The smarterscout 2020-21 Premier League Second Team
It's a youth movement in the Premier League!
Our Best XI for the 2020-21 season featured plenty of veterans – with the notable exception of Pedro Neto – but our second team is chock full of youngsters. Premier League clubs have been recruiting top young talent from around Europe, and the FA's new rules on work permits will allow them to go even further afield for the top starlets.
As a reminder, these teams are based on simple formulas created using our major performance metrics at each position:
GK: Defending quality, Defending quantity, ball retention, and a blend of shotstopping ratings based on the frequency of each type of shot
CB and DM: Defending quality, defending quantity, and ball retention
FB, WM, and CM: Attacking output, defending quality, and defending quantity
CAM/SS and W: Attacking output and a weighted average of (1) a blend of finishing ratings based on the frequency of each type of shot and (2) ball retention based on the player's propensity to shoot versus attempt other actions
CF/ST: Attacking output and a blend of finishing ratings based on the frequency of each type of shot
We've chosen a 4-2-3-1 again, and each player needs at least a 20 rating out of 99 for attacking output, defending quality, defending quantity, ball retention, and skill in duels. We're only selecting players with at least 1,900' played in the league, or the equivalent of 20 full matches. So here's our second team:
Now it's true that Trent Alexander-Arnold has seen a fair few Premier League campaigns, but he's still under 23. So are Mason Mount (22), Wesley Fofana (20), and Bukayo Saka (19). Gabriel Magalhaes is 23, and Yves Bissouma and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are 24. There isn't a player aged 30 or older in the group.
Mount has been so good this season that only Kevin de Bruyne could keep him out of the Best XI. We published a playerfocus column on him back in October, and he's become even stronger since. We used to hear, "Yeah, Mount is good at X, but he can't do Y...." Well, there's not much he can't do anymore:
Taking on players 1v1 is about the only important area where Mount is below average. He's not great in the air, either. But for virtually anything else, he excels – and given his age, he should be classed among the most valuable players in the world.
And if we're talking about value, we have to mention Saka as well. There are precious few players in our database who put up similar numbers at RW during their teenage years. Here are two of them, compared with the smarterscout young prospect:
Obviously the three players have very different styles, but Saka's finishing is his main weak spot in comparison to Jadon Sancho and Kylian Mbappe. Is that something the coaches at Arsenal might work on with him?
Another player who is a huge contributor to his club but could also work on his finishing is Adama Traore. He's never been a huge scorer from RW, but at CAM/SS he has had an unusual tendency to see his shots blocked:
Putting aside Traore's lone header, he had 9 out of 15 shots in open play stopped before they reached the six-yard box, and only half of the other six were on target. Clearly Traore can do more as a creator than as a scorer, but without Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota in the lineup, he didn't have many options for the final pass.
Finishing has been much less of a problem for Calvert-Lewin this season. Always dominant in the air, he had trouble creating chances and scoring at par in his early seasons with Everton's first team. Both of those aspects of his game had already improved last season, after the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti:
Ancelotti started playing Calvert-Lewin for full matches immediately after arriving on Merseyside in December 2019. Since then, the change in Calvert-Lewin's form – and consequently his value – has likely been enough to offset Ancelotti's hefty pay packet. According to our formula, the Toffee talisman is now the league's second-best striker.
But enough about scoring – what about the players keeping the opposition at bay? Bissouma has been a dynamo for Brighton this season, giving his special greeting to every blade of grass between the two penalty areas:
Bissouma is also excellent in duels, a quality he shares with Fofana. And what can we say about the 20-year-old who played every minute of 22 matches this season? He's the second coming of Joel Matip:
Apart from the ball retention, it's uncanny – and Matip was several years older.
We're not going to go into detail on Raheem Sterling and Lucas Digne, who are known quantities in the Premier League. We had a playerfocus on Sterling earlier this season, too. But before we go, we want to appreciate the pure majesty of Nick Pope's shotstopping numbers:
If that isn't good enough for England, we don't know what is.
Now, we promised to add three more wildcards to our squad to make a full 25. One is Cesar Azpilicueta, who's been a rock as a third CB for Chelsea. His teammate Reece James, who's the Premier League's best player spread over RB and RM/RWB, is next. And then Illan Meslier is our third GK. See you next season!