English football’s top tier can once again lay claim to being the most competitive major league in Europe following a fascinating start to the Premier League season, the opening months of the campaign having featured huge upsets and fiercely contested action.
Whilst the Premier League’s traditional ‘top six’ have largely dominated the division in recent seasons, the current campaign promises to be amongst the most exciting in recent memory with several sides pushing the established elite.
There’s currently a whole host of quality across the rest of the Premier League and we’ve decided to compile an XI of the best players shining for the so-called lesser lights.
Here is the Football Faithful’s best Premier League XI of players from non top six sides:
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio – Wolves
Part of a substantial Portuguese contingent at Wolves, Rui Patricio has been a fine performer for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side since their promotion to the Premier League two years ago.
Patricio has been a consistent and dependable performer as the last line of the Wolves defence, providing a wealth of experience and making a number of superb stops since signing from Sporting Lisbon.
The 32-year-old is swiftly approaching a century of caps for the national side and helped Portugal to their first ever major trophy with European Championships success in 2016, Patricio a leader in a Wolves side who will have their own eye on silverware in the coming seasons.
Right-back: Ricardo Pereira – Leicester
Ricardo Pereira’s absence has been a major blow for Leicester despite their impressive start to the season, with the Portugal international having established himself as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League prior to his knee injury sustained in March.
The 27-year-old is tenacious defensively – averaging more tackles per game than any player in the Premier League last season – and a fine attacking option from wide, his dynamism providing a different dimension to the Foxes’ side with his forward bursts from right-back.
Pereira accumulated an impressive 13 goal involvements over his two seasons with Leicester despite his second being cut short through injury, his impending return likely to be a welcome boost to Brendan Rodger’s side as they pursue a top four finish.
Centre-back: Caglar Soyuncu – Leicester
Another player currently missing from Leicester’s options but a fine footballer when fully fit, Caglar Soyuncu earned cult hero status at the King Power Stadium last season following his emergence as a first-team regular.
The Turkish international impressed with his commanding performances and composure in possession, becoming a firm fans’ favourite and leading to speculation of a potential move to Manchester City.
Soyuncu remained with Leicester during the summer and his spell on the sidelines has been compensated by the encouraging performances of summer signing Wesley Fofana, the duo possessing the potential to form a formidable long-term partnership at centre-back for the Foxes.
Centre-back: Conor Coady – Wolves
Wolves’ leader at the back and player who has played a pivotal part in their recent rise, Conor Coady has elevated his game to new heights under the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo at Molineux.
Coady is a fine character and the voice of arguably the division’s most organised side, his importance to his club indicated by a staggering 127 consecutive league appearances before last weekend’s draw at Southampton.
A midfielder in his early career, Coady’s switch to a defensive role has seen him act as a quarter-back figure for Wolves, his pinpoint diagonal passes a trademark of the club’s attacking play.
It is those qualities that have seen Gareth Southgate hand an opportunity to the 27-year-old who has since earned three caps, his ability to confidently play from the back a huge asset in the demands of modern football.
Left-back: Lucas Digne – Everton
Lucas Digne’s excellence at either end of the pitch has made him an essential member of the Everton side and amongst the finest left-backs in the Premier League, a player who combines diligent defending with a huge attacking threat.
The France international has provided 19 goal involvements in a little over two seasons since arriving on Merseyside from Barcelona, his four assists this season bettered by only two players across the entire division.
Lucas Digne has now provided more assists (4) than any other defender in the Premier League this season.
A wand of a left foot. 🪄 pic.twitter.com/i1zPmNxjjN
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 22, 2020
Digne’s superb technique have made him a potent attacking weapon for the Toffees from full-back, providing a constant source of creativity as the club’s outlet on the left.
Midfield: Declan Rice – West Ham
Declan Rice continues to be linked with a move away from West Ham following his performances at the London Stadium, the midfielder having starred since coming through the club’s academy ranks and continuing to grow in stature.
Rice has captained the side for much of the campaign and offers an authoritative presence in the West Ham engine room, anchoring the midfield with his ability to read the play and break up opposition attacks.
The 21-year-old ranked second amongst all defensive midfielders in the division last season for recoveries, tackles and interceptions and the Hammers will be hoping they can hold on to the latest starlet to emerge from their hallowed youth system.
Midfield: Youri Tielemans – Leicester
Youri Tielemans was tipped for stardom after making his Champions League debut as a teenager, and the midfielder now looks to be fulfilling that early potential as the deep-lying conductor of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester.
The Belgium international has been switched into a deeper role this season after an inconsistent first full season with the Foxes and is thriving, orchestrating the play at the base of the midfield and providing a cutting edge with his fine passing range.
He ranks amongst the Premier League’s leading five midfielders this season in a host of categories including passes attempted, successful passes, passes into the final third and interceptions, his impressive form having also seen him become a key component of a Belgium side ranked number one in the world.
Midfield: Jack Grealish – Aston Villa
Aston Villa’s influential club captain has seemingly always had his detractors but those doubting the ability of Jack Grealish are getting fewer and fewer, his continued excellence earning him England recognition where has thrived in his opening performances at international level.
Grealish is an exceptional talent and leads by example for a new-look Aston Villa side, demanding possession and taking it upon himself to carve out opportunities – creating more chances than any other player in the Premier League last season behind only Kevin De Bruyne.
His ability to carry the ball in possession often provides respite for his defence, whilst his increasing productivity – scoring four goals and providing five assists in eight appearances this season – must surely leave him on the radar of the Premier League’s biggest clubs.
Right-wing: James Rodriguez – Everton
James Rodriguez has strutted into the Premier League and swiftly cemented himself as a fans’ favourite at Everton, the classy Colombian thriving as the creative heartbeat of Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Rodriguez has starred from a position on the right-hand side where he has drifted dangerously in-field onto that cultured left-foot, scoring three times and providing three assists for the Toffees so far this season.
The 29-year-old’s superb start has come despite appearing not to break sweat and some quite remarkable sprint statistics, the South American superstar flourishing amid the frenetic nature of the Premier League – all at his own pace.
Left-wing: Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace
Ask any supporter of a Crystal Palace persuasion for their best player outside of the top six and you’ll likely be greeted unequivocally with one answer – talismanic forward Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha has regularly been showered with superlatives from those connected to Selhurst Park and has often been a delight to watch throughout his Premier League career, a player who when at full tilt can provide irresistible moments of brilliance.
It’s often been said that stopping Zaha is stopping Crystal Palace such has been his influence for the Eagles, though halting the Ivorians pace, power and sublime footwork can prove a different matter entirely.
Switched to a central role this season he has begun the new season with five goals and two assists in eight appearances, form that will likely place him into the shop window once more as he seeks a second crack at a bigger club.
Forward: Jamie Vardy – Leicester
Perhaps the most difficult selection on the team sheet with the likes of Raul Jimenez, Danny Ings and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all holding credible cases for the centre-forward role, but it is difficult to look past last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner.
Vardy has established himself as one of the greatest players in Leicester’s history since signing for the club from non-League Fleetwood eight years ago, firing the Foxes to that improbable Premier League title and rising to third in the club’s all-time scorers list.
Last season saw Vardy incredibly reach a century of Premier League goals despite not making his top flight debut until the age of 27, the evergreen Foxes forward remaining amongst the most ruthless finishers in English football and a leading contender to finish as the division’s top scorer for a second successive season.