Underrated Premier League players: part two, from Man City to Wolves | Football

Manchester City: Edin Dzeko

Position Forward Time at club 2011-16 League apps/goals 130/50

Dzeko was never an automatic choice – as his status as an unused substitute in City’s 2011 FA Cup final triumph and 74 league starts in five years illustrates. Yet despite a prevailing view that he lacked technicality and was a little ponderous Dzeko could score a “heavy” goal when required. The most vital example of this is the 90th-minute equaliser against Queens Park Rangers that made it 2-2 before Sergio Agüero scored that winner to claim the 2011-12 Premier League title. Jamie Jackson

Manchester United: Javier Hernández

Position Forward Time at club 2010-15 League apps/goals 103/37

Signing for the club when he was 22, Hernández registered 20 goals in his opening season, won two titles and started the 2011 Champions League final before fading from the first-team picture when Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013. Yet Hernández’s 147 minutes per strike ratio is the same as Alan Shearer’s and better than that of Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Michael Owen, placing him 11th on the Premier League list. Since Robin van Persie in 2012-13 only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku have scored 20 times for United in a campaign. His sale always appeared to be a Louis van Gaal howler. JJ

Javier Hernández

Javier Hernández celebrates scoring against West Brom in 2011. Photograph: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images

Newcastle United: James Milner

Position Midfielder Time at club 2004-08 League apps/goals 94/6

Newcastle remained seemingly unaware of the rare gem in their possession with the then manager, Graeme Souness, even claiming his side “would never win anything with a team of James Milners”. As Liverpool’s Mr Versatility polishes his Champions League winners’ medal, Tynesiders recall how a young winger signed by Sir Bobby Robson shortly before his sacking was consistently under-appreciated at St James’ Park. Although he was often sidelined by Souness during the 2005-06 campaign, Milner never let anyone down in the course of 136 first-team appearances in black and white. Twenty eight came in Europe where his stellar reading of the game and sometimes understated skill shone through. He eventually left for Aston Villa – where he had enjoyed a successful loan stint and, particularly after a conversion to central midfield, his talent was properly appreciated. The rest is history. Louise Taylor

Norwich: Alexander Tettey

Position Midfielder Time at club 2012- League apps/goals 215/7

Signed from Rennes by Chris Hughton, Tettey is the only player from that era to remain at Carrow Road. In each season since the Norwegian international has had to fight for his place. He doesn’t contribute goals (except the very odd pearler). He can make bad errors, his passing is unreliable and there’s always a sense he could be upgraded. But that calculation ignores the 34-year-old’s determination, dedication and ability to still learn. In 2019-20, having seen off his latest replacement – the loanee Ibrahim Amadou who was sent back to Sevilla – Tettey was having his best season for the club. Paul MacInnes

Alexander Tettey

Alexander Tettey is Norwich’s longest-serving player. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Sheffield United: Chris Basham

Position Defender Time at club 2014- League apps/goals 238/11

The 31-year-old right-sided element of Chris Wilder’s now famous overlapping centre-halves, Basham took a long time to win hearts and minds at Bramall Lane and remains seriously underrated in the wider football world. Born in Hebburn he joined Newcastle’s academy but ended up working in McDonald’s for two years after being released. Low-profile stints with Bolton, Stafford Rangers, Rochdale and Blackpool followed before he proved an integral part of Sheffield United’s ascent from League One to the top tier. Many Blades fans initially feared Basham would fail to cope with the step up to the Championship and it was, once again, assumed he faced imminent replacement when the Premier League was reached. Instead he has been sensational this season. LT

Southampton: Jack Cork

Position Midfielder Time at club 2011-2015 League apps/goals 114/2

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, the saying goes. Cork did not miss a league game en route to the Premier League in 2012 and, a steady if not spectacular performer, he quickly established himself as a regular in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season at the helm, a calming influence in the heat of the midfield battle. But Cork was deemed dispensable by Ronald Koeman, signing for then top-flight Swansea, before joining Burnley in the summer of 2017 and making his England debut later that year against Germany at Wembley. Just as Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pellè did, Cork left a void that proved difficult to fill. Ben Fisher

Jack Cork

Jack Cork in action for Southampton in 2012. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Tottenham: Benoît Assou-Ekotto

Position Left-back Time at club 2006-2015 League apps/goals 155/4

Like a lot of left-backs, Assou-Ekotto tended to fly under the radar. Perhaps it was because he had no interest in building any sort of profile as a footballer. To him, his work was his work and that was it. Yet it would be foolish to underestimate his commitment when he put on his game face. Assou-Ekotto was a fixture in one of the best Spurs teams of modern times – the one that finished fourth in 2010 under Harry Redknapp and swept to the Champions League quarter-finals the following year. He was quick, tough to beat and made 202 appearances in all competitions across seven seasons at the club, before being loaned to QPR. David Hytner

Watford: Adrian Mariappa

Position Central defender/right-back Time at club 2005-2012; 2016- League apps/goals 278/4

The last time Mariappa played a top-flight game for Watford in the month of August was in 2006. In four Septembers since his return to the club in 2016, after four years away, he has made zero, four, one (for a single minute as a substitute) and one appearances. The point is this: every summer they recruit and rebuild, and as the season starts the manager – often, at Watford, a new appointment – does not have Mariappa in his plans. Even at his own club he has been underrated, but season after season he fights his way into the team, and now he sits 18th in the list of all-time appearance makers. There was also a phenomenal shoulder-high first-touch long-pass instant control in the home game against Burnley this season that was good enough to earn him a place on this list on its own. Simon Burnton

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West Ham: Hayden Mullins

Position Midfielder Time at club 2003-09 League apps/goals 180/4

Mullins was a player who sometimes suffered because of his versatility. When he joined West Ham it was hard to pin down his best position and he struggled when he had to fill in as a full-back, particularly when he went up against Crystal Palace’s Wayne Routledge in the 2004 Championship play-off final. After a torrid spell at right-back, however, Mullins found his feet after linking up with Nigel Reo-Coker in central midfield, helping West Ham regain their place in the top flight in 2005. It did not feel right when he missed the 2006 FA Cup final through suspension. Jacob Steinberg

Wolves: Romain Saïss

Position Midfielder/defender Time at club 2016- League apps/goals 110/8

Every hero needs a trusty sidekick. Saïss has served as exactly that to several players since arriving at Molineux four years ago. He did the dirty work in midfield when Rúben Neves got the acclaim for leading Wolves out of the Championship and he has continued to make his presence felt in the top-flight, both in midfield and in central defence. He is a wholehearted utility man who brings rousing spirit and deceptively tidy passing but tends not to get the attention he deserves. Except, in fairness, from referees, who nearly always spot a reason to take his name. Paul Doyle

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