We're now well underway in the 2018/19 Premier League season. As fans already begin to regret their fantasy teams, and clubs begin to see their new acquisitions' true value, a lot of the talk is about players’ value. Is so-and-so overrated? Or perhaps he’s underrated? Maybe he’s just properly rated? You rarely hear about those guys. But 2018 has a couple of added wrinkles. For one, the transfer window was very active before the season began. While it certainly made things interesting, it did add some wrinkles in for managers, as they had less time to evaluate their lineups before the season began. This was compounded by the second wrinkle. 2018 was a World Cup year. Teams do very little transfer business during the World Cup so basically all the clubs are trying to cram in all their transfer business in a period of just a few weeks. And of course we’re bound to see a few players who performed excellently during the World Cup fail to live up to expectations this season.
But player ratings are not just about transfers. There are plenty of players who will stay put whose perceived value among the general soccer watching audience is way off. Some of these are persistent misconceptions and some are overreactions to perceived misconceptions. This list should aim to help you clear up all the confusion and have a better idea of which players really are different makers. Even those who have gotten off to a good start this season may not see their names increase in value. A lot of players may very well prove us wrong by the end of the campaign.
20 Overrated: Hugo Lloris - Tottenham Hotspur
It might seem churlish to pick on the man who just captained his country to World Cup glory, but some people think Hugo Lloris is world class. He isn’t. His baffling gaffe in the World Cup Final was every bit as bad as Loris Karius’s in the Champions League Final. Except Lloris only made one mistake and Karius made two. And Lloris’s team actually won their final.
But Lloris also has a history of random blunders. Remember his error against Sweden that jeopardized France’s qualification for the World Cup?
Don't get us wrong; Lloris is a very good goalkeeper and, evidently, a good captain.
But he’s not a shot-stopper on the level of David de Gea, he’s not a ball distributor on the level of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and he’s not a sweeper-keeper like Manuel Neuer. And he has a problem with dragonflies.
19 Underrated: Olivier Giroud - Chelsea
Another World Cup winner whose value is misunderstood is Olivier Giroud. Giroud has been derided by some for being a World Cup winning striker who scored precisely zero goals for his team en route to victory. In France’s first match, they played with Ousmane Dembélé against Australia and it didn’t really click. Despite being a less flashy and dynamic player than Dembélé, Giroud made France’s formation work. His hold up play, his runs, and his passing were integral to their victory.
Arsenal could yet rue selling the star from France this winter. If Chelsea’s new boss Maurizio Sarri can field a formation that works with Giroud, he could have a very potent attack, even if Giroud rarely scores himself.
18 Overrated: Alexis Sanchez - Manchester United
One move Arsenal fans are unlikely to rue was the straight swap that saw Alexis Sanchez move to Old Trafford in return for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Arsenal were wise not pay Sanchez’s gargantuan wage demands. The 29-year-old forward’s game is based on pace, and that won’t last forever. Furthermore, he seems to enjoy being the man upfront, so his move to Manchester United doesn’t seem to favor his style of play. Lastly, the fact that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward seems to have assembled a squad based more on their marketability than how they’d actually play together, it’s hard to see Sanchez being as impactful a player as he was in North London.
17 Underrated: Raheem Sterling - Manchester City
Raheem Sterling is one of several Three Lions players who acquitted himself very well in Russia. However, as with much of his Manchester City career, many people choose to focus on Sterling’s problems scoring goals. It’s true that Sterling lacks a killer’s instinct in the final third.
He has an unfortunate habit of missing sitters and dribbling into blind alleys.
But, similar to Giroud, Sterling does so much else, except that Sterling’s game is based on his blinding pace and his guile. It’s no coincidence that England began to come apart against both Colombia and Croatia once Sterling was subbed off. Furthermore, Sterling’s expected goals (xG) was only .83 above his actual goal tally last season. This means he only scored less than one goal fewer than he should have.
16 Overrated: Riyad Mahrez - Manchester City
Joining Sterling at The Etihad this season will be Riyad Mahrez. Except, it’s difficult to see when they’ll ever actually be on the pitch together. Mahrez is a very good player and he’s justified in wanting to move on from Leicester City. But in picking one of the best teams in Premier League history, Mahrez has picked a team where he has no clear role. His best role would be, presumably, as a wide forward. But on a team that already boasts Sterling and Leroy Sane in those positions, Mahrez appears to be relegated to the bench.
In Mahrez’s favor is that manager Pep Guardiola has a penchant for reshaping players in other positions. The Algerian international could theoretically work in a midfield three. But that would be as a long term replacement for David Silva.
15 Underrated: Jesse Lingard - Manchester United
Another player whose position is in question is Jesse Lingard. Lingard impressed with the Three Lions playing centrally behind the strikers, with freedom to roam. Under José Mourinho at Manchester United, Lingard is utilized mostly on the wing, where he must compete with the aforementioned Sanchez, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford. When he does get to play centrally, it’s usually as a sub.
There are a lot of problems with how Man United is set up and Mourinho’s tactics, but if Lingard is actually given an extended run in the team, he’s shown that he can prosper. Perhaps a midfield three with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic would be Man United’s best option, but it would only work if Mourinho gave them freedom to operate in their own spaces. Unlikely.
14 Overrated: Petr Čech - Arsenal
You could argue that Petr Čech has been the best goalkeeper in Premier League history. “Has been”. By now, most people probably realize that Čech is not the player he once was. Goalkeepers tend to have longer careers than outfield players, but even at 36, Cech seems to be in the autumn of his career. Even though many recognize that he’s not as great as he once was, they still think he’s quite good. Well…
Last season Arsene Wenger left Čech out for several important matches in favor of David Ospina, a keeper with plenty of his own critics.
We’ll have to see how new Gunners manager Unai Emery feels about his goalkeepers, but it’s entirely possible that Čech’s tenure as a top club goalkeeper is over.
13 Underrated: Ruben Loftus-Cheek - Chelsea
The last on our trio of underrated England internationals is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Unlike Lingard and Sterling, Loftus-Cheek was not a regular starter in Russia. But the Chelsea midfielder acquitted himself very well when deputizing for an injured Dele Alli. Indeed, many fans would have preferred Loftus-Cheek to the mercurial Spurs man.
Loftus-Cheek spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace. Much was made of how much Palace’s success depended on Wilfred Zaha. Zaha was Palace’s best player, but Loftus-Cheek’s important contributions were overlooked. In fact Loftus-Cheek and Zaha were joint EPL leaders last season in being fouled; an average of 2.6 times per match. Loftus-Cheek’s biggest problem will be breaking through a packed Chelsea midfield, but if he’s given a chance, he’ll likely excel.
12 Overrated: Tiémoué Bakayoko - Chelsea
One member of that packed Chelsea midfield is Tiémoué Bakayoko. As a key piece of AS Monaco’s run to the Champions League semi final in 2017, Bakayoko was highly lauded and much was expected of him at Stamford Bridge. He did not deliver. He was far from dependable and a few horror shows in high profile matches may have damaged his reputation beyond repair.
It’s really not fair, because some players need a season to get used to the faster paced Premier League, not to mention living in a different country. Bakayoko could find his 2017 form again. But Stamford Bridge is not a place known for second chances and in a midfield that already includes Loftus-Cheek, N'golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas, Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley (and others) it’s hard to justify Bakayoko keeping his spot.
11 Underrated: Fernandinho - Manchester City
Fernandinho falls pretty neatly into the “Claude Makelele role”, a term used to describe a defensive midfielder’s subtle and underrated role in a team’s success. Marcos Senna for Spain in 2008 and Sergio Busquets for Spain/Barcelona are other noteworthy examples.
While it would be hyperbole to say that Fernandinho drives Manchester City, or his national team, he is an integral part.
Players like Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva or Neymar and Willian can't have the freedom to operate that they have without the defensively solid presence of Fernandinho. But Fernandinho is far from a destroyer. While he can tackle, his true value is his positional play and distribution. Like a lot of great defensive players, his talent his most apparent when he’s absent.
10 Overrated: Gary Cahill - Chelsea
One Three Lions player who failed to boost his reputation in Russia was Gary Cahill. Cahill didn’t play poorly, he just hardly played. National team manager Gareth Southgate rightfully ranked Cahill behind other central defenders, Jon Stones, Harry Maguire, and Kyle Walker (normally a right back). Cahill lost his place in Chelsea’s starting lineup early last season, but won it back by the end. But managing to supplant David Luiz does not make one a top class defender. The 29-year-old’s time as a starter at a top club is over.
Cahill can still do a job for a team, but he doesn’t possess the vision, the positional play, or the ball control to start for a team that’s aiming for the top four and looking to compete in Europe.
9 Underrated: Pascal Groß - Brighton Hove & Albion
Many expected Brighton to struggle last season and to get relegated straight back into the Championship. But Brighton surprised everybody with confident and assured play that got them a safe 15th place finish. And one big reason for Brighton’s success was Pascal Groß. The midfielder scored the Seagulls’ first ever Premier League goal before adding a second and an assist in the same match.
Groß finished joint second for average crosses completed per match in the whole league with 1.8. Add to that his seven goals and eight assists and it starts to become clear that Groß is the main creative driver of Brighton’s success.
8 Overrated: Richarlison - Everton
Watford were a confusing team last season. They came out of the gates flying and no player impressed as much as Richarlison. Then manager Marco Silva got his head turned by Everton and the whole thing went pear shaped. Watford did not allow Silva to sign with Everton but did end up firing him a few weeks later. Watford then slumped to an uninspired 9th place finish and Richarlison was largely anonymous.
Fast forward to today and Richarlison and Silva are reunited at Everton. Will the pair rediscover the magic they had in the autumn of 2017?
Possibly. But declaring Everton’s transfer business this summer a success based on Richarlison are very premature. All Richarlison has shown us at the Premier League level is that he’s capable of a few good months of play.
7 Underrated: Wilfred Ndidi - Leicester City
It’s difficult for players who have come to Leicester since their run to the Premier League Title in 2015-16 to get noticed. Harder still for them to get noticed for anything positive. We still all love to focus on Vardy, Mahrez, Schmeichel and co. But as that cinderella team is broken apart, we should focus on who’s making Leicester tick now. Harry Maguire has managed to get noticed thanks to his England performances. (Also he’s huge, so it’s hard to miss him).
But perhaps the man to whom we should really be paying attention is Wilfred Ndidi. The midfielder led the league with an average of 4.2 tackles a game. While tackles aren’t always a sign of defensive solidity, for a team like Leicester who plays on the counter, Ndidi’s tackles are crucially important.
6 Overrated: Fabian Delph - Manchester City
Last season everybody marvelled at how Pep Guardiola converted ostensible midfielder Fabian Delph into a left wingback after the injury to Benjamin Mendy. Delph was rightly lauded for his performances and was picked for England largely because of his newfound versatility. But people got carried away, as they often do.
Delph played well in an unfamiliar position. That’s it. He was playing left wingback on Manchester City, a team that averaged an unprecedented 71.2% possession, so his defensive prowess was rarely tested. Even still, other big teams clearly targeted Delph as City’s weak point. Remember how Mo Salah vs. Fabian Delph turned out? Delph will likely be relegated to the bench this season with the return of Mendy.
5 Underrated: Ederson - Manchester City
Because Manchester City does usually enjoy so much possession, their goalkeeper is rarely tested. As such, City cares more about a keeper’s positional play and distribution than his shot stopping. And this is true of most goalkeeper’s at top clubs, with notable exceptions like David de Gea.
Many have pointed to Ederson being behind Alisson Becker in Brazil's national set-up as a sign that he’s not that good.
With Alison moving to Liverpool we’ll get a better chance to compare the two this season, but the truth is Ederson is everything Man City needs. He can make saves when he has to, he’s comfortable on the ball when pressured, and for those rare times when Guardiola wants his goalkeeper to kick it long, Ederson has a sledgehammer for a foot.
4 Overrated: Marko Arnautović - West Ham United
To the surprise of critics, David Moyes did quite well when hired by West Ham last autumn and the Hammers finished 13th. The most apparent effect that Moyes had on the side was reinvigorating Marko Arnautović. The big Austrian forward had a subpar season for Stoke the year before and had done very little since arriving at the London Stadium. But under Moyes, Arnautović found his shooting boots again and finished the season with eleven goals.
But there are two problems. First, Moyes is gone; will new boss Manuel Pellegrini be able to get the same out of Arnautović? Second, Arnautović is notoriously inconsistent. Look at his goal tallies over the years: 4, 2, 11, 6, 11. This year’s far likelier to dip back down than to stay around 11.
3 Underrated: Michy Batshuayi - Chelsea
Michy Batshuayi has a great goals/minutes ratio. He scored eight goals in all competitions in the first half of last season. But, it was clear that Chelsea boss Antonio Conte didn’t favor the Belgian forward as a starter, so he was loaned to Borussia Dortmund. In half a season with the Black and Yellows, Batshuayi dazzled with seven goals.
At Napoli, new Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri turned Belgian wide man Dries Mertens into a prolific goal scorer. Batshuayi already has what it takes to be prolific. He could even play with Giroud, who could hold the ball up for him. But that set-up would presumably require Sarri to drop big money man Álvaro Morata. Oh, and Batshuayi also supplied us with the moment of the 2018 World Cup.
2 Overrated: Jonny Evans - Leicester City
You can’t blame West Bromwich Albion’s relegation on Jonny Evans. There’s really not anything the defender could have done. And Evans is a Premier League-calibre player, so it’s good to see that he’s still in the league. But at Leicester?
The Foxes have a good team, and if they can manage to keep a coach for a whole season, they could secure a Europa League spot. Whether Evans can help them do that remains to be seen.
But last season there was talk of interest in the 30-year-old central defender from both Arsenal and Manchester City. Let’s cool our jets here. Yes, letting Evans go in 2015 was one of Louis Van Gaal’s big mistakes at Man United, but that doesn’t mean Evans is good enough to play consistently for a top-six club today.
1 Underrated: Marouane Fellaini - Manchester United
I can hear the incredulity already. “Marouane Fellaini?! Underrated?!” We far too often associate the value of a player with the skills they display, not their effectiveness. If a player is fast and can dribble, we tend to rate them. But a big lug who can head the ball? That’s negative. That’s “route one football”. That’s “anti-football”.
It’s effective is what it is. Fellaini is José Mourinho’s not-so-secret weapon. A big lad who can head the ball, hold up the ball, and act like a wrecking ball in the opponent’s defensive line can really unsettle them. The problem managers can run into with Fellaini, as Belgium manager Roberto Martinez discovered against France, is when you start with Fellaini as your Plan A, you have no Plan B.