Tuesday 11 September 2012
Some of the Premier League stars of the future have shown their promise in the opening three weeks of the new-look Barclays Under-18 Premier League.
More than 100 goals have been scored by the country's elite academy teams this season, with Bolton Wanderers, Southampton and Fulham leading the way respectively in the three Under-18 National Groups.
There are 22 teams competing in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League, with all applying for Category One status as part of the categorisation process of the new youth development system.
Eight teams are playing in Group 1 and seven in Groups 2 and 3. Every team will play each opponent twice over the next three months, with Sunderland's clash with Tottenham Hotspur on 8th December bringing an end to the group stages.
The competition follows the format of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League - which is also new this season. The top three sides in National Group One and the top two in groups Two and Three will enter the Elite Group. Those who miss the cut go in to Qualification Group Tier One or Two, depending on their finishing position.
The side that finishes top of the Elite Group will play the winner of the play-off between the top sides in Qualification Group Tier One and Two in the knock-out semi-final. The other semi-final is contested between the second and third-placed teams in the Elite Group.
Once the semi-final line-up is completed, the last four teams standing will compete for the honour of being the inaugural Barclays Under-18 Premier League champions.
Last season, Fulham beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 to win the Premier Academy League title and they have hit the ground running in the new campaign with wins in their opening two games.
Fulham's 16-year-old French youth international Moussa Dembele, who was previously with Paris Saint-Germain, has scored four goals including an impressive hat-trick in the 4-3 win over Crystal Palace.
American midfielder Emerson Hyndman has also scored a hat-trick this season, as Fulham recorded a 7-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in their opening fixture.
Chelsea have also made a perfect start to join Fulham at the top of National Group 3, with the Blues comprehensively beating Manchester City 6-1 on the opening weekend.
The only other side to have a perfect record so far is Southampton, who are managed by former club captain Jason Dodd.
Southampton opened up with wins over Sunderland and Newcastle United before recording a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa in a match where goalkeeper Chris Johns took the field as an outfield substitute after they suffered a succession of injuries.
English striker Ryan Seager, 16, has been the pick of Southampton's early-season performers with five goals, including a hat-trick in the 4-3 win over Sunderland.
In Group 1, Bolton Wanderers lead the way with seven points from their opening three games.
They started the season in style with a 5-1 victory over Arsenal and continued their impressive form with a point away at Norwich City and a 3-1 win over West Ham United.
Reading are in second place on goal difference with 4-1 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City. Powerful striker Uche Ikpeazu has scored four goals in Reading's unbeaten start to the campaign.
Click the links for Under-18 League fixtures, results and tables.