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StatsBomb Safari: Eying up England's Young Lions

By Oliver Walker | January 27, 2020 | National Teams

As English academies continue to pump out rafts of new professional footballers year after year, one of the most effective quality control measures for testing the shiny new players coming off the production line is to send them out onto a pitch in League Two, League One, or the Championship to see if they can handle themselves in senior football.

Indeed, 20 of the 23 players that made up England’s World Cup squad in 2018 had experienced first-team football at some level in the English Football League at some point in the early stages of their career, whilst 5 members of England’s most recent squad for the November internationals played in the Championship last season.

This season is no different; plenty of talent is beginning to flourish across the Championship and League One, but there’s also plenty of international age-group teammates that’ll soon join them on loan for the second half of the campaign. Here’s where you should keep your eyes fixed to spot the England internationals of the future.

Goalkeepers

2018-19 EFL Alumni: Dean Henderson (Sheffield United, on loan from Manchester United) & Aaron Ramsdale (AFC Bournemouth)

Player In Focus: Nathan Trott (’98), (AFC Wimbledon, on loan from West Ham)

Pickings on the goalkeeper front are slimmer this year, and Henderson and Ramsdale are tough acts to follow, but of the contenders, Nathan Trott is having a true breakout season. Flourishing in the same AFC Wimbledon landing spot where Ramsdale made his name last season, the West Ham loanee has held the number #1 jersey since opening day and, not that it’s an indicator of talent, has made more saves than any other keeper in League One, his shot-stopping skills getting a regular workout behind the Wimbledon defence.

These workouts appear to be paying off. Based on the post-shot information StatsBomb collect to better evaluate goalkeepers, such as shot placement, Trott should’ve saved 72% of the shots he’s faced. His 77% save percentage is not only the highest in League One, it’s also above expected based on the quality of shots he’s faced.

Like Ramsdale last season, Trott’s reaping the benefits of being a big fish at a club fighting to avoid relegation, whilst Wimbledon benefit from the extra quality he’s brought between the sticks. Having featured in the England U21 squad in the September internationals, he could see a March call up again, likely linking him up with Wimbledon predecessor Ramsdale.

Other notables:

  • Joe Bursik (’00), (Accrington Stanley, on loan from Stoke City)
  • Billy Crellin (’00), (Fleetwood Town)

Right Backs

2018-19 EFL Alumni: Reece James (Chelsea), Max Aarons, (Norwich City)

Player In Focus: Nathan Ferguson (’00), (West Bromwich Albion)

Not that we really need to perform a depth check on English right backs right now given the sheer abundance of them, but plenty are pushing through, hoping to provide competition for that spot in the future.

Nathan Ferguson being selected for his full West Brom debut on the opening day of the season raised eyebrows, but the academy product hasn’t looked back, accumulating 1773 minutes in the league since. There’s some uncertainty over which position he’ll fulfil long-term which makes Ferguson’s future curious, having come through the West Brom academy system as a centre back, before debuting and impressing at right back before also filling in (and equally impressing) at left back for several games. Surprisingly for a player nurtured as a centre back, Ferguson possesses real ability on the dribble, beating his marker with a quick drop of the shoulder and burst of acceleration on numerous occasions this campaign.

Accruing 8 caps between the England U18 and U20 level, expect to see him competing with Max Aarons and Reece James in the England U21 squad next season, as well as a possible move to the Premier League. West Brom themselves may keep their man, but major clubs are on high alert as Ferguson’s contract due to expire this summer.

Other notables:

  • Jayden Bogle (’00), Derby County)
  • Steven Sessegnon (’00), (Fulham)
  • Djed Spence (’00), (Middlesbrough)
  • Tom Edwards (’99), (Stoke City)
  • Luke Matheson (’02), (Rochdale)

Centre Backs

2018-19 EFL Alumni: Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea), Axel Tuanzebe (Manchester United), Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), Ben Godfrey (Norwich City), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa)

Player In Focus: Ben Wilmot (’99), (Swansea City, on loan from Watford)

After his breakthrough at League Two Stevenage in 2017–18, Wilmot has yet to get a real opportunity in the Watford first team. His chances of competing there next season are increasing due to a series of steady performances for Swansea. It took until October for him to break into the Swans backline, but Wilmot has been a mainstay ever since, playing in a fertile environment for young players under EnglandU17 World Cup-winning coach Steve Cooper.

Capable of playing in the holding midfield role as well, his contribution isn't limited to defending his own penalty box. He's displayed a threat at set plays, contributing two goals to Swansea’s play-off chasing cause. To further capture the interest of those with an eye on England’s future, Wilmot now faces competition for his place in the heart of the Swansea defence from fellow U21 capped Marc Guehi, who’s joined on loan from Chelsea.

Other notables:

  • Marc Guehi (’00), (Swansea City, on loan from Chelsea)
  • Nathan Wood (’02), (Middlesbrough)
  • Ro-Shaun Williams (’98), (Shrewsbury Town)
  • Luke Woolfenden (’98), Ipswich Town)
  • Cameron John (’99), (Doncaster Rovers, on loan from Wolverhampton)
  • Aji Alese (’01), (Accrington Stanley, on loan from West Ham)

Left Backs

2018-19 EFL Alumni: James Justin (Leicester City)

Player In Focus: Sam McCallum (’00), (Coventry City)

In stark comparison to their right-sided counterparts, good English left backs continue to be in short supply, a scarcity highlighted by the last five starters at left back or left wing back for the U21’s: James Justin, Jonathan Panzo, Dwight McNeil, Steve Sessegnon and Lloyd Kelly — none of whom are likely to play left back in the long term. Which makes the emergence of Sam McCallum a timely one for the England scouts, and he should expect an international call up for the U21s should he maintain the form he’s showed in the opening half of the campaign.

Currently impressing in a Coventry side pushing for automatic promotion from League One, McCallum began the season second in the pecking order but has since forced his way in and held down his place in the starting XI. Signed in the summer of 2018 from non-league Herne Bay to play a part in the Coventry U23 squad, his development has accelerated rapidly. It looks likely McCallum will be the first graduate of serious note to emerge from Jamie Vardy’s V9 academy. There’s plenty yet to develop in his game, but he’s shown enough potential to catch the attention of recruitment departments higher up the football food chain.

Other notables

  • Jay Dasilva (’98), (Bristol City)
  • Omar Richards (’98), (Reading)
  • Lee Buchanan (’01), (Derby County)

Central Midfielders

2018-19 EFL Alumni: Mason Mount (Chelsea)

Player In Focus: Flynn Downes (’99), (Ipswich Town)

Downes is a player whose star has incessantly rose since his first team debut in 2017–18, making fleeting appearances for Ipswich before a loan spell in League Two during the second half of that season. He featured more regularly when Ipswich were relegated from the Championship in 2018–19 and the drop in quality seems hugely beneficial to the development of Downes, who has established himself not only as a key pillar in the Ipswich midfield, but as one of the brightest prospects overall in the third tier this season.

With 11 caps between the U19 and U20 level, Downes should be in line for an U21 call up, especially with a summer move away from Ipswich looking increasingly inevitable. Always roving around the midfield, always hot on the heels of the opposition possession, never leaving it long to outstretch a leg, nicking the ball away and restarting the Ipswich attack.

Other notables:

  • Trevoh Chalobah (’99) (Huddersfield Town, on loan from Chelsea)
  • Jude Bellingham (’03), (Birmingham City)
  • Conor Gallagher (’00), (Swansea City, on loan from Chelsea)
  • Jamie Shackleton (’99), (Leeds United)
  • Andre Dozzell (’99), (Ipswich Town)

Attacking Midfielders and Wide Players

2018–19 EFL Alumni: Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)

Player In Focus: Grady Diangana (’98), West Brom on loan from West Ham)

Avid StatsBomb readers might remember Diangana getting the once-over on this site already this season (you can read the early assessment here). We’re re-upping the West Ham loanee for two reasons: 1) the player has struggled with injury in the last month or so, not-so-coincidentally coinciding with a drop in West Brom’s form and 2) Diangana is one of only six players (four of them English) in the 2019–20 Championship and League One to exceed the magical 0.20 expected goals per 90 minutes and 0.20 expected goals assisted from open play per 90 threshold.

Depending on how long he’s out for, Diangana may miss out on a March call up to add to his solitary U21 cap. West Brom fans won’t care about that. The sooner he sets boot to pitch again to help with their promotion push the better, with it very likely he’ll be pushing for starts in West Ham’s attack next season.

Other notables:

  • Ebere Eze (’98), (Queens Park Rangers)
  • Marcus Tavernier (’99), (Middlesbrough)
  • Luke Thomas (’99), (Barnsley)
  • Emile Smith-Rowe (’00), (Huddersfield Town, on loan from Arsenal)
  • Jack Clarke (’00), (Queens Park Rangers, on loan from Tottenham)
  • Elliot Embleton (’99), (Sunderland)

Forwards

EFL 2018-19 Alumni: Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)

Player In Focus: Eddie Nketiah (’99), (Arsenal)

Allow me to explain Nketiah’s inclusion as the final entry on this list. The shortlist of forwards contained either expired loans (in Nketiah’s case), newly agreed loans (thus no or few minutes played), or few minutes played full stop. Indeed, none of the contenders played over 1200 minutes in the first half of the campaign. It's the question of he might still go back on loan to the Championship, or more likely make fleeting appearances for Mikel Arteta’s new Arsenal for the remainder of the campaign, that made Nketiah the most interesting case to focus on.

The first thing to note with Nketiah and how highly his talent is regarded is that this was his first loan and he went straight in at one of the pre-season favourites in the Championship. That he didn’t get more playing time is more down to Marcelo Bielsa’s strict aversion to squad rotation than it is Nketiah not living up to expectations, though it’s fair to say his skillset suited Leeds less than that of the more-rounded Patrick Bamford, who dominated the striker minutes whilst Nketiah was there.

That didn’t stop the Arsenal youngster from affecting the gamein the appearances he did make: His 3 goals off the bench all came post-80 minutes and all gained points for Leeds, notching two winners and an equaliser. He should get the chance to add to his 8 goals in 8 U21 international appearances soon and mark my words, it won’t be long before you see Nketiah’s name on the vidiprinter soon.

Other notables:

  • Rhian Brewster (’00), (Swansea City, on loan from Liverpool)
  • Tyrese Campbell (’99), (Stoke City)
  • Danny Loader (’00), (Reading)
  • Joe Gelhardt (’02), (Wigan Athletic)
  • Tyreece John-Jules (’01), (Lincoln City, on loan from Arsenal)
Article by Oliver Walker