Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
Wilfried Zaha is a standard for these lists and could easily be here again, while you could also make a strong case for Luka Milivojevic. In fact, at what point does a team have so many players punching below their weight that you start wondering if there’s something amiss with the club as a whole?
Anyway, Wan-Bissaka. He’s been ace all season but has the misfortune of playing in a position where England have an astonishing embarrassment of riches. Palace have grown accustomed to spending the summer fending off Zaha suitors, and will now surely have to fight on two fronts.
With Kieran Trippier’s post-World Cup funk showing no sign of abating and Serge Aurier still very much Serge Aurier, Spurs will surely come a-knocking this summer with a very tempting offer only £10million or so below the going rate. They’ve got a new stadium to pay for, you know.
James Maddison (Leicester City)
Who knows what will happen at Leicester now the Brendan Show has rolled into town, but they’ve certainly got some players. You could chuck another right-back in here in Ricardo Pereira but let’s go with Maddison. Can’t displace *checks notes* Eric Dier in the England team, but thoroughly enjoying himself at the King Power this season after effortlessly making the step up from the Championship.
Both creating and scoring goals in a mid-table team at 22 is always going to catch the eye, and there may well be bigger beasts than Leicester thinking they missed a trick last summer. Again, we’re mainly talking about Spurs here. Pretty much all the players on this list who aren’t already a crumbling part of Tottenham’s exhausted collapse fall into the category of A Significant Improvement On Nobody.
Gerard Deulofeu (Watford)
Watford are weird. They’ve gone from being a reassuringly predictable Premier League constant – pretty good for the first half of the season, pretty rubbish for the second – to something far more interesting but far more confusing. I don’t understand them and it hurts my head.
Sometimes they play football so good that literally every member of #FootballTwitter is legally required to post videos with ‘If Barcelona did this…’ and a whole bunch of emojis. Sometimes they are just a bit crap.
In that sense, maybe Gerard Deulofeu is in exactly the right place because he personifies this inconsistency. But I’ve always had a soft spot for him and if football has reached a point where a maddeningly mercurial nimble-footed scamp who has (okay, only sporadically) impressed at Barcelona and Milan has to settle for getting some lad in his mum’s basement 5000 RTs every few weeks then the game truly has gone.
Raul Jimenez (Wolves)
If Wolves could play against the rest of the division with the same vim and verve they display against the top six then none of their players would be punching below their weight. They may well still finish seventh, but it’s a distant seventh.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2019
And Jimenez’s numbers are just too damn good for distant seventh. Only seven players have scored more Premier League goals this season. Only ten have more assists. The only player outside the top six ahead of him in either list is miniature Bournemouth assist king Ryan Fraser.
Speaking of which…
Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)
There he goes, look, little Ryan Fraser. Five foot four in his stockinged feet. Cheeks puffed out. His little legs all whirling about like a cartoon as the ball remains inexplicably under his spell. Bigger lads bouncing off him after they’ve ambled over to ruffle his hair and got a nasty surprise. He’s like one of those yappy dogs you get now, except a yappy dog with more 2018/19 Premier League assists than Christian Eriksen, Paul Pogba, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and…well absolutely anyone apart from Eden Hazard. Because he’s not a dog. He’s a human footballer. A good one. 13/10.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
He is a lovely, lovely footballer but we’re not actually entirely convinced he is punching all that far below his weight. It’s entirely possible that running the show for a club of Tottenham’s not-inconsiderable stature is precisely where Christian Eriksen should be, like a level-up Gylfi Sigurdsson who often looks rather too good for Everton yet wasn’t quite good enough for the rarefied top-six air.
Nevertheless, as he approaches the peak of his career Eriksen seems destined to join either Barcelona or Real Madrid. It’s probably right, too. Better to find out for sure, one way or another. Fancy new stadium or not, Spurs remain a step below that absolute elite and Eriksen must surely want to win something again, having added nothing to his personal trophy cabinet since the 2013 Eredivisie.
Can’t shake the notion that Real Madrid fans would absolutely eat him alive, though. Could make Disaster McFlop himself Gareth Bale – who has only scored crucial goals in two of his four Champions League final wins – look like Ronaldo MkII. Or MkIII even. Whatever.