SAINTS may have narrowly avoided relegation last season but they finished third when it came to producing Premier League talent.

A total of 16 graduates from Saints’ academy featured in the previous campaign – with nine of them still at the club – playing a combined total of 15,964 minutes.

The other seven players included Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott and Andrew Surman.

Daily Echo: Former Saints star Luke ShawFormer Saints star Luke Shaw

Depending on what you’d describe as an academy player, some of the names on Saints’ list are questionable.

Jack Stephens, Yan Valery, Michael Obafemi, Tyreke Johnson, Kayne Ramsay and Sam Gallagher all joined the club during their teenage years having spent time in other academies.

Only James Ward-Prowse, Josh Sims and Matt Targett had been involved with Saints’ famed youth system from a young age.

And despite the impressive total number of minutes played, which lifted Saints six places to third overall, it was Shaw and Chambers who contributed most to the club’s tally.

Daily Echo: Ex-Saint Matt TargettEx-Saint Matt Targett

Top-flight giants Manchester United had a dismal season last year but were comfortable winners in producing Premier League players.

The side had twenty players who finished their youth-team football at Carrington featuring in the previous campaign, which matched their tally from the previous season.

Their graduates combined to play over 27,000 minutes, keeping United nearly 10,000 minutes clear of nearest challengers Tottenham.

For the third season in a row, PA has recorded which academy every Premier League player graduated from and tallied up the numbers - for those who moved clubs as a youth player, the last academy they played in is the one credited.

United have been top all three years and while their graduates' playing time has dropped each season - from 44,055 in the first year to 32,157 in 2017-18 and 27,395 in the latest study, they remain comfortably clear of the pack.

Just over a third of their total came from members of their own squad, led by Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

This came while Joshua King, Michael Keane and Craig Cathcart played over 3,000 minutes for Bournemouth, Everton and Watford respectively and Burnley got over 4,400 minutes from Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley and Robbie Brady.

Tottenham's tally dropped from 22,314 to 17,903, meaning they took just 351 minutes out of United's lead which now stands at 9,492 minutes.

And then just behind Saints in fourth and fifth are fellow Premier League big hitters Chelsea [15,870 minutes] and Manchester City [13,605].

Sheffield United have been consistent over-achievers in the study, placing eighth in 2016-17 while finishing as League One champions and then fifth as a Championship club the following year.

The same six players - Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Phil Jagielka, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Matt Lowton and Kyle Naughton - accounted for those two impressive finishes, but Naughton's relegation with Swansea and Jagielka's reduced playing time at Everton raised doubts this time around.

Enter David Brooks. The Wales midfielder signed for Bournemouth last summer and became an integral part of their Premier League plans, playing 2,400 minutes and in the process helping keep the Blades almost 300 minutes ahead of seventh-placed Liverpool.

In the previous years of the study, Dutch sides Ajax and Feyenoord have been the best-represented sides from outside England.

However, last season saw a shift to Portugal - thanks largely to promoted Wolves and their link-up with agent Jorge Mendes.

Benfica and Sporting Lisbon sandwiched ninth-placed West Ham to round out the top 10 in the study - the only 10 teams to crack the five-figure barrier, with Sporting at 10,127 minutes to 11th-placed Barcelona's 9,712. Ajax followed in 12th, with Feyenoord 18th.