Recognising the Unsung Heroes of the EPL

Andy WardContributor IIJanuary 14, 2013

Recognising the Unsung Heroes of the EPL

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    Poor old Jon Walters must have thought that he'd ran over a black cat prior to the recent 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League, with the Irish striker scoring two own goals and missing a penalty in what turned out to be a miserable afternoon.

    However, the Stoke City man shouldn't be too down about his bad day at the office as he has generally been superb since swapping Ipswich for the Potteries back in 2010

    Despite being so consistent for Stoke, Walters hasn't really received the plaudits that some people feel he deserves, and that got me thinking about the other players whose performances go largely unnoticed. 

    So, sit back as we salute the unsung heroes of the Premier League...

Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal)

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    Thomas Vermaelen has proved to be one of Arsene Wenger's better signings after joining the Gunners in 2009 from Ajax, and was handed the captain's armband this year after Robin van Persie's controversial switch to Manchester United

    The Belgian can be relied on to perform on a regular basis but needs a consistent partner alongside him in the centre of defence with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny sometimes failing to convince.

    Despite not getting the plaudits of his fellow countryman Vincent Kompany, Vermaelen has adapted to the physical demands of the Premier League just as well, and he will be hopeful of helping Arsenal progress in the coming years. 

Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)

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    It may seem strange to single out a defender for praise when talking about a Villa team that has conceded goals for fun of late, but Ciaran Clark is one of the few players at Villa Park who can be satisfied with his contribution in recent years.

    The Republic of Ireland international has kept a cool head whilst others around him have been losing theirs, and to be handed the captain's armband at the age of 23 in Ron Vlaar's absence shows that he possesses required leadership qualities.

    With Lambert's outfit so clearly lacking experience, the loss of Vlaar in the centre of defence has hit them hard, but things should start to look a lot more solid upon his return to the lineup alongside the dependable Clark. 

Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)

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    Branislav Ivanovic is enjoying a great season to date as the powerhouse continues to cement his status as one of the best defenders in the Premier League.

    In addition to his obvious defensive capabilities, Ivanovic regularly weighs in with his fair share of goals, which only adds to his appeal.

    His versatility is another major attraction, with his combination of strength and pace allowing him to be equally effective at right-back or in the centre of the defence, which makes him a manager's dream. 

    John Terry may get the majority of the headlines, albeit sometimes for the wrong reasons, but the Serbian defender is just as important to Chelsea's success on the pitch. 

Tony Hibbert (Everton)

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    Probably the ultimate unsung hero, Tony Hibbert has forged a superb career for himself by simply making the most of his ability.

    The Everton right-back would be the first to admit that he is far from the best technical player in the world, but his attitude and endeavour certainly make up for that.

    As a result, the 31-year-old is a cult hero at Goodison Park, and despite struggling for as much game time as he would have hoped for this season, he still remains a key part of the Toffees squad.

    Now the challenge for Hibbert is to break his record o never having scored in a competitive match, although his place in Everton folklore should be safe regardless!

Steve Sidwell (Fulham)

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    Fulham's Steve Sidwell is a player who undoubtedly puts his heart and soul into every game but often doesn't receive the recognition that he deserves.

    Blessed with a terrific engine, the 30-year-old is effective in both defence and attack by constantly pressuring opposing midfielders and popping up with the odd goal to boot. 

    Although a quality side on their day, the Cottagers are not a side renowned for their fighting spirit when things get tough, which is why Sidwell's battling qualities are so vital.

    Things didn't really work out when Sidwell got his big move to Chelsea back in 2008, but it appears that he has found a more suitable home in West London now. 

Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

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    Like Tony Hibbert at Merseyside rivals Everton, Jamie Carragher is another player to make use of his ability and become one of the most respected players in the Premier League.

    Whilst many players have come and gone during Carragher's 19 years at Anfield, he has remained a constant part of the Liverpool furniture, and it will certainly be strange to imagine the Reds without him.

    The 34-year-old may be entering the twilight stages of his career now, but he still has an important role to play at the club by offering guidance to the various young stars currently making their mark in the first team.

    They could certainly do a lot worse than learn from one of the ultimate professionals of this generation. 

Gareth Barry (Manchester City)

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    Despite being surrounded by some of the world's very best players at Manchester City, Gareth Barry is still seen as a key part of the team by Roberto Mancini, with the Italian continuing to pick the England man on a regular basis.

    Barry is a player who does the simple things well and knows his role within the larger picture, which is essentially to supply City's array of talented attacking stars with enough ball to create.

    It is testament to Barry that although new players are brought into the club on a regular basis, he has managed to keep his place and remain a key player.

    With Yaya Toure currently away at the African Cup of Nations, the 31-year-old is more important than ever as the Citizens look to retain their Premier League crown. 

Paul Scholes (Manchester United)

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    Although not strictly a conventional unsung hero, Paul Scholes could quite rightly claim to have not received the credit that he deserves for his unbelievable ability.

    The likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs progressed to the first team from the same all-conquering youth set-up back in the 1990s, but Scholes is arguably the best of the lot. 

    When someone of the genius of Zinedine Zidane says that the biggest regret of his career was not getting the chance to play alongside Scholes , you know that you are dealing with a truly special talent, and United's desperation to lure the veteran out of retirement last season showed how critical his contribution to the cause has been over the years.

    A quiet man away from the pitch, Scholes has stayed away from the headlines during his time at Old Trafford and simply let his football do the talking, which, you suspect, is exactly how he would want it to be. 

James Perch (Newcastle United)

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    It would be fair to suggest that Newcastle United fans were far from convinced when James Perch arrived at the club back in 2010, but the utility man appears to have won over his critics with his committed displays.

    Ever the team player, the 27-year-old has played in a whole range of positions to help cover for injuries, which is why he is such a valuable member of the squad.

    He has really shown form this season despite the Toon struggling to recapture last season's fantastic form, and Perch's fighting qualities could prove pivotal in keeping the Magpies safe from the relegation trapdoor. 

Bradley Johnson (Norwich City)

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    Norwich City could have a number of candidates to take this crown, with the Canaries full of unsung heroes, but it is Bradley Johnson who gets the nod thanks to his largely unnoticed contribution.

    The combative midfielder is a classic example of not realising how much you miss a player until they are out of the team, as City found out to their cost when they were bullied by West Ham United in the 2-1 defeat to the Hammers on New Year's Day.

    That is the only game that the 25-year-old has missed this season with, Chris Hughton picking the former Leeds man as one of the first names on the team sheet more often than not. 

    Johnson may not be spectacular, but he has an uncanny knack of breaking up opposing attacks and keeping things simple, which allow players such as Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan the freedom to create, and ultimately means that he is worth his weight in gold. 

Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers)

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    It is quite telling that one of the first things that Harry Redknapp did upon arriving at Loftus Road was to put Jamie Mackie in the starting lineup, with the Scottish striker clearly up for the relegation fight.

    In a team full of individuals, Mackie is the binary opposite, and Redknapp is fully aware that the 27-year-old will continue to put his body on the line for the Rangers cause.

    His attitude has made him a firm favourite with the Hoops faithful, who respect Mackie's contribution and will no doubt hope that other teammates are inspired by his lead as the club battles to beat the drop. 

Mikele Leigertwood (Reading)

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    Ever since being deemed surplus to requirements at Queens Park Rangers, Mikele Leigertwood has proved to be an inspired signing for Reading, with the defensive midfielder having made a considerable impact at the Madejski. 

    Although hardly a world-beater, Leigertwood is another who likes to keep things ticking over and bring others into play. 

    What's more, his positional intelligence means that he is often in the correct position to stop dangerous attacks in their tracks, and his spectacular strike against Fulham in October showed that he is a threat from distance as well. 

Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)

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    Southampton have enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent seasons after gaining back-to-back promotions to take them from League One to the Premier League, and the figure of Morgan Schneiderlin has been with them every step of the way on that journey.

    It's remarkable to think that Schneiderlin is only 23-years-old, with it seeming like years since he first burst onto the scene, and the Frenchman is evidently enjoying his chance to shine in the Premier League.

    Schneiderlin plays with a maturity that suggests he will continue to develop into a very good player, and his continued inclusion could ultimately help keep the Saints afloat this season. 

Jon Walters (Stoke City)

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    As touched upon earlier, Jon Walters didn't enjoy the best of days in Stoke City's heavy defeat at the hands of Chelsea on Saturday, but such a display was a rare blip in an otherwise superb time at the Britannia Stadium for the former Ipswich man.

    Walters simply works his socks off for his teammates and leads the line superbly in attack, which is why the Stoke fans have really taken to him since his arrival in Staffordshire.

    His run of over 60 consecutive Premier League games was proof of how highly Tony Pulis rates the 29-year-old's abilities, and it is likely that the Potters boss will continue to keep faith in Walters for some time yet. 

Craig Gardner (Sunderland)

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    Steven Fletcher has attracted the headlines so far this season for Sunderland thanks to his impressive goal return, but Craig Gardner has also enjoyed a fantastic campaign after finally settling on Wearside. 

    Just twelve months ago there was talk of the Birmingham-born midfielder looking to move away from the club due to homesickness according to the Daily Mail, but Gardner has put those worries behind him to prove his worth to the Black Cats.

    Possessing a lethal shot, Gardner is a constant threat from both open play and set pieces, and his passing range is of the highest order. 

    If he keeps up the kind of form he has been showing recently, England boss Roy Hodgson will be forced to take notice of a player who is starting to fulfill his undoubted potential. 

Ben Davies (Swansea City)

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    When the impressive Neil Taylor was ruled out for the rest of the campaign because of a horrific ankle fracture, Swansea City fans could have been forgiven for worrying exactly how Michael Laudrup was going to fill the void at left-back, but the emergence of Ben Davies has meant that they needn't have concerned themselves after all.

    The 19-year-old has frankly made the transition from the youth team to Premier League football look like a piece of cake, with his assured displays winning many admirers.

    Taylor will face a battle to shift Davies in both the Swans and Wales teams upon his return from injury as Davies continues to impress at the Liberty Stadium. 

Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)

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    Sandro Raniere is fast developing into one of the top defensive midfielders in the Premier League and should only get better over time. 

    The Brazilian has been an ever-present for Tottenham this season having started every Premier League game and is showing the sort of potential that persuaded the North London club to part with upwards of £10 million to lure him to White Hart Lane in 2010

    Unlike other Samba stars, Sandro's game isn't built on silky skills but is instead reliant on the ability to dominate the midfield with his physical ability.

    That's not to say that Sandro can't play football as well, with the 23-year-old impressing many onlookers with his capacity to pick out a pass.

    Thankfully, a knee injury picked up in the goal-less draw with QPR doesn't appear to be as serious as first feared, which will be a relief for both Andre Villas-Boas and Spurs fans alike. 

James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)

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    There's no doubt that James Morrison has been an integral part of West Brom's success this season. 

    His displays in the early stages of this campaign resulted in Morrison signing a new four-year-deal to stay at the club until 2016, and the Scottish International hasn't taken his foot off the pedal since by continuing to impress.

    Blessed with quick feet and superb supplies of stamina, the 26-year-old can run all day whilst still maintaining quality in possession, and he is the one who makes the Baggies tick.

    Romelu Lukaku warrants praise for his great form in front of goal since joining on loan from Chelsea, but Morrison deserves equal credit for his role in the West Midlands outfit's rise up the table. 

Winston Reid (West Ham United)

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    Winston Reid didn't exactly hit the ground running when he arrived at Upton Park two-and-a-half years ago from FC Midtjylland but has now established himself as a regular in Sam Allardyce's team.

    The Kiwi must have wondered what he had let himself in for when the Hammers were subsequently relegated on that occasion, but in a strange way West Ham's plight was beneficial for Reid as it gave him a chance to get regular football in the Championship.

    Since then, Reid has gone from strength to strength after a series of commanding displays at the heart of the Irons back line and proved the doubters wrong.  

    It looks like money well spent after all. 

Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)

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    The leadership of Gary Caldwell was a major reason that Wigan Athletic managed to pull of the great escape last season, with the captain simply monumental in the second half of the campaign.

    Injuries have restricted his appearances this time out, but his return to the lineup in recent weeks is sure to be a boost to the Latics.

    Strong in the air and committed in the challenge, Caldwell's enthusiasm means that his lack of pace isn't a great issue and that he leads by example. 

    With Wigan staring relegation in the face again, keeping Caldwell fit could well be the difference between the Premier League and a return to Championship football. 

     

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