Every club has one: a player who lacks the praise of football’s biggest names and, instead, stars in the shadows to the acclaim of only the most discerning of supporters and pundits despite often performing a meaningful role.
Here’s a look at the 15 most underrated players this season across Europe’s top-five leagues:
Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)
Now that Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi is receiving due praise, teammate Pereira is their underrated star. And the numbers support this claim. The Portuguese international full-back leads the Premier League in tackles (90), is third at his position in total passes (1,204) behind only Liverpool’s star pairing, and leads all full-backs in successful dribbles (44).
Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)
Angular Frenchman Doucoure is the biggest benefactor of Nigel Pearson’s appointment at Watford. Already one of the league’s more imposing deep-lying midfielders, the 28-year-old has been employed as a No. 10 under Pearson to great results. Deceptively technical, Doucoure scored and assisted while wreaking havoc with a smothering high press during the 3-0 win over Bournemouth.
Willian receives nary the respect of his peers. Two leagues, two cups, and a Europa League highlight the CV of a player who has kept Callum Hudson-Odoi out of Chelsea’s starting XI this season. The Brazilian leads the team in assists (four) and is fifth in minutes played (1,545) as he nears a seventh straight season of 40-plus outings. He’s a needed veteran presence on a young team.
Marc Roca (Espanyol)
There’s a reason some of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with Espanyol midfielder Roca. The 23-year-old has won the third-most tackles in the league (33) and is in the top 10 among midfielders for interceptions. Roca is tactically astute and fits the profile of one of Spain’s deep-lying ball stoppers with playmaking skills. Xabi Alonso 2.0? We’ll see.
Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)
Ghanaian midfielder Partey is the latest indispensable talent in an Atletico Madrid setup that’s epitomized by unselfish, hard workers. Capable of playing as a defensive mid or in a more advanced position, the robust 26-year-old has seamlessly filled the void left by Rodri’s exit, gutting opponents’ attacks before progressing the ball with elite vertical passes and stellar vision.
Yeray Alvarez (Athletic Bilbao)
It’s easy to like Athletic Bilbao center-back Yeray. The 24-year-old progressed rapidly through the Basque side’s youth setup before beating cancer twice in three years as he broke into the senior squad. Composed and efficient in distribution, big things beckon for a player who’s fourth in La Liga in interceptions (34). A maiden Spain call-up for Euro 2020 is a possibility.
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig)
RB Leipzig sit atop the Bundesliga table at the halfway point, and one major reason why is Austrian international Sabitzer’s growth under Julian Nagelsmann. Sabitzer’s six goals and four assists in the Bundesliga don’t accurately depict the impact of the 25-year-old, as he’s amassed the fifth-most key passes in Germany while serving in several central and wide attacking roles. Also, this goal is absurd.
Amine Harit (Schalke)
Moroccan dribbling whiz Harit has made a name for himself for snatching the souls of flat-footed defenders, but the 24-year-old Schalke creator is so much more than that. His six goals and four assists lead the Gelsenkirchen lot for total goal involvement, and his expected goals (xG) of -3.27 is better than the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, and Serge Gnabry. He’s truly a delight to watch.
Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Eintracht Frankfurt bid their entire front-three (Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic, Seb Haller) auf wiedersehen in the summer, and up stepped 27-year-old Serbian Kostic. The left-sided attacker leads the Bundesliga in successful dribbles (54) and is second behind Joshua Kimmich in key passes (42), and his four assists from corner kicks are the highest return in Germany’s top flight.
Luis Alberto (Lazio)
Since moving to Italy in 2016, once-capped Spanish international Alberto has established himself as a creative menace in the final third. The 27-year-old is finally receiving widespread praise as a catalyst for Lazio’s surprise Scudetto charge. Alberto leads Serie A in assists (11), is second in key passes (51), and is fifth in total passes (1,021).
Erick Pulgar (Fiorentina)
Fiorentina haven’t had much to celebrate this year, which perhaps is the reason Chilean defensive midfielder Pulgar is flying under the radar. After a standout Copa America showing, the ball-winning, set-piece specialist joined Fiorentina, with whom he currently leads Serie A in key passes (55), and is in the top 10 for total passes and first among all midfielders with 51 successful tackles.
Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)
From being a target for boos at the Giuseppe Meazza to one of Inter’s most reliable players, Brozovic stars as the sitting midfielder in new manager Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. The Croatian international leads all Serie A midfielders with 1,275 passes and is seventh in total key passes. Brozovic, 27, like Romelu Lukaku, has enjoyed a stellar season under Conte’s inspired tutelage.
Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco)
It’s time Ben Yedder becomes regarded as one of Europe’s most clinical finishers. The 29-year-old leads Ligue 1 with 14 goals – exceeding his xG by nearly four – to account for 41% of Monaco’s haul. An expert at running off the shoulder of the last defender, Ben Yedder has eight tallies in five outings against France’s top five sides this season. He’s the epitome of a big-game player.
Benjamin Andre (Lille)
Versatile Les Dogues midfielder Andre doesn’t get the recognition he merits despite an impressive debut season at Lille. The 29-year-old leads France in interceptions among midfielders (39), is fifth at his position in successful tackles (55), and is in the top 10 in total passes among all players. His mobility and short-passing skills cater to all systems.
Boubacar Kamara (Marseille)
Olympique product Kamara is one of the best players in Ligue 1, full stop. The 20-year-old, alongside newcomer Valentin Rongier, has been a driving force behind Marseille’s unexpected title challenge. The France youth international’s versatility has helped, with Kamara capable of playing at center-back, full-back, or in central midfield. He’s a fan favorite who’s destined for massive things.