As we approach the final months of the Premier League campaign, talk has turned to which players are in the running for this season’s PFA Player of the Year award, with votes already cast.
Virgil van Dijk and Raheem Sterling, key figures for Liverpool and Manchester City respectively in the battle for the top-flight title, are the current frontrunners, but it is likely the entire shortlist will be comprised of players from within the division’s top-six sides.
Here, we shine a light on the star performers from outside the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses, assessing candidates only from non-top-six clubs.
Ben Foster – Watford
Turning 36 in April, even for goalkeeper Foster is in the twilight of his career, yet the veteran Watford shot-stopper has enjoyed one of his finest ever campaigns.
The former Manchester United man returned to Vicarage Road – where he starred during two seasons on loan more than a decade ago – last summer following West Bromwich Albion’s relegation to the Championship, and his outstanding form has been crucial to Javi Gracia’s side’s ascent into the top eight of the Premier League.
Exuding calm at the back and producing an array of fine reflex saves when called upon, Foster has been among the best goalkeepers in the top flight this term.
Felipe Anderson – West Ham
West Ham United spent big last summer, backing manager Manuel Pellegrini and, they hope, beginning to equip the Premier League-winning boss with the tools to eventually break into Europe.
Eyebrows were raised when the Hammers splashed a club-record £36million to sign Anderson from Lazio, with the Brazilian’s inconsistency in Italy a stated worry, even if his talent has never been in question.
That fee now looks like a bargain, though, and the 25-year-old’s market value has likely doubled after a stellar first season in England that has seen him score eight Premier League goals and register four assists.
João Moutinho – Wolves
Although much of the praise for Wolverhampton Wanderers’ rise up to seventh in their first season back in the Premier League tends to be reserved for Rúben Neves, the Portuguese’s compatriot and midfield partner has arguably been even more effective.
Linked with a Premier League move for more than a decade, Moutinho finally arrived in England last summer, joining Wolves from Monaco. Now 32, the experienced playmaker has added class and craft to Nuno Espírito Santo’s side, contributing one goal and seven assists.
Neves might catch the eye with his Hollywood passes and shots from distance, but Moutinho’s reliable precision and creativity has been a huge factor in a fairytale season for Wolves.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka – Crystal Palace
Since bursting on to the scene midway through last season, Wan-Bissaka has emerged as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League.
Just 21 years old, Wan-Bissaka’s success in the Crystal Palace first team is made all the more remarkable by the fact he has spent most of his career to date as a winger, only converting to a defensive remit while with the Eagles’ under-23 squad.
What’s more, even though he began as an attacking player, it is the England under-21 international’s defensive ability that most marks him out as a special talent, with his total of 110 tackles the highest in the top flight this season.
Matt Doherty – Wolves
Wolves wing-back Doherty has been one of the surprise success stories of 2018/19.
For all the money the Black County side have spent over the last two years to equip Nuno with a squad capable of challenging for major honours, Doherty, who has been at Molineux since 2010, has been one of their standout performers.
The Republic of Ireland international’s rampaging runs from the right wing-back position this term have been crucial to Wolves’ counter-attacking style, seeing the 27-year-old chip in with six goals and four assists in all competitions.
Ryan Fraser – Bournemouth
At the time of writing, only Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard has provided more Premier League assists (11) this season than Ryan Fraser’s ten.
The diminutive Scotland international has been one of the most reliable creative midfielders in the top flight, providing ammunition for Bournemouth’s potent strike force of Joshua King and Callum Wilson.
Fraser has also scored six league goals of his own in what has been a breakout campaign for the Aberdeen-born winger.