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10 Underrated Premier League Players

10 Underrated Premier League Players

Saturday, 17 November, 2018 - 06:30
(Clockwise from left) Etienne Capoue, Craig Cathcart, Fabián Balbuena, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Shane Duffy, Conor Coady and Philip Billing. Composite: Getty Images, Rex/Shutterstoex, PA, Action Images, Reuters
London - Simon Burnton
Shane Duffy (Brighton)

Nomination for the October player of the month award (well, one of them – he made the PFA’s shortlist, but not the official Premier League-endorsed version) showed that Duffy’s sterling performances are being noticed. Since being named man of the match in the 3-2 win over Manchester United in August, the 6ft 3in centre-back has been vital to Brighton’s good form, scoring vital goals against United and Southampton and being responsible for more clearances (96) and more clearances off the line (two) than any other top-flight player. The five-year contract he signed last month was reward for his efforts.

Philip Billing (Huddersfield)

Last season was a mixed one for Billing, who missed three key months with an ankle injury and flitted in and out of the team, starting only eight league games and finishing half of those. This season he has been immense at the heart of the Huddersfield midfield, starting every game and finishing all but two. The 6ft 3in Dane, who moved to Yorkshire at 16, is comfortable on the ball, possesses a fine, hard shot, is useful from set pieces and capable of flinging in a decent long throw (though unfortunately taking them means he cannot be in the box to win them). At 22 he is nowhere near his peak but at the current rate of improvement it might be quite a high one.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton)

Southampton have been wildly unimpressive this season, but if any of their players has emerged from their first couple of months in credit it is Højbjerg. His statistics demonstrate a notable improvement from last season: from 59.7 passes per 90 minutes to 69.2 (rising from sixth in Southampton’s rankings to first) and with a slightly improved success rate (86.9% compared with 85%), from 0.7 shots per game to 1.47, while already he has made more than half as many tackles this season (24) as in the whole of last season (45). A red card against Leicester, his second yellow card earned for an embarrassing dive, is the only significant blot on his copybook.

Craig Cathcart (Watford)

It is a little over four years since Watford signed Cathcart from Blackpool on a free transfer. He had played in the top flight for his previous club, but they had since dropped into the lower reaches of the Championship and nobody seemed to believe he was worth a second chance. Since moving to Vicarage Road, and despite the club’s extensive defensive recruitment since promotion, he has almost always been a first choice, except during several extended injury-enforced absences – it was telling that Walter Mazzarri never quite learned what his name was – and this season has been more impressive than ever. If he rarely catches the eye it is because his exemplary positioning makes his often crucial interventions appear effortless.

André Gomes (Everton)

In March Gomes, a bit-part player at Barcelona struggling to realise his ambitions, spoke about his struggles at the Camp Nou. “It has become a bit of a hell,” he said. “On more than one occasion I have not wanted to leave the house. People look at you and I’m afraid to walk in the street out of shame.” He is yet to reach top gear at Everton, perhaps excusable after arriving with an injury and slotting into a new team eight games into the season, but already he is already showing immense technical quality and class, and none of the self-doubt that affected his performances in Spain. In particular he is dovetailing impressively with Idrissa Gueye at the base of midfield and, with Gylfi Sigurdsson ahead of them, Everton’s midfield bears comparison with any in the division.

Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)

Only at City could a player who cost £57m fly under the radar but while their midfield, attack and goalkeeper hog most of the attention Laporte has become quietly indispensable. He is certainly underrated by the France manager, Didier Deschamps, who has ignored him, preferring Crystal Palace’s Mamadou Sakho and Marseille’s Adil Rami. He is the only outfield player to play every minute of City’s Premier League games, where his lack of international action has certainly helped. “He has enough arrogance and that’s so important to play at a high level,” Pep Guardiola said. “We are so satisfied with what he’s shown so far.”

Fabián Balbuena (West Ham)

Another centre-back, Balbuena is proving one of the bargains of the summer, following his £3.5m arrival from Corinthians. He is fourth in the league on interceptions and third on clearances, while at West Ham only Felipe Anderson has outpassed him. “I struggled a bit in the first weeks but I think I have adapted,” the Paraguay international said. “I feel good about how things are going.” Outside the bottom four only Burnley and Manchester United have conceded more goals than West Ham, so there continue to be defensive issues, but in Balbuena and the 6ft 4in, 21-year-old Frenchman Issa Diop they have a firm foundation on which to build.

Etienne Capoue (Watford)

They say familiarity breeds contempt and sometimes we are guilty of getting excited about new arrivals while allowing our gaze to skip unfairly over more well-known players. After five years in England most have come to know Capoue’s blend of indolence and ability but Javi Gracia has eked another level out of the Frenchman. While his midfield partner Abdoulaye Doucouré has been the subject of high praise and recently linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Capoue has been quietly outperforming him. The once workshy midfielder ranks ninth in the league for tackles, third for interceptions and less happily joint second (behind only his teammate José Holebas) for cautions. “Capoue is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and do not have any doubt about that,” Gracia said.

Victor Camarasa (Cardiff)

Once one of the most talked-about prospects in Spain, Camarasa’s lustre was fading before he moved to Cardiff on a season-long loan from Real Betis. “Sometimes the passing Real Betis do doesn’t suit certain styles,” Neil Warnock said. “He wants to be making runs into the box and having shots and tackling, so that suits the way we play.” Not all of that has been demonstrated yet – with 1.2 tackles per 90 minutes he is towards the bottom of Cardiff’s rankings and his 1.5 shots per match is good enough only for seventh – but the ability is evident and his free-kicks have been impressive.

Conor Coady (Wolves)

Coady “nearly fell off the couch” when Alan Shearer suggested he might be worth an England call but it is the kind of talk his displays have merited. He has been the heart of Wolves’ defence over the last two seasons, having previously played predominately in midfield. Nuno Espírito Santo promptly shot down Shearer’s idea, saying Coady needed to “work harder and improve” before he catches Gareth Southgate’s eye but his reading of the game and composure in possession are precisely the qualities the England manager looks for in a centre-back.

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