The Premier League is rife with big name stars that stand out for their respective teams week on week. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah find themselves discussed at length by football pundits, journalists and fans alike on a frequent basis.
However, what about the other players in the league. The players who quietly go about their business but in many ways are no less crucial to their club than the players whose shadow they often find themselves in. This post guides you through the Premier League’s most underrated players, with one player from each club taking the limelight their performances deserve.
Arsenal have had their fair share of defensive issues over the past few years and this year is no different in that respect. However, one positive has been the addition of Gabriel to their back line. The 23 year-old has looked the most solid of the Arsenal defence despite it being his first season in England and has even popped up with two league goals in the process. Had it not been for Gabriel, Arsenal may well find themselves in a far worse position and with William Saliba’s Arsenal career getting off to a rocky start, having been sent out on loan, it could be that Gabriel is the future stalwart in Arsenal’s defence.
Aston Villa have looked a completely transformed side this season and are a far cry from the team that scraped Premier League survival last season. Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins understandably get a lot of the headlines but one man that has been vital to his side’s form is Ezri Konsa. The young centre back joined Aston Villa from Brentford in 2019 and had a tough first season in the Premier League last season, as did a number of his teammates. However, this season he has formed a formidable partnership with Mings and with Matty Cash and Matt Targett at fullback, and Emiliano Martinez in goal, Villa’s defence is in very safe hands.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Solly March has been at Brighton for a decade and has made 186 league appearances for the Seagulls in that time. March made his debut for the club in the Championship in 2013 and has been a key component of their time in the Premier League. However, March often found himself in and out of the starting line up since they made their Premier League debut in 2017.
It is only this season under Graham Potter’s guidance that the 26 year-old has become one of the first names on the Brighton team sheet, adapting from being a direct winger to an energetic wing-back to fit Potter’s system. March injured his knee in Brighton’s impressive 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the start of February and is expected to face a lengthy spell on the side lines which is a huge blow to a Brighton team that finds themselves at the wrong end of the Premier League table, and with little natural alternatives in the left wing-back position.
When Josh Brownhill signed for Burnley from Bristol City in January 2020 he came with a glowing reputation as an impressive Championship player. It was strange, then, that it took him a while to break into the Burnley starting line up. However, Sean Dyche is particular about what he wants from his midfielders and is often a low risk manager in terms of throwing players in at the deep end. Since then, though, Brownhill has made sure that Dyche can’t ignore him when selecting his team. Brownhill has 20 Premier League appearances to his name already this season and has impressed in both central midfield and on the right of a compact midfield.
You don’t have Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea on your CV without being a very talented player. However, Matteo Kovacic rarely gets the plaudits his performances deserve. He could perhaps add more goals and assists to his game but in terms of ball retention and technique he is becoming a very important player for Chelsea. His 63 caps for Croatia at international level, a team with an abundance of quality in midfield, is further evidence of his qualities. At 26, Kovacic is approaching his prime and will be hoping to become one of the first names on the team sheet for club and country.
Cheikhou Kouyate is the definition of an unsung hero. His transfer from West Ham to Crystal Palace in the summer of 2018 went very much under the radar, despite the reported £9.5 million fee. Since being at Palace he has played 88 Premier League games and the midfielder has more recently adapted his game to become a very capable centre-back, often starting in this unfamiliar role ahead of more natural central defenders in James Tomkins and Scott Dann. His 129 league appearances for West Ham prior to the move across London further evidence his ability to perform at the top level.
While Ben Godfrey’s initial £20 million transfer fee, paid by Everton to Norwich in October 2020, suggests that he is a highly rated player, this was a transfer that went somewhat under the radar. This owes a lot to the arrivals of James Rodriguez and Allan, from Real Madrid and Napoli respectively. However, Godfrey has forced his way into the side, whether that be by adapting to play right back, or more recently left back, or the rare occasions that Ancelotti has allowed him to play centre back. There is no doubt that the 23 year-old will secure a spot in his favoured centre back position in the near future and will be a top defender for many years to come. If he maintains his impressive form he could find himself with an outside chance of being included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, having previously made seven appearances for the U21 side.
Bobby Cordova-Reid’s first spell in the Premier League ended in misery as his Cardiff side were relegated in the 2018/19 season. Unless Fulham can pull off a great escape under Scott Parker’s management it looks likely that his second spell could end the same way. However, this will be no fault of Cordova-Reid’s. The Jamaica international made his name as a striker and scored five league goals for Cardiff in the aforementioned Premier League season. This season he has scored five league goals already, made even more impressive by the fact Parker has utilised him in a right wing-back role for much of the season. With Fulham now only three points behind Newcastle following an upturn in form, Cordova-Reid will be a key figure in the battle for survival.
Stuart Dallas has spent the majority of his career as a winger so the fact that he is impressing on a weekly basis at full back in the Premier League is testament to the way he’s adapted his game. Marcelo Bielsa is as far from conventional as football managers get and his demanding nature and fluid philosophy mean that individuals must evolve their game or move on. Dallas has bought into this and still often finds himself in a midfield role when required. His efforts have paid off as now, as a 29 year-old, he is playing at the highest level of his career in the Premier League and has four goals and two assists to his name. The Northern Ireland international, capped 53 times by his country, will be hoping that this is just the start of his Premier League journey.
Released by Aston Villa in 2014, Marc Albrighton’s story is typical of the Leicester City fairytale Premier League win of 2015/16. The winger played in every game of the Foxes Premier League winning season and has made 274 Premier League appearances in total. Despite this, he still remains an underrated part of the Leicester side. He has slotted in at right wing-back on a number of occasions as well as his more natural position of on the wing and is one of the most hardworking players in the league. There is no doubt that his Leicester teammates appreciate his work but it is time he was recognised more widely for his impact.
‘Gini’ Wijnaldum is loved at Liverpool. When the Dutchman signed from Newcastle United in 2016 the signing was not met with a great deal of excitement from his new club’s fans. Fast forward four-and-a-half years and Wijnaldum is a Champions League, Premier League and Club World Cup winner. His role in each success should not be undermined. He is a vital cog in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool machine and if he is available then generally he plays, such is his importance. He doesn’t tend to play the Hollywood pass or score a wonder goal but he keeps Liverpool ticking and pops up with vital goals for the Reds. With his contract due to expire in the summer there is talk of a reunion with former Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman at Barcelona. It may be that many people don’t realise his impact until he’s gone.
It is difficult to be underrated when you play for one of the best sides in the world but Bernardo Silva is just that. He was a key part of Manchester City’s 100 point Premier League winning season and his lesser involvement last season undoubtedly coincided with City’s poor title defence. Back in favour in Pep Guardiola’s more pragmatic City side, Silva is again showing his quality. He mixes hard work with technical ability and is a very gifted dribbler, often gliding past opponents. The Portugal international has 21 goals and 21 assists in his time in the Premier League so far and is integral to City’s midfield, particularly now his namesake David Silva has moved on to Real Sociedad.
Scott McTominay is a throwback of a central midfielder. Aggressive, physical and full of energy he is always a nuisance for the opposition and an underappreciated player for Manchester United. He doesn’t start every game but he is almost always trusted in the biggest games by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which is evidence of his importance to his side. He has been used primarily as a defensive midfielder in his time in the first team but has recently developed into more of a box-to-box midfield player. This season he has started to add more goals to his game with seven in all competitions so far this season. He is far more able technically than he is given credit for and allows the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to express themselves. He is sure to continue to be an important player for United and his selfless attitude is something many of the club’s fans will find endearing.
Newcastle United have struggled under Steve Bruce this season, with large portions of their fanbase tired by the perceived lack of ambition to his playing style. Especially when you consider that, compared to recent managers, Bruce has been given a sizeable transfer budget. One player who often goes under the radar at Newcastle is a player that Bruce adopted, Fabian Schar. Schar is currently side lined with ruptured knee ligaments and, with his contract due to expire in the summer, fans will be worried that he may have played his last game for the Magpies. The 29 year-old has played 58 times for Switzerland scoring eight times. He has scored six Premier League goals for Newcastle as well, showing his impact in both boxes. However, his most notable goal for the club came from outside the box, a powerful thirty-yard strike in a 2-0 win over Burnley.
Sheffield United have come crashing down to Earth this season after a shock ninth-place finish in their return to the Premier League last season. This season they find themselves bottom of the table and 14 points off safety with 13 games to play. Despite the obvious troubles, some of their players have still impressed this season, although perhaps not as much as last. John Fleck is one such player. The four-times capped Scotland international always injects energy into the Sheffield United midfield and has a decent left foot to compliment his hard-work. He has chipped in with two assists this season in the league but is yet to get off the mark in terms of goals which will disappoint him after netting five goals in 2019/20. Should the Blades be relegated, as it looks they inevitably will, there are sure to be a number of clubs in the market for Fleck.
Danny Ings is the primary goalscorer and thus main man at Southampton. James Ward-Prowse is arguably the best set-piece taker in the Premier League. However, Stuart Armstrong is perhaps one of the most underrated players in England’s top flight. The Scotsman joined Southampton in 2018 and struggled initially to get in the side, unable to hold down a position in central midfield or as a number ten.
Since Hasenhuttl reverted to his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation Armstrong has thrived. Usually found in the right-sided number ten position, Armstrong is often tasked with driving the Saints forward and breaking the lines. As an unorthodox inverted winger he has licence to pop up anywhere across the frontline in Hasenhuttl’s fluid system and always has an eye for goal. His 11 goals in his three Premier League seasons evidence of this.
Giovani Lo Celso
Despite the fact that he joined Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2019, initially on loan, it feels as though Giovani Lo Celso is yet to have a proper run in the team. It took a while for Mauricio Pochettino to give Lo Celso his chance and he has found himself in and out of the team under Jose Mourinho. He has been unfortunate with injuries in that time too, but if the 24 year-old manages to keep himself fit for a prolonged period of time and gains his manager’s trust he could become a very important player for Tottenham.
He is an attacking midfielder with an industrious side and the ability to play deeper which you would think would be a quality that Mourinho would appreciate. He is technically very good and a strong dribbler with a cultured left-foot. However, his numbers aren’t yet good enough, especially when you consider he is the most similar player in the Tottenham squad to the now departed Christian Eriksen. The Argentine didn’t manage a Premier League goal last season and only has one to his name this season but has managed four goals in the Europa League which shows he does have an eye for goal. Should he improve his goals and assists frequency he could become far more influential in this Tottenham side.
West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion may be having a disappointing season following their promotion from the Championship but one man that is standing out for them is goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. The 27 year-old former Manchester United ‘keeper may have only kept three clean sheets in the Premier League this season but that is through little fault of his own. It is likely West Brom would already be dead and buried in their fight for survival had it not been for Johnstone’s heroics. With England’s third goalkeeper spot up for grabs it could be that Johnstone forces his was into Gareth Southgate’s plans come the summer.
West Ham United
When Craig Dawson signed for West Ham as a free agent in the summer fans of other clubs could be forgiven for not knowing the deal had happened. The former Watford and West Brom defender went very much under the radar and had to bide his time to get his chance at the Hammers. Since getting into the side in January the 30 year-old has been a rock in the centre of the West Ham defence, keeping five clean sheets in his ten consecutive Premier League appearances. Dawson has also popped up with two goals in this time, ensuring that he is now a vital member of David Moyes’ rejuvinated side.
When Leander Dendoncker signed for Wolves from Anderlecht in 2018 he was a central midfielder. He has played a number of games in that position for Wolves but more recently he has dropped into the back three, marshalled by Conor Coady, and excelled. Dendoncker stands at 6 foot 2 so doesn’t struggle with the aerial pressures of the role, while his midfield background means that he is very comfortable on the ball and can pick passes into the midfield. He doesn’t get many of the plaudits when Wolves are discussed but he is undoubtedly a very important player for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. The 25 year-old’s 12 senior Belgium caps are further proof of his ability, especially when you consider the quality in the Belgian midfield.