The introduction of the U21 Premier League this season has already given a boost to the careers of plenty of young players, with the competition adding to the success of the Next Gen tournament in raising the profile of the best youngster around the country.
Yesterday saw two of the most talented groups of youth players play against each other Manchester United took on Arsenal, and there were two men in that match that stood out as having the potential to step up to their club's first team perhaps as soon as next season.
Nick Powell is the better known of the pair, and has already made an impression on the Manchester United first team by scoring after coming on during their 4-0 win over Wigan. The former Crewe player played in a more advanced role than usual for the U21s against Arsenal, and netted to square the game at 2-2.
The man who opened the scoring, and indeed finished it, was Arsenal's 17 year old striker Chuba Akpom. It was the youngster's second brace in a week, as he scored twice for the England U19 side as they beat Denmark 3-1 last Tuesday, and followed on from impressive performances in the NextGen Series for Arsenal earlier in the season.
Powell's potential is fairly well known after his displays for Crewe, but Akpom has yet to really have an impression at a senior level. This must surely only be a matter of time, as Akpom has all the attributes to make the step up.
Consistently playing above his age group in the youth ranks has shown he has the physical presence required to match up to anyone, and coming through Arsenal's academy has no doubt aided the development of his technical ability too.
Both Akpom and Powell will no doubt have relished the extra attention that the new youth competitions have given them, and they should be better prepared for senior football as a result.
Arsenal and Manchester United will be well aware of the talent in their ranks, and there's every chance we could see Akpom and Powell playing regularly for their first teams in the near future.
Can Akpom and Powell make the breakthrough at their clubs?
image: © nextgenphoto