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The Kids Are Alright: Youngsters Have Shone in 2015/16 as the Premier League's Old Guard Fades

02/03/2016 17:25 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Football has always been a young man's game, but these days it's becoming an even younger man's game. Hitting 30 is already widely seen as a steep downward slope, perhaps sometimes unfairly, and players like Ryan Giggs who can play at the top level to the age of 40 are rarer than ever.

Recently, there has been a noticeable shift in the Premier League as the ageing stars of yesterday make way for a new generation.

At the end of last season the most exciting league in the world waved goodbye to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. A year earlier Ashley Cole left England in search of a new twilight chapter to his career. This summer John Terry is expected to head elsewhere and even Wayne Rooney might not have too many more years left in the tank.

Tim Howard, Mikel Arteta and Michael Carrick are other excellent Premier League servants, all who helped to define an era, soon to be on their way out.

But, by and large, it's not really been the stars in their mid-20s that have been making the headlines in their place this season.

Eden Hazard, 25, has endured the worst season of his professional career. Cesc Fabregas has had a similar nightmare, while even assist king Mesut Ozil has tailed off, certainly when it comes to standing up to be counted when the pressure is on. Juan Mata has been somewhat hit and miss, and Daniel Sturridge has barely been able to get onto the field.

There are exceptions, of course, but instead, it's the young guns who are really stepping up and breaking out. And they're doing so in quite substantial numbers.

Before the 2015/16 campaign began we were all asking whether Harry Kane was just a one-season wonder, or a genuine star for many years to come. With two-thirds of the season played, it's safe to assume the latter is true of the 22-year-old.

Kane has shown an even greater level of maturity than he was doing 12 months ago, especially when the goals wouldn't quite come for him back in August. Elsewhere at Tottenham, 22-year-old Eric Dier has been a revelation in a defensive midfield role, while 19-year-old Dele Alli has lit up the league and been a driving force behind the club's surge into title contention.

Over at Manchester United, the recent exploits of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford have been nothing short of breathtaking. The home-grown striker was a complete unknown even just a few hours before making his senior bow and has somehow managed to overshadow Anthony Martial. The exciting Frenchman, only 20 himself, seems like a veteran by comparison.

At Arsenal, Hector Bellerin has gone from strength to strength after establishing himself as the Gunners' automatic choice at right-back midway through last season. The Spaniard won't turn 21 until later this month and there were even recent rumours that Barcelona players have started to plant the seed of a return to Spain like they once did with Cesc Fabregas.

Where Arsenal have one rising superstar at the back, Chelsea have their own in Kurt Zouma. Such is the 21-year-old's vast ability and even greater future potential, his emergence is one of the possible reasons why the club have decided not to keep John Terry on for another year.

It's unfortunate that Zouma's campaign is already over after a suffering a nasty knee ligament injury a few weeks ago. He'll also miss Euro 2016 on home soil, but when he resumes fitness he could easily be the best centre-back in the Premier League next season. He's already far more reliable than the likes of £60m duo Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi at Manchester City.

But while they may have struggled to buy well in the transfer market, City have reaped the rewards after blooding Nigerian teenager Kelechi Iheanacho in the first-team. The youngster has already contributed several invaluable goals over the last few months, which could prove to be vital come May.

Everton have their own very exciting attacking trio. Despite being on the scene for a number of years already, Romelu Lukaku is still just 22 years of age and is battling with Kane near the top of the goal charts. As many as six of his 16 goals have been directly assisted by 21-year-old Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu, who had eight Premier League assists in total (at the time of writing)..

Joining them, Ross Barkley only turned 22 in December and is currently enjoying by far his best season as an individual. The home-grown favourite has already bettered his best league goal tally and is quickly establishing himself as the creative future of the national team as well.

So many of the Premier League's most best and most entertaining players this season are still aged just 22 or younger. As we bid farewell to a number of old timers, it makes it an incredibly exciting time for the future to begin.

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