To qualify, players must have started at least 25 league games last season…
10) Chris Brunt – West Brom (27 Premier League starts in 2016/17)
Now 32, Brunt started 27 league games last season but in a whole host of different positions. Eight came at left-back, one as a left wing-back, two as a left-sided midfielder, 12 as a right-sided midfielder and four as a central midfielder.
If that makes Brunt sound like the useful player Tony Pulis will want to keep round then that’s exactly what he is, but as new players arrive he’s also the type to become back-up in multiple positions. If nobody gets injured, he stays on the bench.
9) Adam Smith – Bournemouth (34 starts)
When Bournemouth spend £20m on a player, you can be damn sure that he makes their starting line-up. Nathan Ake will walk into pre-season training and expect to make a spot in the team his own.
Given that every member of Eddie Howe’s back four last season started at least 34 matches, that gives Bournemouth’s manager a decision to make. It would seem unlikely that Steve Cook – their best defender – would lose his place, which leaves Simon Francis or Smith. Given that Francis is a comfortable right-back, and Howe would be loath to drop his captain, it leaves Smith as the most likely unfortunate one. He only started 22 league games in 2015/16, after all.
8) Paul Dummett – Newcastle United (44 starts)
You really do have to admire the staying power of Dummett. Having been loaned out by Newcastle to Gateshead and St Mirren in 2011/12 and 2012/13, he eventually made his Premier League debut at the age of 21 in August 2013 during a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City. Despite his quality – but never effort – regularly called into question by his own supporters, Dummett started more Championship matches than any other Newcastle player last season.
That said, I’m doubting Dummett again. Rafa Benitez has already expressed his frustration at the lack of transfer activity at Newcastle, but when things do get underway it’s difficult not to see him signing a new left-back. Kieran Gibbs, George Friend and Marvin Zeegelaar have all been mentioned in passing, and would all constitute an upgrade.
7) Glenn Whelan – Stoke City (26 starts)
The type of footballer who fails to get the credit for everything he does, but the truth is that Whelan’s time at Stoke is coming to an end. Mark Hughes might have a weird fetish for ageing footballers, but surely even he can’t sign 33-year-old Darren Fletcher and keep 33-year-old Whelan.
The problem for Whelan is that Fletcher, 18 days younger than him, does everything he does but slightly better, like the arch nemesis from a very dull film which I’m tentatively calling ‘Interception (and simple pass)’. Having survived the arrival of Amdy Faye, Seyi Olofinjana, Giannelli Imbula and Joe Allen since joining then-Championship Stoke in 2008, Whelan’s time is now up. He deserves a bloody big pat on the back.
6) Robert Huth – Leicester City (33 starts)
The impact of Huth at Leicester will never be forgotten. Pushed out of Stoke City’s first team after spending a year out through injury at the age of 29, to be first loaned to Leicester and then start 35 league games and play magnificently to win the Premier League title is one of the great comebacks of football’s last decade.
Yet the dust has settled on Leicester’s title triumph, and the time for sentimentality is over. Huth’s lack of pace was exposed last season, and he will turn 33 in August. The arrival of Harry Maguire for £17m takes up one central defensive position next season, and Wes Morgan is Leicester’s captain. Don’t be surprised if both of them are out of Leicester’s first-choice team by next May.
5) Phil Jagielka – Everton (25 starts)
It’s only seven months since Jagielka played for England, which both says a lot about our country’s central defensive options and also show quite how far Jagielka has fallen since. He managed 25 Premier League starts for Everton last season, but the arrival of Michael Keane from Burnley will mark the changing of the guard between Everton and England old and new.
“It is not really about me and what I hope,” Jagielka said in May. “I am delighted to be here. I have been here a long time now. I have got at least one more year on my contract and I feel as though I have got a lot more football in me. It is up to me to come back in pre-season and prove to the manager that I am not too bad and hopefully I can stick around.”
This is a player who knows what it coming. Jagielka can look back at a career that peaked higher than many thought likely, one during which he managed to win more England caps than Jack Charlton, Nat Lofthouse, Stan Mortensen and Nobby Stiles. Should be chuffed with that.
4) Raheem Sterling – Manchester City (29 starts)
Even if we assume that Pep Guardiola will choose a shape that allows him to play five attacking players next season, the list looks long: David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero. This is a club that is chasing Alexis Sanchez, remember.
If that makes Samir Nasri – back at City again – feel pretty glum, it might worry Sterling too. There’s nothing wrong with being part of a big squad when your club is attempting to win four competitions, but it does increase the pressure on a young player who will need to stay as a first-team regular if he’s going to keep his international starting place.
Only three players started more league games for City than Sterling last season. What price a repeat of that in 2017/18?
3) Marcos Alonso – Chelsea (30 starts)
It’s easy to feel pretty sympathetic towards Alonso, who arrived as a left wing-back from Fiorentina last summer and enabled Antonio Conte to change formation to a 3-4-3. If that doesn’t make Alonso Chelsea’s most important player last season, it certainly gives weight to the argument.
Unfortunately, Conte is intent on upgrading his Chelsea squad after winning the title. Alonso may well be the fall guy. While Diego Costa is likely to leave in order to let a new striker take his place, the arrival of Alex Sandro for a whacking great fee from Juventus will relegate Alonso to the Chelsea bench. Conte will want to keep Alonso as a back-up option ahead of a Champions League campaign.
2) Nacho Monreal – Arsenal (35 Premier League starts last season)
Monreal was one of Arsenal’s finest performers three years ago, but has gradually tailed off. Had Arsene Wenger been able to call on a more reliable deputy that Kieran Gibbs, the Spaniard might even have lost his first-team place.
The arrival of Sead Kolasinac might finally put paid to Monreal’s hopes of staying in the team, particularly as the Bosnian regularly played as the left wing-back in Schalke’s 3-5-1-1 last season. Assuming Wenger keeps faith in his three central defenders that as so effective in April and May, Kolasinac must be favourite to start on the opening day.
1) James Milner – Liverpool (36 starts)
We love Jamie Milner, England’s useful but unsexy utensil. We’ve described him as a spatula, toilet brush and bottle opener, and he fits all of those bills. He was also a damn useful left-back at Jurgen Klopp’s time of need, Liverpool’s fourth emergency service after Alberto Moreno’s rapid fall from grace.
Sticking plasters are useful in mid-season, but summers allow wounds to be permanently healed. Benjamin Mendy and Ryan Sessegnon may no longer be options for Klopp, but Andrew Robertson, Riza Durmisi and Ben Chilwell still might be. That would leave Milner as the jack of all trades but master of none, unable to command a regular first-team starting place.