One per club: The Premier League Irreplaceables

Date published: Thursday 22nd October 2020 8:51 - Dave Tickner

Bruno Fernandes Man Utd

Liverpool coped pretty well without their spine on Wednesday night, but it’s not ideal. So, who are the irreplaceables at the rest of the Premier League? And who’s the next worst Liverpool option to suffer a misfortune?


Arsenal – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang’s extraordinary Arsenal numbers exist in a curious state whereby they are simultaneously a touch underappreciated yet also weirdly and unnecessarily overblown. The underappreciation perhaps comes from those goals coming in an Arsenal side that has been a bit shoddy – which if anything makes it odder – but seems to rely on the fact that everyone just assumed he would come to Arsenal and simply continue his scoring rate from the Bundesliga. Given how often high-profile strikers have demonstrably failed such a transition, Aubameyang’s achievements deserve greater fanfare. On the other hand, there’s also this bizarre fondness for the media to insist that you can just strip out his goals, look at the results such a move would leave in its wake, and then declare Arsenal would be relegated without him. We’re pretty confident that they would have picked someone else had Aubameyang not been available. They wouldn’t have just played with 10. They would definitely have been much sh*tter, though, so in he goes.

Though playing him on the wing is sub-optimal.


Aston Villa – Jack Grealish

Would’ve been the easiest and most clear-cut pick across the whole division last season. That Captain Big Calves is playing even better this time around yet faces far more competition for this place is testament to Villa’s extraordinary summer.


Brighton – Neal Maupay

Because who else is going to score the goals after all the pretty, pretty football? The only Brighton player to score more than five league goals last season (he got 10) and the only one with more than one this season (he’s already got four). He’s not their best player, but this is not the season to be a bottom-half team with zero goal threat.


Burnley – Nick Pope

This is Burnley’s fifth season back in the top flight. In two of those seasons, Nick Pope played 35 and 38 games, and Burnley picked up 54 points. In the other two seasons, Nick Pope played zero games and Burnley picked up 40 points. Unlike with any other player, we therefore have empirical evidence of precisely how important Pope is to Burnley and precisely how much he is worth. He is worth 14 points per season to Burnley. That’s just maths.


Chelsea – Edouard Mendy

Cruel? Yes. Hasty? Yes. True? Also yes. His one Premier League appearance came in a 4-0 win, sandwiched between a pair of 3-3 draws with Kepa clowning around in nets. The sample size is small, but the evidence compelling. Also kept a clean sheet in his Champions League bow for the Blues against Sevilla and conceded just once in the Carabao to a Tottenham team absolutely twatting goals in for the lolz against everyone else at the moment. News of his injury on international duty was met with Liverpool-esque despair by Chelsea fans, and even though his absence turned out to be a single match it still cost two points. “As it stands, he is the number one,” Frank Lampard said after the Sevilla game. Yes.


Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha

Palace have had eight shots fewer than any other team in the division, and that’s with the inspirational club hero attacker who’s scored four of their six goals thus far on the pitch. Imagine if he wasn’t there.


Everton – Lucas Digne

The better a squad is, the harder this game should be. Everton have reached that kind of state. The obvious answers here – James Rodriguez, Dominic Calvert-Lewin – are tempered by the fact that while they are Everton’s best players at their particular jobs, others can do them pretty well. Calvert-Lewin is Everton’s best goalscorer, but he is not their only goalscorer. James is Everton’s best creative player, but not their only one. As long as Everton have at least two of James, DCL and Richarlison on the pitch you sort of think they’re probably going to be okay at both creating and finishing chances. If one of the midfield three miss out, Tom Davies steps in. Ben Godfrey is there if Michael Keane or Yerry Mina twang or snap something. Jonjoe Kenny can fill in for Seamus Coleman at right-back. The drop-off is far steeper at left-back, though, where Lucas Digne, who was already good enough for a top-six side before Everton became one and has managed to elevate his game higher still, is pretty much irreplaceable.


Fulham – N/A

When it comes to Fulham, the question is fallacious. Asking which player’s absence would have the most damaging effect on a club’s prospects for the season inherently implies the club has any prospects for the season.


Leicester – Jamie Vardy

You can try and be clever and look for players who do this or enable that or whatever, but sometimes it really is just as easy as looking at who scores all the goals and wondering who would score all the goals if that person wasn’t there. Jamie Vardy scored 23 Premier League goals for Leicester last season and nobody else got more than eight. He’s already got five this season and nobody else has got more than one. They lost 1-0 at home to Villa without him. Islam Slimani came off the bench. Vardy is supposedly on course to return against Arsenal on Sunday – good news for Leicester, first and foremost, but also us as we’ve decided this technically also makes him available for this feature and there’s nothing you can do about it.


Leeds – Luke Ayling

It’s testament to how much of a Proper Premier League side Leeds already look that this is actually very difficult to do. They are greater than the sum of their parts and don’t rely outlandishly on any one player in any one area of the field. Patrick Bamford is the focal point of the attack, but if he missed a run of games you wouldn’t suddenly despair of where the goals might come from. The midfield would undeniably be weakened by taking Kalvin Phillips or Mateusz Klich out, but not irretrievably so. We’ve spun the wheel and landed on Ayling primarily because with Gaetano Berardi already out, there isn’t an immediately obvious replacement at right-back. Whoever filled in – Diego Llorente perhaps, or a switch of flanks for Stuart Dallas or a midfielder like Jamie Shackleton dropping back – would be a significant downgrade while also potentially leaving another puzzle to be solved elsewhere. Or you’re looking at a formation change.


Liverpool – Sadio Mane

Liverpool are well on their way to suffering a Springfield Nuclear Power Station softball team-esque nine misfortunes. Alisson and Virgil van Dijk would be the top two, and they’ve both gone, obviously, with Thiago’s bid to climb that particular list also cut rudely short. So that leaves the rest of Liverpool’s excellent players. Loads of contenders, but Sadio Mane was, along with Alisson, the notable absentee in that 7-2 nonsense at Villa. It makes a strong case. He has the scoring rate of Salah and the workrate of Firmino and, without wishing to diminish the impact and importance of the flying full-backs, it is Mane who really makes Liverpool’s attacking play purr.


Manchester City – Ederson

You won’t hear quite so much about it because they’re not important like Liverpool are, but Manchester City are also missing some quite important players again. The significance of injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Kevin De Bruyne has already been established in the past, and both men are currently out of action. To varying lesser degrees of importance, so too are Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy. Until De Bruyne and/or Laporte return, Ederson probably assumes the mantle of least replaceable player because next in line is USA international Zach Steffen, who has played no minutes of Premier League football and whose top-level club experience comprises shipping 36 goals in 17 Bundesliga games on loan at relegated Fortuna Dusseldorf.


Manchester United – Bruno Fernandes

Somebody has to kick in all those penalties, and Marcus Rashford has enough on his plate trying to save the world.


Newcastle – Callum Wilson

Has scored 66.67% of his new club’s Premier League non-OG goals so far this season and there seems to be no reason for that to change; Jonjo Shelvey (6) was the only Newcastle player to score more league goals in the whole of last season than Wilson (4) has in the first five games of this one.


Sheffield United – Sander Berge

Taken a little while to confirm it after his January move from Genk, but suspicions that he might be really bloody good are starting to be confirmed.


Southampton – Danny Ings

It turns out a lot of these are that one fella at a club who scores all the goals. Scoring the goals is quite important. So we’ve all learned something, haven’t we? Ings is in Vardy/Wilson territory for goal reliance having scored half of Southampton’s league goals so far this season and 43% of their goals last season. Ings scored 17 more Premier League goals than any other Southampton player last season, and that’s just plain nutty.


Tottenham – Harry Kane

He was already Tottenham’s best and most important player. So far this season, he’s the league’s best player. He’s fourth in the goalscorer charts and the only reason he’s not third is because he also keeps setting up goals for one of the three men currently above him. Kane already has seven assists this season, three more than anyone else. Kane has scored or assisted 12 goals in five Premier League games this season. Son Heung-Min has nine such goal involvements, and nobody else in the division has more than seven. He has taken his already world-class game to even greater heights. His inevitable ankle injury in December is going to massively derail whatever kind of season Spurs are having by then which could, frankly, be anything from cruising to the title to trying to gain a foothold in the top half while still searching for that elusive first home win of the campaign.


West Brom – Jake Livermore

Christ, that’s bleak.


West Ham – Jarrod Bowen

You’d probably have been able to make a decent case for Michail Antonio here after his extraordinary and rapid transformation into elite frontman, but what happened in the 13 minutes after he was subbed at Spurs on Sunday counts strongly against him. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are becoming a handy midfield screen, but while they’re most effective as a duo the existence of Rice lessens the vitalness of Soucek and vice versa. Jarrod Bowen is brilliant and fun at a club where both those qualities have been in short supply in recent years.


Wolves – Conor Coady

Almost by definition. He’s irreplaceable because Wolves quite literally never replace him. Hasn’t missed a minute of Premier League action since Wolves’ promotion in 2018. That’s 81 games – 7290 minutes – and counting. What would happen if Wolves had to play in the Premier League without Coady? We don’t know and frankly we don’t want to know.


Dave Tickner

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