According to Sunderland's new assistant, English teams would be nothing without their trio of star men. Nick Miller investigates...
Back in 2010, shortly after leaving West Ham, new Sunderland assistant manager Zeljko Petrovic gave a damning assessment of the Premier League. "Every team has just three good players," he said. "If you take those players out of the teams then there are only players left who would not be playing in the bottom team in Holland."
Is he right? Would the Premier League's 'elite' suffer significantly if you were to remove their three top men? Here, we take a wholly unscientific look at who they might be (partly based on general ability, partly on their form this season) and what might happen without them...
Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez
It's not difficult to see where Arsenal's strengths lie, and given that some of the other candidates for their list of strongest players are in similar positions, it goes some way to highlighting their deficiencies too. Indeed, if you removed these three players from the Arsenal side, they would still be a team with plenty of creativity in the middle, sometimes excellent and sometimes calamitous performers at the back, and strikers who are very good but not as good as they need to be.
Ron Vlaar, Alan Hutton, Christian Benteke
Had you said in the summer that Hutton would be among Aston Villa's key men this season, you'd probably be quietly taken away somewhere. But in a campaign largely filled with drudgery, the right-back has been comparatively excellent. It's also perhaps not a coincidence that, along with the arrival of Tim Sherwood, Villa's recent revival has coincided with a return to form for Benteke, and considering their dearth of other striking options, without him Villa would be in some trouble. At times during the early weeks of the season it seemed Vlaar was holding their defence together on his own, and while Ciaran Clark has been impressive, Vlaar certainly adds plenty of extra solidity.
Jason Shackell, Kieran Trippier, Danny Ings
It goes without saying that Burnley would be somewhat doomed without Ings. His nine goals have been responsible for nine of their 25 points thus far. They're already among the favourites for relegation, but without his contribution they'd be near-certainties. One wonders how they will fare next season without him, regardless of their division. Shackell and Trippier are more low-profile contributors for Sean Dyche's side, but still vitally important, and for a club of Burnley's means, they couldn't realistically hope for better. What success Burnley have had has been based on a strong team effort, but without these three they would be much worse off.
John Terry, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa
It's no coincidence that Chelsea's slightly uncertain recent run of form has come with Costa suspended/out of form. Indeed, they may have been champions last season had they been able to rely on a centre-forward of genuine class, rather than mixing and matching where they could. Hazard is the creative hub of their side but there is enough wit elsewhere in their side to cover for his absence; Terry is easily their best defender, though, and arguably still the best in the Premier League. With the occasionally uncertain Gary Cahill and the still raw Kurt Zouma as the alternatives, Terry's importance should not be understated.
Scott Dann, Mile Jedinak, Yannick Bolasie
Among the many pleasing things for Palace this season is that their revival has not necessarily been down to any one single player. Instead it's been thanks to some excellent contributions from James McArthur, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray, plus the change in manager, meaning that taking out a few other key performers perhaps wouldn't have made too much difference. Jedinak, Bolasie and Dann have all been excellent, both at stages this season and in their Palace careers as a whole, but the Eagles' revival is enough of a team effort to mean they aren't reliant on their top men.