There are players who constantly make headlines, like Paul Pogba and Harry Kane, and others who fly under the radar because they supposedly lack charisma and star quality. But many of those so-called unfashionable players end up serving vital roles for their respective teams.
As we approach the midway point of the 2020-21 Premier League season, here is my club-by-club list of the season’s unsung heroes.
Through troubled times, Tierney has been a superb young professional, either in a back three or at left-back, where he routinely raids forward to put in dangerous crosses. Tough, dedicated and ego-free, he was seen getting off the team bus at a recent away game wearing a T-shirt on a bitterly cold day and carrying his kit in a plastic bag.
While praise is lavished on Jack Grealish, do not underestimate the influence of the tireless and dynamic McGinn, who adds drive and desire from central midfield. In Villa’s recent draw at Chelsea, he could be heard urging his tired teammates through the last few minutes, all the while looking as if he could play all night.
It is often hard, even for Brighton fans, to guess Graham Potter’s lineups. But aside from the dependable defender Lewis Dunk, one man has become essential to the cause: Bissouma, the Mali international. He offers grit in central midfield and can pick a pass as well. It’s no surprise Liverpool were rumoured to be keeping tabs on his progress before the January window opened.
Until the recent American takeover of the club, manager Sean Dyche has had to watch the budget in his transfer dealings, but he came up with a gem when going to Bristol City to sign Brownhill. The midfielder has quickly become a fully paid-up member of Burnley’s band of brothers as they look like climbing out of relegation trouble.
In an all-star squad rich with big-money signings, Zouma has been the surprise with a series of strong displays alongside Thiago Silva in the centre of defence. Once relegated while on loan at Stoke City, Zouma has staged quite the comeback to regain his place in the France squad, and he’s also scored four goals for Chelsea this season.
Guaita has pulled off some memorable saves this season, notably to claw away a shot destined for the top corner to deny Eric Dier and preserve a point against Spurs. The goalkeeper, who signed from lowly Getafe in 2018, also saved a penalty from Kelechi Iheanacho in the 1-1 draw with Leicester.
As well as Ben Godfrey has done filling in at left-back, Everton never look quite so good when Digne is missing, which he has been since an injury in late November. The former Barcelona man adds dash and style down the left-hand side.
The Cottagers looked certain for relegation until they started to defend properly and Andersen, signed on loan from Lyon, has been the main reason for that. Commanding and experienced as the leader of a reshaped back line, he has given Scott Parker’s team a realistic chance of beating the drop.
Marcelo Bielsa’s entertaining team are a potent attacking force, and former New York City FC winger Jack Harrison rarely fails to provide a threat, running directly at opponents before either setting up goals for Patrick Bamford or scoring himself, as he did against Liverpool, Newcastle and West Brom.
In his first season of Premier League football, Fofana has quickly become an impressive member of Brendan Rodgers’ defence. Quick and alert, the 20-year-old looks as if he’s been playing at this level for years.
Jones has come through the Liverpool academy to emerge as a strong presence in midfield. He admits that guidance from James Milner and Jordan Henderson in training have helped to smooth out his rough edges. Anfield insiders believe he would be best used a little further forward as a playmaking No. 10, but that position does not exist in Jurgen Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3.
The player who has stepped from the shadows is Cancelo. The Portugal international cut a frustrated figure in his first season with the club, but has since become invaluable in either full-back position, often joining the attack and producing inventive, clever passes that any top midfield player would be proud to play.
Jose Mourinho named a young McTominay as his player of the season for 2017-18. Since then, the Scotland international’s hard-working displays in midfield have provided the necessary sweat and steel to go with the silk of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford & Co.
Steve Bruce’s team have been heavily indebted to Darlow, who has deputised so well for the injured Martin Dubravka that the erstwhile No. 1 will struggle to regain his place. Darlow’s qualities were in full view as the Toon managed to defy Liverpool in a 0-0 draw over the festive period.
Vestergaard was one of the players axed after the humiliating 9-0 home defeat by Leicester last season, but the Denmark international has staged a remarkable comeback with a series of top displays at centre-back, including three goals away from home. His recent injury is a major problem for the Saints.
Bereft of confidence or much hope of staying up, the Blades are battling to find inspiration, but at least McGoldrick has scored four times, which is exactly half their total of Premier League goals.
No Spurs fan got that excited when Jose Mourinho signed Hojbjerg from Southampton in the summer, but he has proved to be vital to the team, digging into tackles, making interceptions and doing sensible things in midfield. A onetime protege of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, Hojbjerg is flourishing in north London.
Apart from superb displays to draw with Chelsea and Liverpool, the Baggies have struggled this season. But the 20-year-old Gallagher, on loan from Chelsea, has often been their brightest light. Capped at every youth level by England, he is one to watch.
A man-of-the-match display in the win at Everton was a timely reminder of the consistency of Ogbonna at the heart of the defence. It’s easy to forget he won two Serie A titles with Juventus and featured in two European Championship squads for Italy.
Wolves are not quite hitting the heights of their two previous seasons, but 20-year-old Neto has played in every league game because he provides pace and goals (four so far). He’s not as eye-catching as Adama Traore, but he is arguably a more consistent threat.