Football Features

The six Premier League players who were ever-present in 2020

By Ben Green

Published: 9:57, 6 January 2021 | Updated: 10:46, 13 January 2021

While there have been cries for a Premier League winter break in the past and calls for the introduction of five substitutes to combat the congested schedule this season, there are some players who seemingly need no rest.

Across the calendar year six players were ever-present for their clubs, thumbing their noses at the frenzy of modern schedules and rotational policies. These workaholics were having none of it when the manager contemplated keeping them on ice for that big game.

Week in, week out these lads were putting in the hard yards and defying the strain of playing 90 minutes. Injuries happen, suspensions crop up and tactics change, but these lot weathered the storm in 2020 and stretched every sinew to the last second.

So, who were the Premier League’s ever-present in 2020, and just how important are they to their respective clubs?

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Declan Rice (West Ham)

Games played: 35

Minutes: 3,150

If the papers would have you believe it Declan Rice is already a Chelsea player, but those of a West Ham persuasion will tell you he is a future captain and legend-in-the-making. Our crystal ball still thinks Zinedine Zidane and Robert Lewandowski are joining Blackburn Rovers at some point, so don’t ask us!

Future discussion aside and Rice is without question the linchpin of what is now a stable side under David Moyes. Far from a teacher’s pet the Scot would be bonkers to drop Rice given his form as a stand-in skipper to Mark Noble and the perfect foil to midfield partner Tomas Soucek, as a now irrepressible No. 8.

Since making his debut under Slaven Bilic in 2017, the 13-capped England international has been near undroppable under the Croat, his successor Moyes Mk1, Manuel Pellegrini, and Moyes Mk2. Yet to get injured or suspended, Rice played more minutes in 2020 than any other Premier League player.

James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

Games played: 34

Minutes: 3,060

Football Index value: £0.78 (Sell) £0.97 (Buy)

Danny Ings may be the goalscoring fiend and Jannik Vestergaard the man-mountain marshalling the backline, but James Ward-Prowse is the nucleus of the side, breaking Matt Le Tissier records at sheer will and taking his David Beckham tribute act up and down the country.

Like Rice, Ward-Prowse played every single minute of 2019/20 and has done so this season. But unlike Rice he has not gone his entire career unblemished, sustaining a fractured foot which kept him out of action for 10 weeks in 2014, though he does have five years on West Ham’s midfield talisman.

Since then has been a consistent part of the Southampton furniture, but has truly risen to prominence under Ralph Hasenhuttl as the metronomic force and set-piece specialist in the Saints ascent. The captain works in harmony with midfield destroyer Oriol Romeu, and could be the key to a European assault this term.

George Baldock (Sheffield United)

Games played: 34

Minutes: 3,060

Football Index value: £0.54 (Sell) £0.83 (Buy)

It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde 2020 for Sheffield United, finishing last campaign in ninth on their return to top-flight football, before proving that ‘second season syndrome’ actually is a thing with their woeful start to this season. The Blades are still winless in 16 attempts.

But, if Chris Wilder’s side have been inconsistent with their performances, at least they have been consistent with their personnel, as George Baldock has been there throughout the zenith of last season’s ninth-placed finish and the nadir of this season’s basement dwelling.

Known to Wilder during their time together at Oxford United, Baldock is simply crucial to Sheff Utd’s overlapping centre-back system, combing a high work ethic with his no-nonsense tackling ability to give the club plenty of energy down the right flank.

Alex McCarthy (Southampton)

Games played: 34

Minutes: 3,060

Football Index value: £0.22 (Sell) £0.29 (Buy)

As you would probably expect there are more than a couple of goalkeepers on this list, but it was a 50/50 split in 2020 between the men between the sticks and outfield players, which may come as a bit of a surprise. But, first up among the shot-stoppers is another Saint.

Alex McCarthy (who actually missed Southampton’s first match of 2021) has endured a bit of a nomadic existence in English football to date, playing for no fewer than 12 clubs (eight of those loans) and featuring in the top six divisions on these shores, from Team Bath in the Conference South to Reading, Crystal Palace and now Southampton in the Premier League.

And while his CV may resemble the third round draw of the EFL Cup, there is nothing scattergun about his form between the sticks for Southampton. Capped once for England in 2018, there are now calls for Gareth Southgate to hand the 31-year-old more regular playing time at international level.

Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)

Games played: 34

Minutes: 3,060

Football Index value: £0.27 (Sell) £0.35 (Buy)

Kasper Schmeichel recently matched his father, Peter, for most appearances made at a single English club for Danish goalkeepers (398). That dynasty has proven fruitful both in the North West and the East Midlands, with the duo lifting six Premier League titles between them.

Kasper was ever-present in three consecutive seasons for the Foxes in the Championship between 2011 and 2014 as the club earned promotion to the top flight; he was then ever-present in that fairytale Premier League win; and has now not missed a single game since the start of 2018/19.

Rui Patricio (Wolves)

Games played: 34

Minutes: 3,060

Football Index value: £0.22 (Sell) £0.30 (Buy)

Rui Patricio has been arguably the best signing of the Nuno Espirito Santo era, having missed just one Premier League game since moving to the Molineux from Sporting CP in 2018, which came during his maiden campaign.

To combat the expected aerial bombardment of Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, Espirito Santo decided to kill two birds with one stone by deploying the taller John Ruddy, as well as sharpening his cup ‘keeper for a EFL Cup quarter-final clash with Man Utd just two weeks later. They won both games.