Academy graduates from Man Utd, Liverpool and Newcastle have given their managers reason to keep them around this season. And Brighton appear to have another one.
Here are five youngsters boosting their first-team prospects in pre-season…
Simon Adingra (Brighton)
Brighton might have done it again…
Ivorian winger Adingra appears to be the latest player to roll off their production line ready for the first team if his pre-season exploits are any indication.
The 21-year-old signed for the Seagulls a year ago from Nordsjaelland but spent his first season in Belgium with Union Saint-Gilloise scoring 11 goals and offering nine assists in 30 league appearances.
Adingra has been integrated into Roberto De Zerbi’s squad during pre-season and the Seagulls’ European commitments means he is likely to be kept around, especially after a brace in Brighton’s pre-season win over Brentford. On top of that, he looks like an entertainer, with the kind of pace and directness that will terrify full-backs.
We all know how this goes now, don’t we? Adingra will be phased in around Kaoru Mitoma while the Japan star tears up the Premier League and Europa League; Mitoma will go for £80million and Adingra will step in seamlessly. They’re so good at this, they’re almost boring.
Ben Doak (Liverpool)
The Liverpool teenager is another thrilling dribbler who has caught the eye of everyone at Liverpool in pre-season. It’s not just fans who are buzzing with what they have seen so far from the Scotland Under-21 international; apparently Jurgen Klopp’s senior stars already trust him to play a large part in their ranks this season.
Doak has played only 42 minutes for Klopp’s first team, back around the turn of the year, but then he had barely turned 17. “He’s a special boy,” said the manager. “He’s really confident, has something nobody else delivers really, this kind of dribbling, this kind of straight-forward bravery, all these kind of things.”
There has been plenty of evidence of that in Doak’s pre-season performances. The former Celtic youngster spent some of his summer break working with a personal trainer to prepare for a huge pre-season and it seems to be paying dividends.
What next? Liverpool could send Doak on loan to continue his adaptation to senior football away from the Anfield spotlight but his pre-season performances so far, and Klopp’s opinion of him, suggest he could have a role to play for the reds this term, certainly in the first half of the season.
📊 No one attempted (6) and completed (4) more dribbles for #LFC today than Ben Doak.
An excellent first appearance for the youngster in pre-season. pic.twitter.com/fUBscIwYDh
— Bence Bocsák (@BenBocsak) July 19, 2023
Kobbie Mainoo (Man Utd)
It was all going so well for Mainoo…
The young midfielder was excellent in United’s pre-season wins over Leeds and Lyon before the 18-year-old took it to another level against Arsenal in New York last Saturday. So good as he been that Erik ten Hag chose to start him again against a Real Madrid midfield containing Jude Bellingham, Luka Modric, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni.
Mainoo’s big night lasted only two minutes, at which point Rodrygo bundled into the United youngster having been sent sprawling by Casemiro. Mainoo was helped from the pitch and left the stadium in Houston wearing a protective boot.
It’s a terribly timed blow for Mainoo, but he may have already done enough to persuade Ten Hag to keep him around when he recovers, perhaps even to the point that the manager will save some of his pennies rather than buy another midfielder like Sofyan Amrabat.
Ian Maatsen (Chelsea)
Maatsen’s quality in pre-season may have caught some Chelsea supporters off guard but Burnley fans won’t be surprised. The 21-year-old played a starring role in the Clarets’ Championship-winning effort. So much so, they have been trying to buy him back – which looks less likely with each Chelsea friendly.
The Dutch full-back has been one of the standout performers in a Blues squad evidently keen to impress new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Maatsen scored a brace against Wrexham and caught the eye against Brighton while playing higher up the left flank.
He started for the third consecutive game, this time against Newcastle, on the right flank. The most telling contribution in an hour on the pitch was an assist for Jackson’s goal, while dovetailing beautifully with Reece James when the full-back bombed on.
“I am so happy with him,” said Pochettino after a 1-1 draw. “He is a player that can play in different positions. His quality, his understanding of the game, he is a clever player. I am so happy with him. So far he is in my plans.”
Which is bad news for Burnley, and anyone else eyeing a £20million bargain.
Lewis Miley (Newcastle)
Newcastle haven’t had many youngsters breakthrough in recent seasons, but just as it looks tougher than ever for academy graduates to make the step up, Miley is threatening to do just that.
The 17-year-old has featured in all the Toon’s pre-season friendlies so far, culminating in a starring role against Chelsea in central midfield, flanked by £100million pair Sandro Tonali and Joelinton.
“I’m sure he’ll get minutes this year,” said Howe when asked about Miley’s prospects before insisting that he won’t be sent out on loan – primarily because he is so young. “The plan has been consistent in my mind. There are no thoughts about sending him on loan, he’s too young to be exposed to that at the moment. He needs to stay with his family and learn and develop around the players we have.”
Bruno Guimaraes, one of the players standing between Miley and the minutes Howe has promised him, evidently rates the local lad…
— Bruno Guimarães (@brunoog97) July 27, 2023