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EPL 2016/17: Underrated XI

Tom Heaton, burnley
Tom Heaton had a stunner against Manchester United
Akshay Pai T

We are now a little over a quarter of the way through the current 2016/17 Premier League season and bit by bit, the pretenders and the contenders for the title are being separated from one another. The top 3 teams are separated by virtue of goal difference alone with the teams in 4th, 5th and 6th not far behind.

As the season has progressed plenty of players have earned plaudits for putting in splendid performances whereas others have been criticized for not being up to the mark. Here we take a look at those that have flown mostly under the radar and perhaps deserve more appreciation than they have been shown.

Also read: Free agent XI for the 2016-17 season

On that note, take a look at the underrated XI of the Premier League


Goalkeeper: Tom Heaton – Burnley

To many, this particular inclusion might seem a tad bit surprising. After all, he put in a phenomenal performance against Manchester United, making 11 saves, helping Burnley to a point and leaving the Theater of Dreams with a clean sheet.

But before this match, most of his performances went largely unnoticed. He has made the most saves of any keeper in the top-division (34) and has consistently put in great performances for Burnley, being an integral part of their last 2 promotion pushes. The former Manchester United academy graduate is, however, inexplicably, still the 4th choice for England behind Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Fraser Forster.

Alternatives: Adrian (West Ham United), Ben Forster (West Bromwich Albion)

Defenders

Right-back: Nathaniel Clyne – Liverpool

Nathaniel Clyne, Liverpool
Clyne has been impressive if not flashy

Think best right-backs in the league and for many Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin jumps to mind. Of course, they wouldn’t be wrong. Quite possibly one of the best attacking full-backs on the planet on current form, there’s a reason he’s consistently linked with Barcelona.

But of course, it feels criminal that Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne isn’t often mentioned in conversations of best full-back in the league. An incredibly consistent performer, he has brought stability to the position for Liverpool after the erratic performances often put in by Glen Johnson. He has been a main-stay in the team that is currently a lofty 3rd in the standings and hardly ever puts a foot wrong, also providing requisite attacking support when needed.

Alternative: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)


Left-back: Cesar Azpiliceuta – Chelsea

Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea
Azpilicueta has been used more centrally this season

A very versatile player, Azpilicueta can play on both sides of defense as either right-back or left-back but is currently deployed as a right center-back by Antonio Conte in his successful 3-4-3 formation.

Many forget how ostracized he was when he initially joined the club, with a French radio presenter previously claiming that if Azpilicueta ever managed to get into the Spanish national team, he’d eat a rat. Azpilicueta, to his credit, turned it around spectacularly playing an integral part in Chelsea’s 2014-15 title winning campaign.

Never a glamor player, his industry, and hard-work are central to Chelsea’s defensive structure and solidity.

Alternative: Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)


Center-back: Ashley Williams - Everton

Ashley Williams, Everton
Ashley Williams has added defensive stability to Everton

Everton had a 2015-16 season to forget, finishing in the bottom half of the table for a second season running, culminating in the sacking of Roberto Martinez. Part of the reason why they did so poorly was their abysmal defensive record, conceding 55 goals, only fewer than the bottom 5.

Ronald Koeman looked to sort this out immediately by signing Swansea and Wales captain, Ashley Williams and what an inspiring signing it has been. A stalwart at the heart of the defense, he has helped the Toffees to the second best defensive record in the divison, behind only Tottenham. A leader at the back, he has brought a sense of stability to Everton’s defense, helping them to 4 clean sheets in the process.

Alternative: Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion)


Center-back: Virgil Van Dijk – Southampton

Van Dijk, Southampton
Van Dijk averages just under 8 clearances per match – one of the best in the league

It would seem the entirety of Southampton’s team is underrated. Consistently losing their best players and managers to rival teams year after year, due credit has to be given to the management for repeatedly finding adequate replacements. Seemingly tipped for relegation after each transfer window after hemorrhaging players, they have solidified themselves as a top-half team, finishing their highest ever 6th at the end of last season.

Virgil Van Dijk is one of those who has flown seemingly under the radar. He has formed a solid partnership with Jose Fonte, playing 34 games last season as he helped the Saints to the 3rd best defensive record in the division. He has played all 10 of the Saints’ games of the 2016-17 season and makes an impressive 7.8 clearances per match, boasting a WhoScored rating of 7.43.

Alternative: Scott Dann (Crystal Palace)

Midfield

Center-midfield: Ander Herrera – Manchester United

Herrera has fought his way back in to the Manchester United setup

Manchester United’s slow start to the season continued with a poor 0-0 draw to struggling Burnley at home, though that can be attributed to an inhuman performance put in by their goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

One of the leading lights in this season of gloom, however, has been Spanish midfielder, Ander Herrera. Often overlooked by Louis Van Gaal during his tenure as the Red Devils’ boss, his presence in midfield always seems to up the tempo of United’s play.

Also excellent at making third-man runs into the box, he chips in with the odd goal or two from midfield. Jose Mourinho seems to trust him a lot more and this was repaid with an incredible performance at Anfield, making 11 interceptions, the highest in the Premier League in this season.

Alternative: Leroy Fer (Swansea City)


Center-midfield: Etienne Capoue – Watford

Etienne Capoue, Watford
Capoue has been Watford’s stand out player this season

Capoue was bought by Tottenham after some excellent performances for Toulouse led him to be nominated for Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year. Injuries and stiff competition in midfield led to him never establishing himself in the team and being sold to Watford.

However, since then he has upped his performances significantly. He has become a mainstay in the Watford team looking to establish itself as a mid-table Premier League side. He played 33 games last season as Watford finished a respectable 13th and started the current season strongly, already having 4 goals to his name.

Alternative: Fernandinho (Manchester City)


Right-wing: Jason Puncheon – Crystal Palace

Jason puncheon, Crystal Palace
Puncheon’s numbers this season have been better than Kevin de Bruyne and Mesut Ozil

The speedy winger, under Yannick Bolasie’s shadow last season has come to the fore in this one. A constant attacking outlet for Palace, his pace and trickery are fundamental to their style of play. Also doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Eagles have struggled these past few games when he has been missing through injury.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), he was the Premier League’s most creative player after 6 games before his injury, creating more chances (22), than Kevin De Bruyne (20), Willian (20), and even the likes of David Silva and Mesut Ozil.

Alternative: Ross Barkley (Everton)


Left-wing: Michail Antonio – West Ham United

Antonio has started this season from where he left off

A very versatile player, he never gets the spotlight he deserves due to the sheer brilliance of Dimitri Payet. Bought from Nottingham Forest at the start of the 2015-16 season, he was often used to cover at fullback than play at his preferred position on the wings.

He played himself into contention in the team, always putting in a good performance when called up, ending last season with an impressive 9 goals, 8 coming in just 26 league appearances. He has started this season very well, already scoring 5 goals in just 9 appearances, putting him as one of the leading scorers in the league.

Alternative: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)


Attacking-midfielder: Dusan Tadic – Southampton

Dusan Tadic, Southampton
Tadic is Southampton’s creative influence

Another one of Southampton’s perennially underrated performers, Tadic has been in top form for both club and country this season. Directly involved in ALL of Serbia’s last 10 goals (4 goals, 6 assists), he was also the league’s top chance creator before the 10th round of fixtures began with 27.

Bought from FC Twente for a bargain £11m back in 2014, he always causes problems for opposition teams with his delivery from set-pieces and trickery in wide and central areas. Tadic had an impressive record of 7 goals and 12 assists in just 2293 minutes last season and has similarly started this one on a strong vein of form.

Alternative: Juan Mata (Manchester United)

Forward

Striker: Son Heung-min – Tottenham

Heung Min Son, Spurs
Son has stepped up in Kane’s absence

Son was signed from Bayer Leverkusen at the start of the 2014-15 season as a capable backup for Harry Kane. However, he didn’t have a very productive season, scoring just 4 goals in 28 league appearances. A lot can probably be put down to the bedding in period that a lot of players face to get adjusted to the pace and physicality of the Premier League.

Son was touted to be sold at the start of this season, but stayed and is now proving all the naysayers wrong. He got another chance to prove himself thanks to Harry Kane’s injury and took it with both hands.

Son had a blistering month of September, already matching the tally of 4 goals from last season and winning the September Player of the Month award. Definitely one of the underrated performers and one to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Alternative: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

Take a look at how they line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation:

Underrated XI
Edited by Staff Editor

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