While relegation from the Premier League can often spell disaster for a player’s career, it can sometimes be the springboard to bigger and better things.
Every relegated side has its weaknesses otherwise they would not face the drop but many players stand out in an unsuccessful season for their club. One example is Gini Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum by no means set the world alight during his time at Newcastle but did enough for Liverpool to see the potential in him. He joined Liverpool from relegated Newcastle for £25 million in 2016 and has won a Premier League and Champions League title on Merseyside and never looked back.
Due to the cut-price fees for relegated players, clubs often look to shop at the three clubs facing Championship football and can find some real gems.
So, who could be the best relegated players Premier League clubs should sign this summer and where should they go?
Emi Buendia – Norwich to Leeds
Despite playing for a rather woeful Norwich side, Emiliano Buendia has managed patches of brilliance throughout his first season in English football’s top flight.
The Argentine has been one of the best creators in the league despite playing for the East Anglian outfit who have been off the pace in many games. Throughout the course of the season, Buendia has managed 2.3 key passes per game. He has also managed a very impressive 2.8 dribbles per 90, making him one of the top performers in the league in both areas. His 1.1 shots per game could be improved and his paltry one goal in the Premier League this year does reflect this, but you are rarely going to get the complete package when shopping for relegated players. His 2.9 tackles and interceptions provide extra evidence that Buendia certainly completes his defensive duties in a side as well.
So, who could the Argentine suit? He has been linked to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United and could provide the creative spark they are looking for. He’s also someone who would put the hard yards in for a Bielsa system.
With both the manager and player being Argentinian this link makes sense and he could provide some much-needed Premier League experience for the second tier champions. Liverpool have also been mentioned but he would be no more than a sporadic squad player there. Leeds probably present the best fit for his career and level.
David Brooks – Bournemouth to Crystal Palace or Southampton
A much riskier option for clubs is Welsh forward David Brooks. Brooks has spent most of the season injured, reducing him to just eight appearances in the league and barely over 500 minutes.
However, in his debut season for Bournemouth the Welshman was something of a revelation managing 12 goal contributions in the Premier League. His underlying numbers don’t make for particularly impressive reading but his overall goal contributions make him an interesting option for many clubs. He takes 1.4 shots per game and made 1 key pass per 90 in the 29 appearances he made.
Brooks could make an impression for many clubs. One possible home is Crystal Palace, but that would only be if Wilfried Zaha were to leave the club and Brooks could make a different style of replacement. Another possible destination could be Southampton as a second striker for Danny Ings even if he would not put in the hard work of someone like Shane Long.
Abdoulaye Doucoure – Watford to West Ham
Watford’s midfield steel Abdoulaye Doucoure could make a great option for many Premier League clubs. He has played in a variety of roles since his £9.5 million move from Stade Rennais back in 2016. Something of a utility player, Doucoure can play anywhere from defensive to attacking midfield.
This season, he has been mostly deployed further forward managing four goals and two assists. His 1.6 shots per game are encouraging for a midfielder and he also likes to make bursting runs through the midfield with 1.1 dribbles per 90. His 2.5 tackles and interceptions per game are not too impressive and nor is his 1.1 long balls. However, these numbers are reflective of someone who has played in a variety of roles and systems due to Watford’s three permanent managers this year.
Doucoure could be a useful option for a variety of clubs. If they were willing to splash the cash, he would be fantastic for West Bromwich Albion as they lack this sort of midfield player. However, Doucoure could consider the Baggies a bit below his level. He would work well at Newcastle especially with their history of signing French players but may once again see his future further up the league.
This really only leaves West Ham. Despite their near relegation this season, West Ham will look to move further up the table next year. Doucoure would probably consider the Hammers a backwards step but would be left with limited options. They need someone to take some of the defensive burden off Declan Rice’s shoulders but who will also provide something going forward. This is something Doucoure can certainly provide for the East London outfit.
Nathan Ake – Bournemouth to Manchester City
Chelsea youth product Nathan Ake has long been linked with moves away from the South Coast. However, every side that has ever shown interest have been shown the door by Bournemouth due to astronomical transfer fees.
Ake is certainly too good for the Championship and will definitely get a Premier League move but for a much smaller fee than Bournemouth could have commanded a year ago. At just 25 years of age the Dutchman has already managed 115 top flight games for Bournemouth. He is incredibly calm on the ball making him exactly the sort of defender top clubs look for.
Despite playing for a defensively suspect Bournemouth side he has still achieved an average rating this season of 6.75 on Who Scored. His 5.1 clearances per 90 reflect the style Bournemouth have had to resort to at times this year but also what he can do when it comes to playing in a variety of different systems. 2.3 tackles and interceptions may not sound much but it is about the level you would expect from a centre back as this metric is best applied to central midfielders. His pass success rate has averaged out at around 85% during his time on the South Coast and many top clubs would be encouraged by this. While not at his best this year, performances in the past have shown what a top defender Ake really is.
The club that he should go to is obvious when you look at his attributes. Pep Guardiola could turn Ake into a truly elite defender for Man City with better players around him and a system that would utilise his passing ability. He would be available for a much smaller fee than the £70m Bournemouth demanded in January and Man City certainly need defensive reinforcements. A partnership of Ake and Laporte playing at the highest level could really take Man City back to the top of the pile in the Premiership.
Wildcard: Jamal Lewis – Norwich to Brighton
No list is complete without a Wildcard option. Jamal Lewis is certainly not someone who has set the world alight for Norwich City this season but he has the potential to be a top player. The 22-year-old Northern Ireland international really hasn’t excelled in any area this term but Buendia aside nor have any Norwich players. However, there are signs of the Luton-born full-back’s potential. His 1.2 dribbles per 90 are reflective of a player who likes to get forward and 2.7 tackles and interceptions are certainly not to be sniffed at for an attacking full-back. He hasn’t shown his full talent this year but at 22 he can certainly get better.
So, the question is where should Lewis move to? Graham Potter’s Brighton side have been without a recognised left-back this season with 6 foot 7 Dan Burn spending most of the season deployed there. While he has been competent, he is surely not a long term option and they would look to bring someone in. Former Red Bull Leipzig full-back Bernardo has looked competent but competition for places at a club is always healthy. With the emergence of Tariq Lamptey in recent games and the defensively solid Martin Montoya, Brighton could end up with some fantastic competition in the full-back areas.
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