Premier League’s most ‘under-rated’ players

by James Bayley

Below are eleven  of the most underrated Premier League players in my opinion, who are key players for their individual clubs but don’t often get the praise or respect they deserve from the media or pundits in the game.

Goalkeeper

Ben Foster – West Brom

ben-foster_pa_2262660bBen Foster’s performances this season for West Brom have been of a very high level and very often been overshadowed by the performances of bigger name goalkeepers like; De Gea, Joe Hart and Cech. Ben Foster a few seasons ago used be an inconsistent goalkeeper and a big goalkeeping error on the world stage for England saw him dropped.  But  Foster has regained his form and his consistency for West Brom this season has seen him earn his place back in the England squad. Ben Foster hasn’t got the best clean sheet ratio last season but his average claim success ratio is one the best in the league with 97% of crosses which come in, claimed by him.

Foster’s performances have been credited by his own fans and players having won last seasons Fans Player of the Year and Players Player of the Year awards. Maybe after Foster consistency again this season he will be given the praise and respect he earned from the media and pundits in the game? Foster’s stand out performances haven’t gone unnoticed for West Brom this season as he regain a call up to the England squad for the first time since his self-imposed two-year absence from the England squad and his redemption and hard work has been rewarded.

Right-back

Pablo Zabaleta – Man City

Pablo Zabaleta Stoke City v Manchester City - FA Cup Fourth RoundPablo Zabaleta has really come into his own for Manchester City this season, with the 28-year-old securing a permanent starting position in the right-back position for Man City and has arguably been their most consistent player of the season. Zabaleta isn’t the first name on many people’s lips as the league’s best right back but his performances are consistent and reliable.

As a right back, Zabelta this season has improved on his positioning and strength which is his best asset going forward. As a defensive player, Zabaleta averages an incredible 3.8 tackles per game and two interceptions also—completing 85 percent of his passes coming out of defence also.  In attacking positions, Zabaleta has been consistent and chalked up two assists this year and a number of good attacking chances for Man City. This season Zabaleta performances are slowly earning him the praise he deserves as a right back for Man City.

Centre – back

Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal

Laurent-Koscielny_2845166Laurent Koscielny debut season in the Premier League was a learning curve for the French defender who been signed from FC Lorient who been relegated to league 2 in France. Many fans in the game still remember Laurent Koscielny for his error in the Carling Cup final for Arsenal against Birmingham but things change since 2008. This season he’s been instrumental in improving the back four for Arsenal when he has been drafted in by Arsene Wenger ahead of Thomas Vermalen. Koscielny performances in the last part of the season for Arsenal saw his name being linked with a summer move to Barcelona and Bayern Munich but he still is a very underrated defender in the Premier League and is only just receiving the praise he merits from last seasons performances. Koscielny is still prone to making defensive mistakes like most defenders but as Tony Adams has recently been quoted as saying in the media; Koscielny performances last season reminded him of  a certain Martin Keown and praised his solid partnership he formed in defence with Per Mertesacker last season.

The Frenchman has stepped up to the plate and lead Arsenal’s defence in the later part of the season and put them on the track to finish in the top four this season.

In his debut season, Laurent Koscielny form was inconsistent but to be fair to the French defender it takes time for a French player coming into the league to adjust to the pace and difficulity of the english game and Koscielny showed major improvement defensively for Arsenal,  in his defensive work and the aerial department of his game. Laurent Koscileny has improved from 54% to 62% from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012 in terms of aerial duels won. This equals to 1.9 aerial duels per game, over 33 league games he played in. What’s more impressive is that he isn’t the tallest defenders around, but he has stood up to the likes of Ibrahimovic in the Champions League game. Of course all this consistent run of form has gone without much praise for the French defender who still very underrated.

In terms of key tackles, last season Laurent Koscielny won 59 of his 85 attempted tackles, at the rate of 1.78 per game, 15 less than the 100 attempted by Alex Song, who led the club in terms of tackles, at a success rate of 73%. He also committed 33 fouls, at the rate of just one per game which for a defender is an impressive stat.

This season the stats show further improvement by a defender who often been slated and came into severe criticism for his first season in the Premier League bt this season and last season has been Arsenal’s stand out defensive player. Koscielny wins 63% of his one on one duels and compare that to Arsenal’s captain and defender Thomas Vermaelen who highly rated in past seasons has won only 60% of the one on one duels in defence. Koscileny has arguably been Arsenal’s most consistent and overall best goal keeper this season. Laurent Koscielny performances are slowly becoming noticed in Europe with both Barcelona and Bayern rumoured to be interested in signing the Arsenal defender in the summer.

Centre - back

Ashley Williams – Swansea City

untitled122Ashley Williams has had an impressive season as captain of Swansea City, he  proven himself as a leader who lead Swansea to the  first trophy in their club’s history with the League Cup.  A still very underrated defender, who for two seasons now in the Premier League his defensive work and leadership for Swansea City have gone unnoticed and only until recently have fans taken notice of his steady and consistent defensive work.

Williams is a ‘leader of men’ on the pitch as captain for Swansea, he commands the defence and leads with his defensive work and consistency. Williams’ performances this season have surprised a few people and alerted big clubs such as Arsenal and Liverpool of a possible transfer target in the summer. Ashley Williams has the ability to perform his defensive work at a bigger club such as Arsenal, he has shown that consistently for two seasons in the Premier League at Swansea as well as leading them to a trophy on the pitch  and don’t be surprised to see the Welsh international defender signing for one in the summer.

Left – back

Maynor Figueroa – Wigan

1FB66F92A96BE21DA1B4B1992BMaynor Figueroa is a criminally under-rated left back in the Premier League and has arguably been Wigan’s most consistent player in the last few seasons. Maynor Figueroa played his part in keeping Wigan in the Premier League for the last few seasons before there relegation this season. Figueroa’s defensive statistics speak for themselves, winning 67% of his tackles on the ground and going forward, Figueroa has created 15 chances and an average pass rate of 77% which is pretty impressive for a  left back.

If Figueroa was playing for a bigger club then Wigan, his defensive work would be recognised and praised but unlike Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole who get the praise every week, as the best left backs. Maynor Figureoa isn’t on par with Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines but he’s very consistent and reliable because he rarely gets caught out when he pushed forward and makes sure he doesn’t leave his position open which shows the work of a left back who thinks. At only 29 years old still and years of experience in the Premier League, Figueroa is still in his prime and could prove himself at a bigger club and don’t be surprised to see him back in the Premier League next season with a new club, after Wigan’s relegation.

Centre midfield

Michael Carrick – Manchester United 4A7BC8B4C87B4160905217E69736DC95

Michael Carrick is often considered as being the most underrated player in the Premier League, who does the often unnoticed and ‘dirty’ work for Manchester United in the hub of midfield. The statistics prove the point, with Carrick having an 88% average pass accuracy ratio this season and creating 29 chances from midfield.

It’s often the underrated defensive work in midfield which Carrick isn’t given the respect he merits, having only made four defensive errors all season and wins an average of 60% of his defensive duals in midfield.  The EPL index shows that with Carrick, United are conceding 0.4 goals per game and that figure is down by almost half a goal per game on the same criteria from the previous two seasons. Most importantly Carrick is a midfield who can pass effectively without being incisive and has added functionality to his game which is helping ease the burden on the defence for Manchester United.

Michael Carrick was shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year on the back of his performances for Man United last season maybe its the end to his ‘underrated’ status?

Centre – midfield

Mikel Arteta – Arsenal

_65255130_65255129Mikel Arteta has often been labelled as an ‘underrated’ midfielder who defensive work often goes unnoticed most of the time for Arsenal but his role  last season held their midfield together, providing the balance in the centre of midfield and also the ability to lead the team forward. Mikel Arteta had the Premier League’s most  successful pass accuracy last season with , allowing the other two midfielders to perform their jobs effectively for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has become the holding midfielder that Arsenal fans have craved for since the summer of 2008 when Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva left the club. Mikel Arteta hasn’t quite filled in the ‘Vieira Void’ left by Patrick Vieira 8 years ago but he certainly became a very important player for Arsenal this season.

Many Arsenal fans criticised the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona who last season in the Premier League, averaged 1.6 interceptions and 2.9 tackles a match whereas Arteta has averaged 2.4 interceptions and 4.6 tackles a match this season. It seems Arteta has taken the gap filled by Alex Song last season and made it his own Arteta. Arteta is very underrated and in the similar role to Michael Carrick for Man United he plays the ‘mop up’ role in midfield and picks up any lose balls or ends and keeps the play tidy, essentially, a mop up role; he picks up any loose ends and keeps our play tidy. It’s the midfield role which both Mikel Arteta and Michael Carrick for their respective clubs play which is often not praised and why they ‘underrated’ players.

As a passer in midfield Mikel Arteta is one the best in the Premier League with a pass accuracy of 90% this season and just over 40 passes were misplaced, many critics of Arteta’s style of play argue he makes too many short passes but the statistics argue otherwise, he made over 150 long ball passes so far this season and 88.4% of his long passes are accurate. This season Arteta’s shown how important he is for Arsenal in midfield with the lengthy injury of Jack Wilshere, the Spanish midfield has proved to be the Gunners most influential midfield who calm presence on the pitch has steadied the ship for Arsenal. Above anything else Mikel Arteta showed he had leadership qualities and as captain of Arsenal for the second half of the season seemed to pick up the pieces and lead the team to top 4 which seemed an impossible task  for most parts of last season.

Right – midfield

Wayne Routledge – Swansea City

Wayne-Routledge_2850361Wayne Routledge time in the Premier League at various clubs has been something of an enigma with uninspired stints at Tottenham, Aston Villa, Fulham and QPR where he struggled to establish his place in the team and play regularly football. It’s only this season, in the Premier League has Wayne Routledge start to play regularly for Swansea City with 58 games and establishing himself as one of Swansea’s most important players this season.

Routledge performances this season have been often overlooked which probably partly to do with his track record in the Premier League and people in football past opinions on the player at other clubs but his stats have been impressive with an average shot accuracy of 88% and an impressive pass accuracy of 81%, where he created 47 chances on the wing for Swansea City this season

Despite playing half as many minutes in the 2011/12 season as Scott Sinclair for Swansea City, Routledge created as many goals as Sinclair with 4 assists each, but he also created more chances for his minutes on the pitch; 73 minutes per chance created compared to Sinclair’s 101 minutes.

If  you compare Wayne Routledges statistics to regular England internationals such as; Theo Walcott, James Milner, Ashley Young and Alex Chamberlain, Wayne Routledge stats look impressive this season. Routledge comes out on top when looking at total chances created with him making 38 chances for his team this season, as well as being a more accurate crosser than his fellow English wingers with a 29% crossing accuracy which betters; Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, James Miler and Alex Chamberlain’s. As well as making more successful dribbles then Ashley Young and James Milner who regulars for England.

Without doubt Wayne Routledge is a transformed and improved player this season for Swansea who is still very underrated. With Routledge his reputation and form at other clubs in the past still tarnish his consistent and good performances now for Swansea City. Much has been made of Michu impressive debut season for Swansea City, this season in the mainstream media and he has undoubtedly been a brilliant signing for Swansea City but Wayne Routledge you could argue has been Swansea’s most important player and that’s something which you won’t hear many people say in the game. If wasn’t for the chances created by Wayne Routledge, Michu couldn’t have scored half his goals this season you could argue.

Left – midfield

Steven Pienaar – Everton

Steven-Pienaar-Everton-Sp-001Steven Pienaar is a player who been very underrated for many seasons for Everton.  Pienaar’s move to Tottenham a few seasons ago didn’t work out well for the player but since his return to Everton he’s been as consistent and impressive as he was in his early years at Goodson Park. It’s Steven Pienaar combination on the left side with Leighton Baines which is most impressive.

The Toffees have been buoyed by the South Africans return from a spell at Spurs and he’s hitting form at the right time. Pienaar has always flourished under the radar and while not been held in the same regard as other popular wingers but his ability on the left is second to none on his day. Passing, crossing and an eye for goal are all key components of his play. Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini may get the praise for Everton but it’s Steven Pienaar performances on the left wing which has played an important part for Everton this season and kept them competing for a top four finish.

The statistics prove how important Steven Pienaar is for Everton. Pienaar is the key midfield player for Everton who creates the most chances for the team having created 65 chances this season alone and an impressive pass ratio of 82%. Pienaar adds goals as well in midfield for Everton with five goals so far this season.

Centre forward

Ricky Lambert – Southampton

Portsmouth-v-Southampton-Rickie-Lambert-celeb_2692795Ricky Lambert  was the top scoring English striker in the Premier League last season  having scored more goals then Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott and is very underrated striker who played his way up from lower leagues.

After signing for Southampton from Bristol Rovers for around £1 million fee in 2009, Lambert has valiantly led the charge and played a major role in two successive promotion campaigns, bagging 78 goals in three seasons with the club. Ricky Lambert has been most prolific in his time at Southampton where he scored an impressive ratio of 103 goals in 196 games.

Ricky Lambert is moulded as a typical lower league striker but that is no criticism on his before because last season he proved that he can score important goals at the top level. It is a great injustice for Ricky Lambert as a striker who not received the recognition he deserved and is still awaiting that call up to England if it’s just for a friendly.

Centre forward

Dimitar Berbatov – Fulham

dimitar-berbatov-fulham Berbatov splits opinion amongst football fans; he’s often been labelled as ‘lazy’ and other fans label him as skilful and talented. The fact is even at a top club like Manchester United, Berbatov was underrated and underused particularly in his final season at Old Trafford, you often wonder what could have been if Berbatov had played a bigger role in Man United’s campaign last season they may probably not lost the league on GD, his goals could made all the difference in a similar respect Van Persie have this season for Man United and lead them to the league title.

The number of spectacular goals scored by Berbatov for Manchester United often goes unnoticed in his time there; the move to Fulham has worked out well for the Bulgarian who becomes Fulham’s most important match winner this season, who won them games single handle like at White Hart Lane and home to Stoke City.

Berbatov is in his first season at Fulham and has scored an impressive number of goals with 15 goals in 33 games, but  it’s not the number of goals it’s the importance of the goals for Fulham which Berbatov has scored this season. Where would Fulham be without Berbatov this season? You could argue fighting relegation in the Premier League if you take out the 15 goals which he has popped up to score to win Fulham games.

One thing you can gurantee with Berbatov is he will score goals for a club everywhere he goes, in his 544 apps as professional footballer, Berbatov has scored 250 goals, a very impressive goal ratio. In his 8 seasons in the Premier League the striker only failed to score less then ten goals three times. If  Berbatov had played more games for Man United in his last season then you could argue that his goals could won them the title on GD ahead of Man City.

Berbatov has that nack  as a striker to be in the right place at the right time to score goals every season and managed to find redemption at Fulham this season.

 pl underrrated team

3 Responses

  1. I fancy that list. True for most part especially for Stephen Pienaar. I’ll replace Carrick with John Obi Mikel though who stands as the stabilizing force in Chelsea’s midfield and rarely gets credit for it

  2. Josh Bland Josh Bland says:

    A great selection- the only changes id make are Carrick for Schneiderlin, Arteta for Mulumbu and Berbatov for Kone.

  3. James Bayley James Bayley says:

    Well strangely enough, Carrick was on my list for underrated XI when wrote it and two days later he was nominated for PFA Player of the Year, so after all maybe now he’s not underrated. Schneiderlin might replace him then.

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