Rice, Coutinho, Vardy: The Premier League's best XI outside of the 'big six' clubs

  • Kobe Tong
Moyes and Rice shake hands.

David Moyes and Declan Rice have been indescribably important to West Ham United in recent years.

With the Hammers rounding off a sensational season that could end in Europa League glory, the sense that the east London club are on an upward trajectory again couldn’t be any clearer.

A great deal of the credit for that upturn in fortunes should be laid at the feet of Moyes, who has shown with his astute and resourceful management that West Ham never should have let him go in 2018.

Moyes and Rice at West Ham

But alas, it all worked out in the end and now the Hammers are working towards another lofty Premier League finish that Moyes will undoubtedly have a lot to thank Rice for.

Although there are heroes in every part of the London Stadium dressing room from Vladimír Coufal to Michail Antonio, there’s no denying that Rice is the jewel in the crown of Moyes’ West Ham.

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Let’s start easy: What was Tottenham’s old ground called?

The simple fact of the matter is that Rice is one of the best players in the world not currently playing for a Champions League club, and there’s hardly a top European side that wouldn’t take him.

However, at least for now, the England star remains West Ham through and through with his talismanic importance for the club proving so strong that it even reminds Moyes of his time with Wayne Rooney at Everton.

Liverpool or City: Who will crack? (Football Terrace)

Moyes on managing Rooney and Rice

Speaking as part of a fascinating appearance on the High Performance Podcast, Moyes accepted an element of luck in his managerial career where he’s benefitted from players like Rooney and Rice.

The Scotsman glowingly explained: “Sometimes you need good bits of fortune. You need bits of luck. I always remember even when I first got my job at Everton, I remember Walter Smith saying to me: ‘You’re going to be really lucky. There’s a young boy in the academy. He’s going to be a great player.’

“And you think: ‘I’ll never see him in my time.’ And it happened to be Wayne Rooney. And things like that can help you personally and help the club, gives the club more profile.

“We’re a little bit like that at West Ham at the moment. You know, we’ve got Declan Rice, who is an outstanding English international and he’s helping the club, and helping us all at the moment.

“And I think trying to make West Ham more popular, but certainly I think West Ham have become a team that people quite like watching because they’ve seen a lot of good things in the last year or two.”

West Ham's Moyes and Rice.
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Brilliance beyond the ‘big six’

While the up-and-coming versions of Rice and Rooney are – of course – infinitely different, they do share the common roles of being talismanic stars to Premier League clubs outside of the so-called ‘big six’.

By that, we mean the group of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur that were all implicated in the notorious European Super League.

They also happen to be the clubs where the majority of the Premier League’s best players are housed with stars such as Rice, as well as Rooney in his early Everton days, proving an exception.

Rooney in his early Everton days.
Everton’s Kevin Campbell (bottom) helps his team mate Wayne Rooney celebrate his winning goal against Arsenal in their English premier league match at Goodison Park, Liverpool, October 19, 2002. Everton won 2-1. REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid NO INTERNET/ONLINE USAGE WITHOUT FAPL LICENCE. FOR DETAILS SEE FAPLWEB.COM PKM/ASA/CMC

Best XI outside of the ‘big six’

So, in light of Moyes highlighting the unique breed of players that he’s managed to Premier League brilliance outside of a ‘big six’ club, we wanted to see who else was up there with Rice as a pioneer.

To do that, we’ve put our necks on the line by drawing up what we consider to be the best XI in the division without the use of Arsenal, Liverpool, United, City, Tottenham and Chelsea players.

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

Naturally, that’s ultimately a subjective exercise and there are many top stars who didn’t quite make the cut, but we nevertheless feel confident about the stunning ‘non-big six’ line-up that you can check out below:

GK: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)

With too many top-class goalkeepers to go around, it’s perhaps inevitable that this was going to be one of the toughest positions on the pitch with Emiliano Martinez, Jose Sa and Nick Pope all vying for a place.

However, despite some wobbles at times in the 2021/22 season, we’re giving Schmeichel the benefit of the doubt as he continues to rank amongst the world’s finest shot-stoppers overall.

Leicester's Schmeichel warms up.
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RB: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United)

One of the easiest picks on the entire pitch, Trippier went straight from La Liga glory and Champions League football with Atletico Madrid to become a galvanising presence in the Newcastle project.

CB: James Tarkowski (Burnley)

We’ll be completely transparent: the centre-back positions were by far and away the toughest to choose on the entire pitch, so this is arguably where the subjectivity makes itself known the most.

However, yours truly just had to find a place for Tarkowski, who will rightfully get half the Premier League opening their wallet for his services when his Burnley contract expires in the summer. Such an underrated player.

Burnley's Tarkowski celebrates.
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CB: Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)

Shoutout to Jonny Evans, Ezri Konsa, Kurt Zouma and more as potential options, but we’re looking towards the future with one of umpteen Palace players to come into their own under Patrick Vieira.

Guehi is the latest exciting prospect from the Chelsea academy to burst out and hold their own in the Premier League, so don’t be surprised if England call-ups become more and more regular for a star in the making.

LB: Lucas Digne (Aston Villa)

Another fairly straightforward full-back selection, Everton and Villa have both been punching above their weight in having a former Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona star bringing class and quality to their left flank.

Villa's Digne and Gerrard.
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CM: Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Like, duh, did you read the introduction? If we had to name the best Premier League player outside of the ‘big six’ clubs right now, then it would have to be Rice because what he’s achieving at West Ham right now is a joke.

CM: Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

And frankly, we’d love to see him sharing a midfield with Neves because Wolves’ long-range goalscorer in chief has been the swashbuckling presence behind so much of Bruno Lage’s success this season.

It’s not for no reason that he’s constantly linked with United because his ability to score and create from deep, as well as generally dictating play alongside Joao Moutinho, makes him simply invaluable at just 25 years old.

Wolves' Neves scores.
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CAM: Philippe Coutinho (Aston Villa)

It’s not been all sunshine and rainbows for Coutinho at Villa Park, but how could we possibly omit a Brazil baller who’s turned on the style for Inter Milan, Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich? That’s what we thought.

RW: Raphinha (Leeds United)

It’s only a matter of time before one of the European Super League clubs snap up Raphinha because he’s by far and away the best player in the Leeds squad with 10 goals and three assists in 2021/22.

Raphinha scores for Leeds.
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ST: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

A member of the Premier League 100-goal with a Golden Boot to his name, Vardy is there or thereabouts in the goalscoring charts season after season with a further 10 strikes to his name this time out.

The former England poacher had his chance to move up to the ‘big six’ ranks, but has remained loyal to Leicester with impressive 24, 20 and 23-goal Premier League hauls across his fairytale career.

LW: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

A veteran of the entire ‘best players outside of the big six’ premise for years upon years, Zaha seldom goes a season without catching the eye of the big-money spenders with his sumptuous skills.

Palace's Zaha celebrates.
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What a team

Let’s face it, that’s a pretty difficult team to beat.

There might not be a player on Rooney’s level from the Everton days to quite elevate the line-up to stratospheric heights, but there’s no denying that Moyes would love to manage this team.

From a La Liga-winning right-back to a centre forward with a Premier League Golden Boot, the West Ham boss would be able to lead this XI to plenty of victories over the ‘big six’ clubs.

So, it really does go to show that although the money and big names might be mostly contained within that small group, great players and managers like Rice and Moyes ensure that the ‘other 14’ packs plenty of punch too.

Rice and Moyes at West Ham.
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