The Michael Owen factor: Six young Premiership stars poised to make the big breakthrough this season

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The Independent Online
Paul Dalglish (Newcastle Utd)

AS if he didn't have enough on his plate already, what with competing up front for a place alongside Alan Shearer, the 21-year-old also has to bear the weight of being the manager's son. Paul has followed his father Kenny's career so far, in club terms at least, starting off at Celtic, before going to Liverpool in 1996, where he was competing with Robbie Fowler and then Michael Owen for a place. He didn't get a game and last season dad signed him and promptly put him on loan at Bury. Looking sharp after two goals in a midweek friendly in Ireland.

Philip Mulryne (Manchester Utd)

GOOD enough for his country, but not his club, is the bizarre situation he found himself in last season; he soon hopes to put matters straight. The 20-year old midfielder has five caps for Northern Ireland, three more senior games than he has managed for United, but playing in Euro 2000 qualifiers against Germany and Turkey should force Alex Ferguson's hand. Gutsy and tenacious, he cannot be faulted for pre-season efforts, scoring a hat-trick against Birmingham only to finish on the losing side. Possible successor to David Beckham on the right, should Beckham move infield.

Jim Corbett (Blackburn Rovers)

THE attacking midfielder has enjoyed a phenomenal rise in fortunes this year. On Gillingham's books last season, he turned pro in January and then, 16 league games and two goals later, he signed for Blackburn for a pounds 525,000 fee that could rise to pounds 1m. The deal, which took only 24 hours to complete, was "a nice shock," says Corbett, who turned 18 only last month. "Now I want to get in the first team but I know I have to be patient. I don't expect anything." Had a good pre-season, scoring against Swedish club sides, which he admits has got his confidence up.

Paolo Vernazza (Arsenal)

ONE of the champions' brightest prospects is already preparing himself for a season in the reserves, through no fault of his own. For Vernazza, an attacking midfielder, has the World Cup winners Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira for competition. When the 18-year-old made his debut last season in the League Cup, most thought he was another of Wenger's foreign imports but he was born in London and featured in England's Under- 18 European Championship side in Cyprus. He also played in the Premiership last season but is realistic: "I expect to be in the reserves."

Michael Ball (Everton)

ABOUT the only positive note struck for Everton last season was Michael Ball maturing - at the age of 18 - into a left-back of potential England class. With his speed and cool head, he became a first-team regular and was called up to the under-21 squad. The club's relegation fight meant he was not released, but happily he has been selected for the get-together later this month. Just two months older than his Merseyside rival Owen, he too is a brilliant product of his club's youth policy, and if Everton struggle again, the bidders could be queueing up outside Goodison.

Alun Armstrong (Middlesbrough)

ONE of the young crop who has had to put ambition on hold for the time being is striker Alun Armstrong. The quick, strong 23-year-old, who joined Boro from Stockport for pounds 1.5m in February and immediately made his mark with seven goals in 11 games, is recovering from a back operation after playing through immense pain last spring and his return will be keenly awaited, not least by relegation-fearing manager Bryan Robson. When fit he can expect to push for a first-team role in place of either the erratic Hamilton Ricard or the ageing Italian Marco Branca.