Usually an argument reserved for mid-table supporters trying to vie for dominance of the mediocre or, for relegation rivals trying to find solace in a failed season. So with the season winding down and points at an all time high, its the perfect time for the yearly debate: Who is the best player outside of the top six?
There are a few players who have made strong bids this season. The intensity of the table has only magnified the importance of marquee players, as 19th and 10th place are only separated by nine points. So, who’s in the running? I’ve narrowed my list to five.
The Southampton fullback has had the eyes of the upper echelon Premier League teams upon him, and a possible relegation of the Saints could make a transfer inevitable. With Chelsea owning his playing rights for years, Bertrand was sent out on multiple loans throughout England, before securing a permanent move (following a loan) to Southampton. With three assists this season Bertrand has been chipping in offensively for a side that hasn’t had much to fill the box score with.
Bertrand earned a call up to England’s pre-World Cup squad and will likely serve as Danny Rose’s backup or replacement should he get injured again. With the world’s eyes upon him, it seems that Manchester City’s eyes could be focused on him most intently. Left back options Benjamin Mendy and Danilo have been less than impressive this season for City, so a strong showing from Bertrand would likely see him head north to Manchester.
The main man in Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace squad. Zaha is on this list more from peer pressure than me believing he would see regular starting time at any club in the top six. What he does provide is game breaking speed, and seems to have the clutch gene in his game. This season he has managed only three goals and three assists in 21 matches played. But, he seems to score when it matters most (see extra time tying goal vs. West Ham).
His abilities have seen him a popular pick for this prestigious, imaginary designation, but his injury record has hampered any chances for him to maximize his potential. Let’s face it the old adage is true – the best ability is availability, and Zaha has been anything but available this season. He has the skills to impact a top six side but more so as a squad player rather than instant plug-and-play player. He may be the most likely to move to an elite team but is he really the BEST player outside those teams?
This ball moving midfielder has garnered a strong amount of attention from elite Premier League teams. The 25 year old French midfielder impressed under Marco Silva at Watford this season and has continued to put forward strong, albeit now individual performances under new boss Javi Garcia. Doucoure has gone cold in recent games, but has still managed seven goals and three assists this season.
Manchester United are linked with him this summer, with Tottenham and Arsenal also looming. With Spurs’ midfield likely full for the foreseeable future, that leaves the Red Devils and Gunners to battle it out for his services should he want to leave. Fellaini’s departure could see a squad space open for him in Manchester, while Arsenal losing Jack Wilshere could open a space in the London squad. His potential is very high and compacted with his age, Doucoure could be the most prized player for top six teams.
The previous pouty passer of Stoke City exchanged his playmaking boots for finisher foot-ware in an offseason move to West Ham United. Originally recruited by the now former manager of the Hammers, Slaven Bilic, Arnautovic was a mess under his management but has been reborn with David Moyes as his boss. Having missed two games for red card suspension, and four for separate illness and injuries, Arnautovic has still managed seven goals and three assists this season.
Originally thought to be a £25 million flop Arnautovic scored his first goal for West Ham against Chelsea in a 1-0 win and hasn’t looked back. His form has been so unrelenting it earned him the prestigious consideration of “Chelsea transfer target” in the January window… after Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch of course. Regardless, if West Ham survive relegation it’ll be on the back of their new main man. Striker, winger, attacking midfielder, he does it all for West Ham and could for the elite, too.
And the winner is… Jamie Vardy. I mean, is there really any other choice? The main man in the most unlikely championship win in sports history, Vardy’s contributions to Leicester City’s Premier League winning season got him the attention he deserves. Vardy has kept ahold of this attention by continuing his impressive offensive numbers rolling, thirteen goals and six assists last season and fourteen goals (already) this season.
Vardy’s speed is neck-and-neck with his clinical goal scoring abilities for marketable talents. He is a master centre forward for counter attacking football, as well as a true fox in the box when possession stats favour Leicester. Tailor made for Chelsea or Manchester United, Vardy should have been poached coming off of the unlikely win by Leicester City in 2015/16, and again last season. Now at 31 and the face of the franchise it seems unlikely Vardy will depart any time soon. He is the champion of perseverance, coming from leagues distant to the Premier League and has become a star under the big league lights.
So there it is, my views on who are the best players outside the top six. Vardy is the crowning jewel, but Zaha a perennial favourite and Arnautovic a newcomer to the conversation. I also only included one defender (Bertrand) and thats on purpose. It’s hard to justify saying defenders on teams that are at least -15 on goal differential are next level players. Gun to my head I’d give my honours to Alfie Mawson of Swansea. He’s hardnosed, tough, and a real bastard to play against. If he had a better squad to play with he could be a game changer. Regardless, my list is as mentioned above!
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!