Over the years, the Premier League has been lit up by many sublimely talented footballers who grab the headlines week in and week out. Each team has its own set of media-darlings and hyped footballers, and their performances are often written about in exaggerated terms, glorifying their achievements. However, every team also has a few footballers that work as hard as everyone, if not more, and still slip under the radar. These are the unheralded heroes that do the dirty work behind the scenes, and are often not given the recognition they so deserve. Usually such players are defensive midfielders or even wide players who do not necessarily contribute directly with goals and assists but are still vital for the team’s overall attacking system.
Not getting appreciated for your hard work isn’t exactly the best thing that can happen to a footballer. So big props to these underrated stars who are absolutely vital for their respective clubs, and their true value is only realized when they aren’t available to play.
The following list is in alphabetical order.
20 Arsenal – Olivier Giroud
One of the most maligned strikers in Premier League history, Olivier Giroud has cut a lethargic figure ever since he made his big move from Montpellier. He has been guilty of missing several gilt-edged chances despite playing in front of one of the most productive and creative midfields in the land. There’s only one problem with this accusation though – he’s actually not that bad!
19 Bournemouth – Nathan Aké
The on-loan Chelsea defender is a brilliant versatile youngster, capable of playing anywhere in defense as well as in holding midfield. Extremely comfortable on the ball, the Dutch youngster was once highly rated at Chelsea before typically being loaned out to several lower league sides. Even at Bournemouth, his loan deal was about to be cut short, as he was not deemed fit enough to start for the club in their first 11 games of the season.
18 Burnley – Michael Keane
Solid center back Michael Keane has been very impressive this season, despite Burnley languishing in the bottom half of the table. The defender was chucked out of Manchester United as a youngster after being deemed not good enough, and several unsuccessful loan spells followed. However, he finally found his calling at Turf Moor, and is now established as a crowd favorite, though criminally underrated beyond the club.
17 Chelsea - Pedro Rodriguez
Probably a surprise inclusion on this list, considering he is one of the most decorated footballers in the world currently, courtesy of five La Ligas and three Champions League medals with FC Barcelona. Pedro was expected to light up the Premier League following his $28 million transfer last summer. Many Premier League fans actually doubted his true abilities and considered him a bit overrated. They were proven right initially as the Spanish winger had a stinker of a season last term. The overall negativity surrounding Chelsea’s dismal form led to people dismissing Pedro as another expensive flop.
16 Crystal Palace - James McArthur
One of the most solid and reliable defensive midfielders in the game today, James McArthur has been the heartbeat of a free scoring Crystal Palace team this season. One of those players who aren’t valued a lot till they are unavailable to play, McArthur is adored by the Crystal Palace faithful. A perfect combination of tenacity and technique, McArthur is responsible for linking Palace’s defense with their attack.
15 Everton - Gareth Barry
Once the heartbeat of an exciting Aston Villa side, where everything positive in attack came through him, Gareth Barry proceeded to become one of the most underrated footballers in the history of the Premier League following his big move to Manchester City. As age slowed him down, Barry took on an unconventional role of a defensive midfielder/destroyer for City and played some of his best football there, despite never being mentioned in the same breath as other world class talents such as Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva etc.
14 Hull City - Robert Snodgrass
Hull City recruited several big name stars in the last few seasons, meaning that Scottish international Robert Snodgrass had several players ahead of him in the popularity charts at the club. While the likes of Shane Long have already departed, and the highly rated Abel Hernandez failing to perform in the Premier League, Robert Snodgrass has stepped up to the challenge and has already scored 4 goals this season.
13 Leicester City - Marc Albrighton
One of the unsung heroes of Leicester’s unprecedented dream run to the title last season, Albrighton has been a brilliant servant for the club over the last two years. Though last season he pitched in with numerous goals and assists in the first few games, Albrighton was one of the few players who were completely overlooked primarily because of the electric form of mercurial Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez. The biggest proof that he is severely underrated is that he was overlooked for England’s Euro 2016 squad, while the likes of Andros Townsend made the cut, an atrocity in the eyes of many fans.
12 Liverpool - Emre Can
Liverpool have been a finely oiled attacking machine under Jurgen Klopp, topping the scoring charts in the league this season. While their attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho often get all the plaudits, a lot of other players work very hard to provide them with the final ball. While previously underrated stars such as Adam Lallana have finally gotten their dues, young German midfielder Emre Can remains criminally underrated at the heart of The Reds’ midfield.
11 Manchester City - Ilkay Gundogan
Manchester City’s summer recruit Ilkay Gundogan has had to suffer being underrated throughout his career so far. At Dortmund, his performances were always overshadowed by the brilliance of Marco Reus and Aubameyang, while for the national team, the likes of Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze always commanded more attention for their performances.
10 Manchester United - Antonio Valencia
The Ecuadorian has been on United’s books since 2009, after a stunning season with Wigan led to a big money move to Old Trafford. Though he had a brilliant start to his United career, winning the club’s players’ player of the year as well as the fans’ player of the year awards in only his second season, Valencia’s career soon turned upside down.
9 Middlesbrough - George Friend
Nicknamed ‘Gentleman George’ for his affable nature and positive playing style, Friend is one of the most impressively consistent defenders currently in the Premier League. Amongst the newly promoted sides, Boro was the most fancied club, and all the attention was on their big new signing Alvaro Negredo. However, much of the credit for their promotion goes to their back four, of which Friend was a massive component.
8 Southampton - Steven Davis
Probably the most underrated midfielder in the Premier League, Steven Davis has been a mainstay of several impressive Southampton lineups ever since they gained promotion back into the Premier League. The central midfielder has made more than 150 Premier League appearances for The Saints since joining them on a four-year deal in 2012, and his consistent performances throughout led to an improved three-year deal in 2016.
7 Stoke City - Jonathan Walters
One of the hardest working players in the Stoke setup over the years, Walters has never been given the recognition he so deserves. A true warrior who wears his heart on his sleeve, the Irishman is a firm fan favorite at the Bet365 Stadium, however he is not rated much outside Stoke.
6 Sunderland - Jermain Defoe
Probably the most underrated striker in Premier League history, Jermain Defoe was born to score goals, no matter which club he plays for. Defoe was actually overrated at one point of his career, when he was in his prime for Tottenham Hotspur, and was England’s first choice striker for several major international tournaments. However, the moment he finally left the Premier League for a lucrative contract in the Major League Soccer with Toronto FC, he was considered to be past his prime by many football pundits in England.
5 Swansea City - Jack Cork
The former Chelsea youngster has truly made Swansea his home now. Swansea are renowned for playing a fluid brand of football, keeping possession and indulging in short-swift passing attacks, and Cork is often the heartbeat of everything that goes around in the Welsh club’s midfield. One of the finest defensive midfielders on his day, Cork is criminally underrated, probably because of the tag of being a Chelsea reject hanging on his head.
4 Tottenham Hotspur - Heung-min Son
South Korean playmaker Heung-min Son had a roller coaster campaign last season, while Mauricio Pochettino’s other youngsters were having the season of their lives. Though he did contribute 8 goals for Spurs’ cause, he often slipped under the radar and wasn’t regarded as a regular starter for the club. He was so concerned about his lack of playing time that he actually sought the manager’s permission to leave the club in the summer of 2016.
3 Watford - Valon Behrami
The Swiss midfielder is a huge asset for Walter Mazzari’s impressive Watford side. While new signing Pereyra grabbed most of the headlines as the big fish in a small club, it was left to Behrami to do all the dirty work in the middle of the park. Etienne Capoue’s unprecedented goal-scoring form has also overshadowed Behrami’s consistent performances in defensive midfield.
2 West Brom - Claudio Yacob
West Brom have had a brilliant campaign so far, and are currently in 7th place just a point behind Manchester United. While the likes of Jonny Evans and Gareth Mcauley have been significantly praised in the media for their solid defensive performances, one man who hasn’t quite hit the headlines is defensive midfielder Claudio Yacob.
1 West Ham United - Mark Noble
West Ham’s talismanic captain has been a crucial first team player for several seasons now. Despite several managerial changes, Noble has always been every new manager’s go to man in midfield and has performed consistently in the middle of the park throughout his career. His inspirational form last season led to West Ham finishing a respectable 6th in the league, as the midfielder notched up a career best 7 goals. His tenacity in the middle of the park and his ability to break up play and begin counter attacks make him a vital cog in the Hammer’s setup.
While he is revered by the Hammers’ faithful, Noble hasn’t quite got the sort of attention he deserves. He is often overlooked whenever there is a list of the top midfielders in the league and he was also considered not worthy enough of a spot in England’s Euro 2016 squad earlier this year, a decision which led to widespread shock and anger.
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