10 Relegation-Threatened Premier League Players Who Could Play for Top Clubs

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 3, 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on March 01, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus)
Visionhaus/Getty Images

Just because a club is struggling for Premier League survival doesn't mean it lacks prize footballing assets.

In fact, several teams stuck in the mire have players who could easily play a part for the very best in the division—some from a starting role, others perhaps in a more rotational one.

Here, we've built a list of 10 such individuals.

There are seven clubs who you can argue are in the mix: anyone from Newcastle United (14th on 32 points) down is currently under severe pressure to get points on the board in their quest for survival. The further down you go, the more desperate the need is.

In building this list, we had to omit some excellent players who have serious cases to be on here. It speaks to the top-down quality of the Premier League that there were so many, another list of 10 could easily be constructed.

England's top tier boasts a best-ever collection of talent; sadly, it's very poorly managed in some parts and doesn't live up to its potential.

Max Aarons, 20, Full-Back

Norwich City

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Max Aarons of Norwich City celebrates after Jamal Lewis scores his sides first goal  during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Leicester City at Carrow Road on February 28, 2020 in Norwich, United Kingdom. (P
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Aarons has all the hallmarks you look for in a modern full-back: size, speed, stamina, on-the-ball ability, crossing technique and defensive work rate.

In Norwich's system, he's encouraged to push forward and overload the flank, combining with the midfielders, crossing into the box or working his way inward. His comfort in all of these situations makes many feel he's cut out for a higher level—and he'll end up there sooner rather than later.

Two of the Premier League's traditional big guns are extremely right-back-needy, and they'd be wise to look Aarons' way if Norwich drop to the Championship in May.

Could play for: Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal

Felipe Anderson, 26, Winger

West Ham

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Felipe Anderson of West Ham United during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United at Anfield on February 24, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

There have been times this season at which Anderson has looked poor and disinterested, his rhythm disrupted by injuries and his club's rough run of form.

But you don't have to scroll too far back to see the Brazilian dazzling the Premier League—and before that, Serie A. His ability to drift and find pockets of space makes him so difficult to shut down, while his range of passing and crossing creates goals.

Fielded from the left or as the No. 1, he can wreak havoc when he hits a vein of form. That he's been off the boil this term has been a contributing factor to West Ham's league position—he really is that impactful.

Could play for: Leicester City

Gerard Deulofeu, 25, Forward


Watford's English head coach Nigel Pearson (R) puts his arm around Watford's Spanish midfielder Gerard Deulofeu (L) at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west Eng
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

There was a spell earlier this season in which Watford's entire attacking plan seemed to be: Give it to Deulofeu and see what happens.

That was as much an indictment on the team's tactical acumen as it was a compliment to the Spaniard's quality. He could collect the ball and just start running; what would happen from there was anyone's guess, but the good outweighed the bad.

He can operate off the flank, but Watford have wisely used him in a freer role starting from the centre. He has the vision to pass, the close control to dribble and the willingness to shoot.

Could play for: Manchester United

Nathan Ake, 25, Centre-Back

AFC Bournemouth

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Aston Villa at Vitality Stadium on February 01, 2020 in Bournemouth, United Kingd
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Left-sided centre-back is a difficult hole to fill in football. The supply of players who either use the correct foot or are comfortable there is limited, often meaning there's a scrap for them.

Ake is one of said players. Since stepping away from Chelsea, he's developed well, combining a brave defensive style with a coolness on the ball; he's as likely to pick a key pass as he is to heroically block a goal-bound shot on the line.

Chelsea have missed the chance to buy him back for a set fee of £40 million, per The Athletic's David Ornstein, and that may prove to be a mistake. In this market, that's a decent fee for a type of player who is hard to unearth.

Could play for: Chelsea, Wolves, Arsenal

Ismaila Sarr, 22, Winger


WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 29: Ismaila Sarr of Watford celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road on February 29, 2020 in Watford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Watford will be left cursing their mismanagement of Sarr if they do end up getting relegated, as it took them so long to get the conditions right for the Senegalese to shine. Had they figured things out earlier, they may not have found themselves in quite so much of a mess.

It's taken a third manager in one campaign, Nigel Pearson, to really understand and unleash Sarr's speed, directness and goalscoring ability. What he did to Liverpool at the weekend made headlines, but it wasn't the first time he's changed a game in a flash this season—he did against Southampton, Aston Villa and Manchester United, too.

It's not just the other sides in the relegation mix who yearn for a player who has the transformative qualities Sarr boasts; those in and around the top eight do, too. Arsenal tried to find that in Nicolas Pepe, who cost nearly three times what Sarr did, and United are crying out for a right-sided player like him.

Could play for: Leicester City, Manchester United

Emiliano Buendia, 23, Midfielder

Norwich City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Emiliano Buendia of Norwich City in action during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Norwich City at The King Power Stadium on December 14, 2019 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus)
Visionhaus/Getty Images

Buendia was dropped from the Norwich City XI through most of February, initially due to injury, then latterly because Daniel Farke preferred to use Lukas Rupp and Ondrej Duda.

The Canaries managed just one point during the span Buendia was out of the side and didn't score a single goal. He was brought back in last weekend, he played well, and Norwich won 1-0. None of this is coincidental.

The Argentine has been a true bright spot for the side that have been in the relegation zone since October. His seven assists top the team and tie for the fourth-best record in the league; he's a true bundle of creativity and clever passes.

Perhaps a fair knock on him is that he doesn't score much—he's yet to notch this campaign—but that can be partially explained by the fact he doesn't shoot much (he's averaged 1.1 shots per game in 2019-20).

Could play for: Leicester City

Declan Rice, 21, Defensive Midfielder

West Ham United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Declan Rice of West Ham United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on February 9, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus)
Visionhaus/Getty Images

The last 12 months have seen Rice tread a familiar path in the public eye: He's gone from hot prospect who should be fast-tracked into the England setup to being questioned and criticised by plenty.

That'll happen when you rise fast. You are judged to a different standard, expected to do things you never could, the negatives becoming more of a focus than the positives.

Rice is 21, he's a leading presence in the middle for West Ham, and he has shown the propensity to dominate games thanks to great physicality, aggression and anticipation. He's played extremely well against top sides, become an option to anchor England's midfield under Gareth Southgate and been linked to both Manchester clubs, per the ExpressNeil Fissler.

He lacks that second gear in possession, unable to open up and surge past a man. But that's why he's a No. 6, not a No. 8, and is currently on track to become an excellent one. 

Could play for: Manchester United

Abdoulaye Doucoure, 27, Midfielder


WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Abdoulaye Doucouré of Watford in action during the Premier League match between Watford FC and Everton FC at Vicarage Road on February 01, 2020 in Watford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Now back to his best after a lull in form early this season, Abdoulaye Doucoure once again represents one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League.

He mixes power and grace, swarming all over midfield, representing the player Chelsea probably thought they were getting when they signed Tiemoue Bakayoko in 2017.

His ability to take the ball from end to end, play in runners and arrive in the box to mop things up makes his skill set almost universally valued. He can overwhelm lesser sides and level the playing field against top ones.

Could play for: Liverpool, Wolves, Manchester United

Fabian Schar, 28, Centre-Back

Newcastle United

OXFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Fabian Schar of Newcastle United during the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Oxford United and Newcastle United at Kassam Stadium on February 4, 2020 in Oxford, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Newcastle can be a tough watch at times, manager Steve Bruce professing a direct, somewhat defensive style. But when you've got players like Fabian Schar to lean on, it can work.

Eyebrows were raised when the Swiss international was allowed to leave Deportivo La Coruna for just £3 million in 2018, and since that moment he's proved every week what a bargain buy that was.

A solid, rugged, combative centre-back who combines defending his box well with a touch of class on the ball, he's comfortable in possession, is willing to dribble forward and has carved out a reputation for scoring screamers from distance.

The Premier League hasn't seen a centre-back like that in years—you'd have to go back to prime David Luiz or Thomas Vermaelen to find one who does it more than once a season—and at age 28, he's in his own prime years.

Could play for: Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur

Jack Grealish, 24, Midfielder

Aston Villa

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

If Aston Villa go down, Premier League clubs will be elbowing their way to Jack Grealish's agent to put forth an offer. In a difficult season for the club, its captain has shone consistently, carrying an attack almost single-handedly at times.

He's a mesmeric ball-carrier, bordering on impossible to dispossess, plays passes that make defences fall apart and has scored some incredible goals this season. His arced effort at Old Trafford left David de Gea helpless, his scorcher against Burnley showing he can lash them, too.

He's improved this season, though perhaps not to the extent some believe. He was probably top-four quality back in August 2018, only he didn't have the tape to prove it then.

He does now.

Could play for: All of them

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