The phrase "reassuringly expensive" once launched a lager advertising campaign and has more recently become synonymous with high-quality excellence across an eclectic assortment of fields. Along with buyers of designer clothes, fine wine, six-star hotel rooms and £60,000 kitchens, Premier League football managers are frequently open to the concept's powers of seduction.

Sometimes they do get precisely what they pay for but the disconcerting thing about England's top tier right now is that for every Yaya Touré there seems to be a Jordan Henderson, and for every Sergio Agüero an Andy Carroll.

The trick is to differentiate between authentic brilliance and over-hyped journeymen. After all, a special band of elite players apart, the great majority of professionals operating in the Premier League are often of a surprisingly similar standard.

Inevitably some end up over-priced and others undervalued. Just as the fashion stylist Gok Wan based an entire television series around asking audiences to guess – often incorrectly – which of two models was wearing a £50 outfit and which had donned a £250 designer version, neutrals are often hard pressed to tell a £10m man and a £2m signing apart.

"There's a lot of unfounded snobbishness about players who come to the Premier League from the lower divisions," Alan Pardew, Newcastle United's manager, says. "There's definitely a snobbish opinion that lower-division players will not be good enough if they step up. It's not one I share; there are players in the Championship, League One and below who can succeed at a higher level."

For proof, there is no need to look further than resolutely low-budget Norwich City and Swansea City whose teams of unknowns continue to impress after winning promotion from the Championship last summer.

Nine Januaries ago Swansea were bottom of the Football League and Arsenal top of the Premier League but, last Sunday, Brendan Rodgers's side not only beat Arsène Wenger's team 3-2 at the Liberty Stadium but, courtesy of a distinctly Barcelona-esque approach, frequently out-passed them. Even more remarkably, collectively Swansea's players boasted next to no previous top-flight experience.

Until recently, individuals such as Michael Vorm, Angel Rangel, Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Leon Britton and Danny Graham were hardly household names but today they sit 10th in the Premier League, one place and two points behind Norwich, who were themselves in League One two years ago.

"Lots of our players had seen their talent previously overlooked," says Rodgers who, like his Norwich counterpart, Paul Lambert, is making light of the supposed chasm between the Championship and the Premier League. "But then the traditional British outlook on players is that they have to be over six foot, quick and strong."

At 5ft 5in, Britton – who has played in all four divisions for Swansea – is delighting in deconstructing the notion that foreign imports inevitably enjoy a monopoly on technical ability. In terms of passing accuracy, Britton's 93.3% success rate this season tops that of Barcelona's Xavi (93%). "Leon is the catalyst behind everything for us," Rodgers says. "He's the door which opens lots of things up."

After joining Arsenal's academy as a nine-year-old, Britton attended the former FA school of excellence at Lilleshall. On leaving he was sold to West Ham for £400,000, then a record for a 16-year-old, but failed to make the grade at Upton Park. "Rightly or wrongly Arsène Wenger was starting to bring in a lot of foreign players at Arsenal at that time," the midfielder says.

Although Britton was something of a child prodigy he contests the view that players cannot be coached to pass with invention and incision. "At Swansea we do a lot of two v two, three v three and four v four passing sessions in training, all in very tight areas," he says. "It improves people dramatically."

Lambert's coaching seems to have performed similar wonders with a Norwich side who won 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion last Saturday. Four players who contributed to that victory – Zak Whitbread, Russell Martin, Wes Hoolahan and the 30-year-old former tyre-fitter Grant Holt – were regulars in Norwich's League One promotion campaign, while eight other members of Lambert's squad for that match played for other League One clubs two years ago.

The winning goal came from Holt's attacking partner, Steve Morison. A £2.8m buy from Millwall last summer, the 28-year-old previously played at non-league level with Bishop's Stortford and Stevenage. "At Norwich we've got a lot of lads like Steve who've had setbacks in their careers," Holt says. "We're enjoying showing people that we're good enough to be in the Premier League."