The kids are more than all right

In this week's League Cup ties, the Big Four's next generation had a chance to shine. Our experts turn the spotlight on the young guns ready to dazzle
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The Independent Football

Jay Spearing

Club: Liverpool

Position: Midfielder

Age: 20

Born: Wirral

Liverpool's efforts to improve the productivity of their academy system have started to bear fruit, with Spearing pushing hardest among half-a-dozen or so locally-born youngsters who have graduated to the senior squad.

Captain of the Liverpool Under-18 team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2007, the diminutive midfielder – he stands 5ft 6ins tall – made his debut as a substitute against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League last December before gaining general approval for his second-half performance, again coming off the bench, in Liverpool's 4-0 win over Real Madrid in March. He signed a three-year contract in July.

Tuesday's Carling Cup tie at Leeds provided him with his first start in senior football alongside Javier Mascherano and Fabio Aurelio in the centre of midfield. A tigerish tackler, he pushed further forward later in the match and used the ball fairly effectively, without trying anything too ambitious. Spearing also had a couple of shots, although he did not test the Leeds goalkeeper.

With Lucas Leiva having made a reasonable start to the season and Alberto Aquilani signed for £20m in the summer, Spearing may have to be patient but more chances will come.

Jon Culley

Sanchez Watt

Club: Arsenal

Position: Striker

Age: 18

Born: Hackney

Sanchez Watt marked his first game in Arsenal's senior side, wearing the No 54 shirt, with the opening goal in Tuesday's 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.

He was quick and inventive, and was not afraid to take on the Albion defence. At times he was left isolated but Watt remained calm and took his simple chance well.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has clearly seen something in the young Londoner, as he was also on the bench for last week's Champions League tie against Standard Liège. "I like his movement, his sharpness, his great work-rate, his left-footed quality," Wenger said. "I believe he is determined."

London-born Watt has played all across the front line at Arsenal, the club he joined when he was just seven, although Barcelona were also interested in him before he signed professional forms with the Gunners. In recent years he has suffered a few injuries, including concussion and a broken foot, but is now fully fit.

Watt – full name is Hershel Sanchez Watt – is a manager's dream. He said: "I'll play anywhere, even defence. It's good to be versatile. You can't learn just one position during your career because you never know where you'll end up."

Mark Fleming

Fabio Borini

Club: Chelsea

Position: Striker

Age: 18

Born: Bologna

Fabio Borini has jumped ahead of the injured Daniel Sturridge in the long queue of young strikers competing to get a break in Chelsea's first team and it was the Italian who got a start against Queen's Park Rangers on Wednesday.

The first impression of the 18-year-old was that it was a tough task for a fairly small striker to play in front of a five-man midfield with his back to goal, Didier Drogba-style. Borini, a £250,000 signing from Bologna two years ago, looked more comfortable with the ball played in front of him.

He was desperate to score – who can blame him?– and he nearly did with a glanced header from Yuri Zhirkov's cross after 10 minutes. In the second half he showed a good turn of pace to hold off Damion Stewart and get a shot in.

Borini is good but to break into Chelsea's first team consistently – and to break in as a striker – you have to be outstanding. It is early days but it does not look like Chelsea have found the new Wayne Rooney. The transfer ban that runs until 2011 – as well as any injury crisis – might just give Borini the chance of a few more games. He will have to seize his chance soon or Chelsea will look to the next young starlet out of the academy.

Sam Wallace

Darron Gibson

Club: Manchester United

Position: Midfielder

Age: 21

Born: Derry

There was a time when Manchester United's Darron Gibson never wanted to see a Wolves shirt again. He went on a season-long loan to Molineux in 2007-08 and spent half the time twiddling his thumbs, appearing just 24 times. He was impeded, according to some who observed him in the Midlands, by a lack of appetite for the physical side of the midfielder's job. The jolt of that experience has clearly worked for Gibson because the most notable aspect of his performance in United's 1-0 win over Wolves on Wednesday was his work-rate and resolve to take on the box-to-box role. The 21-year-old tackled fearsomely in his own half but was as much in evidence pushing on. A 20-yard shot which skimmed the roof of the net in the first half was matched by the drilled effort towards the end.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, wrote about Gibson in his programme notes and may well need him in the Premier League if Owen Hargreaves – finally back in training – recuperates slowly and Michael Carrick does not improve an indifferent start. Gibson might no longer be one of Ferguson's teenagers but expect the tournament to be dominated by him if United progress.

Ian Herbert

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