This article is part of Football FanCast’s One to Watch series, which focuses on those players we think are particularly worth keeping an eagle-eye on as the 2019/20 season unfolds.
Ben Johnson could be the latest youngster to be afforded first-team opportunities at West Ham, following in the footsteps of flagship graduate Declan Rice.
Johnson is a 19-year-old right-back who’s spent his years of development with the Hammers, and he looks in line for senior involvement in the upcoming campaign.
The youngster has predominantly played at U18 and U23 level, starting 20 games in Premier League 2 last season.
Johnson made his debut at left-back in a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in February. The defender held his own and was praised for his debut performance, and though he was replaced before the end of the game, it was an impressive debut for the youngster nonetheless.
The West Ham manager said: “Unfortunately for him, this was his first game! But he didn’t do so bad, he had good answers every time they tried to attack down his side.
“I changed him not for his performance, he had a calf problem. He is also a right back, not a left back but he had to play and he did very well.”
Since then the defender has been earning game-time at right-back and left-back during pre-season, which suggests that Manuel Pellegrini sees a future for Johnson at the club, potentially as a starter.
He’s played on either side of the back-four, but he’s also got experience at youth level playing as a right-winger or central midfielder.
Having played in pre-season fixtures and for an hour in the Premier League last season, he should be targeting semi-regular or even regular opportunities in the 2019/20 campaign.
With Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs beginning to reduce his capacity to play regularly, an injury to Ryan Fredericks could hand Johnson the chance to step into the starting XI.
Rice has already proven that opportunities for youngsters can manifest themselves at the London Stadium, and the present circumstances do suggest the stars could be aligning for Johnson to become the next teenager to burst onto the scene in east London.
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At 19 Johnson is still young but not too raw to not be under serious consideration.
He’s impressed in pre-season and now he’s got to take his opportunities when they arise.
With Zabaleta now 34 years old and question marks lingering over Fredericks’ credentials, there’s clearly a position worth fighting for.
West Ham are looking to climb the table after the investments they’ve made this summer, so it would be understandable if Pellegrini was a little reluctant to trust in his young players.
But opportunities should arise nonetheless for a player who is already getting to grips with life in the senior squad.
Johnson should target (all competitions):