Who are the best Premier League players outside of the ‘Big Six’? Using statistical player analysis, the BetVictor supercomputer has produced a Premier League starting XI consisting of the best player in each position to not play for a ‘Big Six’ team.
The research is based on Premier League data from this season. By using over 25 per 90-minute performance statistics for outfield players and 14 for goalkeepers, we’ve built a statistical profile of each player which is tailored by position. It also factors in both their offensive and defensive contributions.
Players were sorted and grouped by shared position and their statistical profiles were input into the ranking algorithm. The algorithm is designed to find the player with the most optimised output per 90-minutes by calculating a Z-score (standard score) per performance statistic and average Z-score per player. A high average Z-score indicates that a player is outperforming other players in that position across multiple statistics.
Goalkeeper - Jose Sa
After title challengers Manchester City and Liverpool, no other club has conceded less goals than Wolves this season, with their 21 goals conceded the third best rate in the league. It is therefore more than apt that Jose Sa takes the accolade of the best goalkeeper outside of the ‘Big Six’.
The Wolves no.1 had the best save % of any goalkeeper analysed with 83.7%, also coming top for goals against per 90 (0.81) and clean sheets per 90 (0.35). For post shot expected goals minus goals allowed where a positive score suggests better luck or an above average ability to stop shots, he ranked top with +0.36 per 90.
Right-Back – Kieran Trippier (Best Player Outside of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’)
The best outfield player was determined by the finding player who has outperformed their positional peers by the highest average number of standard deviations, and it is the England right-back Kieran Trippier who claims these bragging rights.
Newcastle will be sorely missing their star man after his scintillating start to life at St James’ Park, in the 316 Premier League minutes he has played he has managed to quickly establish himself as the best right-back and player outside of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ based on his statistical overperformance compared to positional peers.
For per 90 statistics Trippier was the top ranked right-back for non-penalty goals (0.57), second ranked for progressive passes (4.57), third for interceptions (3.14), fifth for tackles (5.14), and second for tackles in which the tackler’s team won possession of the ball (2.57). His ability to perform above the average value for players in his position across numerous statistics is second none amongst players outside of the ‘Big Six’.
Centre-Back - Mohammed Salisu
Southampton were largely underestimated at the beginning of the season with many predicting that The Saints would struggle, however the club are currently in the top half of the table and Mohammed Salisu has been one of their standout performers.
Salisu has a well-balanced statistical profile across defensive and offensive attributes. The Ghanaian ranked third for tackles per 90 with 2.83, and first for tackles in which the tackler’s team won possession of the ball (1.83). For progressive passes per 90 Salisu ranked third with 3.5, and for progressive carries he was fourth (3.67).
Centre-Back – Adam Webster
Brighton’s Adam Webster was the top ranked centre-back overall, and it was his ability on the ball and to play out from the back that really set him apart. With the World Cup taking place later this year, the defender could emerge as a genuine contender to make Gareth Southgate’s 23 man squad.
Webster ranked second for passes completed per 90 (63.2) with only teammate Lewis Dunk registering more (69.4). He was the top performer for total touches per 90 (86.5), progressive passes (4.54), and progressive carries (5.46), illustrating his ability to create from the back. He has registered more progressive passes per 90 in the league this season than John Stones (3.16), Harry Maguire (3.04), and Ben White (2.64).
Left-Back - Arthur Masuaku
Another perhaps surprising addition to the starting XI is West Ham left-back Arthur Masuaku, given that he primarily plays as back up to Aaron Creswell. However, based on his statistical profile he is potentially a little unlucky not to have featured more.
Masuaku outperforms Aaron Creswell in nearly every per 90-minute defensive statistic factored in, he has registered more interceptions (2.28), tackles (5.18 the most of any left-back analysed), tackles winning the tackler’s team possession of the ball (3.04 the most of any left-back analysed), tackles in each third of the field, pressures (17.0), and aerial duals won (2.14). He also betters Creswell for xA per 90 with 0.16 vs 0.12.
Defensive Midfielder – Declan Rice
Declan Rice is one of the highest profile non ‘Big Six’ Premier League players right now, having established himself as an integral part of a successful England team and West Ham side. He is the subject of heavy transfer speculation and attention from ‘Big Six’ teams with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United all reportedly showing an interest in securing his services.
Rice’s statistical profile backed up his big reputation in the Premier League, ranking second for passes completed per 90 (51.4) reflecting his ability to distribute the ball and switch play. He dominates a number of key midfield statistics, ranking first for interceptions per 90 (3.00) and progressive carries per 90 (7.42), along with boasting the best pass completion percentage of 89.9%.
Defensive Midfielder - Ruben Neves
Joining Rice in midfield is Wolves’ Ruben Neves, another player who over the years has been linked with a move to a ‘Big Six’ side. Wolves signed the Portuguese international for a Championship record fee in 2017 and he has since gone on to establish himself as a key figure in their Premier League rise.
Neves was the second-best ranked defensive midfielder for non-penalty goals per 90 with 0.14, coming in just behind West Ham’s Tomáš Souček (0.16). He was also the top performer for total touches with 74.9 per 90, and top performer for total passes ahead of Declan Rice with 52.0 per 90 illustrating his impressive ability as a deep-lying playmaker.
Right Winger – Raphinha
Jarrod Bowen was unlucky to miss out here, coming in just behind in second. But his 8 goals and 8 assists were not enough to stop Leeds United’s Raphinha from taking pole position. The Brazilian has the best goals per 90 rate of any right sided winger analysed at 0.41, he also ranked top for xA per 90 (0.22), progressive carries (5.68), and shot creating actions (4.09).
His statistical profile is incredibly well balanced across offensive and defensive attributes, and it is also worth noting his stats have been achieved playing for a team battling relegation, if he were to secure a move to a ‘Big Six’ club with a higher quality of teammate his xA and apparent ability to create would likely translate into a higher return of goals and assists.
Attacking Midfielder – Michael Olise
It is no surprise to see Michael Olise earning numerous plaudits for his performances at Crystal Palace this season, and you only need to look as far as his statistical profile to see what a special talent the 20-year-old is. With the Palace man ranking top for assists per 90 amongst attacking midfielders with 0.54.
Olise was also the top performing player for xA per 90 with 0.30, top for goal creating actions with 0.76, top for completed passes into the 18-yard box with 2.28, and top for progressive carries with 11.0 per 90. Interestingly the second highest ranked attacking midfielder overall was his teammate and Chelsea loanee Connor Gallagher.
Left Winger – Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha is name that frequently crops up in any discussion around who the best players outside of the ‘Big Six’ are, and this season is no exception. Zaha takes top spot narrowly ahead of Aston Villa’s Philippe Coutinho – who’s impressive return to Premier League life saw him rank second for this position.
Of the 30 total per 90 statistics factored in, Zaha ranked above the mean value for 23 of these. For every single pass-based statistic analysed he ranked in either the top 10 or top 5 players, including coming second for completed passes into the 18-yard box. He also came top for progressive passes received with 8.05 per 90 and total touches with 51.8 per 90.
Striker - Kelechi Iheanacho
It may come a surprise to see Iheanacho rank as the top-rated striker having only scored 2 goals this season, but this is a player who last season scored 12 league goals and his per 90 non-penalty xG rate of 0.30 this season is only 0.01 below Michail Antonio’s 0.31, a player who has scored 8 times.
Based on his per 90 performance this season Iheanacho is the top-ranking non ‘Big Six’ striker for assists (0.56), second highest ranking for passes completed (20.6), second for shot creating actions (3.37), second for goal creating actions (0.84), fourth for total touches (42.5), and fourth for progressive carries (4.65). Meaning he is a striker that offers an above average statistical performance in critical areas.
- The data used for this study was based on per 90-minute performance statistics obtained from FBREF for the 2021-22 Premier League season and is accurate as of 1/03/2022.
- Players with less than 3 Premier League appearances or 270 minutes played this season were omitted from the study to improve the reliability and accuracy of findings.
- For players who changed club during the January transfer window but played for another Premier League side previously – their average per 90 statistics were calculated using data from both teams.
- Players were only ranked against other players in a similar position.
- Statistical profiles were modelled on player scouting reports from FBREF.
- For certain statistics such as mistakes leading to an opponent’s shot and goalkeeper goals against where a lower value is better – a negative Z-score was recognised as positive by the algorithm and factored into the final scoring.