“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”Aristotle
The Premier League is full of superstars and match winners, but this often makes it very easy to overlook industrious players that work tirelessly to allow others to express themselves. Over the years we’ve had Gilberto Silva, Gareth Barry and Park Ji-Sung whose skills and intelligence have often been understated. Every season provides an opportunity for both, old and young, to deliver on the pitch, and this season is no different. With three-quarters of the season already over, we put the limelight on those that have been under the radar this Premier League season.
There’s no other place to start but Selhurst Park. Since making his debut against Tottenham just over a year ago, Wan-Bissaka has gone from strength to strength. With this being his first full season, the 21-year-old has surprised most, and for the right reasons. He currently has the highest tackles per 90 in the Premier League, 2.8, no one comes close to this stat, in fact, no other defender in the league completes 2 tackles or more on average per 90. This stat is difficult to comprehend when you think Wan-Bissaka was an attacker turned full back only two-and-a-half years ago. He is often the first name on the team sheet and is seen as a tough tackler that rarely misses a challenge, showing maturity beyond his tender years. What really makes Wan-Bissaka stand out though, and I think this is down to his background of street football, is his confidence in taking players on when he has the ball. With all the talk of his defensive attributes, his attacking instincts are often overlooked. Because of his background as an attacker, you kind of get the best of both worlds with Wan-Bissaka, an accurate tackler that is never shy of taking players on. England’s strongest department right now is probably right-back, with Walker, Trent Alexander Arnold, and Trippier. Wan-Bissaka has done enough though to force Southgate into a comprise with one of the three to make space for the Crystal Palace full-back, Trippier is the obvious choice following his calm finish against Chelsea…into his own net.
Watford as a whole are a peculiar team with more than one underrated player, but the focus here will be on Abdoulaye Doucouré. Since joining the Hornets in 2016 for £8m, Doucouré has matured into a powerful all-rounded midfielder. A consistent performer, he has added to his game both goals and assists with his late bursts into the box, a habit he developed under Marco Silva last season. An archetype midfielder, Doucouré has a knack of picking up loose balls in the middle of the park and turning over possession quickly. His positional awareness can become questionable at times but that’s a curse of his own abilities. Often trying to cover every blade of grass, he can sometimes be caught out leaving Watford exposed in the middle. He can only go under the radar for so long, with PSG interested in his services, Watford could look to profit from the sale of Doucouré this summer and earn a hefty profit to help improve their squad as they look to push for a Europa League spot.
Now on to a player not many knew prior to the 2018/19 season. David Brooks has been a revelation at Bournemouth this season, already picking up player of the month on three occasions. He’s offered both creativity and quality in the final third, developing a strong relationship with Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser. His potency has led to six goals and four assists in 25 games this season, as Brooks and Bournemouth look for a strong finish to the season. His narrow frame and quick thinking allow him to glide past opponents and make intelligent runs into the box. The Welsh international is in good hands with Eddie Howe, a coach with a strong reputation of trying to progress the careers of young players in his team, sometimes with mixed results.
By far the biggest surprise on this list, but that’s what unsung heroes are all about and Glenn Murray is certainly that. A Premier League late bloomer, Murray’s 12 league goals last season were enough to ensure the safety of newly promoted Brighton, and many would’ve been content with that. But at 35-year-old, Murray has shown no signs of stopping and currently leads the scoring charts at Brighton with 10 in the league so far. He has been a central figure for the south side club and scored some important goals this season, most notably in 1-0 wins against both West Ham and Wolves. Murray is not everyone’s ideal striker, lacking pace and general mobility, but Chris Hughton believes in him and has set up a side that complements his strengths well. With the game developing so quickly, it’s nice to sometimes be bought back in time with a ‘traditional striker’, and if Brighton are to avoid relegation for a second season, Murray will have played a critical role.
The 6ft4 young French defender has built up a reputation as an imposing figure at West Ham this season. He currently holds the highest aerial duels and tackling success rates in the premier league for defenders under the age of 25, not bad for a 22-year-old. Diop’s strongest attribute has no doubt been his aerial ability but he’s also very quick across the ground. Together with Fabian Balbuena, another summer signing from South America, they have formed a formidable partnership at the heart of the hammers defence this season. Defensive ‘mastermind’ Jose Mourinho described Diop as “a monster who dominated every single duel” when United played West Ham back in September. Tall and strong? Yeah, sounds like Mourinho’s type of player. If Diop continues to put in a string of strong performances from now till the end of the season, he won’t be short of suitors come the end of the season but still has a long way to go and should stick with West Ham for now.
And that ends the list. Sure, there are other players who deserve a notable mention. Sean Longstaff, Shane Duffy, and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are a few strong contenders to be on this list, but so are many others. Many of these players do the ‘dirty work’, the endless running, the opening of space, the last ditch tackling, and more – the list goes on. All to ensure the success of their teams and the joy of their fans. You could argue that you’d hope these players start to get the credit they deserve, but many perform better when under the radar, and that suits them just as well. What is certain though is that the role of the underrated player is still as relevant today as it has ever been.