With the second international break of the season upon us, we more or less know by now which players will challenge for individual honours and who will spring to mind when we look back on 2019/20 in years to come.
But while those who score and assist with regularity hog the limelight, we’ve compiled a list of the finest performers of the season who have so far slipped relatively under the radar...
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
So much attention has been given to Sheffield United’s overlapping centre-backs that their wing-backs – who actually do most of the running – have been largely overlooked. Stevens has particularly impressed in both defence (2.4 tackles per game, narrowly second among Blades players) and attack (2.3 dribbles per match, 13th-highest in the Premier League).
The Irishman’s confidence and assertiveness in possession have helped drive Chris Wilder’s side on numerous occasions, most memorably when repeatedly skinning Cesar Azpilicueta and inspiring a comeback at Stamford Bridge. At the other end, Stevens did exceptionally well keeping Richarlison quiet in United’s 2-0 win at Everton.
John McGinn (Aston Villa)
The list of admirers is growing every week for Villa’s tireless central midfielder, but he is still criminally underrated outside of the West Midlands. Scoring at Tottenham and Arsenal has certainly helped correct this, but the majority of McGinn’s work is actually in deeper areas. Few Premier League players can match his energy, desire and consistency.
McGinn can do everything: he’s a good tackler, an excellent passer and reads the game magnificently. While many all-action midfielders tend to lack a killer instinct in the final third, McGinn’s technical ability has even overshadowed Jack Grealish’s of late. Villa fans have already resigned themselves to serious Big Six interest at the end of the season.
Ricardo Pereira (Leicester)
A terrific goal in the 5-0 thumping of Newcastle threatened to make Ricardo a properly ‘rated’ player; one hailed up there with the usual suspects, that is. There was reported interest from Juventus over the summer, but seemingly few of Europe’s biggest clubs have looked into signing Leicester’s marauding right-back.
The Portuguese’s attacking ability was admired last season – he’s a fine crosser of the ball and an excellent dribbler – but just as important have been his contributions in defence.
Only Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Wilfried Ndidi average more tackles per game than Ricardo’s 4.7 (the same two players who ‘beat’ him last season, as well as Idrissa Gueye). The 26-year-old’s best display of the campaign was either keeping Christian Pulisic in his back pocket at Chelsea or repeatedly cutting out Ryan Fraser’s passes in the 3-1 win over Bournemouth, where he made six interceptions.
Philip Billing (Bournemouth)
Everyone knows the two Wilsons, Callum and Harry, are leading the way for Bournemouth this season – but there hasn’t been much love for new signing Billing.
The young Dane has started every game for the Cherries, having always looked a cut about his team-mates at Huddersfield, and his displays on the south coast offer proof that he’s a solid Premier League midfielder who’s here to stay.
His best performance so far came in a 3-1 win at Southampton, where Billing successfully shepherded the midfield despite the hosts’ 4-2-2-2 crowding that zone of the pitch (and his team-mate Jefferson Lerma looking a bit ropey defensively). With Billing in their side, Bournemouth’s 4-4-2 suddenly looks considerably less lightweight.
Gary Cahill (Crystal Palace)
A serial Premier League winner with 61 England caps to his name is anything but an unknown entity, but nevertheless, Cahill’s influence at Crystal Palace has so far slipped under the radar.
Most onlookers thought that the ex-England stopper had been put out to pasture after a season without a single league start, and that a 33-year-old who was never blessed with pace would simply fade away.
Instead, Cahill is enjoying a rebirth at the heart of Palace’s defence. His leadership and organisational skills are playing a pivotal role in his team’s excellent start to the campaign, and he was named the south Londoners’ player of the month for September.
Leaving out the anomalous 4-0 defeat at Tottenham, Roy Hodgson’s side have conceded just three goals in their seven other league matches – a dramatic improvement on recent years. Cahill is the only new variable at Selhurst Park, and arguably already the most important player there.
All the hype around Chelsea’s academy products has denied Emerson the credit he deserves for becoming a dependable left-back under Frank Lampard.
The 25-year-old struggled to fit in at Stamford Bridge during his first two years, amassing just 15 league appearances, which makes it all the more impressive that he’s carved out a space for himself following a summer of hard work and solid friendly performances.
Lampard likes Emerson for his pace going forward. The Italian fits into the new manager’s gung-ho attacking tactics more neatly than the error-prone Marcus Alonso, and yet hasn’t looked as wild or disordered as his fellow Chelsea defenders. It’s testament to the left-back’s consistency in 2019/20 that most neutrals haven’t even noticed him.
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