The Premier League campaign is nearly one-quarter complete, and for the litany of headlines focusing on the English top flight’s biggest stars, an abundance of unheralded players are having brilliant seasons with nary the plaudits.
On the heels of Saturday’s slate of matches, here’s a look at 11 players contributing stellar early-season displays that deserve more attention:
Rob Elliot (Newcastle) – The Magpies’ first-choice shot-stopper has been instrumental to Newcastle‘s successes this season, playing the full 90 in each of the club’s opening nine fixtures. Elliot, 31, has three clean sheets this season, and was particularly good in victories over West Ham and Swansea. It’s hard not to like a player who routinely puts his body on the line.
Kiko Femenia (Watford) – Compared with the Premier League’s best right-backs, Watford‘s 26-year-old free summer signing Kiko Femenia is among the best from a defensive perspective. His 17 interceptions are tops in the league for a right-back, as are the ten tackles won through nine matches, with his performance in a 2-1 win at Swansea being one of the best this season.
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal) – Arguably the most recognised name on this list, Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal has quietly been the Gunners’ best player this season, and with Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny‘s perpetual flirtations with injury, he’s also been their most valuable. Now employed as a centre-half, Monreal, 31, was utterly brilliant in a 2-0 win over West Brom, completing 94 percent of passes whilst winning four aerial duels and five tackles.
James Tarkowski (Burnley) – With Gareth Southgate handing England debuts to Harry Maguire and the lad sweeping the aisles at Sainsbury’s, a nod for Burnley centre-half James Tarkowski may not be far off. The Manchester-born 24-year-old has seamlessly filled the void left by Michael Keane‘s move to Everton, and was notably stellar against Palace, combining 18 clearances with four blocks, without committing a foul.
Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle) – Magpies skipper Jamaal Lascelles has been one of the Premier League’s best defenders this season, and like Tarkowski, the Nottingham-born centre-back is due for an England call-up. The anchor of Rafa Benitez’s backline, Lascelles’ two match-winning headers are second only to Alvaro Morata (three) for tops in the Premier League.
Stephen Ward (Burnley) – With a joint fifth-fewest goals conceded in the league, the Clarets backline has been instrumental to a top-half standing, and while Tarkowski and Ben Mee have been ball-stopping blockades at Turf Moor, Stephen Ward has performed a bang-up job at left-back. Look no further than his outing in a 1-0 win over Everton, when the Ireland international assisted on Jeff Hendrick’s match-winner while stifling the Toffees’ right-sided attack.
Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford) – Like Etienne Capoue a year ago, central midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure has handed Watford an early-season impetus with a flurry of goals. The Mali international was an instrumental part of the Hornets’ victory over Arsenal, chipping in with key aerial clearances and timely tackles, slotted in alongside Tom Cleverley.
Mario Lemina (Southampton) – A well-known, yet underrated player in a similar vein to Monreal, Lemina swapped Juventus for Southampton in the summer and has been the Saints’ best player. A frustrating figure in Piedmont, Lemina has been brilliant in England despite getting little recognition, and the faux copper-topped midfielder has already registered two Man of the Match performances while bossing the middle of the park.
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – If Manchester United was curious why rival City lured Mooy to the Etihad in 2016, the Red Devils were given a ruinous lesson by the Huddersfield summer signing Saturday at the John Smith. The slick-passing Aussie international bagged the 28th-minute opener as part of a versatile outing that included six crosses, three clearances, two tackles and a pair of interceptions.
Pascal Gross (Brighton) – After creating more chances (95) than any player in the Bundesliga with relegated Ingolstadt a year ago, attacking mid Pascal Gross arrived on the south coast an unheralded talent, and almost immediately became a Seagulls fave. The owner of Brighton’s first-ever Premier League goal, Gross was involved in six of the club’s first seven tallies and is a threat courtesy a combination of strikes from distance and key passes.
Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City) – Maligned for a locker loaded with effort and deception but short on goals, Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki has turned over a new leaf this season. His four goals in seven appearances eclipses the trio he scored a season ago, and his match-winners against Brighton and Swansea have single-handedly kept the Foxes narrowly above the drop zone.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)