An XI of Big Six players who need to move to a smaller club this summer

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Manchester United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka during the Premier League match against Everton at Goodison Park, Liverpool, England, 9th April 2022.

The economic stratification of football means dozens of brilliant players are stockpiled at the richest clubs – especially the Premier League’s Big Six. But not all of those players can get a regular game time, so we’ve put together an XI who could be looking for a summer transfer to a slightly lesser club where they’d play more regularly.

Sitting on the bench for teams like Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United doesn’t mean a player is bad. It just means there is an unbelievable amount of competition for places.

Some fantastic talent is hidden from view merely by virtue of the even more fantastic talent that is preferred by those big clubs’ managers. We think that’s sad. What we want is to see those bench warmers become terrace heroes slightly further down the football food chain.

So here, we’ve pulled together an XI of Big Six players, lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, who we’d love to see take a step down to a non-Big Six club for more game time and a shot at immortality.

GK: Dean Henderson

Remember those heady pre-pandemic days when Henderson was flying high with Sheffield United in the Premier League, marking himself out as Manchester United and England’s future No.1? Seems a long time ago now.

Two seasons warming the bench at Old Trafford while David De Gea has re-found his best form have put paid to the idea that Henderson might supersede Jordan Pickford as England’s first-choice ‘keeper.

In fact, they’ve done for his England hopes entirely as Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope, Fraser Forster and Sam Johnstone have made the squad ahead of him this season.

You know, we know, he knows and Manchester United know: it’s time for Henderson to move on and get the minutes he needs to become a top goalie.

Newcastle have been frequently mentioned in the same sentence as the 25-year-old and given their newfound oil wealth, it would make some sense.

RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

To watch Wan-Bissaka play in 2021-22 was to watch a forlorn shadow of the defender Manchester United signed in 2019.

He looked bereft of confidence, not helped by the lack of protection from the United midfield and, more generally, by the institutional shitstorm that was raging around him at Old Trafford.

Wan-Bissaka’s attributes are not entirely suited to the playing style of new coach Erik Ten Hag either.

It would mean United taking a hit on the £50million they paid for him, but it’s perhaps best for both if they move on.

Imagine him back at Crystal Palace. Crunching into challenges with Patrick Vieira urging him on in the Selhurst Park technical area. Yes, please.

CB: Phil Jones

Fairly or not, Phil Jones is now more renowned for his facial expressions than his football skills. That’s a massive shame for a man Sir Alex Ferguson said might become United’s “greatest ever player”.

Jones is finally over the injuries that kept him out for the best part of two seasons and did okay on the few occasions Ralf Rangnick called on him this season.

He’s still only 30, so potentially has four or five good years ahead of him. If we were a mid-table Premier League club, we’d definitely be making inquiries, if only to have him bring these commitment levels to our team…

CB: Joe Rodon

Antonio Conte is a ruthless so-and-so and Joe Rodon has felt the brunt of that hard-heartedness this season, not starting a single league game.

Taken to Spurs by Jose Mourinho in 2020, Rodon moved straight from the Championship to the Big Six. In reality, his level is probably somewhere in between those two poles, somewhere he can stake a claim for a position in the starting XI and play himself back into the form he showed for Swansea.

Anyone who’s seen him play for Wales knows he can be a commanding presence. According to reports, Fulham would like him to move across London to be that commanding presence for them.

LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko

This might seem an odd thing to say about a player who plays fairly regularly for one of the best teams in the history of English football, but we’re not entirely sure how good Zinchenko is.

When he features, the Ukrainian tends to acquit himself admirably. But he only started 10 league games this season and most of those were in routine wins over teams that finished mid-table or lower.

What would happen if he played started 30-plus Premier League games for a side with a squad slightly less stacked than Pep Guardiola’s? There aren’t any reports that he’s after a move, but we’d like to see it happen.

RW: Steven Bergwijn

Another Mourinho signing for Spurs, Bergwijn will forever have the memory of that remarkable late brace against Leicester. What he won’t have, however, is a place in Conte’s starting XI.

Like we said at the beginning, that doesn’t mean he’s bad. Bergwijn is quick, direct and has an eye for goal. It’s just that he’s not on the technical level of Dejan Kulusevski.

He has spoken of the possibility of returning to the Netherlands with Ajax, but we could imagine Bergwijn excelling a little further down the Premier League table for a counter-attacking team like Wolves.

CM: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Jurgen Klopp really loves Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ask him and he’ll tell you just how much. But, unfortunately for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp doesn’t love him quite enough to play him regularly.

Having made 17 starts in the 2019-20 league-winning season, Oxlade-Chamberlain has only made two and nine starts respectively in the subsequent two campaigns, in part down to injury.

With Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones commanding ever more game time and Klopp reportedly set to strengthen in midfield this summer, it looks like the former Arsenal man, who moved to Liverpool for £35million in 2017, could be on his way out.

We could see him becoming a modern-day Tugay type figure for an upper mid-table Premier League side, standing at the base of midfield pinging passes all over the gaff. He probably won’t start smoking 20 a day though, which is a shame.

CM: Harry Winks

“The manager’s come in and given me a chance, given me confidence again,” Winks said of Antonio Conte in the wake of a 3-2 defeat to Southampton in February, which was his fifth consecutive start at the time. “Every game I play and every training session, I have that hunger to impress him and do everything I can to improve.

“My career at Tottenham was probably dead and buried but he’s come in and given me an opportunity to prove myself.”

It was in that same game against Southampton, however, that Rodrigo Bentancur made his first Premier League appearance for Spurs. And Winks had perhaps not quite come to terms with the ramifications of the Uruguayan’s arrival at that point.

Since Bentancur started for the first time in the following game with Wolves, he’s barely been out of the team, establishing himself as the Lilywhites’ best midfielder. Winks has suffered as a result, starting just two more Premier League games since he uttered those words.

He’s pretty much back to where he was before Conte arrived. And that’s before Conte goes out and spends £100million this summer. Time to move on.

Antonio Conte, Tottenham Manager, November 2021

READ: How the PL table would look if it began when Tottenham hired Conte

LW: Takumi Minamino

Minamino’s refusal to celebrate his goal for Liverpool against Southampton – where he spent half of the 2020-21 season on loan – in the penultimate game of the campaign pretty much screamed ‘come and get me’ to Ralph Hasenhuttl.

ST: Eddie Nketiah

Yes, we know he’s changed his mind about leaving Arsenal. And after his performances at the back end of the season, we can understand the rationale.

But chances are Arsenal will sign Gabriel Jesus, Tammy Abraham, Alvaro Morata or someone of that ilk in the summer and Nketiah will just be back where he started: on the bench.

Go to Palace, Eddie. Be happy. Score goals. Lap up the adulation of the Holmesdale Road End. You know it makes sense.

ST: Christian Pulisic

We are in serious danger of provoking the wrath of Christian Pulisic’s dad with this shout. And, to be fair, Pulisic is probably good enough to be playing in the Champions League. But just bear with us.

He only started 13 league games for Chelsea this season and that was with a misfiring Romelu Lukaku in the squad. Thomas Tuchel clearly isn’t his biggest fan.

But Pulisic still managed six league goals and two assists, so just imagine what he’d do playing week-in week-out for a club just below that Big Six level.

He could be the signing that transforms an also-ran into top-six contenders. He could make himself a legend by firing a team deep into European competition. Just think Clint Dempsey at Fulham circa 2010.

See? Not such a bad idea, is it?

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