The U21 sides of Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United and Wolves have reached the last-32 of the 2022/23 Papa John’s Trophy; Omari Hutchinson, Charlie McNeill and Stanley Mills among the talents to keep an eye on on Tuesday November 22 and Wednesday November 30
Digital football journalist @DanLong__
Wednesday 16 November 2022 16:28, UK
On Tuesday night, the first knockout round of the Papa John’s Trophy will begin.
A total of 64 teams entered the competition – the last edition of which was won by Rotherham earlier this year – at the group stage, but now 32 remain, 27 from League One and League Two and five invited Premier League U21 teams: Arsenal and Chelsea from the southern section; Everton, Manchester United and Wolves from the northern section.
Last year, only two U21 teams made it out of the group stages, with Arsenal progressing the furthest by reaching the quarter-finals, where they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Wigan at the DW Stadium.
Here we take a look at a player from each of the aforementioned five teams to look out for in the knockout stages of the competition…
While Arsenal youngster Nathan Butler-Oyedeji has not found goals and assists easy to come by in the Premier League 2 this season, he has made it look simple in the Papa John’s Trophy.
The 19-year-old striker – who is blessed with blistering pace – has a goal and one assist from 11 league appearances, but three goals and one assist in cup competition, which helped the Gunners to finish as runners-up in Group G, second to Ipswich on goal difference alone.
He was voted as Player of the Round for his performances throughout the group stages, pipping Salford’s Jacob Chapman, Port Vale’s Dennis Politic and Bolton’s Kieran Sadlier to the prize.
Papa John’s Trophy state of play
Papa John’s Trophy fixtures
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Butler-Oyedeji has been at the club since he first signed at the age of eight May 2011 and inked a new deal last summer, which he said was “a dream come true.”
Mikel Arteta has since given the teenager a glimpse into the first team picture, too. He has taken part in their training sessions and also travelled to the Netherlands for Arsenal’s Europa League clash with PSV last month as the extra man.
The 19-year-old started his career at Chelsea in 2008 and returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer, after the Blues shelled out an undisclosed fee to secure his signature from Arsenal, where he seemingly saw no clear pathway to the first team.
He was named on the Gunners’ bench on 10 occasions in all competitions last term, but Mikel Arteta did not grant him a senior debut and so it was in the Papa John’s Trophy where he began to make a name for himself, with two goals and an assist in four matches as the north London club reached the quarter-finals.
At Chelsea, he has shown he is capable of playing on either wing or in an attacking midfield role and his form suggests that it will not be long before he makes an impact in senior football; in 14 appearances in the Premier League 2 and the Papa John’s Trophy this term, he has six goals and six assists, which equates to a goal involvement in almost every game.
Hutchinson has already been named on the Blues’ bench three times by Graham Potter, too.
In addition, he had earned caps for England’s U17 and U19 teams over the course of the last two years, but in May 2022, he opted to switch his allegiance to Jamaica and made his international bow during a 6-0 defeat to Catalonia.
Being the son of an ex-England international is rarely a bad thing for a young player hoping to make it in the game, but though Stanley Mills is the son of Danny – who made over 150 Premier League appearances throughout his career – it is his talent that has carried him to where he is today.
Mills started out at Leeds, but signed for Everton at the age of 14 in 2018 and signed a two-year deal in 2021.
This year has been a memorable one for him, for a number of reasons. First of all, his idol Frank Lampard was appointed Toffees boss at the end of January, he was then included on the Toffees’ first team tour of America in the summer, before being named on the bench for Everton’s opening Premier League fixture.
Days later, he signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2025 – and if that was not enough, he made his first team debut in the Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood on August 23.
Mills has made the Everton bench six times so far this term and though he has made only two appearances in the Papa John’s Trophy so far in 2022/23, he starred in both and scored three times, once against Harrogate and twice in a 6-0 drubbing of Hartlepool.
Manchester born-and-bred, Charlie McNeill started out at United, then left for rivals City in 2014 and returned to Old Trafford in 2020 after six goal-laden years. He is said to have scored over 600 goals during his time on the blue side of the city.
United paid a reported initial fee of £750,000, which could rise to around £1.5m, to re-sign the striker after he turned down the Citizens’ offer of a permanent contract at the Etihad.
He thrived for the U18s upon his return, with 45 goal involvements in 35 outings, and was a key player as United triumphed in the FA Youth Cup for the 11th time last season. It has been much of the same – if not better – this year.
McNeill, 19, scored in every Papa John’s Trophy group stage match and made his senior debut in the 1-0 Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad in September. There is no doubt he will lead the line for the trip to Wolves to ensure his stock continues to rise.
And with Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly out of striking contention following his bombshell interview, there could be room for McNeill to step up.
Primarily a left-sided defender, 19-year-old defender Dexter Lembikisa is equally comfortable playing at either left-back or right-back.
He signed his first professional contract when he turned 18 last November and, shortly after his birthday earlier this month, he was handed his first team debut – as a late substitute in Wolves 1-0 Carabao Cup win over Leeds – by interim head coach Steve Davis, with whom he had worked with previously at youth level.
On November 12, he made his Premier League debut when he replaced Nelson Semedo after 68 minutes of the 2-0 defeat to Arsenal to cap a remarkable week.
It goes without saying that he is well thought of at Molineux: “Dexter has always worked really hard on all aspects of his game, and it’s always pleasing to have young players who have a good work ethic and really want to learn,” said Wolves’ technical director Scott Sellars last year.
Whether Lembikisa – who has Congolese and Jamaican heritage – will remain in new Wolves head coach Julen Lopetegui’s first-team plans remains to be seen, but after a string of impressive performances in the group stages of the Papa John’s Trophy – and without Premier League football until after Christmas – he is likely to retain his spot in the defence as the U21s target progression in the competition.
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