Following on from last week’s top 5 overrated players here are my top 5 underrated Premier League stars. When you ask fans which players they think are underrated, names like Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher regularly pop up. In fact, they have been described as ‘underrated’ so many times by journalists and pundits that they are bordering on being overrated if anything.
5. Michel Vorm
The first of two Swansea players in the list, Michel Vorm was plucked from mid-table Eredivisie side FC Utrecht for only £1.5 million last summer. He proved to be a brilliant find and was player of the year in his first season at Swansea. His promise was clear in his debut for the Swans. He made 10 saves in a performance that was largely overlooked due to the 4-0 scoreline in favour of Manchester City. This stat was never bettered for the rest of the season.
Vorm’s 143 saves made last year was only bettered by Wolves’ Wayne Hennessey, who had a shocking defence in front of him and a lot of action coming his way. Vorm is a very good shot stopper, and has gained the confidence of his back four making him very dependable. He has no weaknesses as a goalkeeper and if he continues his form then expect him to be adding to his 9 caps for Holland.
4. Laurent Koscielny
Only 3 years ago Laurent Koscielny was playing in the French second tier. It took a while for the wiry centre back to be noticed, and he only moved to Lorient during the summer of 2009 when he was 24. Incredibly, Koscielny completed 100% of the tackles he attempted in his first season in Ligue 1 and this was enough to persuade Arsene Wenger to sign him for Arsenal the next summer.
He made a shaky start in the Premier League, and his lack of size was an obvious problem as he had a tendency to be shrugged off the ball too easily. He adapted well though, and last season became the key player in Arsenal’s backline. He is versatile, can play all along the back line having started his career as a right back. He is very quick, reads the game well allowing him to make vital interceptions and is coming into his prime at 27 years old. He finally received international recognition in November 2011 and was voted Man of the Match by the French Media in France’s quarterfinal loss to Spain at Euro 2012. His stock is rising, but he has only spent three years in the top flight of European football so he will only get better.
3. Kevin Nolan
Kevin Nolan must be Sam Allardyce’s illegitimate son or something. He follows him everywhere. Nolan spent 10 years at Bolton for making a big move to Newcastle only to get relegated. After three seasons on Tyneside he signed for West Ham, moving down to the Championship, once again joining Big Sam as West Ham captain.
Nolan’s ability sometimes gets overlooked. He is not a silky footballer and he is rarely good to watch, but Sam Allardyce knows how to get the best out of him. He plays to his strengths which lie in his physical prowess. The way West Ham play under Big Sam is perfect for him. He is dangerous in the air and a very good finisher. In his last season in the Premiership he grabbed 12 goals for Newcastle. He backed that up with another 12 goals for West Ham as they got promoted last season and has already got 2 in his first 3 games this season. Watch out for him this year because he is a nightmare to defend against.
2. Leon Britton
Leon Britton rarely gets the recognition he deserves, often playing second fiddle to the younger Joe Allen. The deep lying playmaker started his career as a trainee at Arsenal before becoming the most expensive 16 year old in the world when he moved to West Ham for £400,000 in 1998. Britton signed for Swansea in 2002. Remarkably Britton has represented Swansea in all four professional divisions in the English football league helping them rise all the way from League 2 to the Premiership.
Britton started 35 Premier League games last season and is a key reason why Brendan Rodger’s passing game was so successful at Swansea. He had the highest pass completion rate in Europe. Yes, in EUROPE. Ahead of Xavi and all the other tiki-taka famed Spaniards. His performances regularly go unnoticed at Swansea and hasn’t yet been capped by England. At 29 he is unlikely to make a huge impact at a so called ‘big club’, but England struggled to keep hold of the ball in midfield against Ukraine and they couldn’t go too far wrong picking the world’s most accurate passer to address that issue.
1. Lucas Leiva
Lucas Leiva was very highly rated as a youngster. He captained Gremio in his last season in Brazil as well as Brazil U 20’s and he made his debut for the full Brazil side at 19. He signed for Liverpool as an attacking midfielder, but Rafa Benitez transformed him into a defensive midfielder following the departure of Xabi Alonso and Mascherano.
He struggled early on at Anfield and at one point was booed after a poor performance against Fulham. Still written off by many, he has become a very valuable player for Liverpool. Only one player made more tackles than Lucas at Liverpool last season, despite him only playing 12 games due to injury. He is a non-stop runner. His workrate is second to none and before he got injured the tireless midfielder was averaging 5.7 tackles a game. That is 1 tackle more than any other player in the Premier League and the season before he was top of the list for successful tackles. When he gets back from injury he will be an automatic starter for Liverpool, despite Allen, Sahin and Gerrard as competition.
Notable mentions: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Ashley Williams (Swansea), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Leon Osman (Everton) and Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland)