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