Top ten bottom-half Premier League players

Daniel Storey

Simple, really. From the current bottom ten teams in the Premier League, who are the best players? Will they be hankering after a move in January?


10) Michael Keane (Burnley)
With links to Chelsea and Manchester United still just about lingering in the air, Keane might want to make the most of his time in the sun. Remember if you will the tale of David Wheater.

Wheater was touted for a move after impressing as a 21 year-old in Middlesbrough’s relegation campaign of 2008/09, with Arsenal the biggest name linked. Wheater was twice named on the bench for England, although he never got a cap. Rather than leaving the club, Wheater instead chose to stay in the Championship and help Middlesbrough gain a promotion that never came. He would eventually join Bolton, and is still there in League One.

That is not to say that Keane is no better than Wheater, but it can be hard to impress as a centre-back in a defence that is shipping plenty of goals. Should that interest in Keane remain, he would be advised to make his move.


9) Leroy Fer (Swansea)
The only thing more impressive than Fer scoring six goals in 12 Premier League games for a struggling Swansea side this season is the 2012 story of Fer buying his girlfriend a horse.

“I was playing for Twente at the time,” Fer told the Guardian in September of his mishap. “A friend invited me along to an auction for really good horses and some of them went for €500,000. It was a totally new experience for me. There was this horse, they said it wasn’t the best, but that it was nice. I was playing around on my phone, I heard €30,000 and I said to the guy: ‘This one’s for me’… Suddenly they said: ‘Sold to the guy upstairs.’ Someone realised it was me and the guy said: ‘Leroy Fer bought the horse.’ They got me to stand up. I was sweating. I didn’t want the horse – I was living in an apartment.

“Xenia wasn’t with me, so I called her and said: ‘Babe, I bought you a horse.’ I had to repeat it. She’s into horses, I joked with her before that I was going to buy her one. But she couldn’t believe it when I phoned. Thankfully, about 10 minutes later, someone came up to me and said: ‘Do you really want that horse?’ I said: ‘Nah, I was just fooling around.’ He offered to buy it off me for €35,000, so I made a bit of money. But for 10 minutes I was thinking: ‘Sh*t, I’ve got a horse. Where shall I leave it?’”

You may think I’ve wasted that section on a story about a horse. And then you remember it’s a brilliant story and you move on to No. 8.


8) Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke)
With apologies offered to Ryan Shawcross (just not quite good enough), Wilfried Bony (just not in form enough) and Jack Butland (just not un-injured enough), it’s the no-necked wonder who is the first Stoke entrant on this list. After injury niggles, he’s finally enjoying himself again.

Shaqiri is far from the finished article, and at 25 may never fulfill the huge potential his coaches at FC Basel and Bayern Munich believed he had. Yet he’s plenty good enough for a mid-table Premier League club with aspirations of slight season-on-season improvement.

Being a football supporter isn’t just about winning, it’s about moments of joy. Shaqiri might frustrate his manager by drifting out of matches, but he also looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself and has the supreme skill to make defenders look very silly. Like this:


7) Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)
As the calls for Defoe to return to the England squad continue, we remind you that you can’t ask Gareth Southgate to build for the future while also expecting him to call up a 34-year-old striker. Qualification is already virtually assured and Defoe is not going to be at the World Cup, so what’s the point?

Don’t let that detract from Defoe’s Sunderland form, however. We wrongly assumed that he would be a flash in the pan for the Black Cats rather than a long-term option. On £70,000 a week, he’s handsomely paid for the business of scoring goals, but business is good.

Defoe has scored 12 league goals in his last 22 league games for a rotten Sunderland team. This season, his shot conversion rate of 36.9% is better than any other player to have had 20 or more efforts on goal.


6) Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
It’s not quite clicking for Christian Benteke at Crystal Palace, but we’re laying the blame for that at the feet of Alan Pardew and Liverpool. The latter for buying a young striker they didn’t need and then failed to use, the former because we’re tired of his excuses and are happy to blame him for anything.

In Pardew’s defence, he is trying to service Benteke. No team has attempted more crosses from open play, and Palace have sent 76 of their 80 corners straight into the penalty area. We’ve seen flashes of the striker’s excellence, and five goals in 11 games for this Palace side is not to be sniffed at, but we’re also left longing for more.

The likelihood is that the ‘more’ will come under a new manager. If it’s Sam Allardyce, this could be the perfect manager-striker combination.


5) Joe Allen (Stoke)
In January I wrote a piece about the weirdness of Joe Allen’s reputation, where anything he did was sold as another chapter in the farce of the ‘Welsh Pirlo’ or ‘Welsh Xavi’ by an army of social media banter merchants. ‘All Allen wants to do is improve as a footballer,’ that piece concluded. ‘Instead, he’s become a parody. An ordinary player; an extraordinary fuss.’

The argument was that Allen needed to leave Liverpool in order to progress, away from the glare of the spotlight where even growing facial hair became a story for The Sun or MailOnline, and he agreed. Joining Stoke, he declared himself ready to try and shake off the banterous nicknames: “It’s a dangerous one because I had the Welsh Xavi tag for a while and that didn’t really do me too many favours. So I’m trying to steer myself away from any new ones too.”

And so it has proved. Allen has been magnificent for Stoke this season, scoring goals, driving forward from midfield and passing with the precision that earned him his move to Liverpool. Rather than the Welsh Pirlo or Welsh Xavi, he’s just Joe Allen. We much prefer him that way.


4) Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth)
Dropping down the table through loan move is a risk for any player, but particularly one who can no longer be classified as bright young thing. The danger is that you immediately become swallowed by your new surroundings and thus a lesser player through association. All the while, out of sight becomes out of mind in your parent club’s eyes.

That was never likely to be true for Wilshere, whose reputation and celebrity will always make him big business to football writers. That reputation also brings with it a pedestal on which Wilshere is forced to stand while people take their potshots.

So it’s with a smile that we can praise Wilshere for his form at Bournemouth, discussed at greater length by Sarah Winterburn last week. He may not ever become the central midfielder that Arsenal wanted him to be but, over eight years after his Premier League debut, there is light at the end of a long tunnel. The talent was never in doubt.


3) Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
A pretty rotten start to this season in the Premier League, but Eden Hazard reminds us that good players don’t just go bad. Those accusing Mahrez of being a one-season wonder might like to wait until he leaves Leicester before passing judgement. It’s far easier for an attacking player to flourish in a team that isn’t struggling to stop conceding goals.

If Jamie Vardy isn’t yet regretting rejecting Arsenal’s overtures, Mahrez must surely be stewing over not forcing the issue in the summer. From reported interest from Paris St Germain, Barcelona and Arsenal to a relegation battle in four months.

Mahrez is not blameless in Leicester’s regression back to the norm, but PFA Player of the Year winners will retain their goodwill longer than most. A move to Ligue Un next summer?


2) Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea)
The most underrated Premier League player, bar none. I’m trying to be wary of stating opinion as fact, but I really do feel very strongly about this.

Since the beginning of 2014/15, Sigurdsson has scored 22 Premier League goals. That’s more than Wayne Rooney, Philippe Coutinho and Juan Mata, amongst others. Since the beginning of 2014/15, Sigurdsson has assisted 17 Premier League goals. That’s more than Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez, Wayne Rooney and Philippe Coutinho, amongst others. Since the beginning of 2014/15, Sigurdsson has created 150 Premier League chances. That’s more than Wayne Rooney, Philippe Coutinho and Juan Mata, amongst others.

There are valid reasons for that, of course. At Swansea, Sigurdsson is the go-to guy, responsible for so much of their attacking spark. This season, he ranks No. 1 at the club for chances created, shots on target and assists, and second for goals.

Yet Sigurdsson has surely earned the chance to play for a club with European or top four ambitions? His relative failure at Tottenham counts against him, but the midfielder was just 22 when he arrived at White Hart Lane. The improvement since then is emphatic.


1) Dimitri Payet (West Ham)
I’d like to take this opportunity to reassure West Ham supporters that, thanks to your constant reminders, we really do understand that you’ve got Dimitri Payet. How long that remains the case is another question entirely. “Will I go in January? I’m asking other questions right now but I’ve closed the door to nothing,” said Payet to Telefoot earlier this month.

You can sympathise with the Frenchman. Having been West Ham’s leader through example in 2015/16, Payet has found himself short of support acts since recovering from injury in September. A list of West Ham’s top chance creators is almost embarrassing: Payet (46) has managed the same number as every other member of the top five (Manuel Lanzini – 15, Michael Antonio – 13, Mark Noble – 10, Simone Zaza – 8) put together.

If Payet is to leave West Ham for a final hurrah after turning 30, it should not change his reputation at the club that polished the diamond. Rather than being bitter about the departure, just be grateful for what you had. There are plenty of memories to cherish.

Daniel Storey