We take a look at the average age of each Premier League team’s starting XIs this season to work out who fields the oldest and youngest teams… and also ask what the implications are of playing an old or a young team.
It might only be a couple of weeks since we saw two of the Premier League’s elder statesmen in Ashley Young and James Milner run ragged by comparatively young upstarts Luis Díaz and Jérémy Doku but, having looked into the data since, we can conclude that, in footballing terms, age really is just a number.
Ten rounds of fixtures into 2023-24, we have decided to run the numbers to work out which teams field the youngest and oldest players, and what the age of a team means for their chances of success.
We looked at which teams show faith in young players at the end of last season, and found that while Arsenal, with the second-lowest average age of their starting XIs at 25 years and 51 days, ran Manchester City close in the title race, it was generally the case that the youngest teams fared worst. The three teams other than Arsenal with the youngest average starting XIs – Southampton (25 years, 41 days), Leeds United (25 years, 285 days) and Leicester City (26 years, 155 days) – were all relegated.
That goes against what is often the perceived wisdom: that it is a positive to have younger players because it means they can develop and make for a brighter future. Some managers prefer to work with younger players because they are more likely to take on their ideas.
But what about the here and now? The young players at Southampton, Leeds and Leicester might well be back in the Premier League before long, but will that be with their current clubs?
In 2023-24, though, there is less correlation between league position and age, as you can see here.
Here’s a breakdown of the teams to field the youngest and oldest starting XIs in the Premier League this season.
The Youngest Premier League Teams in 2023-24
Well, Arsenal have defied fate and have actually got younger. Mikel Arteta set out in the summer to recruit youth over experience.
The average age of Arsenal’s starting XIs in Premier League games so far in 2023-24 is 24 years and 335 days. Second in the league again and hot on Tottenham’s tails at the top, they again also have the second-youngest team in the division this season.
They are just ‘behind’ – in terms of age – a team faring rather less well this term, in Burnley. Vincent Kompany has been bold with the football his team has played since promotion to the top flight – too bold, some might say – and he has also placed a lot of trust in youth. With the likes of 19-year-old Luca Koleosho starting eight of their 10 games, and 21-year-olds James Trafford and Ameen Al Dakhil starting all 10 (goalkeeper Trafford has been ever present), the average age of Burnley’s starting XIs in their first season back in the big time is just 24 years and 170 days. That is younger than Southampton’s last term, and given how poorly Burnley have started 2023-24 – they have taken just four points from a possible 30 – it might seem like history could repeat itself for this season’s youngest Premier League team. Time will tell if the experience that the Burnley youngsters are getting in the Premier League will help them in the long run.
Burnley and Arsenal are responsible for each of the 12 youngest starting XIs to be fielded in the Premier League this season.
Chelsea have the third-youngest team, with Mauricio Pochettino’s expensively assembled squad of young (mainly attacking midfield) players meaning they have an average age of their starting XIs of 24 years and 352 days. They are struggling somewhat so far this season, though that is surely more because of the speed with which the squad was thrown together and expected to perform, rather than anything particularly wrong with the fact they’re young.
They would be ‘top’ of this list were it not for the presence of 39-year-old evergreen centre-back Thiago Silva, who is one of only 18 outfielders across the entire Premier League to have played every minute this season. He is six years older than the second oldest (Kyle Walker, 33) of those players, and 18 years older than the youngest (Bournemouth’s Illia Zabarnyi, 21).
The fourth-youngest team are the Premier League’s leaders, Tottenham. Ange Postecoglou has revamped the squad since arriving in the summer, and factors such as the signings of young players like Micky van de Ven and Guglielmo Vicario, and increased game time for Pape Matar Sarr have brought the average age of the team right down. Spurs previously had the third-oldest average starting XI (27 years, 356 days) in the Premier League in 2022-23 – former manager Antonio Conte placed much more importance on experience than youth – but they are now at the more youthful end of the spectrum (25 years, 29 days).
The Oldest Premier League Teams in 2023-24
Fulham and West Ham have continued – almost exactly – where they left off last season. After ranking as the oldest and second-oldest teams, respectively, in the Premier League in 2022-23, with the only starting XIs that had an average age higher than 28 years old, they have now traded places. In 2023-24, Fulham have the oldest average starting XI – pushing 30, at 29 years and 193 days – and West Ham are only slightly younger, at 28 years and 322 days.
Fulham have had as inconsistent a start to the season as it is possible to have. They are the only team in the Premier League that have neither won, drawn or lost consecutive games all season, while their longest unbeaten run is just two matches. Although currently 14th, they haven’t really been in the relegation conversation at all this season. That may be in part because they are only five points off Newcastle in sixth place, while they are seven points clear of the drop zone. However, with first-team regulars in Willian (35), Tim Ream (36) and Raúl Jiménez (32) all the wrong side of 30, they may need a summer refresh next year.
West Ham have hit a poor run of form, losing four of their last six matches, but they are still ninth in the table after an impressive start to the season. Their oldest first-team regular is 33-year-old Michail Antonio, but he stands out in terms of age; the squad David Moyes has put together suggests he likes players to be between the ages of 26 and 31.
Only two players currently under the age of 26 have appeared for West Ham in the league this season – 23-year-old Mohamed Kudus and 25-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos – and they have played a combined total of just 186 minutes (with Kudus accounting for 185 of those minutes).
Newcastle are the best-performing of the teams at the older end of the league, currently sixth in the table with the third-highest average age of their starting XIs. They are the league’s top scorers (26 goals) and will have aspirations of achieving another top-four finish at the very least this season.
The numbers suggest there is little to glean from the average age of each team’s starting XIs in 2023-24.
But that said, it is still easy to come away thinking about how much better Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs can become as their current squad gets used to playing together. Burnley, meanwhile, will need to get a lot better pretty quickly if they are to survive.