Friday 03 August 2012

Premier League confirms U21 fixtures & teams

New league designed to help bridge the gap between Academy and first-team

Manchester United's Danny Welbeck has become a key member of the first-team

As part of the most comprehensive review of youth development in over a decade, the 2012/13 season will see the start of the first national competition for U21 players.

The new Barclays U21 Premier League has been devised as part of the new system and will help bridge the gap between Academy and First Team.

Taking part in the 2012/13 Barclays U21 Premier League will be the 23 clubs who applied for Category One status as part of the categorisation process of the new youth development system: 17 Premier League and six Championship clubs applied and will therefore take part.

All the teams have been confirmed and the fixtures compiled for the first phase of the competition, which will kick off on Friday, August 17th.

"The new Barclays U21 Premier League addresses one of the most critical points – the transition from Academy football to the highest standards in the first team"
- Richard Scudamore

A draw was recently held at the Premier League to determine which clubs will play up to the end of the year in three national groups: these are split into two groups of eight and one of seven clubs.

The groups are:

National Group One
Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Norwich City, Reading, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United

National Group Two
Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford

National Group Three
Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers

After this first group stage, the clubs will be placed into three groups based on their performance.

The top three teams from National Group One and Two and the top two sides from National Group Three will qualify for the Elite Group, with the other clubs making it into Qualification Group Tier One or Qualification Group Tier Two depending on their finishing position.

The teams will again play eachother home and away with the top three teams from the Elite Group qualifying for the knockout semi-finals.

The winners of the two Qualification Groups will take part in a play-off to decide who will make up the quartet. The semi-final winners will then contest the final.

The emphasis will be on playing U21 players with each team limited to just three over-age outfield players and one over-age goalkeeper.

Matches will be played over weekends from Friday to Monday and will provide clubs the opportunity for U21 players to be available both for the first team fixtures and the Barclays U21 Premier League.

There is a requirement that at least two Barclays U21 Premier League matches must be at the main ground of each club and the play-offs, semi-finals and final also be played at the main grounds of the home clubs.

Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, said: "The restructuring and reform of the Youth Development system in English professional football is driven by the ojective of producing more and better home grown players at every level.

"Each stage of a player's development is tailored to ensuring they have the best possible chance of progressing and the new Barclays U21 Premier League addresses one of the most critical points – the transition from Academy football to the highest standards in the first team.

"We believe this competitive environment, where fans can also come along to watch the next generation of Premier League and international players, will help deliver more talented home grown boys to that next level."

Premier League Director of Youth, Ged Roddy, added: "Much has been done across the game to modernise the youth system over the last three years. Clubs have consistently highlighted the need to create serious competitive games as part of the overall professional game in this country.

"The Barclays U21 Premier League aims to provide that vital transitional step"
- Ged Roddy

"The Barclays U21 Premier League aims to provide that vital transitional step and will become the hardest playground in the world as part of a players total education, because the next game may well be a debut in the Barclays Premier League itself.

"The matches will be structured to complement the Premier League game rounds.

"So, as a first team manager there is a great benefit in knowing that you can have your U21 player on the bench for the first team, but if he doesn’t play then there’s still the option for him to have high quality competitive football that weekend in the U21 League."

The first fixtures scheduled will be in London as Chelsea take on Manchester City and West Ham United play Reading.

Several fixtures take place at clubs main grounds in the first month of the competition: Arsenal will play their first two home matches at the  Emirates Stadium against Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers respectively.

Crystal Palace will kick-off their home campaign against Liverpool on Monday, August 27th at Selhurst Park.

Stamford Bridge will host Chelsea v Wolverhampton Wanderers at 4pm on Saturday, September 1st and on Tuesday, September 18th the Sports Direct Arena will see Newcastle United play local rivals Sunderland.

Click here for the full Under-21 fixture list

Click here for full details about the Elite Player Performance Plan

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Key Points

  • The first national competition for U21 players will start this year
  • The fixtures for the U21 Premier League have been released
  • New structure designed to produce more and better home grown players