Spurs shirt, Sessegnon has been a slow burner. His Tottenham career appeared to be over when on loan at Hoffenheim last season but under Conte, particularly since the turn of the year, he has quietly transformed himself into one of the team’s most important players. As a left wing-back, the former Fulham starlet has pocketed Mohamed Salah and Saka in crucial clashes recently, and his man-of-the-match display against Burnley means he edges out Palace’s Marc Guéhi and Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey for the final spot on this list. With Sessegnon comfortable in a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, it would be a shock not to see him make his England debut next month in the Nations League to put himself in contention for the World Cup.

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