Premier League relegation need not be a career death toll; far from it. Liverpool have proven that some players who suffer that fate only ever needed the right conditions to prosper. They might even look at some of this lot over the summer.
GOALKEEPER: Aaron Ramsdale
Anyone shopping in the relegated Premier League goalkeeper market this summer will find three pretty capable practitioners.
Ben Foster is the oldest, wisest and perhaps nicest, but the two-year contract he signed at Vicarage Road in June could prevent a repeat of his reaction to his other drop to the Championship, when he refused to go on a West Brom pre-season tour in the summer of 2018 to force through his move to Watford.
Tim Krul could be a wise investment for any team fearing the prospect of Manchester United signing Jack Grealish and earning more penalties than they know what to do with.
But Aaron Ramsdale stands out as the primary pick. There is a reason he has already been linked with Sheffield United and Tottenham. His save percentage (66.1% from 189 shots on goal) is marginally better than his contemporaries at Norwich (64.8% from 199) and Watford (63.9% from 183), with at least a decade on both. Everton could do worse. They already are, in fact: Jordan Pickford saved 63.1% of the 149 shots he faced.
RIGHT-BACK: Max Aarons
Considering the abundance of English right-backs, Max Aarons has rather foolishly mistimed his very existence. Yet he remains an intriguing prospect and a well of untapped potential.
There is a reason Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen are interested. That reason is that they could sign him for about £18m, have him play a couple of DFB-Pokal games to quadruple his value and then sell him to a Tottenham side so desperate to finally replace Serge Aurier that they shatter their transfer record and Daniel Levy’s mythical reputation.
But Aarons could be this season’s Andy Robertson: a talented full-back with natural attacking flair who simply needs the right platform, opportunities and coaching to develop properly.
CENTRE-HALF: Craig Dawson
Watford fans will scoff and West Brom supporters will laugh but there is every chance some unwitting Premier League club sees 182 appearances, ignores two relegations in successive top-flight campaigns and shells out £5m or so for defensive ‘experience’. Craig Dawson has had more shots than Alex Iwobi this season, so fair enough.
CENTRE-HALF: Nathan Ake
Not a single Bournemouth fan will begrudge Nathan Ake seeking pastures new over the next month. The centre-half had worked his way up the pecking order to such an extent that his final three games of the season were spent as captain. There might have been little he could do in those crucial defeats to Manchester City and Southampton in the final week and a half but it is a shame three individually promising seasons ended in such ignominious fashion.
The future is uncertain for Bournemouth but Ake’s seems clear. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all been linked. As far as homegrown and left-footed centre-halves go, few look quite as accomplished. Surround him with better players and he could thrive.
For everyone hating on the fact we are linked to Nathan Ake… Understand that he hasn’t made an error leading to a goal in his entire PL career. In 146 appearances…
Playing for Bournemouth…. pic.twitter.com/yad8qXgYyZ
— Sas (@KDBased) July 21, 2020
LEFT-BACK: Jamal Lewis
When Norwich value the sum totals of their first-choice defence at around £100m, it begs the question as to how they conceded at least ten more goals than any other club. A glance at their record in 2018/19’s Championship-winning season suggests Daniel Farke struggles a little in that department: Birmingham finished 17th and let in one more goal. Lewis is far from the most prominent member of that back line but, with a little more top-flight steel, could be a viable option. Liverpool supposedly want him. Or at least the mighty James Pearce does, which is probably more flattering.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Etienne Capoue
It was three Watford managers and less than two years ago that Etienne Capoue was branded “one of the best midfielders in the Premier League”, with Javi Gracia almost threateningly adding: “And do not have any doubt about that.” The 32-year-old is not quite at those same irrepressible levels but the Hornets are considerably worse without him.
Watford have not won a Premier League game in which Capoue did not start since December 2018, and that was against Cardiff. You have to go a full year further back for their last victory without saint Etienne over a club still in the top flight. This season alone, their Capoue-less league record is P8 W0 D4 L4 F6 A14, including the three consecutive defeats that sealed their fate. If Nemanja Matic can enjoy an Indian summer for a Champions League club at 31, Capoue can do the same at less than a month older somewhere in the mid-table.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Abdoulaye Doucoure
That interest from Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham soon morphed into £27.5m Everton bids does plenty to sum up the slow fade of Abdoulaye Doucoure back into the shadows of those less talented but more polished. He has the skill set to dominate a midfield but the revolving managerial door at Vicarage Road has starved him of stability and left him deciphering rather mixed messages.
There is an undeniable talent there in need of clear guidance. Watford have never seemed sure whether he is best deployed in a defensive, central or attacking position. Solve that conundrum – play him box-to-box with a stable base behind and players who relish ball-carrying midfielders ahead – and even the elite should consider him.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: David Brooks
‘Brooks is such a patient player. He’s got a quick mind and, when necessary, quick feet too, but there’s a deliberate quality to his football. His passes are weighted really nicely, and directed with a smart purpose. He can also disguise them well and, seemingly like all really left-footed playmakers, has an outside-of-the-foot prod which he can use to find space and create chances. See the goal he made for Josh King up at Huddersfield last season or the way – in non-final third situations – he’ll drag a couple of defenders in one direction, before pushing a pass out and releasing a teammate in another.’
All I hope is that Josh King, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey, Abdoulaye Doucoure, David Brooks, Emi Buendia and Ismaïla Sarr find themselves back in the Prem next year.
— niran. (@TheOfficialFNG) July 26, 2020
RIGHT WING: Ismaila Sarr
Only a fool would say no to Emiliano Buendia. No Premier League player has created a higher proportion of their team’s chances this season. But there is a general sense of expressive fish in an otherwise uninventive pond. He seems so good for Norwich because he is nothing like anything else they have and jars against the expectation of how someone at a struggling team should look and play. That kind of style is always romanticised but rarely replicated at a higher level when the tactical requirements are more refined.
The exciting thing with Ismaila Sarr is that his ceiling is so indefinable. He is tall, quick and skilful, capable of getting the better of defenders in numerous ways. Liverpool know only too well the damage he can cause. As fun as it is to imagine that in the Championship, it would be a massive waste.
CENTRE-FORWARD: Callum Wilson
His stock has been higher before – as much as £75m – but Wilson remains a Premier League standard striker even with a slight dent in his reputation. This is no David Nugent or Chris Iwelumo; the 28-year-old has a respectable 41 goals in 126 top-flight games for a club more often than not looking over its shoulder. If he is not either crossing his arms and professing a love for bubbles or insisting he is here to challenge Harry Kante and not provide back-up by the start of the season, prepare any and all hats for consumption.
LEFT WING: Todd Cantwell
Liverpool have signed a player from a relegated Premier League club in each of the last five summers. Harvey Elliott was the most recent inductee to a class including Xherdan Shaqiri, Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Danny Ings.
Jurgen Klopp has unearthed some diamonds in the most unlikely of places and Todd Cantwell could be next for Liverpool. They have the approval of Alex Bruce and, really, what more could a club want?
Bench: Foster; Mepham, Godfrey; Buendia (Sarr, 62), Hughes; Deulofeu, King (Wilson, 89)