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10 underrated Premier League players you didn’t realise make their teams tick

These top-flight players don’t hog the headlines – but they’ve been crucial for the clubs this season, as Alex Keble explains

It’s been an extraordinary season for star players. From Mohamed Salah’s incredible return of 12 goals from 15 league games to Manchester City’s implausibly brilliant scoring record, the Premier League is in rude supply of world-class playmakers and forwards.

But there are plenty of players in less celebrated roles who deserve credit for making their teams tick. Here are 10 of the best performers of 2017/18 that you may not have noticed…

1. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

Many fans had forgotten just how good Aaron Ramsey can be, dogged as he has been by long-term injuries throughout his career, and playing in an Arsenal midfield that is persistently overworked. The Welshman has never started more than 29 league matches in a campaign but is making the most of an extended run in the first team this season, having begun 13 matches in the middle – already matching his total starts for 2016/17.

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The 26-year-old has already amassed six assists in the league, popping up at just the right moments in the final third while controlling central midfield like a classic box-to-box No.8. His crisp passing was the most important factor in Arsenal’s mini revival in November, while notable defensive improvements have helped Granit Xhaka flourish. For arguably the first time ever, Ramsey is replicating his international form at club level.

2. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester)

Not completely unlike the player he was signed to replace, N’Golo Kante, the 20-year-old Ndidi has gone largely unnoticed at Leicester despite consistently dominating central midfield. Since signing from Belgian side Genk for £15m in January 2017, Ndidi has started 31 of the Foxes’ 32 league matches – a remarkable total for such a young player in a new country.

During his time in England, Ndidi has won more tackles – 127 – than any other player in the division, which is the sort of statistic that eventually helped Kante rise to fame. It’s only a matter of time before this athletic and intelligent central midfielder becomes one of the most sought-after young footballers in Europe.

3. James Tarkowski (Burnley)

It’s a testament to Sean Dyche’s phenomenal defensive organisation that Tarkowski, who only started four league matches last season after signing from Brentford, has been as solid this season as Michael Keane ever was in the past.

The 25-year-old Englishman tops the Premier League charts for blocks, is second only to Brighton’s Shane Duffy for clearances and is in the top 10 for headers won, reflecting his – and Burnley’s – no-nonsense approach to defending. Powerful, brave, and good in the air, Tarkowski has been at the heart of the Premier League’s joint-third-best defence.

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4. Steven Davis (Southampton)

Southampton haven’t started the season particularly well, but recent results – including an excellent 4-1 victory over Everton, an unlucky 2-1 defeat to Manchester City last midweek, plus a point at Bournemouth – suggest Mauricio Pellegrino’s project is gradually taking shape. At the centre of Saints’ possession football is Steven Davis, a man who has pulled the strings at St Mary’s for five years.

Davis is a gifted footballer whose elegance in possession and eye for a pass mark him out as one of the most inexcusably underrated midfielders in the top flight. At 32, the Northern Irishman has become a real leader at the club, and will no doubt be playing a big role in the development of Mario Lemina and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

 

5. Kiko Femenia (Watford)

Most of Watford’s first XI are getting the praise they deserve this season, but few are talking about just how big an impact Femenia has had on the side. Marco Silva’s full-backs are a vital part of his tactical philosophy, expected to overlap at every opportunity in order to counterbalance the number of bodies in central areas.

Femenia has been consistently menacing down the right and dependable defensively, finally finding a suitable home after a difficult early career. The Spaniard played for the B teams of both Real Madrid and Barcelona – the club which he claimed “ruined” him emotionally – before one relatively successful year at Alaves last year.

6. Joe Gomez (Liverpool)

Liverpool have conceded three goals in their last six league matches and, aside from heavy losses to Tottenham and Manchester City, have been considerably more defensively sturdy in 2017/18. The only notable difference from last season has been the return of 20-year-old Joe Gomez, who didn’t feature in a single league game in 2016/17 following an ACL injury.

Gomez has been tidy and efficient for Liverpool without dominating, which is understandable given his age, but the English defender has certainly added a sense of solidity at the back following years of chaos with Dejan Lovren. His confidence on the ball makes him an ideal foil for Virgil van Dijk, should the Holland international eventually move to Anfield.

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7. Jordan Pickford (Everton)

It might seem strange to suggest an Everton player has helped his team tick this campaign, given their early-season form. But things could have been a lot worse for the Toffees had it not been for Jordan Pickford.

The former Sunderland goalkeeper has made the fifth-most saves in the league this season (46), the second-most punches (15) and zero major errors that have led to goals. His dependability was highlighted in Everton’s 4-0 win over West Ham last midweek when Pickford frequently plucked crosses out of the sky and saved a penalty, inducing a sense of calm in his defence that was palpably lacking at the other end.

 

8. Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace)

It’s a testament to his quality that Cabaye continued to look classy throughout Crystal Palace’s run of defeats at the beginning of the season. The 31-year-old’s excellent distribution and aggressive tackling have laid the foundations for a revival under Roy Hodgson, who will rely on the midfielder to lead this team out of the relegation zone.

Incredibly, Cabaye tops the Palace charts this season for passes, key passes, crosses and attempted tackles, underlining the France international’s importance in defence and attack.

9. Jonathan Hogg (Huddersfield)

Everyone knows how good Aaron Mooy has been this season, but nobody is talking about his midfield partner Hogg, who’s back in the Terriers’ first team after injury. Hogg last played in the Premier League with Aston Villa five years ago, but has adapted to life back in the top flight with ease.

The 28-year-old has made more interceptions (2.4 per match) than any other Huddersfield player and has completed the second-most defensive actions overall for his club, behind only Christopher Schindler.

10. Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom)

Egyptian man mountain Hegazi has dominated almost every Premier League match he has featured in since joining on loan from Al Ahly in July, understandably earning admirers along the way. Jurgen Klopp is reportedly interested in signing the 26-year-old for Liverpool, while the centre-back is also apparently wanted by Leicester – although West Brom are said to have a €5m option to buy.

Hegazi has easily been the standout defender for West Brom this season, winning two official man-of-the-match awards and topping West Brom’s club charts with 7.1 clearances per game.

 

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