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Top Premier League Players Outside the Big Six

The top players in the Premier League’s biggest teams always get a huge amount of attention. However, there are some fantastic players in the league in many of the other teams. Here we take a look at a few of them who perhaps deserve a bit more attention than they are getting.

Jack Grealish – Aston Villa

There were some who doubted whether Jack Grealish had what it takes to cope in the Premier League. However, less than half a season since promotion, the Championship’s best player has established himself as one of the league’s best players and as someone who would fit in at any of the big six clubs.

Grealish has come a long way since his early days in Aston Villa’s first team and he is now the clear leader of the team. So far this season, just Kevin De Bruyne has created more chances for teammates from open play and the City player is the only midfielder to score more than the Villa player has. Grealish receives plenty of criticism for hitting the floor too easily, but people are likely judging him harshly as no player has been fouled more. Wilf Zaha is the second most fouled player, 20 fouls behind despite playing two more games.

There is now clear maturity in Grealish’s style. Not only does he create chances and score goals, but he is also able to bring his side up the pitch and give the defence a break. He is also incredibly diligent off the pitch, doing homework on all of his opponents, “I know in advance the player I’m coming up against in the next game, whether they will be strong, fast, easy to get at, technically good or bad. If I’m up against a fast, strong player, I change my game. I move it quicker and play one-twos to get around him.”

James Maddison – Leicester City

James Maddison had an excellent first season in the Premier League with Leicester City. He was purchased for £22 million from Norwich and went on to create more chances than any other player in the league did. Eden Hazard, whom Chelsea sold to Real Madrid for £100 million, created two fewer.

Despite this, not everyone was convinced by Maddison with Gareth Southgate keeping him away from the squad for 10 months after his first call-up in October 2018. Maddison then had to wait until last August, having been made to play with the Under-21s over the summer rather than the seniors at the Nations League. However, after withdrawing through illness, he was then seen at a casino.

Southgate has told Maddison that he needs to be “high performance, low maintenance”, but even Southgate wouldn’t deny that he is a top performer. One of the reasons Maddison performs so well in the Premier League is his self-belief. While it can make Maddison seem somewhat arrogant, it does not seem fair to condemn him for the quality that makes him so good. While Maddison does play in a position that Southgate prefers to play without, the England boss knows that he can no longer ignore the Leicester player.

Joao Moutinho – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Joao Moutinho is a highly experienced player with 121 Portugal caps and a European Championship winner. His experience and skills makes the £5 million that Wolverhampton Wanderers paid Monaco for him an absolute barging.

Many thought that Moutinho was moving to Wolves in order to begin winding down his career with the newly promoted team. However, the 33 year old has shown that he is nowhere near ready to retire and still capable of performing at the highest level.

From his role deep in midfield, only five other players have created more chances than Moutinho and only six have provided more assists for teammates. In terms of defence, only two midfielders, Wilfred Ndidi and Declan Rice, have made and won more tackles. Some of the clubs in the big six are sure to be feeling that they missed a great opportunity when Moutinho was on the market.

Jamie Vardy – Leicester City

It is now probably too late for Jamie Vardy to make a big move from Leicester City, but there is no guarantee that he would have thrived in a big six club in the same way as he has with Leicester. He led the team to a shock Premier League title back in 2016 and his performance this year, with the team in pursuit of Liverpool, has also been highly impressive.

At present, Vardy is three in the lead in the race for the Golden Boot, despite having played at least one game less than his biggest rivals. If he can maintain the pace that he has set so far, the former non-league striker looks as if he will break through the 30-goal barrier, which would be a hugely impressive feat.

Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace

Last season Whilfried Zaha, the Crystal Palace winger, had a fantastic season that lead to teams such as Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea taking notice of him. While he had a slower start this time around, mainly due to his unhappiness that for a second time the team would not let him leave, it appears that he is returning to his previously impressive form.

Zaha understandably felt as if he had earned the right for the chance to play for a big team, and he owes Palace nothing, especially as they could have made a huge amount of money by selling him. However, Palace stood firm in their valuation of him and it is now likely that he will have to wait until at least the summer for the chance to move.

He would be a true asset for any of the big six teams. Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal are all interested and Mikel Arteta has explained why he is so sought after, “I think the impact he’s had in the last few years in the Premier League has been phenomenal. His ability to create chances on his own is unique.”

Lucas Digne – Everton

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at Everton came just in time, as it seemed highly likely that Lucas Digne had grown tired of the club. There were reports that Lyon were interested in bringing him back to France and things would very likely now be far worse for Everton if he had gone.

He is easily the team’s most creative player with just five players in the Premier League creating more chances for teammates this season; he is just one behind James Maddison and four behind Jack Grealish.

Danny Ings – Southampton

Recently Brendan Rodgers was calling for “Ings for England” after he saw his former player score one of the goals in Leicester’s 2-1 home defeat to Southampton, a team that they demolished 9-0 just a few months ago. At present, Ings is certainly the best striker available to Gareth Southgate.

Ings has scored ten goals in his last ten Premier League starts, and in addition to scoring against Leicester, this season has also seen him score against Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs (both home and away), and Arsenal). This is made even more impressive when one considers the general state of Southampton until now.

Without him, the team would certainly be in real trouble. His goals have earned the team 13 points so far this season and his efforts have helped the team climb to mid-table. If he maintains this form then Southgate is sure to consider him for the friendly matches in March.

Abdoulaye Doucoure – Watford  

While in the modern game midfielders usually specialise going in one way, Doucoure is reminiscent of the old style of box-to-box play. Nigel Pearson has given him the freedom to cover as much ground as he wishes and he seemed to manage just that against Bournemouth. The performance was a clear demonstration of why teams such as Spurs and Liverpool were reportedly interested in him when Watford signed him for £8 million in 2016. Today it would probably cost at least five times that much amount to take him away from the team.

Lukasz Fabianski – West Ham

Lukasz Fabianski cannot claim to be underappreciated at West Ham; he was named their player of the year last season in his first year at the club. However, his absences has made his value even more apparent.

West Ham had a fantastic start to the season, losing just one of their first seven matches and climbing to fifth in the table. Then Fabianski suffered a hip injury and things began to go downhill. Manager Manuel Pellegrini put his faith in Roberto, who clearly was not up to the job. By the time Fabianski returned just after Christmas, the team had fallen from fifth to bottom. Fabianksi is an incredibly secure player in goal. Last season no goalkeeper made more saves than he did. Furthermore, he brings a sense of calm and security to the backline.

Adama Traore – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Recently, Adama Traore’s form has been extremely impressive. When he first arrived in the Premier League, in 2015, he looked completely out of place. He then struggled at Middlesbrough before joining Wolves in 2018. Last season, despite his impressive attacking play, he was still struggling to produce results. However, he is a young player and this season he has become one of the most exciting attacking players in the league. His explosive bursts of energy can often only be stopped with a foul, and at the moment, he is an absolute thrill to watch.

OCA News Editor

Christian Bright is a professional sports commentator with keen interests in football, tennis and horse racing. His experience in the reporting on professional sports makes him a key asset to OCA’s coverage of athletic events and matches.