England’s top tier is perhaps as stacked with talent as it has ever been over the past decade, the competitive nature of the current campaign having showcased the strength in depth across the division.
No longer are the Premier League’s finest footballers confined solely to the division’s traditional ‘top six’ and we’ve decided to look at some of the leading players currently starring for the so-called lesser lights.
Here are eight top-drawer centre mids operating outside the Premier League’s ‘big six’:
Leicester’s continued progress in recent seasons has seen the Foxes push hard to turn the ‘big six’ into a seven, with Brendan Rodgers’ impressive outfit finishing fifth last term and once again pushing for Champions League qualification in 2020/21.
The success of the side has come from some savvy recruitment with Leicester having built a young and ambitious squad at the King Power Stadium, the likes of James Maddison, Wesley Fofana and Caglar Soyuncu having made notable strides since moving to the Foxes.
Amongst the stars of the side is Youri Tielemans, a player tipped for stardom at a young age before rebuilding at Leicester following an indifferent spell at Monaco.
Tielemans is the heartbeat and deep-lying conductor of the Leicester side and a midfield talent rarely rotated by Rodgers, the 23-year-old having started almost every fixture in their Premier League and Europa League campaigns this season and brings rhythm to the top four hopefuls.
Featuring alongside a midfield enforcer, Tielemans is tasked with picking up possession from deep and progressing the ball forward, ranking fifth in the division for passes into the final third so far this season.
Just how good was this Tielemans goal last weekend? 🤩
Here it is in all its glory ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/iAL0nY7k70
— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 7, 2021
A calming and cultured presence in the Foxes’ engine room, Tielemans has established himself as a key cog for club and country with the midfielder having grown in stature with the Belgium national side over the past year.
Wolves’ ever-increasing Portuguese contingent has turned Nuno Espirito Santo’s side into one of the Premier League’s most impressive outfits since their return to the top tier, amongst them the evergreen talents of Joao Moutinho.
One of Portugal’s finest footballers over the past decade the star won league titles in his homeland and France before making the move to Molineux, in addition to winning the European Championships and Nations League during an international career that has brought 129 caps – a figure second only to Cristiano Ronaldo.
The legs may not be as quick as they once were but the brain remains as sharp as ever for a fabulous footballer, one who brings composure to the Wolves midfield and provides attacking threat with his set-piece quality.
Moutinho also ranked joint-fifth in the Premier League for tackles during the 2019/20 season and looks to have plenty left to offer Wolves despite entering the twilight of a distinguished career.
Southampton’s strong start to the season has seen Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side occupy a European place for much of the campaign, the Saints’ victory over Liverpool recently leaving them sixth and dreaming of continental qualification.
At the heart of their success has been academy graduate James Ward-Prowse, who has taken his game to new heights since behind handed the captaincy at St Mary’s earlier this year.
The England international works tirelessly as part of a two-man midfield in Hasenhuttl’s preferred 4-4-2 system, snapping into challenges and pressuring opponents to provide protection to the Saints’ backline.
Whilst those traits are commendable it is Ward-Prowse’s set-piece ability that truly sets him apart, with no player in the division possessing greater quality when it comes to dead-ball situations.
The 26-year-old has scored three free-kicks this season and provided another four assists from set-pieces, leading the Premier League for both goals and assists from set-pieces since the start of last season.
James Ward-Prowse has been directly involved in seven Premier League goals from set-pieces this season, at least four more than any other player.
Bend it like Beckham 🤝 Whip it Like Ward-Prowse.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 4, 2021
Competition will be fierce for a place in the England midfield ahead of next summer’s European Championships but Ward-Prowse’s form this season means he is firmly in contention for a prominent role.
Everton’s summer recruitment was focused on strengthening the spine of their team with midfield reinforcements, with Carlo Ancelotti looking towards a familiar face with the signing of Allan from Napoli.
Ancelotti had previously coached the Brazil international during his time at the Italian outfit and knew the attributes the star would bring to the Premier League, Allan providing bustle and bite to an Everton side who have shown significant signs of progress.
The holding midfielder has formed a fine partnership with the equally impressive Abdoulaye Doucoure, helping Everton emerge as contenders for European football after a disappointing 12th-placed finish last term.
Allan ranks fifth in the Premier League for pressures and has made more tackles than any other teammate, his recent absence with injury having been a huge blow to Ancelotti and his side.
Having featured regularly in the Champions League during his time in Naples, the snarling star will be hoping to secure continental football with the Toffees this season.
John McGinn had seemed set for boyhood side Celtic after outgrowing Hibernian before ultimately signing for a second tier Aston Villa, a higher bid and the promise of a guaranteed first-team place seeing the midfielder head south of the border.
It’s quite probable, however, that McGinn would have been too good for the Scottish Premier League by now anyway, such has been his rapid rise since arriving at Villa Park.
The midfielder starred as Villa won promotion – scoring the winning goal in the play-off final – and has made a seamless adaptation to the Premier League, the Scotland international’s willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause making him a firm favourite of the Holte End.
McGinn scurries across the turf in that familiar, almost awkward style, a whirlwind of energy breaking opposition lines and pressing relentlessly.
The 26-year-old is much more than a tenacious talent who runs hard, however, possessing a sublime technique that has been demonstrated by a fine collection of thumping goals.
McGinn’s first Premier League season was disrupted by injury but he is back firing and has four assists for the campaign to date, the Scot a central figure in a Villa side aiming upwards this season.
Another player who has comfortably adapted to the step up to Premier League level, Kalvin Phillips has been the homegrown heartbeat of a Leeds side who have won plenty of admirers this season.
Phillips has evolved from a combative and enthusiastic young midfielder into one of the most accomplished holding players in the league under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa, his performances having earned international recognition with the 25-year-old having won four caps for England since his senior debut earlier this year.
The midfielder became the first Leeds player in 16 years to represent the Three Lions and it is a just reward for his progress in recent seasons, the star ranking in the Premier League’s top 10 for interceptions, blocks and passes into the final third in his maiden season at the highest level.
Phillips development from rash box-to-box star to intelligent and physically imposing midfield anchor has been commendable and his club manager should take plenty of credit, Bielsa having refined the talents of a player who could yet win a regular role with the national side.
The second of Wolves’ Portuguese playmakers to make this feature, Ruben Neves has largely been a model of consistent excellence since making the unorthodox decision to leave Champions League regulars Porto for England’s second tier.
Neves bought into the project at Molineux and has been amongst the key components of Wolves’ recent rise, starring in the centre of the pitch for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side upon their Premier League return, securing consecutive seventh-placed finishes over the past two campaigns.
The Portugal international is an outstanding technician who mixes natural ability with tenacity in the tackle, Neves winning possession on more occasions than any other Premier League player throughout 2020.
268 – Rúben Neves won possession more often than any other player in the Premier League in 2020, while the midfielder also made the most tackles (72) of any player for Wolves. Bite. #OptaReview2020 pic.twitter.com/BZ1O4nSiCv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2020
It’s easy to forget that the midfielder is still just 23-years-old, having been instrumental to Wolves’ recent success with his vision and pinpoint long-range passing.
Neves was handed the captaincy at Porto as a teenager and has long been tipped to reach the very top, with bigger clubs likely to circle for the star should Wolves’ promising progression fail to continue.
Leicester are amongst the best-ran clubs in the Premier League right now have have largely failed to miss with signings in recent years, the acquisition of Wilfred Ndidi having been another gem unearthed by their recruitment team.
Ndidi arrived six months after the sale of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea and has been a pivotal figure in the side ever since, proving a perfect replacement for arguably the world’s best defensive midfielder with a series of commanding displays.
The Nigeria international is physically imposing and an almost improbably prolific ball-winner, ranking amongst the Premier League’s top two tacklers in each of his first three full seasons at the King Power Stadium.
ON THIS DAY IN 2017: Leicester City announced the singing of Wilfred Ndidi for £18m.
He's up there with some of their very best signings since their return to the Premier League! 💪🇳🇬 pic.twitter.com/4AknwvJHjj
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) January 3, 2021
Ndidi is disciplined defensively and provides Leicester’s attacking players with an assurance as the midfield anchor, covering the ground superbly and recovering possession with well-time challenges and interceptions.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are in pursuit of Champions League football once more this season and in Ndidi they have the fulcrum on which to build around.