When a team is fighting to stay in the league, the very best players can struggle to demonstrate their qualities. Maybe the coach is primarily focused on being solid at the back, and the creative players don’t get the freedom to impress. Sometimes a player just happens to be one of the best defensive players in the league, but they struggle to catch the eye as their team concedes too many goals.
Despite the hurdles that playing-staff at relegation-threatened clubs will face, there have been a number of standout players in the Premier League’s battle for survival this season.
At present, there is a plethora of quality fighting it out at the foot of England’s top-flight; talented players who wouldn’t look out of place fighting for silverware at the other end of the table.
Today, we’re focusing on four players who may well be turning out for top six clubs next season. We will highlight their qualities and suitability in the tactical setup of sides currently fighting for Europe.
The Aston Villa man is a mixture between a classic number 10, with excellent technical and dribbling ability, and a modern-day attacking midfielder. It could be said that although Grealish is an Englishman, stylistically, he shares similarities to the current crop of South Americans in the Premier League. Grealish is a master of a unique dribbling style, unorthodox movement, and unpredictability in front of goal.
His best quality is the versatility to adapt to different formations and the phenomenal ability in one-on-one situations. Valued at around £50m, Grealish will be 25 by the time next season starts.
The Villa man is best suited as the number ‘10’ in the 4-2-3-1, a wide midfielder in the 4-4-2, or as an ‘8’, in the 4-3-3. Grealish struggles when deployed as a wide-forward because he thrives when allowed to roam to create.
He averages 2.7 key passes per game in a relegation-threatened team. Despite playing in a side devoid of too many ideas, the Villa Skipper registered 9 goals and 6 assists in 34 appearances this season. Grealish, at 4.9 per game, is the most fouled player in the top five European leagues, ahead of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr, Jadon Sancho, and Kylian Mbappe.
Too good for the Championship
Despite the struggles of his team, Jack Grealish has been one of the standout players in the league. The Englishman can be a perfect replacement for the out-going David Silva. He could play in the same ‘8’ position from the left of City’s 4-3-3. Phil Foden’s presence in the team may scupper any moves for midfielders of similar ilk this summer, however.
Grealish will have to improve his defensive contribution. He has averaged a modest 0.5 interceptions per game in 30 Premier League outings. His impressive ball retention and press resistance make him an ideal player for City’s style of football.
Additionally, Grealish possesses brilliant technical ability, something that will be a requirement under Pep Guardiola. This deal makes sense on multiple levels. For the player, he will get to play in a more dominant team who let the opposition do the worrying when it comes to preventing goals.
For City, Leroy Sane is already gone, and with a potential two-year European ban on the horizon, City may not have the same pull as they had in previous transfer windows. After all, the best talent want Champions League football. European football won’t be an absolute requirement for Grealish, with the chance to compete for the Premier League under Pep’s stewardship likely to be enough.
The Gunners lack goals and direct running from midfield, a problem which Grealish can solve. Due to the lack of creativity from midfield, Mikel Arteta has had to rely on his full-backs and wide players for creativity this season.
Grealish can be the perfect number 10 for Arteta’s 4-2-3-1. Let’s compare the production of Grealish and Mesut Ozil; the German has just 1 goal and 3 assists in all competitions this season. Meanwhile, Grealish has 8 more goals and 3 more assists, despite 2019/20 being his first season in top-flight football. Granted, Grealish has played much more than the disappointing Arsenal man.
Furthermore, Özil will be 32 at the start of the next season. Although a fantastic creator on his day, it seems as if Özil’s Arsenal stint could be over.
The Premier League champions have a similar issue with a lack of creativity from midfield. Klopp’s team also rely heavily on full-backs and wide-forwards for goals and assists. As league champions, they will have a target on their back next season, so imagine if Liverpool surprised their competitors with adding another attacking threat to their ranks. Grealish has been directly involved in 36% of all of Aston Villa’s goals in the Premier League, something we’re sure will make the Merseyside outfit interested.
The 22-year-old has impressed in his first-ever top-flight campaign. He is probably the biggest talent blooming in the Premier League that, if you weren’t an avid watcher of English football, you might not yet be aware of.
The fascinating thing about Cantwell is his ability to adapt and thrive in the most competitive league in the world. Despite his tender age and lack of experience of first-team football, Cantwell has shone. The young Englishman only made 24 appearances in the Championship for the Canaries last season.
The local lad from Norfolk is still an unfinished product, but his improving stats hint at a bright future. Cantwell has registered 7 goals and 2 assists in 30 starts this season, an improvement on the 2 goals last campaign.
Cantwell is already showing a lot of intelligence, especially with his positioning and central runs from wide areas. His goal against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final was an example of his unpredictable movement. Cantwell started from wide on the left against the Red Devils, but drifted centrally, finding space and unleashing a rocket to beat Sergio Romero.
When his name is mentioned in recruitment circles of the top Premier League clubs, no one will be saying, ‘Todd who?’ The Norwich youngster has scored against Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City this season, as well as catching the eye with an impressive display against Liverpool in his first-ever top-flight game. So, it’s safe to say he has made an impact in the big games, something which will be encouraging for the bigger sides who will always be on the lookout for that big-game player.
Cantwell can play as the left-winger in the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, and due to his dribbling and passing abilities, can be deployed as an ‘8’ or a number ‘10’.
Will the local playmaker fly the nest?
Cantwell’s signing will allow top goalscorer Aubameyang to play in his best position as the central striker. The Norwich man completes 1.3 successful dribbles and gets fouled 1.8 times per game.
Arsenal have lacked a direct attacking threat from the left since the early period of Alexis Sanchez’s time in North London. With 7 goals for a side sitting bottom-of-the league, at just 22, you better believe that Cantwell is ready to step up.
The young Englishman offers many an option to Jurgen Klopp’s team. He is young and naturally energetic, something that is perfect for the hard-pressing style of Liverpool. Cantwell shouldn’t mind being a squad player, and most importantly, he will push Sadio Mane to improve himself further. At just 22, Cantwell is an investment and someone who can help create a lot of history at Anfield.
Even if none of the top six clubs come after Cantwell, you will certainly see him in the Premier League next season if he feels he can leave his boyhood club. Valued at around £35m, clubs like Everton, Leicester City, or Wolves will be keeping tabs on the talented Norwich forward.
After impressing at Rennes last season, Sarr was rumoured to either move to the capital of France, or the Premier League.
The Senegalese international did arrive in England, but his Watford side have endured a tough season. Unlike Norwich City, Watford have a real chance of avoiding relegation with Sarr being an integral part of their likelihood of survival. He has registered 5 goals and 3 assists in 22 league games, despite playing under three different managers.
Valued at around £45 million, The 1.7 successful dribbles per game is modest for a player of his ability. Ismaila Sarr was brought in at Rennes to replace Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele following his move to Borussia Dortmund. Just like the Frenchman, Sarr can play on either wing; he is fast, direct, and he can dribble with both feet, making the winger even more dangerous. Ismaila Sarr’s standout performance came in Watford’s 3-0 shock win versus Liverpool.
Sarr’s whistle-stop tour of Watford
Sadio Mane has been a massive influence on his young compatriot, with Sarr contacting the Liverpool forward before moving to England. If Klopp’s team do decide to target Sarr, expect Mane to be involved in some capacity.
Much like Cantwell, Sarr will bring a creative directness to Anfield, and the capability of playing on either wing, making him a tremendous versatile option on either side of Liverpool’s 4-3-3.
Manchester United have lacked a quality right-winger since the days of Ryan Giggs and Nani. The Red Devils are rumoured to sign Jadon Sancho, and the emergence of Mason Greenwood has been a real positive for Solskjaer’s men.
Despite the pluses for United, Ismaila Sarr could offer a reliable and consistent threat from the right side of their attack. Greenwood is still only 18 and United should allow him to develop even further without becoming reliant on him. Sarr’s arrival would give much-needed squad depth, as well as a threat from either side of United’s attack. Daniel James would benefit from this deal, as he can play on his stronger left-wing.
Sarr has been linked with Leicester City, Everton and Wolves, as well as receiving interest from Paris Saint-Germain, and top Bundesliga and Spanish clubs.
The Argentinian creative midfielder was an almost unknown and unproven talent before the start of the season, and now he is turning heads with such brilliant displays. Norwich fans will point towards his performances in the Championship as proof they knew he could do it on the big stage, but it’s rarely as easily transferable with the step up to the Premier League.
Buendia’s strengths are his accurate long-range passing, through balls, dribbling, and tackling. At only 23, the midfielder possesses the typical South American tenaciousness craved by managers. Buendia is someone who is a whiling defender despite having tremendous technical ability.
He has averaged 2.4 successful tackles per game in 31 league games. Buendia has registered 7 assists in the Premier League this season, following his tally of 12 assists and 8 goals in the Championship.
Buendia is a risk-taker and doesn’t play safe passes to massage his stats. He averages 2.5 key passes per game for bottom-of-the-league Norwich, and he still completes 80% of his passes. The 23-year-old has registered assists against Chelsea, Tottenham, Leicester, and Liverpool this season, as well as a commanding display when beating Mourinho’s Tottenham, in the FA cup. Similar to Cantwell, Buendia may well be a player for the big occasion.
Even though Daniel Farke has used Buendia as a wide-forward in the 4-2-3-1, his best position is as an 8, or a 10. Buendia’s numbers will improve massively in a more dominant team, something we should see next term.
Emi’s New Home?
The Merseyside team focuses on attacking from wide. However, Buendia could be the man to pull the strings through the middle, provide defensive cover for the attacking full-backs, and play long diagonals when needed, similar to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.
The Argentinian has assisted 28% of Norwich City’s goals in the Premier League this season, and will undoubtedly raise his assist tally in a team more capable of finishing chances. Liverpool have one of the best recruitment teams in the sport, and the names of Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia will crop up in their data.
Either Norwich man could be a very shrewd purchase for Liverpool. Signings from relegated Premier League clubs has worked in the past for Klopp, with Robertson, Shaqiri, and Wijnaldum all plucked from teams dropping a division.
Buendia is the type of player whom Jose Mourinho loves. Someone who wants to run back, make tackles, and help the defence, even though he oozes so much attacking talent.
Tottenham have lacked creativity from midfield, and with Tanguy Ndombele expected to leave after falling out with Mourinho, Buendia can be the perfect number ‘8’ or ‘10’ for Spurs.
A move to the red part of North London will make a lot of sense for both parties. The Gunners need penetrative runs and through balls from midfield for the likes of Pepe and Aubameyang.
In Buendia, they will also gain a midfielder who can cover space and bring much-needed toughness at Arsenal, similar to the fight shown by Xhaka and Guendouzi. Buendia will benefit massively by playing in a possession-based attacking side where he can display his eye-catching dribbling ability.
Don’t rule out a move to Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund or Sevilla as has been rumoured. Signed for just £1.5 million in 2017, Norwich will make a profit on him.
There are notable exclusions within this article. We could have plucked out 10-15 players who would benefit clubs competing for Europe. Most notably; Tyrone Mings, Douglas Luiz, David Brooks, Joshua King, Nathan Ake, Gerard Delofeu, Ben Godfrey, and Max Aarons.
With the global pandemic affecting financial markets far and wide, it’s a certainty that the footballing economy will take a hit. Those relegated from the top leagues may be more inclined to make a deal than other clubs. If so, the above may just prove a bargain.
Written by Hammad – @HAMMAD121997