ChampionshipFootballPremier League

Ryan Baldi: “There are players whose futures almost certainly reside in the top tier”

April 27, 2022

As the Premier League season draws toward its conclusion, the battle for top-flight survival is growing tense for those still contesting it.

The bottom two, Norwich and Watford, are almost certainly condemned to the drop, while Everton and Burnley are locked in a tussle for safety.

Within every struggling team, though, there are players whose futures almost certainly reside in the top tier. Here are five players from relegation-threatened sides the remaining Premier League clubs should consider targeting.


Emmanuel Dennis – Watford

Nigerian international Emmanuel Dennis has been the bright light of an otherwise forgettable season for Watford. With five games remaining, the second-from-bottom Hornets are seven points from safety. Their swift return to the Championship is almost guaranteed, but it is unlikely Dennis will be following them down.

The versatile forward – capable of playing on either wing or centrally as a striker – has notched an impressive return of 10 Premier League goals this term, while also contributing six assists. Only seven players have been directly involved in more league goals in 2021-22, all of whom play for top-six clubs. Dennis is reportedly a £20m target for Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal. He will also surely have plenty of Premier League interest, should he wish to remain in England’s top tier.


James Tarkowski – Burnley

Burnley might yet fight their way out of relegation trouble to survive another season in the Premier League. The Clarets, who recently controversially parted with long-time manager Sean Dyche, are battling with Everton to finish above the drop zone.

But if Burnley do go down, experienced centre-back James Tarkowski will find himself on the summer wish lists of several clubs still in the division. The 29-year-old has two England caps and nearly 200 top-flight appearances to his name. He is powerful in the air and a commanding presence at the heart of Burnley’s old-school defensive set-up, but he is also comfortable in possession and able to thrive within a system that values playing out from the back.

Richarlison – Everton

It’s fair to say Richarlison hasn’t totally delivered on expectations since his 2018 move to Everton from Watford in a deal worth up to £50m. After solid-if-unspectacular returns of 13 league goals in each of his first two seasons at Goodison Park, he managed just seven last term and appears unlikely to hit double figures again in 2021-22.

But the 24-year-old’s talent in unquestionable, plus he has youth – he’s still only 24 years old – and versatility in his locker. His performances on the international stage – where he has 13 goals in 34 senior caps for Brazil and has been part of Copa America and Olympic triumphs – hint at what he could achieve if surrounded by higher-calibre players.

Should Everton suffer a previously unthinkable drop to the Championship this season, several clubs with European ambitions should consider a swoop for the Brazilian.

Ismaila Sarr – Watford

Sarr looked a star in the making when his 13 goals and four assists helped fire Watford back up to the top flight last season. Injury issues have led to the Senegalese winger suffering a frustratingly inconsistent return to the Premier League, but he has shown enough flashes of brilliance to have earned another shot in the division next season.

Like fellow 24-year-old Richarlison, Sarr has bags of top-level experience for a player still relatively young. He played three full seasons in Ligue 1 before his 2019 switch to Vicarage Road and his 45 international caps include appearances at the 2018 World Cup and a run to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final.

Sarr’s speed and trickery can be breath-taking when he’s in peak form and he has the potential, in the right environment, to improve further. There are rumours of interest from Liverpool, Newcastle United and AC Milan.

Teemu Pukki – Norwich City

Norwich have looked relegation certainties for much of the season. Rooted to the foot of the table as the campaign’s crescendo nears, their return to the Championship is inevitable. If any Norwich player has earned the chance to stay in the top tier, though, it is 32-year-old striker Teemu Pukki.

The Finn was the breakout star of the Canaries’ 2018-19 promotion campaign, in which he scored 29 Championship goals. He followed that with a return of 11 in his first Premier League campaign and he is just one goal shy of matching that figure this season, after having scored 26 last term to get Norwich back into the top tier. His proven track-record of being able to score double figures in the Premier League will make the veteran an attractive proposition for those rising from the Championship this summer and looking for guaranteed goals.