English football boasts the strongest domestic league in Europe at present, with the unrivalled riches of Premier League clubs allowing teams across the division to bring in big names and top talent.
While the league’s traditional ‘big six’ boast some of the finest footballers in the world game, there’s also several stars lower down the league who could comfortably make the step up into Champions League teams.
We’ve decided to rank the best players outside England’s elite clubs, attempting to whittle down a top ten of the best players outside the ‘big six’ clubs.
10. Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Everton’s issues are not in short supply, but there was no coincidence the club’s struggles last season occurred during an injury-hit campaign for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The 25-year-old looked set to build on a career-best season after three goals in the opening three games of the Premier League campaign, before continued fitness problems restricted the England forward to just 15 league starts in 2021/22.
Another injury has halted his start to the current campaign, but Calvert-Lewin will hope to recover and return to the form that made him Harry Kane’s lead deputy for the national side.
— Everton (@Everton) May 19, 2022
Excellent in the air, a physical handful and improving around goal with 21 in all competitions in 2020/21, he is perhaps the leading out-and-out number nine outside the ‘big six’ when at full fitness.
The likes of Ollie Watkins and Callum Wilson will be hoping to both challenge that claim and compete for an England place, while Gianluca Scamacca and Aleksandar Mitrovic are Premier League arrivals this season with points to prove.
9. Ruben Neves
Ruben Neves appeared to wave goodbye to the Wolves fans on the final day of last season, but with less than a month remaining of the transfer window, he remains at Molineux.
Since first arriving at Wolves Neves has appeared destined for bigger things, having had an instrumental role in the club’s rise from the Championship to a position as regular competitors for European football.
2️⃣4️⃣ in 8️⃣4️⃣ seconds.
Every Ruben Neves goal. A beautiful collection.
— Wolves (@Wolves) July 8, 2022
Neves’ attributes as a deep-lying midfielder are wide-ranging, with the Portugal captain willing to engage in the dirtier aspects of the game in addition to possessing an expansive passing range.
Last season the 25-year-old led all Premier League midfielders for long switches out to the flanks and after five seasons at Wolves will be keen to test himself at the highest level.
Joelinton’s transformation was one of the stories of the Premier League season in 2021/22, with the once-maligned forward having evolved into one of the division’s most influential midfielders.
Eddie Howe’s decision to move the Brazilian into a deeper role has proven to be a masterstroke and Joelinton’s rapid adaptation saw him crowned Newcastle’s Player of the Season last term.
Freed from the goalscoring burden that weighed heavy following his £40m arrival from Hoffenheim, Joelinton’s strengths have shone in an all-action central role, rampaging around the Newcastle engine room and steamrolling opposition midfields.
Here’s a surprisingly mesmeric three minutes of Joelinton running the show in midfield. pic.twitter.com/dkhpvPAwv5
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) August 4, 2022
His transformation from goal-shy forward to midfield workhorse – he has made more tackles (64) than any other teammate since Howe’s arrival – has even led to calls for a Brazil call-up, with the 25-year-old having admitted it would be a ‘dream’ to represent the national side at senior level.
On current form he has a fine chance of making the squad, ahead of a World Cup in Qatar that Brazil will start among the favourites.
7. Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha has long been linked with a move away from Crystal Palace, but his importance to the Eagles has often outweighed the sums interested clubs are willing to part with.
Zaha will be remembered as a Palace great regardless of what his future holds, having had a huge influence on the club’s consolidation in the Premier League in recent campaigns.
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) February 10, 2022
Last season the 29-year-old scored a career-best 14 league goals for Patrick Vieira’s side and has shone in a number of roles as the talismanic leader of Palace’s forward line.
Zaha’s sharpness and speed around the area are a nightmare for opposition defenders, while his repertoire of tricks makes him both unpredictable and difficult to stop.
6. Jarrod Bowen
Gareth Southgate is among the growing list of Jarrod Bowen admirers, having handed the West Ham winger his first international caps during England’s UEFA Nations League fixtures in June.
Bowen’s inclusion in the national side was reward for a superb season at West Ham, in which only Harry Kane (26) was directly involved in more than the 25-year-old’s 22 Premier League goals.
Bowen was also one of just three players – alongside Mohamed Salah and Mason Mount – to reach double figures for both goals and assists, cementing his status as one of the most productive wide forwards in the Premier League.
What a finish! 💥
The best of Jarrod Bowen's goals in Claret & Blue? pic.twitter.com/vsrKKtFNzY
— West Ham United (@WestHam) December 20, 2021
Both inventive and industrious from his preferred role on the right flank, Liverpool are among the clubs said to be monitoring his progress at the London Stadium.
5. Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho made an immediate impact after arriving at Aston Villa last season, providing an instant sprinkling of star-dust on Steven Gerrard’s side.
Villa’s signing of the Brazilian on loan from Barcelona was deemed a huge coup and the 30-year-old scored five goals and provided three assists across his 16 league starts for the club.
Philippe Coutinho. Magician. 😍 pic.twitter.com/0KjaWkNoou
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) June 12, 2022
Coutinho’s form faded from a strong start, but Villa decided to secure his services on a permanent basis for a fee of £17m. At his best, Coutinho can be transformative to his side’s fortunes with an ability to break defensive lines with fleet-of-foot or inch-perfect passes.
His finest football could see Coutinho lead this list, but his struggle for consistency since returning to the Premier League leaves him – perhaps even generously – mid-ranked in our top ten.
4. Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans is another name who has been linked with a ‘big six’ move this summer, having entered the final 12 months of his deal at Leicester.
The Belgian was named as future star following his breakthrough at Anderlecht, before rebuilding at Leicester following an indifferent period at Monaco.
In four seasons with the Foxes he has evolved into one of the Premier League’s most complete central midfielders, capable of operating as a six, eight or in an advanced role breaking forward.
Youri Tielemans vs. Chelsea.
The Emirates FA Cup Final, 2021.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 19, 2021
Last season he scored six goals and provided four assists in 29 league starts and after the recent success of consecutive fifth place finishes, an FA Cup and a Community Shield, he may feel now is the time to leave a Leicester side who regressed last term.
Arsenal are understood to be interested and Tielemans’ calm and composure would be a fine addition to Mikel Arteta’s improving side.
3. James Maddison
James Maddison has become the heartbeat of the Leicester side in recent months with the midfielder having lifted his game to new levels.
Maddison scored 18 goals and provided 12 assists in all competitions for the Foxes in 2021/22, shining as the creative force of the Foxes.
The 25-year-old ranks behind only Harry Kane for Premier League goal involvements among English players in 2022 and began the new campaign in fine form last weekend.
Maddison registered more shots (6) than any other player on the Premier League’s opening weekend and was involved in 11 of Leicester 14 efforts on goal against Brentford, including an assist for Timothy Castagne’s opener.
7⃣ goals ⚽️
6⃣ assists 🅰️
Harry Kane (21) is the only English player to be involved in more Premier League goals in 2022 than James Maddison 🦊🏴 pic.twitter.com/4dt5DR1F7Y
— LiveScore (@livescore) August 8, 2022
A wonderful technician whose output continues to improve around goal, he is staking an increasingly strong claim for a place in an England set-up that has overlooked him in recent months.
If Southgate is to select his squad for Qatar on form, Maddison must be included.
2. Bruno Guimaraes
During a summer in which some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs have pursued midfield additions, there must be some sections cursing a decision to overlook Bruno Guimaraes.
Arsenal were strongly linked with a move to sign the Brazilian, who has starred since making a move to Newcastle last January.
Since arriving at St James’ Park, Guimaraes has led the Premier League for duels won, tackles made and fouls won, providing an all-action presence in the Magpies’ engine room.
Bruno Guimarães in the Premier League since making his full debut:
◉ Most duels won (111)
◉ Most tackles made (45)
◉ Most fouls won (38)
Unreal. 😤 pic.twitter.com/ClpmxfC2dG
— Squawka (@Squawka) August 10, 2022
His partnership with Joelinton has provided the bedrock of Newcastle’s improvement under Eddie Howe, a dynamic duo who have worked in wonderful synchronisation in recent months. Each are hard-working and combative, but possess the technical talents associated with South American stars.
Against Nottingham Forest on the opening weekend Guimaraes was superb, leading the game for touches (95), passes completed (62), final third passes completed (26), duels won (12), dribbles completed (4), and chances created (3).
Already a firm favourite in the North East, his £33.5m price-tag is looking more like a bargain with each passing week and the club’s Brazilian midfield duo could be the catalyst behind a push for Europe.
1. Declan Rice
Declan Rice continues to improve on an almost weekly basis for West Ham, with the midfielder entering the new campaign as the Premier League’s youngest captain.
Rice has been continually linked with a move away from the London Stadium in recent windows with Chelsea said to be keen on signing the 23-year-old, but he looks set to remain with the Hammers for another season at least.
Last season the England international took his game to a new level in David Moyes’ side, adding to his defensive work with improved forward threat.
Rice ranked among the Premier League leaders for progressive carries in possession and scored five goals in all competitions – as many as the previous three seasons combined.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 31, 2022
He ranks third in the Premier League for tackles won since the start of the 2019/20 season and ranked second behind Rodri for pass completion (91.6%) among midfielders in the division last season.
Rice has added more and more strings to his bow and appears to be thriving amid the added responsibility he has been given in East London.
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