Leave ’em, yeah? The Premier League’s undroppables

Matt Stead

From the same company that brought you ‘Still there: The Premier League’s forgotten…‘ and ‘U ok hun? The Premier League’s worried‘, we present the one player from each club whose place is almost assured.


Arsenal: Mesut Ozil
Why is he undroppable? 
Arsenal look a different prospect without him. Ozil missed just three Premier League games last season, and the Gunners scored just three times against Newcastle, Stoke and Manchester City in his absence. There is a reason the club are only linked with new strikers; they already have the perfect man in place to provide the chances.

Last season: Arsenal scored 65 Premier League goals last season; Ozil contributed directly to 25. Next was Olivier Giroud (22), then Alexis Sanchez (17), then Aaron Ramsey (nine). Only two outfielders – Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin (both 36) – started more league games than the German (35).


Bournemouth: Steve Cook
Why is he undroppable?
Daniel Storey absolutely adores him. So does Eddie Howe, who handed him a new three-year deal in the summer. Of all the manager’s trusted lieutenants during the club’s rise from the lower leagues, Cook is his Ashley Williams. The 25-year-old has stepped up each time.

Last season: Only Simon Francis (38) started more Premier League games last season, while Cook was also Bournemouth’s joint third-highest goalscorer. He was the central-defensive constant amid rotation for the club – Francis (20 starts), Tommy Elphick (11) and Sylvain Distin (nine) all shared the other centre-half spot.


Burnley: David Jones
Why is he undroppable?
Trustworthy, cheap, first-team midfielders are remarkably difficult for a newly-promoted Premier League club to come by – particularly if you are trying to sell them the concept of Burnley. With Joey Barton’s exit, only one half of the Clarets’ Championship-winning partnership remains. Jones started 36 games during the club’s last Premier League stint in 2014/15, and Sean Dyche will give him a second chance to impress among the elite.

Last season: The 31-year-old made 41 appearances during the club’s march to the Championship title, providing seven assists. That’s about it, really.


Chelsea: N’Golo Kante
Why is he undroppable?
“We identified him, me and the club together, and I think Kante can give a lot to Chelsea, to enforce a zone which is very important if we want to play with two central midfielders” – Antonio Conte. Simple.

Last season: He won the f***ing Premier League. What did you do? Think about that for a second.


Crystal Palace: Scott Dann
Why is he undroppable? 
Of Crystal Palace’s evergreen central-defensive pairing, it is Damien Delaney who will be worried for his place upon the arrival of £10m James Tomkins. Dann will ask Alan Pardew for Sam Allardyce’s phone number as he continues his late crusade for an England call-up.

Last season: Thirty-five Premier League starts – more than any other Palace player. In the three games he missed, the club lost 1-0 to Spurs, 2-0 to Manchester United and 4-1 to Southampton. And no player scored more goals than his five.


Everton: Romelu Lukaku
Why is he undroppable?
The alternative is Oumar Niasse. Once expected to leave Goodison Park this summer, Lukaku endured a difficult Euros, and talk of a £60m move soon died down. Yet he is still one of the Premier League’s finest forwards, and could refine his game under Ronald Koeman.

Last season: Outscored in the Premier League by only Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Sergio Aguero, the 23-year-old was the individual behind some rather ridiculous statistics.


Hull: Andrew Robertson
Why is he undroppable?
He is one of few players still standing, not struck down by an inexplicable plague of injuries in East Yorkshire. And Steve Bruce valued his right leg at £12m last summer.

Last season: Missed just four games of 49 during Hull’s Championship play-off run – no Tiger featured more often.


Leicester: Jamie Vardy
Why is he undroppable? 
First and foremost, because of the all-important trio behind Leicester’s unfathomable title win, Vardy is the only one to truly dedicate himself to the subsequent venture into the unknown. N’Golo Kante has fled to Chelsea, while uncertainty rules over Riyad Mahrez. Claudio Ranieri built a title-winning squad around the striker; he will build a title-defending squad around him.

Last season: It was all f***ing his. The consecutive goal record. The Premier League winner’s medal. The Hollywood blockbuster. The major international tournament goal. All f***ing his.


Liverpool: Emre Can
Why is he undroppable?
To be honest, it is difficult to decipher whether anyone truly is undroppable at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. He has numerous players to fit into fewer positions. But after some fine performances under his compatriot last season, Can should be more assured of his starting position than anyone else. His versatility also works in his favour.

Last season: Only Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno played more Premier League minutes than the 22-year-old. Of the eight games Can missed, three were due to suspension, and a further three were due to injuries. The other two came in the 36th and 38th games of the season, when Klopp rested players for the Europa League.


Manchester City: Kevin De Bruyne
Why is he undroppable?
Pep Guardiola was a vocal fan of the Belgian during his time at Bayern Munich, describing his Wolfsburg form as “madness”. The new manager has inherited a squad of talented but ageing players, and De Bruyne, still just 25, is one of few exceptions.

Last season: When De Bruyne suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on January 27 earlier this year, Manchester City were second in the Premier League table, three points behind leaders Leicester. When he returned in March, City had slipped to fourth, and were 12 points behind. He also scored in both legs of the Champions League quarter-final victory over PSG shortly after his comeback, and only Sergio Aguero (24 goals, two assists) contributed to more league goals (De Bruyne: seven goals, nine assists) last season, despite him missing a large chunk through injury.


Manchester United: Chris Smalling
Why is he undroppable?
Eric Bailly has moved to Old Trafford for £30m, but it has never been Smalling’s place in question. Whether it is the former Villarreal man, Daley Blind or Phil Jones partnering him in central defence, Smalling will be Jose’s new Gary Cahill. And while that is not a sexy tagline, it is testament to the trust placed in the 26-year-old. Until and unless Paul Pogba joins, the England international is Mourinho’s undroppable.

Last season: No player started more Premier League games for Manchester United (35). Eight players started at least one game in central defence, but Smalling was the constant. There are few better managers under whom his game will  further improve.


Middlesbrough: Marten de Roon
Why is he undroppable? 
Even though the Dutchman is one of five signings we had all completely forgotten about, Aitor Karanka has to play him. At £12m, and as Middlesbrough’s second-most expensive player in their history, he has no choice.

Last season: Atalanta signed him for £1m last summer, and the 25-year-old had the most impressive tackle (rate) in Serie A at 3.4 per game. Only one player completed more interceptions, too. He is basically an expensive, very possibly not as good, N’Golo Kante.


Southampton: Virgil van Dijk
Why is he undroppable?
 A survivor of the most recent St Mary’s cull, if Van Dijk continues his excellent form he will surely follow the path of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Sadio Mane and the many before them. Fraser Forster will be Claude Puel’s goalkeeper, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could be his midfield anchor, and Shane Long may reprise his role as nuisance striker, but remove Van Dijk and Southampton look considerably weaker.

Last season: Signed for £13m on September 1 of last year, Van Dijk played every single minute of the subsequent 34 Premier League games. He and Jose Fonte will be crucial.


Stoke: Giannelli Imbula
Why is he undroppable? 
Well, it’s either him or Glenn Whelan, who started all but one Premier League game last season. And as Joe Allen is linked with a move to the Britannia, is Mark Hughes more likely to replace the 32-year-old Irishman or the most expensive player in Stoke’s history?

Last season: He completed more dribbles per game (4.4) than any other player in the Premier League last season. So there’s that.


Sunderland: Jermain Defoe
Why is he undroppable?
Because if you do drop him, his replacement is either Fabio Borini (five league goals in 26 games last season) or Duncan Watmore (three league goals in 23 last season, and a first-class honours degree). Be it Sam Allardyce, David Moyes or A.N. Other, Defoe will lead the line.

Last season: Sunderland scored 48 goals as they scraped Premier League survival last season; Defoe scored 15 of them. He scored at least three times as many as the club’s next-highest goalscorer (Borini, five).


Swansea: Ashley Williams
Why is he undroppable? 
Swansea have played 190 Premier League games since their promotion in 2011/12; Williams has missed just 12. In the three Championship seasons prior to top-flight promotion, he played every single game.

Last season: No outfield player started more Premier League games for the Welsh club and he made more clearances than any other player (314).


Tottenham: Toby Alderweireld
Why is he undroppable? 
Of the spine which led Tottenham’s title charge – and subsequent collapse – Alderweireld is the most indispensable. Hugo Lloris is wonderful, but there is only so much a goalkeeper can do without a competent defence in front of him. Eric Dier is brilliant, but the signing of Victor Wanyama signals that he could at least be afforded a rest now and then. The same stands for Harry Kane, who will welcome the addition of Vincent Janssen and the opportunity to put his feet up. There is a reason Mauricio Pochettino has not, and likely will not, sign a new central defender.

Last season: One of just four players to play every single minute of the Premier League season. And he was named the best defender of the campaign by a remarkably handsome man on an esteemed website, which is compliment enough.


Watford: Craig Cathcart
Why is he undroppable? Walter Mazzarri has a fetish for Northern Ireland internationals. The 27-year-old has emerged as one of the club’s best and most consistent performers, and is likely to reprise his starting role.

Last season: Cathcart started 32 Premier League games last season – at least eight more than any other Watford player in central defence. Christian Kabasele is far more likely to be Miguel Britos’ replacement.


West Brom: Darren Fletcher
Why is he undroppable?
Even though he does not fulfil Tony Pulis’ desire for massive central defenders in every single position, the Baggies manager clearly trusts the Scot. He is his Premier League-winning club captain, after all.

Last season: Started all 38 Premier League games, and completed 362 more passes than his closest teammate.


West Ham: Dimitri Payet
Why is he undroppable?
Aaron Cresswell and Mark Noble will be busy finally answering their long-awaited international call-ups under their former manager, so Payet will continue his starring role as the supposed £100m footballer in West Ham’s new stadium escapades.

Last season: Nine goals – no Hammer scored more. Twelve assists – no Hammer provided more. And of the eight games he missed last season, West Ham won one, drew five and lost two, scoring six and conceding nine.


Matt Stead