Last month, BBC Sport published a story showing that Leicester City gave more minutes to young players than any other team in the Premier League. It certainly fit the narrative around the club; out with the old guard, while youth guru Claude Puel brings through the next generation. But are the Foxes really the youngest?
The Foxes lead the way!— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 29, 2019
We've taken a look at which Premier League teams are really giving youth a chance.
There are plenty of ways to measure that, the laziest and mostly widely used of which is just to calculate the average age of the players in the squad. You can get a little more information by weighting the average by minutes played - the more often a player has seen the pitch, the more his age counts to the average. By that system, Everton are the youngest team at 25.6, while the Foxes are down in 6th at 26.3.
It still doesn’t give the full picture though. How much does a 35 year old regular like Wes Morgan drag that average up? Maybe instead the BBC were right, and we need to look at how many minutes are given to young players, but then the question just becomes how young is young? Instead, we’ve broken down every team by the percentage of their minutes given to players of every age range.
The darker the colour, the more minutes a team is giving to players of that age.
This gives a lot more information that we can use look at Leicester, but also at the league as a whole.
Non-Leicester Takeaways (feel free to skip if you’re just here for Leicester)
- Just like you’d expect, the majority of players fit in the “peak years” from 25-30.
- Cardiff and Burnley are doing their best, but otherwise the oldest players are congregating mid-table, rather than at the bottom.
- The top teams feel the most freedom to play their teenagers, perhaps because they recruit the best young players.
- Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham might be rarer than I thought.
- Some measures make Everton the youngest team, but they’re really the least old. It’s still impressive, and bodes well for the future of the team, but I don’t think “youngest” fits them.
Leicester City Takeaways
The thing that comes most immediately to mind is this: Leicester City are seriously weird. From this view, it’s very reasonable to say that Leicester City are the youngest team in the league. They’re just...also one of the oldest.
Did you know we have no 27, 28 or 30 year old players? Do the team know that? Why would anyone build a team like that?
It looks like we have a lot of 25-26 year olds, but it’s just the four: Maguire, Pereira, Mendy and Ghezzal. With Albrighton (29) now out for the season, every other player the squad is either unusually young or old.
It’s really no wonder the team is so unpredictable, but it does suggest that, if (huge if) we can hold this team together for a few more years, they could be really good. The plan to bring through a generation of impressive, if volatile, young talents, takes some long turn thinking, but the pay off could be great.
It certainly puts plenty of pressure on Puel in the short term. The fans are already against him, and he has no choice but to trust the biggest group of youngsters in the league every week.
We’ve seen already though, the more they play, the better they get.
If the gamble pays off and the sharks can be kept at bay, we’d have a group of very good players, almost all in their primer, and very used to playing together.
Just try not to think about who’d be up front.