Ranked! The 14 best players outside the Premier League's top six

Wilfried Zaha

14. Pascal Gross (Brighton)

Mohamed Salah's extraordinary exploits on Merseyside mean he'll go down as the signing of the season, but Gross has arguably been the best value acquisition of 2017/18. The ex-Ingolstadt schemer cost Brighton less than £3m last summer, a fee he's fast repaid with five goals and eight assists in the south coast side's maiden Premier League campaign.

The consistent quality of Gross's final ball sets him apart from many other creators in the lower rungs of the division. Even if Albion avoid the drop this term, the 26-year-old could be playing his football at a higher level next season.

13. Mario Lemina (Southampton)

This time last year, Lemina was just two months away from appearing in the Champions League final; now, the former Juventus man finds himself in a battle to avoid relegation to the Championship. Lemina made a fine start to life at Southampton, showcasing the range of midfield qualities which first brought him to Juve's attention in 2015, but he's been dogged by inconsistency in recent months and was actually dropped altogether for Sunday's defeat at Arsenal. 

Still, the Gabon international is the type of midfielder who's able to contribute in all phases of the game. Powerful, skilful, dynamic and intelligent, he can win the ball back for his side and create chances going forward. 

12. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)

Arnautovic was in danger of becoming West Ham’s scapegoat earlier in the campaign, when the former Stoke man was criticised by supporters and pundits alike for a perceived poor attitude.

He’s looked a different player since David Moyes replaced Slaven Bilic in the London Stadium dugout, though, and over the last few months has reminded everyone what he’s capable of. The Austrian is strong, athletic and technically gifted, can play anywhere across the forward line and has nine goals and four assists to show for his efforts this term.

11. Idrissa Gueye (Everton)

It’s difficult to accurately compare midfielders of Gueye’s ilk with more attack-minded players, but there’s no doubt that the Everton man’s role is just as important as those who put the ball in the net.

The Senegal international was a rare bright spot for Aston Villa in their dismal relegation campaign of 2015/16, and he’s made further strides since swapping Villa Park for Goodison. Only Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi has managed more tackles per game in the Premier League this season.

10. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton)

Sigurdsson hasn’t enjoyed the most productive of seasons; the Iceland international has scored a handful of excellent goals, but hasn't exactly lived up to his £50m price tag. At his best, though, the ex-Tottenham and Swansea man is comfortably one of the finest players outside the top six.

Sigurdsson’s set-piece delivery is up there with the best in the league, and he’s also capable of fashioning scoring opportunities in open play – even if he doesn’t really contribute enough to be a top-six regular. Everton are a poorer side without him.

9. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)

A Champions League and Europa League winner with Chelsea, Bertrand probably would have anticipated playing more than just one European game for Southampton since his arrival on the south coast in 2014. Saints have consistently challenged towards the top for four seasons, but in 2017/18 they've been mired in a relegation battle from start to finish.

Bertrand remains one of Southampton’s key men, though, and the left-back has often been one of their chief attacking threats in a disappointing campaign. His athleticism allows him to get up and down the flank for 90 minutes, while his deliveries from out wide are usually on the money.

8. Manuel Lanzini (West Ham)

Lanzini has been in and out of the West Ham team this term, with injuries limiting his availability under both Bilic and Moyes. There’s a reason that the Argentine was linked with a move to Liverpool as Philippe Coutinho’s replacement, though: he's a gifted playmaker who can convert as well as create.

The 25-year-old has scored 17 goals and set up another nine in his three Premier League seasons, while he’s also adept at leading the press and regaining possession in advanced areas.

7. Richarlison (Watford)

Richarlison has faded in the second half of the season, which was to be expected after a blistering start to the campaign under Marco Silva. There aren’t too many Brazilians who make the direct jump from South American club football to the Premier League, but the former Fluminense winger hit the ground running after touching down on English soil.

Five goals and four assists is a respectable return for a Premier League debutant – all of which came in the first half of the campaign – but the 20-year-old’s swagger has caught the eye most. Richarlison is a tricky dribbler capable of beating his man with fancy footwork or powerful running, and will only get better in the coming seasons.

6. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester)

Ndidi’s recent sending-off against Brighton was a rare example of the youngster losing his cool. The 21-year-old has otherwise demonstrated a level of maturity and assuredness belying his tender years since he arrived at the King Power Stadium in January 2017, helping the Foxes recover after a damaging half-season without an adequate N'Golo Kante replacement. 

The rangy midfielder has the mobility and dynamism to get up and down the pitch, and he’s among the league's best for regaining possession – only one player in Europe's top leagues averages more tackles per game. As an added bonus, he’s also scored several superb goals in a Leicester shirt.

5. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke)

“The feeling that even a Ronaldinho could do little in this team is sobering,” was Shaqiri’s recent assessment of his Stoke colleagues. Such comments won’t have gone down well in the dressing room, but there’s no doubt that the Switzerland international is the Potters’ outstanding player.

The former Inter and Bayern Munich man presumably viewed Stoke as a stepping stone to bigger and better things when he arrived in 2015, but he probably hasn’t done enough to secure a transfer to another European giant this summer. Nevertheless, his technical ability is vital and Stoke will need him to add to his seasonal tally of seven goals and six assists if they’re to stay up.

4. Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)

Doucoure didn’t make much of an impact in his debut Premier League season last time out, but his form has exploded in 2017/18. The Watford man has excelled as an all-action midfielder, breaking up opposition attacks before driving forward in possession.

The 25-year-old has an eye for a pass and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, demonstrated by his seven goals in his 22 league outings this term. Arsenal and Manchester United are reportedly among the clubs reportedly interested in signing the Frenchman this summer. 

3. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Zaha has scored five goals and provided two assists for Palace this term, but those statistics don’t do justice to his importance in Roy Hodgson’s side. The Eagles academy product provides speed and trickery whether he’s deployed out wide or through the centre, and he’s also a hard-worker who doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities.

The Ivory Coast international struggled to adapt at Manchester United in 2013/14, playing just 28 Premier League minutes for the Red Devils before returning to Selhurst Park a year later. Now 25, he could be ready to make a more permanent step up to a top-six side this summer.

2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester)

Vardy’s first season in the Premier League in 2014/15 yielded just five goals in 34 appearances, with manager Nigel Pearson often deploying him out wide. He was outstanding in their end-of-year survival run that season, however – form which he carried into Leicester's stunning 2015/16 title-winning season, where he netted 24 times and broke the league record for consecutive matches scored in. 

Regular England caps are just reward for a player who is now well established as one of the Premier League's elite strikers, recognised as much now for his razor-sharp finishing as he is for his lung-busting work-rate. Even the 31-year-old's own manager, Claude Puel, was surprised by just how good he was upon arriving at Leicester in late October. "I think Jamie Vardy is the complete player. I would always prefer to have him in my team," said the Frenchman in December. "I was surprised to know his qualities." 

Two stunning brilliant finishes against Tottenham and West Brom, in particular, are evidence of Vardy's incredible progression. 

1. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)

If Mahrez had had his way in January, he wouldn’t be on this list at all. The Algerian was desperate to join Manchester City at the end of the winter window, but Leicester dug in their heels and refused to sell for the fee on offer. 

After a brief period of sulking, Mahrez returned to star for the Foxes, and the consolation prize for the 27-year-old is top spot in this list (going on the mantlepiece, we're sure).  

Few widemen in the division possess the same level of guile and trickery as Mahrez, who’s scored 33 goals and provided 22 assists in the last three Premier League seasons. He was also the main man in the Foxes’ title triumph of 2015/16, deservedly winning the PFA Player of the Year award at the end of the campaign. Maybe, just maybe, he'll finally get what he wants this summer. 

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