The season is, at last, over. After the smoke clears and we finish celebrating the winners and heaping recriminations on everyone else, it is time to start thinking about the fate of the players who were relegated. Many will drop back down from whence they came and try again to make the leap back up to the Premier League as part of a successful promotion campaign. Others will be snapped up by bigger clubs to help make the economics of the drop more palatable and ensure that players that really should be playing in the top flight don’t become issues in the locker room.
With Bournemouth, Watford, and Norwich City all confirmed as heading down to the Championship, I will examine each squad and see who deserves a home elsewhere in the Premier League and where that home might logically be. It seems likely that both Bournemouth and Watford, who have each been in the Premier League for a number of seasons, will experience significant departures given the expectation among players who arrived with the understanding they’d be playing in the Premier League and the wages to match. Norwich City never really seemed to recalibrate to the economics of the Premier League so there will be less economic need to sell but there are a few players who will likely be targeted in the market.
For each of the three clubs we’ll look at the players who featured the most often as well as selected others who might not fit that description due to some mitigating circumstance (i.e., injury or rising youth that broke into the team late in the year).
Aaron Ramsdale – Young (22-years-old), English, and already having played over 3000 Premier League minutes, you’d expect that someone will be interested in keeping him in the Premier League as either a developmental player behind an established number 1 or to see if he’s ready to take a step up. If they can’t find a way to bring Dean Henderson back, Sheffield United would make a lot of sense.
Nathan Ake – Even before Bournemouth were relegated, Ake was rumored to be on the move to a bigger club with Chelsea and Manchester City both mentioned at various points. Clearly too good for the Championship, the Cherries will almost certainly cash in with mid-table (Everton? Newcastle?) probably the low end of where he might end up.
Chris Mepham – The 22-year-old center back is probably headed down with the Cherries but he is young and playing at a premium position so could attract some interest as one for the future.
Philip Billing – Having gone down with Huddersfield Town and now Bournemouth, Billing is starting to look like the proverbial AAAA baseball player (one a little too good for the top level of the minor leagues but not quite good enough for the major leagues). Given his age (24), there is still some upside so it isn’t unreasonable that he’d be a budget solution for a bottom half team looking to solidify the holding midfield spot.
Jefferson Lerma – Like Billing, Lerma is a solid, but not spectacular defensive midfielder. At 25, he isn’t much older than Billing but with more top flight time between England and Spain, he feels a bit more like the finished article for anyone to buy on upside. Hard to see a logical destination but that’s before looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the newly promoted sides.
David Brooks – Brooks was a hot topic last season after bursting on the scene with 7 goals and 5 assists in just over 2200 minutes of Premier League action. Fast forward past a lost season that saw him only manage 7 league appearances and it isn’t clear what his value is right now. It probably makes the most sense for both club and player to stick with each other for another year to try to build back sharpness, confidence, and value. If the Cherries are desperate for the money then Brooks would be an interesting value play for a club like Wolves or Leicester City who have to take some risks to prepare for the eventual departure of the likes of Adama Traoré or Harvey Barnes who have both been linked to big moves. If those clubs aren’t in the mode of buying ahead of potential departures, Brooks could fit in as an immediate starter at Southampton.
Callum Wilson – Suggesting that Wilson end up at Spurs as the long-needed back-up plan for Harry Kane’s inevitable injury spell is almost too easy. Wilson seems to wear down and pick up his own injuries if asked to lead the line but as a frequently-used reserve/spot starter with better service around him he seems like he could thrive. Coming off of a down season seems like he would come in at a price that Daniel Levy could stomach.
Joshua King – Another player ideally suited to move up table as a valuable reserve rather than being depended on as one of the primary sources of goals. He certainly isn’t a sexy acquisition but he would make a great buy for a club like Liverpool who are a little thin behind their stellar front three.
I have frequent starters Steve Cook, Diego Rico, Adam Smith, Simon Francis, and Dan Gosling as more likely to stick around and provide a solid base for the Cherries’ promotion effort. Dominic Solanke seems ideally suited to do damage in the Championship to help rebuild his confidence and his value after a difficult season trying to break in as a starter in the Premier League.
Ben Foster – The massive sums of money being discussed for Dean Henderson lead one to wonder how much of Sheffield United’s strong defensive record was down to Henderson and how much was Henderson just pretty good behind a strong defensive system dedicated to suppressing chances. Whether it be as a replacement for Henderson at Sheffield United or a stopgap at Chelsea until a permanent solution for their Kepa issue can be found, Foster should have a role of some type in the Premier League.
Daryl Janmaat – Janmaat is probably best cast as a wingback, which happened occasionally at Watford for him but, between managerial changes and injury issues, it has been a while since it felt like he could establish a rhythm. It would be something of a surprise if he got snapped up by a Premier League team but maybe someone is looking for a reserve wingback.
Abdoulaye Doucouré – Doucoure was a hot name a couple of seasons ago coming off of a season when he scored seven goals. His apparent influence has waned in the two seasons since but, at 27, he should be entering his prime. Has he backslid due to the declining talent around him and the revolving door at manager or was that really just an aberration of a season? If I were in the market for a midfielder who can do a bit of anything I’d be willing to take a risk that it was the circumstances rather than the talent. Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, or West Ham would all make some sense. Assuming Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg leaves Southampton, Doucoure could be an excellent, buy-low replacement.
Étienne Capoue – Is Étienne Capoue really 32-years-old? It feels like just yesterday that he was being forever linked to Arsenal as a youngster coming up in the Ligue Un. Capoue is the sort of steady influence at the base of the midfield that won’t remind anyone of Claude Makelele or N’Golo Kante but would be an excellent reserve on a good team. Leicester City could use some better Wilfried Ndidi insurance.
Roberto Pereyra – A frustrating player. He has some productive streaks but has never been able to sustain them due to either injury or falling out of favor with whomever happens to be in charge at Vicarage Road. I’d suspect that it’s more likely that Pereyra will end up elsewhere in the Pozzo empire where there is first division football to be played.
Ismaila Sarr – For my money, the jewel of the potential acquisitions from the teams going down. Sarr took some time to get adjusted to life in the Premier League but after about mid-season he was healthy and productive despite the modest talent and managerial turmoil around him. I suspect that he’d be the equal of Richarlison or Nicolas Pepe at half the price. Crystal Palace would do well to partner him with WilFred Zaha or let Sarr replace Zaha if he finally gets his move.
Danny Welbeck – It feels wrong to consign Welbeck to the Championship but it’s hard to see a club that would want to pay the money necessary to bring Welbeck in given his injury history.
Gerard Deulofeu – It’s hard to know what to make of Deulofeu. He flashes talent from time-to-time but is inconsistent and somehow still only 26-years-old. He didn’t set the world on fire at Everton so it seems like being a mid-table starter might be asking too much at this point. If he doesn’t end up back on the continent, I’d think Newcastle, West Ham or one of the newly promoted sides would be his options.
Andre Gray – He was always a Championship forward trying in vain to make the leap so he and the club are probably best served by keeping him for the attempt at returning to the top flight. I could see him moving on to another Championship team or maybe a bottom half manager talking themselves into him as a reserve with some grit and Premier League experience.
Troy Deeney – I’m not a fan of Deeney as a lead striker but as a guy who can be a change of pace guy off the bench for 20 or 30 minutes at a time, I have to say I’m intrigued. I’m not suggesting that he’s as good as Olivier Giroud but I’d consider him a poor man’s version of what Giroud has been for Chelsea. His old foils Arsenal could use someone like that, especially if one of Lacazette or Aubameyang leaves. I could also see Spurs or Everton having a similar need for a change of pace.
While I wouldn’t entirely rule out some of the average starters in the squad – Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele, Kiko Femenía, Adam Masina, Nathan Chalobah, Tom Cleverley, and Will Hughes – becoming inexpensive “Premier League experience” for one of the newly promoted sides, this group doesn’t offer a great deal.
Tim Krul – Tim Krul is the definition of a journeyman Premier League goalkeeper. He’s certainly capable of doing a job as either a bottom half number one or a reserve for a team a little higher up the table. As with Foster and Ramsdale, Sheffield United may be in the market as could the three rising sides but there aren’t THAT many openings.
Max Aarons – There has been a lot of excitement over Max Aarons with links to the likes of Bayern Munich mooted since Norwich City’s relegation was confirmed. A move that big seems to involve a fair amount of projection. Aarons seems to have the physical tools but, as Jeremy pointed out in a conversation today, the actual footballing talent isn’t as apparent as fellow relegation-sufferer Andy Robertson’s was when he was at Hull City. Some of it could be the dire circumstances of Norwich City’s season, especially at the back, but there likely isn’t a Champions League starting spot waiting for Aarons if he gets a big move. I’d think being a reserve at somewhere like Spurs if they can’t find the finished article at a price they’re willing to pay or an apprenticeship under Kyle Walker at City to see if he can make the grade by the time Walker is ready to move on. I could also see him being part of a building project at Newcastle if Mauricio Pochettino and his love of wingbacks were to arrive at St. James Park. Just I’m not sure he’d be willing to go to West Ham if Bayern are even sniffing around but they need a right back.
Ben Godfrey – A 22-year-old English center back who is at least competent passing the ball out of the back. He isn’t going to get a huge move and he isn’t going to get Norwich City a massive fee but, if I were Arsenal or Spurs or Wolves or Leicester City then this is exactly the sort of bet I’d be placing in a transfer market where the premier, finished article center backs are going for 4 or 5 times what Godfrey would likely cost. His reputation won’t have been helped by the disaster that was the Canaries’ defense all season but there’s only so much one young defender can be expected to do.
Jamal Lewis – Believe it or not, a third young, English defender on this rotten defense that might be worth picking up during the transfer window. Perhaps playing three 22-and-under defenders all getting their first Premier League experience was part of the problem. Good for development but not so much for results. Still, Lewis has some upside as a left wingback albeit not quite as much as Aarons does on the right. My complaint with Crystal Palace is that they don’t have much in the way of rising prospects to fill the sizable gap left by the departure of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and (maybe) Wilf Zaha. Lewis would represent at least some hope for future development.
Todd Cantwell – I could just copy and paste the David Brooks write-up minus the part about the season lost to injury because Cantwell is pretty much what Brooks was last season before he got injured. Despite the struggles around him he jumped off the screen as more talented than his teammates. This seems like a Spurs purchase but they seem pretty flush with attacking midfielders right about now and have most of a defense to replace and a big stadium to pay for. Ditto for Chelsea minus the stadium part. Cantwell doesn’t seem quite up to the standard at Liverpool or City but perhaps bringing in a young winger who did well for a manager who managed the second team at Dortmund just after Klopp left the first team post would make sense as a succession plan for Sadio Mané without the gratuitous price tag. If not the Reds then Wolves, Leicester City, Everton, Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham, and Crystal Palace would all make a great deal of sense.
Emi Buendía – Watching Buendia, I always felt like he was older than he actually is (he’s 23). The Argentine certainly has a place in the Premier League in the same way Gylfi Sigurdsson did after coming on to the scene with Swansea. Finding the right fit might be a challenge. As a winger who is neither blazing fast nor robust, Buendia’s acquisition is a commitment to playing around some of his physical limitations (one of the reasons he only played around 2400 minutes this season despite his technical gifts and Norwich City’s lack of attacking punch). I’m struggling to find an existing team that makes a ton of sense. Anything that gives Crystal Palace some attacking life makes some sense to me but he feels like a little too much of a departure from the rest of what they do. Perhaps one of the clubs rising from the Championship will make the most sense.
Teemu Pukki – Pukki-mania certainly was running wild at the beginning of the season and, for that reason, he gets to close out this list. Still, after his opening day hat trick the Fin was a better story and name than he was a player. Could he provide a system fit for a pressing team that needs a back-up forward? Maybe. More likely he’ll go down with the Canaries and try to help them climb back for a second crack at the Premier League under Farke.
Just for Fun
After I wrote this column yesterday, I was texting with Jeremy and he suggested that we do a quick draft among the players going down to assign them to the remaining teams. It was mostly something to kill time yesterday night (for me)/evening (for him). As usual, the draft was in reverse order of finish (i.e., Aston Villa in 17th place in the PL got the first pick). Here’s what we came up with:
Aston Villa: Callum Wilson – they NEED someone to reliably score goals and while Wilson is coming off of a down season, he’s the best available player to fill that need.
West Ham: Todd Cantwell – no one on the left of the West Ham attack was really able to stake their claim to the spot. Not Fornals, not Anderson, not, well, you get the idea. Cantwell looked the part for Norwich City despite having little-to-no help.
Brighton: Max Aarons would bring an element that Albion don’t have and, having just signed Adam Lallana, they aren’t in quite as desperate need of a wide attacker which is where this draft has some depth.
Crystal Palace: Roy Hodgson’s team are in desperate need of a wide attacker (or any attacker) and I’ll give them Ismaila Sarr who, for me, is the best player in this draft but doesn’t meet specific needs at Villa/West Ham/Brighton.
Newcastle: Lots of options here but we gave Newcastle Teemu Pukki because, like Aston Villa, their biggest need is someone to put the ball in the net.
Everton: The Toffees could go in a bunch of different directions but Nathan Ake feels a need for them so we prioritized him over some of the attackers.
Southampton: The Saints don’t have much depth in attacking talent behind Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong so we’re keeping David Brooks on the south coast and adding him to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s options.
Burnley: The Clarets love them some young, rising center backs and this is the right time to start investing ahead of the next one leaving so Ben Godfrey heads to Turf Moor.
Sheffield United: It would be easiest to match the Blades with one of their former players (and one they’re likely to land in real life in Aaron Ramsdale) but getting some attacking support seems like a bigger priority to me an with Josh King still out there, that’s the way we decided to go.
Arsenal: Arsenal used to be linked to Abdoulaye Doucouré all the time and they finally get him as another option at the base of midfield where they’ve struggled for options and seem to want rid of at least Matteo Guendouzi if not Lucas Torreira as well.
Wolves: As mentioned above, Emi Buendía is a bit of an odd fit but when pressed to find someone of sufficient quality to make any sense at a team that’s pretty well set at all positions and even with some depth we decided it was worth bringing the Argentine over and seeing if a move infield to become the successor to Joao Moutinho could work.
Leicester City: The Foxes showed this season that they have some serious depth issues at center back, right back, and holding midfielder. With neither of the first two positions having much to offer left in this draft, we went with an experienced had to back up Wilfried Ndidi in Étienne Capoue. Not sexy but he probably has a year or two left in the top flight if he’s used judiciously.
Manchester United: Hard to see anyone that might break into the United side but the Red Devils have never adequately replace Jonny Evans as a no nonsense center back off the bench so we’ll give them Craig Dawson with very little expectation that he’d ever see the field.
Manchester City: Speaking of a side in need of center backs, we’ll give Pep’s side Chris Mepham who is young and maybe with the right training he has enough upside to play for City. Probably not, but again, there aren’t much in the way of choices here.
Liverpool: Liverpool haven’t really addressed the back-up center forward situation so we’re going to return Dominic Solanke back from whence he came even though a season in the Championship is probably what he needs right now.
For those wondering, since Ryan Fraser opted out of his contract, I left him out of both exercises.
So, there it is. We’ve divided up the players who seem to have at least some case (and some much more than that) to stay up in the Premier League while their teams go down (and we did it in two ways). What marriages of relegated players and remaining teams have I missed? If you have a favorite, hit me up with it on Twitter @nealjthurman.