EPL 2016/17: Underrated XI
Right-back: Nathaniel Clyne – Liverpool
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
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
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
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)