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Five players who shed their underrated tag in 2017

Each calendar year ends with a crescendo of football in England. Where others are allowed invaluable time off, a bitter schedule hits the finest players in the country. Whether you support it or not, it is great for the spectators.

It also keeps our focus firmly on the sport for the relentless production of calendar year debate. As you have probably figured from the headline, that is exactly what we will be looking at here.

So here we go, five players who have improved their stock in 2017

Son Heung-min

In a lengthy period without Erik Lamela, Mauricio Pochettino desperately needed a player to fill the void. Son Heung-min has been that man. Whether played up with Harry Kane in a 3-5- 2, from the left in a 3-4- 3 or 4-2- 3-1, the South Korea international has become one of the league’s most reliable forwards.

If you think he is still ‘underrated’ or not is up to you, of course, but there has been gradual recognition of his brilliance during the first part of this season. Long-deserved recognition, that is. At the time of writing, Son has nine goals in 17 Champions League and Premier League starts. Add his three league assists to that and you have an impressive looking goal contribution.

His role, though, is far greater. Spurs lack mobility in attack when – as has been the case frequently this season – Serge Aurier and Danny Rose are not in the team. Where Rose and Kyle Walker stretched teams, the highly-praised
triumvirate of Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen pose a limited threat behind the opposition.

Son is the man who creates space. He feeds off the inch-perfect passing of Eriksen, and – as Southampton found out last weekend – is lethal in front of goal. Spurs still require depth on the flanks, but Son’s role in 2017 has been vital.

Jesse Lingard

Jesse Lingard has always been praised for his versatility. It has earned him eight England caps, and, at 25-years- old, seen the Manchester United academy graduate become a consistent part of the first team squad.

Eyebrows were risen when he signed a bumper contract, however. Despite clearly being of use as a rotation option, and being able to fill in on either flank or behind the striker, the reported six-figure wage was on the steep side even for a financial juggernaut like Manchester United.

Then, as his role as also-ran in a squad of stars looked set to be his career, Jose Mourinho turned to him. This has only been a recent occurrence. Lingard, though, is now one of United’s most important players and deserves to be ahead of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata in the pecking order.

He offers something different. Lingard will drop into different spaces, and occupy defenders unlike many of Mourinho’s other options. Off-the- ball, Lingard is a threat to run beyond the centre- forward, out-of- possession he is reliable with the athleticism to cover ground like a midfielder.

To top it all off, he has scored six and assisted two in his last seven league appearances. The least he deserves for his transition to key man.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

The wave of praise that swept Watford at the start of the campaign has waned with their form. Marco Silva’s side are not going to be embroiled in a relegation contest, however, and should still have a relatively solid season finishing in the upper echelons of the ever-competitive mid-table.

Part of their early season joy was born of strong midfield. A vast portion of that was the form of Abdoulaye Doucoure, who has started 19 Premier League matches to date, which happens to be five more than he started in the whole of 2016/17.

Doucoure has shown the trademarks of the complete midfielder. Capable of protecting his defence, supporting the forwards and playmaking, he has the skillset of the perfect modern Premier League player. There is no phase where he is ineffective.

It might be a while until the Malian is acknowledged for just how good he is. It might, unfortunately for Watford, be interest from the top six that triggers that.

Already in 2017/18 his reputation has improved, and it will continue to do so.

Ben Mee

When Burnley were overachieving last season, Tom Heaton and Michael Keane got all the praise. With Heaton injured and Keane struggling at Everton, Sean Dyche and James Tarkowski are getting the acclaim for this season’s heroics. Ben Mee has been the constant.

Mee started 34 Premier League matches last season, and has started 18 out of 20 this term. The 28- year-old is a model of consistency, he, in so many ways, is the personification of Burnley.

Unspectacular, trustworthy, and effective, but it is the first adjective that can leave Mee unheralded in Burnley’s success.

If it were not for plenty of competition, Mee would be playing himself into the World Cup squad. Perhaps he already is. That’s just how good he and his central defensive accomplice, Tarkowski, have been this season. Only the league’s top three clubs have conceded fewer than Dyche’s astonishing Clarets.

Given that this piece was about players getting recognised for their quality, I’d dare suggest Mee still
isn’t quite there. But, as with every Burnley player, there’s no doubt the common opinion of him has

John Stones

John Stones is one of the players standing between Mee and an England call-up. His recent injury has nudged the former Evertonian from consciousness, but his brilliance in 2017 should not be glossed over.

Stones has been one of the most heavily criticised players in the Premier League since his transfer. There was an inevitability about his improvement under Pep Guardiola, though, and we have seen that this year. He is now deserving of a mention amongst the best central defenders in the league.

The football world loves extremes. Stones was a terrible buy – which he never was – and that exaggeration has made his displays in the last few months seem more shocking that they really were.

He has always been a very capable ball-playing centre-back, he just happened to be in a team that was dysfunctional defensively last season and he was often left in impossible situations.

This season has shown us what the ex-Barnsley man could become. He will likely play an integral role in one of the all-time great club seasons, despite such a challenging beginning to his Manchester City career.

Already one of the best in the Premier League, it will not be long before he’s considered one of the
best around.

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