August 2022 EFL Young Players of the Month

The EFL has produced and helped develop some of the most talented players in the Premier League and across Europe over recent seasons. I want to shine a spotlight on some of these emerging stars right as they are coming to the fore by selecting a young player (21 or under at the time of selection) of the month – along with some honourable mentions – for each of League Two, League One, and the Championship.

The Championship

This list of August candidates is dominated by a young Sunderland side who have made a solid start to the season on their return to the Championship. Highly thought of Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has utilised a marriage of academy graduates along with young Premier League loanees and budget recruits to build this rejuvenated squad – an approach that proved fruitful at his previous club Birmingham where he oversaw the development of Demarai Gray, Che Adams, and Jude Bellingham.

YPOTM – Jack Clarke

With two goals and three assists from left-wingback for Sunderland, Jack Clarke is my pick for the month of August in the Championship.

Having broken through as an exciting winger at 17 years old in Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side, Clarke perhaps prematurely joined Spurs, who seemingly had no development plan and endured manager turnover. This unsurprisingly stunted Clarke’s development, but – after unsuccessful loans to QPR and Stoke – Clarke joined Sunderland in League One last January and began to show his old form helping them to promotion with his performances in a new role as a left-wingback. He joined the side permanently over the summer and has raised his performance levels yet again in the Championship.

Clarke has excellent acceleration over 5-10 meters to burst away from opponents while keeping the ball under control effectively, though he is weak in contact situations and struggles against good physical defenders who use their body well. As he is right-footed playing from the left, defenders tend to show Clarke down the line, which isn’t an issue as Clarke is very adept at delivering low, driven cutbacks with his left foot after driving to the touchline. Though he can also feint back onto his right foot and play flat curved crosses to the back post. His quality and variety of deliveries is probably the aspect that has most impressed me this season. As a wingback, he has more defensive responsibility than when he has played as a nominal winger in the past, and his lack of experience in the role shows as both his square body shape and timing when defending 1v1 situations could be improved. This last point may be due to the manager’s instructions and not Clarke’s fault, but I wonder if he could take up more central positions when the ball is with Sunderland’s right-wingback as it would allow Clarke to potentially arrive late in the box to score or help control counter attacks if possession is turned over. Sunderland’s acquisition of Clarke looks like brilliant business so far, and it is great to see that the explosive winger who burst onto the scene four years ago is back.

Honourable Mention – Dan Neill

Dan Neill is a product of Sunderland’s academy and, after an accelerated path through the u18s and u23s playing 3200′ PL2 minutes between 16 and 19, made his breakthrough last season and looks like he is continuing to grow this season.

Neill has a great engine which allows him to burst forward in possession and be very aggressive and active defensively, looking to challenge second balls and apply pressure from behind as opponents receive. His skill when tackling, jockeying and competing physically is impressive as – even when he doesn’t win possession or force a turnover – he usually ensures the ball is played into a less dangerous area. Neill is an effective ball carrier when he receives facing play or in space with his long strides and sharp change of direction, but he often shows a lack of awareness and loses possession when trying to escape or receive on the half turn under pressure. He has a good flat diagonal pass when in space, but his passing range is fairly basic and mainly facilitates retaining possession rather than breaking lines or creating chances. I see some similarities to Scott McTominay in his physical capacity, ball-carrying, ball-striking, and difficulty playing under pressure.

Honourable Mention – Ellis Simms

Despite their complete lack of strikers at the start of this season, Everton were happy to loan out Ellis Simms for a third consecutive season. He was prolific in youth football, which translated to League One with Blackpool, and Scotland with Hearts, and now seems to be continuing in the Championship with Sunderland.

Simms is at his best playing on the last line of the defence and in the channels, using his pace and large frame to win races to through-balls and create space to shoot. He could do a better job of finding space for cutbacks from wide areas by making more frequent movements before the ball is delivered. He has surprisingly good feet in tight areas for a player with his build and uses close control and his strength in contact situations to create separation for shots. He occasionally drops to link play before running in behind and does this fairly effectively with good timing and appreciation of space. At a higher level, Simms might not quite have the coordination or feel for the ball to be as effective, but I expect him to cause a lot of issues for opponents in the Championship this season as he is just too strong and too quick for most defenders at this level.

Honourable Mention – Taylor Harwood-Bellis

After 6-month loans at Blackburn, Anderlecht, and Stoke – where Harwood-Bellis played in various styles to varying degrees of success – it seems that the Manchester City loanee has found the perfect fit at Burnley. Reunited with his ex-Anderlecht coach and legendary Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany, this is shaping up to be the season that fully prepares Harwood-Bellis for Premier League football.

Harwood-Bellis plays with the class and composure that you would expect of a defender who came through Manchester City’s academy and was a mainstay of the England ’02 age group. He is now showing in senior football the leadership qualities and passion for defending that he consistently demonstrated in youth football, attributes that are sometimes lost among centre-backs that come through these elite academy systems.

Under Vincent Kompany, Burnley have adopted a much more proactive possession-dominant style with a younger squad, and Harwood-Bellis is crucial to their game with his ability to squeeze the play and defend isolated situations as well as handle the ball comfortably and build from the back. When applying pressure high up the pitch, Harwood-Bellis shows excellent distance control – he stays tight enough to opponents so they can’t turn to face goal but far enough away that he can’t get pinned and can still see the ball to nick it from the side or between the legs if the opportunity presents itself. When defending 1v1 in isolated situations, he jockeys effectively, staying side on, showing the attacker to one side, and constantly shifting and adjusting to match the attacker’s movements. In build-up, he drives into space well, attracting pressure to create space for teammates elsewhere and rarely makes poor decisions or miscontrols the ball. He also demonstrates an impressive variety in his passing, using clipped or driven diagonals to switch play to an advanced fullback, a lofted curling pass to play a striker in behind, or a disguised driven ground pass to find a midfielder on the half-turn. One aspect of Harwood-Bellis’ game that has remained a consistent struggle throughout his senior career has been his difficulty winning aerial duels. He is a good size and build for a centre-back and seems to be a pretty explosive athlete, but his judgement and timing in aerial duels are really poor – he tends to drop too deep and attack the ball too late.

League One

YPOTM – Anis Mehmeti

Anis Mehmeti is my League One young player of the month for August. He is a very tricky right-footed left-winger who looks like he has taken his game to another level since last season.

Mehmeti looks to receive either in the half-space or on the touchline before driving at opponents and using feints and changes of direction to create separation for a shot. He strikes the ball well off of both feet and is also good at finding space to shoot in crowded spaces in the box. Mehmeti’s movement to create separation before receiving the ball is very good, but he sometimes lacks awareness and turns into pressure. The biggest gap in his game currently is his poor chance creation which is caused by two factors – he doesn’t have a good appreciation for his teammates’ movement and often chooses to shoot from low percentage positions when the better choice is to pass, and his delivery technique when it comes to cutbacks or floated crosses is quite poor. If Mehmeti can add those elements to his game, I think he could take another step and become a useful Championship winger.

Honourable Mention – Conor Bradley

The first honourable mention is Liverpool loanee and Northern Ireland international Conor Bradley, who has made an impressive start for Bolton at right-wingback this season. His ability to drive inside with the ball has added an extra dimension to their play in possession.

Bradley is very tall for a fullback and looks a bit lanky but is surprisingly quick and strong in contact situations. He uses this athleticism primarily to drive at opponents aggressively with the ball and uses body feints and stepovers to beat defenders down the line and inside. His long stride also allows him to make impressive recovery challenges and dominate most 1v1 defensive situations. He is best defensively when the play is more transitional as he uses space and isolation to his advantage. When opponents receive the ball with time and have teammates to combine with, Bradley can get exposed as he doesn’t always approach the ball from the correct angle and sometimes overcommits in the challenge. Bradley doesn’t have much responsibility in Bolton’s buildup. Most of his passes are seeking to create chances – whether it be when he cuts inside and combines on the edge of the box or when he beats defenders 1v1 and flashes cutbacks across the box.

Honourable Mention – Ronnie Edwards

Off the back of an impressive debut campaign in the Championship for Peterborough last season and a U19 European Championship victory with England, Edwards attracted interest from several Premier League clubs, but it looks as though he will be staying with Posh until at least January. It is easy to see why he has so many admirers, as he picked up where he left off last season with very composed defending that belies his young age through the month of August.

Edwards is very mobile, which allows him to track opponents’ movements while jockeying effectively before making strong well-timed tackles to often regain possession of the ball. His defending in the box is also impressive, with his ability to read and anticipate danger well and make effective clearances. As his body is still developing and he is playing in a very physical league, he has already been exposed several times this season by strikers who can easily dominate him in the air or on the ground by simply protecting the ball and rolling Edwards. This will become easier as Edwards fills out, but he will also have to compensate for these weaknesses by not defending physical opponents so tightly and making it so easy for them to pin and roll him. Edwards is fairly comfortable in possession, typically looking to circulate the ball often as the middle centre-back in a three. He rarely looks to switch the play, but – as Peterborough often look to play aerial balls to a physical forward to use layoffs and second balls to advance play – Edwards makes a lot of these lofted forward passes and executes them well when not under pressure.

League Two

YPOTM – Paris Maghoma

My League Two Young Player of the month for August is Paris Maghoma. The Brentford loanee has looked very comfortable playing at the base of midfield for AFC Wimbledon this season, with his energy and driving runs making a big impression.

Maghoma has been crucial to AFC Wimbledon’s buildup play ball progression so far this season. He is excellent at scanning before receiving, taking his first touch to escape pressure and driving with the ball into space before laying off to a teammate. Maghoma obviously has the pedigree of coming through Tottenham’s academy and playing in England’s youth sides, but it is still surprising seeing a player in League Two so comfortable playing under pressure and driving past opponents in midfield. Maghoma usually opts for safe passes to retain possession, but when he has the space and time to pick his head up, he can switch play with expansive diagonal passes or progress the ball with driven line-splitting passes. Maghoma’s defending is currently an issue in his game, he is very aggressive and covers a lot of ground, but he frequently overcommits and approaches the ball too quickly, meaning he often concedes fouls or makes it very easy for opponents to bypass him with a simple change of direction. He also doesn’t screen his defence particularly well and generally needs to show more focus when his team doesn’t have the ball. If he can add those elements, I believe he could be a Championship player by next season.

Femi Seriki

My League Two runner-up is Sheffield United loanee Femi Seriki. Though Rochdale have made an awful start to the season, and Seriki has been somewhat inconsistent, the right-wingback has also produced some of the most impressive and exciting moments of any u21 in League Two so far this season.

He looks like he is comfortably the fastest player in the league and one of the strongest, so when he receives with time and space to set himself before driving forward with the ball, he is almost unstoppable. There is still a lot to refine in his play, and it is hard to say how much progress Seriki will make on that front if Rochdale continue with this level of performance and results, but I think it could be very exciting to follow his progress throughout the season.


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