Palmer, Van Dijk, Mainoo, Saka among Premier League players each club must keep at all costs

Dave Tickner
Chelsea player Cole Palmer, Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo and Newcastle's Bruno Guimaraes
Forget the players each club must sell; these are the ones who have to be kept

We’ve declared who every Premier League club should sell, with a quite terrifying degree of unearned self-importance. Here, then, is the less fun companion piece to that: the player every club must not sell under any circumstances.

A lot of these are, by definition, quite obvious. Especially the first one. And the second one. Then it gets a bit more interesting, we promise.

Gabriel Martinelli, Marcus Rashford, Mo Salah and Son Heung-min must be sold; this lot should be kept at all costs.


Arsenal – Bukayo Saka
Yeah, straight away. The problem with this feature compared to its companion is that it’s harder to be wilfully and doggedly contrarian about it. So it’s much less fun. ‘Arsenal should sell Martinelli’ is a million times more fun to say than ‘Arsenal should not sell Saka’. Keep Bukayo Saka? Oh what sage wisdom. Please, ferry this information directly to Mikel Arteta immediately lest he be unaware of it.

A lot of these will be very obvious, but we still think this one is a little interesting specifically because the very idea of Saka sodding Arsenal off is so inherently absurd.

You really don’t have to travel too far back into the deep, dark mists of time to find yourself in a world where ‘Saka to Manchester City’ would be this summer’s single most obvious transfer. If Arsenal were still the sort of club to dirty itself spending its time scrabbling around in undignified fashion trying and failing to hold off Spurs for fourth, Saka would be touted everywhere. No point now, is there?


Aston Villa – Ollie Watkins
Cementing fourth should go a long way to heading this one off for another year at least, but if you’re Aston Villa you’re still going to be feeling slightly nervous about the sheer number of fancy pants teams in conspicuous need of a striker this summer – it’s all of the top six bar City – when Villa are currently in possession of one of the Premier League’s very best.

Only Erling Haaland and Cole Palmer have more goals this season than Watkins, but chuck his 12 assists into the pot and nobody can match the Villa man for goal contributions. He still has a reasonable chance of pulling off the Harry Kane trick of winning both the Golden Boot and Playmaker awards. And for it still not to be enough to get him in the Euros squad as the Bayern striker’s back-up.


Bournemouth – Ilya Zabarnyi
Had been on course for a full season having played every minute of the first 34 Premier League games of the campaign before being kept out of the Brighton game last week by illness, which is pretty gutting. So close. Still, though. That’s quite something for a 21-year-old centre-back – a position rarely nailed down by one so young. The fact he’s already racked up 34 caps for Ukraine likewise.

Spurs were keen when he was still at Dinamo Kyiv and remain so, while West Ham have also had a sniff around. Bournemouth probably do have to sell one this summer, but Zabarnyi has been so important to them this season and is under contract until 2028. It’s hard to see how anything other than serious injury stops his value increasing over the next 12 months.


Brentford – Neal Maupay
Look, there are more sensible and crucially correct answers here but we’re not interested in any of them. With Ivan Toney near certain to depart, the sensible answers here would all revolve around ensuring a front three of Yoane Wissa, Keane Lewis-Potter and Bryan Mbeumo is retained. Not making the loan move for Neal Maupay permanent.

But this is Neal Maupay we’re talking about. We’re not interested in logic or common sense. He’s our favourite, and the thought of him returning to the Everton bench or – worse – leaving Our League altogether is quite simply not one we can handle in our current fragile state. We’re still not really over losing Erik Lamela. Don’t do this to us.


Brighton – Pascal Gross
It’s probably not great that he’s still their most important player. Does feel like evidence of Brighton slightly losing their way that a 32-year-old with only a year left on his contract is of such outsized importance, but even in their peak days of casually replacing like for like but somehow ending up with someone both better and cheaper they wouldn’t have attempted it with Gross.

Sits joint second on the Premier League assists chart despite Brighton being a) rubbish for huge parts of the season and b) in not unrelated news reverting to their Potter-era fondness for failing to convert chances.

Only Martin Odegaard and Bruno Fernandes have more key passes, while only Rodri and Declan Rice have completed more passes into the final third. Given the team’s struggles, it’s a remarkable set of numbers. He’s still up there with the most creative attacking midfielders and deep-lying ones in the entire division.

Has only a year left on his contract, but they simply can’t be without him.


Burnley – Dara O’Shea
Difficult because Burnley have been enormously rubbish for much of the season but also don’t yet know what division they’re going to be in next season, which is important for these things.

Here then is someone who should be key to next season’s efforts whether it’s another promotion push or (hopefully) more dignified survival bid. O’Shea has been largely excellent during the recent uptick that has kept Burnley’s survival hopes incongruously alive, as long as we all agree to forget about the Everton game.


Chelsea – Cole Palmer
Again, sometimes there is no need to think outside the box when the correct answer is sitting there waving at you right inside it. Really is hilarious to think about precisely what kind of grisly mess Chelsea might have found themselves in this season had it not been for the spectacular form of a 21-year-old playing his first full season of Barclays.

He’s still not a midfielder, though.


Crystal Palace – Michael Olise
There’s two really: Olise and Eberechi Eze. We are desperate to see what this brilliant pair might get up to in a full season (after a full pre-season) under Oliver Glasner’s guidance. It really could be something quite special. That it almost certainly won’t happen is a cruelty indeed.


Everton – Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Tantalising recent evidence suggests he might, just might, be back approaching something like his very best. It would be huge for Everton if so, because as we noted in the companion piece they can probably cope with losing an excellent defender or two without the whole thing falling apart, but the last couple of years have shown exactly what can happen to them when just about the only member of the squad with any kind of capacity for semi-regular goalscoring is out injured or out of form.

There’s a contract decision to be made, though, with only 12 months left on his current deal. Everton are not really in a position to be letting £20m players walk out for nothing.


Fulham – Joao Palhinha
Seems obvious, because he is evidently Fulham’s best and most important player and has been for two years now. The fulcrum of the side, Mr Yellow Card is vital to everything Fulham do all over the pitch.

Except those frequent yellow-card suspensions give us an idea of how Fulham might cope without him and, awkwardly, they’ve won all three games when he’s been suspended. So maybe we’ve got this one completely wrong and he should be in the other feature. Cash in on the card-loving loon.


Liverpool – Virgil van Dijk
One of the more interesting clubs for this. Loads of different ways to go with it, but our thinking is this. They’re definitely losing an iconic manager. They’re probably losing their attacking talisman, and that’s probably a good idea. But there are limits to just how much upheaval you want to endure at the same time. A new manager and new attacking set-up is quite enough a year after a full tear-down-and-rebuild of the midfield.

Don’t also lose your captain and, while not quite the immovable object of old, best defender as well. Van Dijk – and, pretty much equally importantly, Trent Alexander-Arnold – has only a year left on his Liverpool contract this summer. It really is a very busy time at Anfield and we’re not sure any of us have yet fully taken in just how quickly things there could look really quite head-spinningly different to what we’ve all grown accustomed to.


Luton – Ross Barkley
He just seems really happy and enjoying his football again and that makes us happy. Very nearly as happy as it must make Henry Winter. Sometimes a player and a club just work in combination and it doesn’t do to worry too much about why it seems to work and just be happy that it does. Barkley at Luton works. In summary, then: happy.


Manchester City – Rodri
We all know the stat by now. Rodri never loses, but without him Manchester City sometimes do. Ergo, don’t sell him. That would be silly.


Manchester United – Kobbie Mainoo
Absolutely EVERYONE is up for grabs in the Manchester United Sale Event this summer
!!! Everyone apart from Mainoo, Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund that is. Helpful for the club themselves to narrow our options here down to three anyway. It’s also a slightly mischievous story, because what it really means is those are the three players for whom United will not even consider any bid. What it really means is everyone else has a price at which something might be done.

Which is basically the same situation as Any Football Club. Still, though. Mainoo is the obvious answer here, even if only because everything he represents is acting as a beacon to carry United fans through the current travails. Selling him now would be tantamount to an unthinkable act of cultural vandalism.

Their most important player remains Bruno Fernandes, of course, but there are some who still think United would be better off without his tantrums/brilliance so we wouldn’t mind if they sold him, if only so we could all find out just how wrong-headed that viewpoint is. Because we suspect that the answer to ‘Just how f***ed would United be without Bruno’ is definitely still ‘Very f***ed indeed’.


Newcastle – Bruno Guimaraes
Newcastle are likely in a position this summer where they’ll need a major outgoing. Whoever that is, holding on to the others becomes of vital import. There are three names involved here, in our view: Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon, and Guimaraes.

Isak is the one we’d take the big money for, Gordon we can’t imagine having any desire to go anywhere else given where he currently sits on his career path and who might realistically come in for him and so that leaves Bruno, the man who ties everything together for the Magpies.

It’s been a messy season for Newcastle, really, one ravaged by ill fortune and nightmarish injury problems. It could still have been so much worse, though, had one of those injuries befallen the irreplaceable Brazilian.

Newcastle might not be able to do much about keeping him, though, with Guimaraes having a £100m release clause in his contract that expires at the end of June and a list of deep-pocketed admirers that includes Arsenal, Man City and PSG.

That fee or anything close to it would at least mean Newcastle can shut up shop on anyone else, but our suspicion remains that Guimaraes will be even harder to replace in the round for Newcastle than Isak.


Nottingham Forest – Chris Wood
Almost impossible to answer this one currently, really, because we are without too many vital pieces of information. What division will Forest be in? Just how financially snookered are they? And so forth.

So we’ll hedge our bets and land on Wood, because he seems a sort who should fit the bill no matter where or how f***ed Forest end up.

He’s proven his enduring worth in the top flight should they stay up, but is also clearly a striker who should find nothing to upset him in the Championship rough-and-tumble if need be.

Signed only a one-year contract after making his loan from Newcastle permanent, but it’s hard to envision a scenario now where Forest are better off without him next season however the chips may fall.


Sheffield United – Gus Hamer
Appears to be one of those ‘too good for the Championship, not quite good enough for the Premier League’ kind of players. And thus it makes perfect sense for the Blades to keep hold of him given where they’re going to be next season.


Tottenham – Cristian Romero
We’ve decided Spurs should fully embrace and lean into the chaos. It’s the Spurs way, it’s the Ange Postecoglou way, and it is very much the Cristian Romero way. In the universe where Spurs have followed our advice and moved on from Son Heung-min, there’s a captaincy vacancy. We’re going balls out and giving that armband to Romero, who has shown in recent months he is worthy of it having managed to stop getting himself sent off without losing a single ounce of the madness that makes him who he is.

We still find ourselves very often entirely unable to work out what precisely goes through his head and we’re not really sure we ever want to know. The goal he scored in the NLD to cap an astonishing freeform display of centre-backery confirmed what we’ve thought for a while: this is the man to lead Spurs into their new era. Plus, we find it inherently funny that a team whose whole schtick is never winning anything would then have two World Cup winners among its last three club captains.


West Ham – Jarrod Bowen
We think, sadly, that the Hammers are probably doomed to lose one of their brilliant ‘three behind the striker’ lads this summer, but it is of vital importance that Bowen is not that one. He probably is the best – or at the very least most important – of the three for West Ham and a first season out of Europe for a while might just leave them under a bit of pressure.

Sell Paqueta to City by all means, but don’t lose another one. Especially not Bowen, who is likely to be the subject of a phone call at the very least from Liverpool. It needs to be a short one.


Wolves – Pedro Neto
These hamstring issues are becoming a nuisance, but do offer us some helpful pointers here. When he came back from his first hamstring injury of the season, Wolves won five of their next nine Premier League games. Since his second, season-ending hamstring injury of the season, they went six games without a win before last week’s victory over Luton.

He is important, then. Nine assists in barely 1500 minutes of Premier League action this season is a daft number. Only three players have more than that and all have at least 600 more minutes under their belts.