The first half of the season is in the books: it’s been an interesting one, but perhaps not as intriguing as it was anticipated in the summer. Scudetto race is limited to three Juventus, Roma and Napoli, while the teams really contending for a UCL spot are just five, but with Inter already 9 points behind Napoli. On the other hand, the relegation battle is really good this year.
Some teams have been surprising (Hellas, Parma, Torino) some others have flopped (Milan, Lazio, Udinese). There have been players that emerged as superstars, while others didn’t performed as expected.
Let’s take a look now at my favourite category: the underrated players. Everybody knows that Rossi, Tevez, Palacio, Toni, Higuain, Cerci, Berardi, Valero, Pjanic, Strootman, Pogba, Jorginho, Benatia (no particular order) and a bunch of others are having a great season. But there are many players that are quietly putting up an impressive campaign without being surrounded by all that buzz.
To make sure that we are really talking about underrated players, I excluded the first 8 teams of the table plus Milan.
Mattia Perin (Genoa): he’s has the best Gazzetta average rating (6.37) and the highest Squawka’s performance score among the eligible goalies. He started with a blunder, but then showed great character and was the protagonist of some hero performances, despite the bizarre Gasperini tactics. He’s averaging 2.37 saves per game and kept the clean sheet 6 times in 19 matches.
Shkodran Mustafi (Sampdoria): A bit lost in Delio Rossi’s Palombo-led defensive live, he became a force as Mihajlovic took over and started using him as a CB in a 4-man defense. He’s averaging 2.5 tackles per game, 2.9 interceptions and 7.5 clearances, which is an outstanding combination. What surprised me the most though, it’s how he flourished into a solid CB after looking shaky and unreliable for a couple of seasons.
Alessandro Lucarelli (Parma): a man from the old guard. He’s leading the league with Whoscored’s MoM awards with six, among all players, not only defenders. He already scored 3 goals, including an amazing back heel shoot. He’s averaging 3.7 tackles per game, 3.1 interceptions and 7.6 clearances. He anchored the Paletta-less Parma’s defense, rebounding from last year when it looked like he was definitely declining and was benched several times.
Luca Antei (Sassuolo): he’s leading Serie A in tackles with 5 and interceptions with 4 per game, and that is be enough to put him in this lineup. After being a fringe player last year in Serie B, he turned into Sassuolo’s best defenders, giving Di Francesco a much-needed weapon after Acerbi and Terranova went down with injuries and Rossini disappeared.
Romulo (Hellas Verona): he isn’t technically eligible, but he deserves a shout. In a team where everybody else is praised, he’s putting up big numbers: 4 goals and 6 assists. He’s at ease in Hellas’ grit-and-run style where he can shows his power and his cleverness on the counter. Not bad for a Fiorentina’s castoff.
Allan (Udinese): he’s averaging 4.7 tackles per game, more than Vidal, Strootman, De Rossi, De Jong and all the other powerhouses in the midfield. A very intelligent player, that always looks in control and never tries plays that exceeds his skills. He reminds me of Emerson a lot.
Daniele Conti (Cagliari): he’s been in the league forever and knows how to play. He averages 70.8 passes per game with a 90.4% pass success, numbers that are slightly better than Andrea Pirlo’s ones. He also throws 7.3 long balls per game. He’s the key of Cagliari’s lineup.
Boukary Drame (Chievo Verona): a tough call, not really much talent around in this position. Drame has been a steady contributor, cutting off the defensive mistakes he used to make and becoming an option going forward. He has the best Whoscored’s rating in that position with 7.34.
Panagiotis Kone (Bologna): we all know Diamanti is great, but he needs somebody that can combine with him. With all the strikers struggling, Kone has been the second fiddle, scoring four goals. Without him, Bologna would be in shambles even more.
Eder (Sampdoria): the only Sampdoria’s forward to remain consistent through the two coaching realms. He already scored 9 goals (seasonal best) and has been efficient both on the wing and as a falso-nueve. He’s Sampdoria’s go-to-guy and it always amuses me how dangerous he is gliding through giants.
Cyril Thereau (Chievo): 4 goals don’t look an impressive record, but he’s literally the only thing going on in Chievo’s attack. He’s the lone playmaker and he’s carrying the team. If somehow Chievo have not been relegated yet, it’s thanks to him.