A third of the way into the season, it is fair to say that a number of hot prospects have either emerged or continued to develop this season, and we at WhoScored are always keen to give credit where credit's due.
Perhaps the most high pressure role to fill at a young age is at centre-back, and in this feature we look at the best of them aged 21 or under according to our unique rating system, filtering out those who are yet to start on more than 3 occasions in the current campaign. The results brought about a nice round figure of 10 players with an average rating of at least 7 thus far, so without further ado here is a rundown of those that made the grade.
10. Joel Matip (Schalke) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.00 Goals conceded when playing: 14 (1.17 per game)
By no means a newcomer to the Bundesliga, Cameroonian defender Joel Matip has continued to establish himself as a key man in Schalke's youthful side this season, making 12 appearances to date. Statistically Matip is strong when it comes to tackles (2.75 per game) and interceptions (2.83 per game) but falls a little short in aerial duels, winning just 1 a game on average.
9. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (Valenciennes) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.04 Goals conceded when playing: 14 (1.08 per game)
Already a mainstay in a Valenciennes side performing above expectations in 6th in Ligue 1, Isimat-Mirin has played in all but one of the French outfit's league games this season. The Frenchman reads the game well, with 2.08 interceptions per game, and is capable of doing the dirty work too, averaging 8.46 clearances a match, but will need to up a tackles per game average of 1.31 to make the next step.
8. Frederik Sorensen (Bologna) - 20 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.06 Goals conceded when playing: 5 (0.83 per game)
Danish centre-half Sorensen was sent to Bologna in a co-ownership deal from Juventus in January and Antonio Conte will be keeping a watchful eye on the youngster’s progress with the Rossoblu. The 20 year old has averaged an exceptional 3.67 interceptions per game in his 6 appearances this season, with an average of 2.67 tackles also an impressive return. While he is very comfortable on the deck, like Matip he will need to improve in the air to convince Conte that he is fit for the Old Lady.
7. Matija Nastasic (Manchester City) - 19 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.07 Goals conceded when playing: 3 (0.43 per game)
That very few people have really questioned the fact that a teenager is playing at the heart of the Premier League champions' defence is testament to the maturity of Nastasic's displays since moving from Fiorentina. Playing 7 games this season (once for the Viola), the Serbian has helped City to 4 clean sheets in just 6 starts and has proven to be very adept in an aerial challenge, winning 3.71 per game thus far.
6. Marquinhos (Roma) - 18 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.28 Goals conceded when playing: 14 (1.4 per game)
While the defensive capabilities of Zdenek Zeman's Roma side have come into question this season, the displays of Brazilian teenager Marquinhos certainly haven't. While an average of 1.7 tackles per game isn't spectacular, the centre-back has impressive figures when it comes to interceptions (3.3), clearances (7.5) and blocks (0.8) per game as well as possessing superb technical attributes contributing to a 89.8% pass accuracy.
5. Juan Jesus (Inter) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.33 Goals conceded when playing: 11 (1 per game)
Another Inter signing made too early in the player’s development according to many in Italy at the time, Brazil centre-back Juan Jesus' displays this season have suggested the Nerazzurri got in at just the right time. The strongest tackler here, with 3.91 per game, Jesus has decent averages for both interceptions (2.27) and clearances (7), however having not blocked an opposition shot this season his willingness to throw his body on the line could improve.
4. Nathan Baker (Aston Villa) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.34 Goals conceded when playing: 4 (1 per game)
Despite starting just 4 games this season it is evident that Nathan Baker's presence at the back for Villa has been welcomed by his teammates, with the young side conceding just 1 goal per game when the 21 year old is on the pitch compared to 1.64 when he's not. Exceptional in the air, Baker has won 5.25 aerial duels per game with an 81% success rate and his bravery is a key asset, blocking 2 shots per game and averaging 9.25 clearances a match thus far.
3. Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke) - 20 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.45 Goals conceded when playing: 14 (1.4 per game)
Much like teammate Matip, Papadopoulos' name is a familiar one in Germany and increasingly so across Europe these days, with the giant Greek among the top rated defenders in the Bundesliga. Defensively the Schalke man has no real weakness, with his player page at WhoScored confirming the likes of blocking the ball, aerial duels, tackling (3.7 per game) and interceptions (2.9 per game) are all strengths of the 20 year old.
2. Stefan Savic (Fiorentina) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.69 Goals conceded when playing: 4 (0.67 per game)
One of the more interesting and perhaps controversial inclusions here to some will be that of the Montenegrin, much maligned during his brief spell at City. Savic has, however, had an undeniably impressive start in Montella's ever-improving Fiorentina side, with the Viola keeping 3 clean sheets in the 6 games he has started. The fact that his rating is higher than that of Nastasic is intriguing given the swap deal involving the players in the summer, with Savic's figures stronger than those of the City man in every analysed category other than shots blocked.
1. Sean Morrison (Reading) - 21 years old
WhoScored Rating: 7.86 Goals conceded when playing: 6 (1.2 per game)
Already, and somewhat prematurely, touted with a move to the likes of Arsenal after just a handful of appearances in the Premier League, Sean Morrison's early displays for Reading have caught the eye. With averages of 7.4 and 12.2 for aerial duels won and clearances per game respectively, the man mountain is a hugely intimidating figure at the back, but there is certainly room for improvement for the 21 year old, as Michael Cox intimates when we asked him about the former Swindon youngster's rise to prominence:
"I first saw Morrison playing for Swindon against Leicester in 2008 and was impressed by him, but didn't expect to see him playing at this level. He's a bit basic but very good in the air - although I'd say he's actually more impressive in the opposition box than his own. On his first PL start at QPR he was a constant threat - he won every corner, but switched off for Cisse's goal. It seems that McDermott favours him against 'bullying' strikers, such as Benteke the other night."
While the aforementioned youngsters look set for bigger and better things it will be interesting to see their progress in the ratings as the season draws on, with a defender's work never done.