The Premier League season is nearly over and while talk ramps up of who will win it and who will be taking home Player of the Year honours come the end of the season lets not forget that many owe a lot to their teammates – unsung heroes or perhaps simply not getting the credit they deserve. An underrated XI for those who deserve a mention when the season comes to a close.
The Spanish shot stopper has been key to the success of West Ham United this season. Consistently developing into one of the Primer League’s best goalkeepers the 29-year-old has risen to the task when his goal has been peppered. The Premier League boasts the best collection of world class goalkeepers: David De Gea, Joe Hart, Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech – although Adrian is not of that calibre he is in the tier below. Adrian has eight clean sheets this term – double that of Courtois and has been the hero for the Hammers on more than one occasion with a series of performances where he simply refused to be beaten. Confident in all aspects of goalkeeping from shot stopping to coming through crowds to gather crosses the former Real Betis man provides his back four a calming presence.
Left back: Aaron Cresswell
Back to the well for more West Ham talent – this article could be completly comprised of West Ham, Leicester City and a smattering of Tottenham and Watford players but don’t worry – I’ve tried to be creative and get a wildcard or two. Back to the issue at hand – what is underrated about Cresswell is just how good he is. While other fullbacks take the plaudits: Danny Rose, Christian Fuchs and Hector Bellerin. Cresswell has been one of the best fullbacks in the division and continues to get better. With the energy to get up and down the pitch providing great width and pace for the new look West Ham Cresswell has thrived under Slaven Bilic. Equally adept at attacking and defending the 26-year-old Englishman is a rare fullback in that he provides balance. Often fullbacks can be exposed when it comes to defending and although Cresswell is not a superstar he’s steady enough. His ability to cross has seen him rack up three assists so far this campaign and although he has been overlooked for Roy Hodgson’s England squad if he continues to develop under Bilic he will surely be pushing the likes of Rose, Leighton Baines and Ryan Bertrand for a spot.
Centre back: Craig Cathcart
Once of Manchester United’s academy Cathcart served his apprenticeship in the lower leagues before becoming the heartbeat of Watford’s back line. The Northern Irishman displays composure and a never-say-die attitude which has helped Quique Sanchez Flores’ side get to an F.A. Cup semi-final as well as almost securing their Premier League status for another season. Cathcart has made 18 blocks this season as well as winning 64% of his aerial duels – stats on par with John Terry as well as Laurent Koscielny. Showing the quality that Manchester United knew he possessed as a youngster the centre back has grown into a reliable contributor.
Centre back: Scott Dann
Although Crystal Palace are in free fall and now face a relegation battle Dann has been just as solid as Cathcart. A goal scoring defender Dann is a nightmare to deal with at set pieces and has an impressive return of five goals this season – he’s actually their second highest goal scorer this season just one behind Yohan Cabaye. The former Blackburn centre half is the leader of the Palace back line leading his team in blocks (37) and ranks second in clearances (157). Dann’s stock may have fallen as Crystal Palace have but not all their problems can be placed at his door. The centre back remains one of their better players.
Right back: Erik Pieters
Although he is deployed at left back Pieters was a must in this team. His rugged style of play teamed with his energy has been a staple of what Stoke have done this season. Pieters has standout performances against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea – breaking his nose in the victory over the London club. Pieters soldiered on and helped keep out Hazard and company and was a microcosm of what Stoke are – rugged and competitive with finesse sprinkled throughout. The Dutchman has more interceptions (85), successful tackles (85) and blocks (17) than Danny Rose, Hector Bellerin and Cesar Azpilicueta. The fact that he plays for The Potters may be the reason as to why he is not showered with more praise.
Holding midfielder: Mousa Dembele
Dembele is the kind of player every title winning team needs. An unsung hero who can do a job wherever he is asked to do one. He is just as adept at defending as he is attacking and has the energy required to play Mauricio Pochettino’s style of football. While Eric Dier, Harry Kane and Dele Alli take a lot of the plaudits – rightly so – the Belgian has steadily contributed to Tottenham’s title charge with three goals in 24 appearances and provides excellent protection to the back four with his rock solid partnership with Dier.
Centre midfield: Willian
Although often deployed as a winger those spots are taken. However, Willian simply has to make this team – although Chelsea are now more stable than earlier on in the season it cannot be forgotten how often the big haired Brazilian dragged his side to points. His show stopping free kicks, energy and overall slick class has shown him to be Chelsea’s best player by a very long way this season. But in a side with Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Willian’s contribution can often get lost – he provides excellent protection to his full-back with his willingness to track back as well as being an integral part of Chelsea’s attack. Willian is a rare breed of hard working and a class act on the ball – traits often used to describe Alexis Sanchez. The knock of Willian has always been his goal return but he has upped his goal production with ten goals in all competitions.
Centre midfield: Jonjo Shelvey
His attitude may leave something to be desired but since his £12m move to Newcastle he has shown up. Nearly anything good Newcastle do on the pitch runs through the former Swansea midfielder. Shelvey has shown his passing range with some killer balls and outstanding assists and is not afraid to hit them from range when afforded the space. In Newcastle colours he may finally be the answer to the void left by Yohan Cabaye when he left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2014. Perhaps Shelvey gets an unfair deal because his attitude can let him down at times but when on the ball he displays enough to show that he has justified his six England caps. Since his arrival at St. James’ Park the Englishman has three assists and has created 15 chances – more than any of his teammates in the same time.
Left wing: Jermain Defoe
Justified in his positioning as he has been deployed there – rightly or wrongly. Defoe seems consistently underrated but the fact is that he scores goals. The Sunderland forward is a danger when inside the opposition box and has 12 goals to his name this campaign. While he can blow hot and cold there is no doubt that he is still one of the best goal poachers in the Premier League even at the age of 33. Defoe’s goals may yet keep Sunderland up this season and if that is the case then his contributions cannot be underrated any longer.
Right wing: Yannick Bolasie
Again, like Dann, perhaps Bolasie’s stock has fallen as Crystal Palace have plummeted down the table. However his contribution was highlighted when he was sidelined through injury. Bolasie possesses pace, power, trickery and can finish. Direct in his style of play and with Palace nearly always funnelling the ball his way it is obvious what he brings to Alan Pardew’s side. Bolasie may have hit his ceilling at Palace and may need a move to a bigger club to reach his true potential. With so many great attacking players in the Premier League some naturally get forgotten about and the Congolese winger is one of them. Palace’s slide coincided with Bolasie’s absence from the squad and their lack of cut and thrust in the wide areas was telling. He may be the key man to steer them to safety and perhaps F.A. Cup glory.
Centre forward: Troy Deeney
This one was the easiest of the lot. What Deeney does for Watford is magnificent and he does not get the credit he deserve. He is Robin to Odion Ighalo’s Batman and the two have formed a deadly partnership up front. While Ighalo grabs the headlines for the goals he scores it is often his captain that is the provider. Deeney has six assists so far this season to go with his nine goals and has created 47 chances for his team – more than Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy and just as many as Romelu Lukaku. The Watford captain leads his team with a blend of intelligence and strong play – his movement off the ball causes defenders all sorts of problems. Deeney can drop deep, play with his back to goal or run in behind defenders. His ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play is superb and a trait that can go unnoticed – however if he ever stopped doing that the criticism would be “You’ve got to hold the ball up and get your midfielders into play.” If Deeney could add ten more goals to his game he would be spoken about in the same terms as Kane and perhaps even Vardy.