The Premier League has long been considered one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. While the English clubs mig not have dominated the UEFA Champions League and Europa League as much as the likes of Real Madrid and Sevilla have, the level of competition within the league makes it a very fascinating watch.
One of the major factors that contribute to this excitement is the quality possessed by sides outside the traditional 'bix six' clubs of the land — Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur.
Clubs such as Leicester City, Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham boast some of the best players in the country despite not being part of the biggest Premier League brands. The ever-increasing quality of the underdog sides makes the league a joy to watch for the neutrals, guaranteeing action-packed matches with drama and excitement.
On that note, here, we take a look at five of the best players in the Premier League who don't ply their trade for the traditional 'big six' clubs.
#5 Tomas Soucek | West Ham United
West Ham have undeniably been one of the biggest surprise packages of the season across Europe, let alone the Premier League. The Hammers have been brilliant and find themselves in fifth place in the table with five games to go. Much of this success has to do with their formidable midfield, which includes Tomas Soucek.
The Czech international has been one of the finds of the season so far. At 6'4", he's been a menace in both attack and defence this campaign and has added a layer of steel to the West Ham midfield. Soucek has covered every blade of grass for David Moyes' side and is their joint-highest scorer with nine goals, along with Jesse Lingard.
At 26 years of age, Soucek already appears to be worth every single bit of the £16m West Ham paid for him, and could only continue to get better. Jose Mourinho famously claimed that Moyes found his Marouane Fellaini in Soucek, and the Czech star could go on to do even better than the Belgian for the Scot.
#4 Ollie Watkins | Aston Villa
For a side that barely managed to survive in the top flight last season, Aston Villa have done a remarkable job so far this year as they're on course for a top-half finish. While there are many reasons for this resurgence, one of the main ones is the introduction of Ollie Watkins. The speedy forward has formed a phenomenal partnership with Jack Grealish and has run Premier League defences ragged this year.
The English striker has been a sensational addition to Villa and the Premier League as he's scored 14 goals and set up four more for the Birmingham club across all competitions. Villa broke their transfer record to sign Watkins from Brentford for £28m, and his performances this season have shown why they chose to place their faith in him.
His rise to prominence was also rewarded by Gareth Southgate, who handed Watkins his debut for England and the 25-year-old scored after coming on with his first shot on target. Truly a campaign to remember for the Aston Villa star.
#3 Dominic Calvert-Lewin | Everton
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has had an incredible 2020/21 campaign for Carlo Ancelotti's Everton. The English striker was impressive last year as he scored 13 goals, and while he's only scored one goal more than that tally in 2020/21, it is his well-rounded approach that has been the highlight of the season.
Calvert-Lewin's positioning and movement in the final third and ability play with his back to goal have improved remarkably this season. The towering striker has been more clinical in front of goal and has scored some mighty important goals this season, such as the strike against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, a winner against Spurs, and a 95th-minute equaliser at Old Trafford.
The Sheffield-born star was also called up to the English squad by Southgate, and he already has four goals to show for in just seven appearances for the Three Lions. It is easy to forget that Calvert-Lewin is just 24, and could have a lot more to offer Everton in the future.
#2 Declan Rice | West Ham United
Declan Rice is, much like Soucek, one of the primary reasons behind West Ham's push for Champions League football this season. The English midfielder has had a fantastic season so far, putting in brilliant displays from West Ham's engine room week in week out.
Playing as a more defensive-minded midfielder alongside Soucek, Rice has shown an incredible reading of the game and an excellent passing range. The 22-year-old had a superb 2019/20 campaign and has arguably been even better this year, forming a formidable partnership with Soucek in the middle of the park and imposing himself on games.
Rice has been strongly linked with a move away from East London, with his former club Chelsea and Manchester United monitoring his situation. Regardless of where his future lies, he deserves immense credit for what he's helped West Ham achieve so far.
#1 Jack Grealish | Aston Villa
Jack Grealish has arguably been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. The Villa captain was always viewed as one of the most talented English players in the league so far, but it was over the course of 2020/21 that he's displayed what he's truly capable of.
Manager Dean Smith tweaked his position on the pitch and allowed him to play with more freedom and creativity, and Grealish has repaid his faith in him. He's only managed to play 23 games across all competitions this year, but has scored seven goals and set up a further 12 in this period. The Villa captain's ability to pick up the ball and drive at defences time and again is simply surreal to watch.
Grealish is one of the best dribblers in the Premier League and manages to ghost past people like they aren't even there. He's also drawn more fouls than anyone in the league since last season, proving how difficult he is to stop. There is no doubt that Grealish is set to play a mighty important role for club and country in subsequent campaigns.