An ode to the Premier League’s unsung heroes, those who often perform admirably in the shadows of their more celebrated teammates. Every team has them, and it’s due time they got the recognition they deserve.
Here is every ‘Big Six’ side’s unsung hero so far this season.
Arsenal – Gabriel
Gabriel spends much of his time in the background as centre-back partner William Saliba hogs the headlines, with the brilliance of the latter making it easy to forget just what a good defender his right-hand man is.
The Brazilian began the season out of favour and did not start a Premier League game until September, but returned for the win over Manchester United and has been an almost-ever present since. Gabriel offers a more combative compliment to the smooth Saliba, while the pace and power of the defensive duo has helped Arsenal to the second-best defensive record in the division.
Just six players in Europe’s top five leagues have tackled a higher percentage of dribblers faced (84.6%) than Gabriel this season, while his two last-man challenges are a joint-leading total in the Premier League.
Chelsea – Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher’s future at Chelsea continues to be uncertain, despite the midfielder’s clear importance to Mauricio Pochettino’s plan. The England midfielder has featured in all but one of the Blues’ Premier League games this season, captaining Chelsea on several occasions, and has set the tone for the West London side’s press.
Gallagher ranks second in the Premier League for possession won (137) and tops the division for possession won in the final third (29). Despite their inconsistent results, Chelsea rank third in the Premier League for presses per defensive action, fourth for high turnovers, and fifth for high turnovers leading to a shot on goal. Gallagher’s tenacity has been central to that game plan, which with refinement in the final third could see Chelsea begin to find form.
“It’s imperative they keep him.” 🗣
Joe Cole believes it would be a ‘disaster’ if Chelsea were to let Conor Gallagher leave this month 👀
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) January 13, 2024
Former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole this week said it would be a ‘travesty’ if the 23-year-old was sold, amid links to London rivals Tottenham.
“I think he’ll keep getting better in the same way that Jordan Henderson did at Liverpool,” Cole told the Obi One podcast.
“I think it would be a travesty if Chelsea let him go. They’re talking about homegrown players, then talking about him going to Tottenham! Please don’t. If I could speak to the owners now…
“If someone’s listening at the club, please, please keep Conor Gallagher. Forget how much money he’s worth on the spreadsheet, find the money somewhere else. The kid’s going to get better and better and he’s going to be a massive player for Chelsea.”
Liverpool – Joe Gomez
Joe Gomez might have felt his race was run at Liverpool in the summer. The defender made just eight starts in the Premier League last season, with the vast majority coming in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, in a less-favoured right-back role.
Gomez’s versatility has instead been the lifeline to his Liverpool career. In the absence of key figures, Gomez has carved himself a niche as Jurgen Klopp’s man for all occasions, deputising at left-back in recent weeks with Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas sidelined.
The 26-year-old has produced some of the best football of his career with the club of late, with his ability to operate in any position across the backline invaluable for a Liverpool team competing on four fronts this season.
Manchester City – Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva is one of the finest talents in world football. Rarely, however, is he placed in that conversation.
The Manchester City midfielder is so good so often that it has become the norm, with the consistency of his quality meaning it lacks the standout factor needed to attract headlines.
Still, there’s good reason Pep Guardiola has fought tooth and nail to keep Silva in recent transfer windows when other unsettled stars have been ushered through the exit door.
He’s bloody brilliant, is Bernardo.
Manchester United – Bruno Fernandes
Slim pickings, here.
Manchester United’s poor campaign has had few positives, though it is arguably one of the club’s biggest names who has failed to earn his dues. Fernandes is a footballer who riles up opposition fans and frustrates his own on occasion, but he remains an elite chance creator.
No player in the division has created more chances than Fernandes this season, who also leads the Premier League for progressive passes, through balls, passes into the penalty area and ranks third for expected assists.
No player in Europe’s big 5 leagues has more shot-creating actions than Bruno Fernandes this season, with 110.
Magnifico. 🪄 pic.twitter.com/qnCCYYB6Mg
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 17, 2024
Meanwhile, his three goals have earned the Red Devils a maximum of nine points. That could be crucial in keeping the club’s fading Champions League hopes alive.
Tottenham – Ben Davies
Ben Davies is approaching a decade of service at Spurs and has become part of the furniture in North London.
The Welshman’s role has not always been automatic and there were question marks regarding his future after the introduction of Destiny Udogie into the side this season, but Davies has remained a dependable defensive option for Ange Postecoglou.
Davies excelled in an unfamiliar centre-back role to help combat the club’s injury issues earlier in the campaign, using all of his experience to navigate a tricky period with big wins over Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Everton. An exemplary attitude from the 30-year-old this season.