The Premier League features some of the richest clubs in world football. This means that these clubs have the cash to spend almost as they please on some of the planet’s best players.
Due to the sheer amount of top talent at these teams, it is inevitable that some fantastic players find themselves on the sideline more often than not.
In fact, when you look at some individuals that have been used in bit-part roles thus far in 2020/21, the real quality of Premier League teams becomes easier to see.
Of course, injuries and other outside factors can have a strong influence on a player’s play time. But there is a large number of players that are seemingly out-of-favour at their sides for no apparent reason.
Mesut Ozil is probably the prime example of this, but his situation has been spoken about enough.
Here, we will look at some more of the very best players that have been criminally underutilized by their managers in the league this season.
Giovani Lo Celso
Giovani Lo Celso may be the single most underrated player currently plying his trade in the Premier League. He may also be the most misunderstood.
The reason for this is the common misconception that he is a No 10, at his best creating in the hole behind the striker. It seems that Jose Mourinho is one of these people.
In reality, the Argentine is a No 8, capable of fantastic contribution both going forward and defensively. Take one look at his numbers playing for Real Betis (at times even in the No 6 role) in 2018/19 for evidence.
Spurs’ signings of both Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele in summer 2019 were two of the most exciting moves in the club’s history. They were supposed to have a pair of central midfielders that were capable of mind-blowing technical ability, but also good work-rate and tactical understanding.
Fast-forward to November 2020 and only one or the other is trusted to be on the pitch at any given time. Ndombele has been winning the battle so far this season.
This has restricted Lo Celso to just 185 league minutes, spread across five games.
Tottenham’s last three games have seen Lo Celso replace Ndombele around the 65-minute mark. In fact, one has replaced the other in five of Spurs’ eight Premier League games this season.
Ok, Spurs are going well so it is easy to see why Jose has stuck with his tried and trusted trio thus far. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the archetypal Mourinho player, while Moussa Sissoko has his qualities of course.
But there is no reason that Spurs can’t play a midfield trio of Hojbjerg, Ndombele and Lo Celso. The fact that it hasn’t been seen for even a minute is quite baffling.
One thing for sure is that Giovani Lo Celso is too good to sit on the bench. If Jose Mourinho doesn’t want to use him, someone else will.
The case of William Saliba at Arsenal is one of the most strange in recent memory.
Signed from Saint-Etienne in 2019 as one of the top centre-back prospects in the world, he was then loaned back to the French side. This move made a lot of sense, as he was only 18 at the time.
He was relatively impressive in this loan spell before Ligue 1 was called to an early halt due to the pandemic.
Yet when it came time for him to make the move to London, uncertainty arose. It looked like Saliba would be returning to his homeland for at least another season due to personal reasons.
A move never materialized, so he is still at Arsenal. However, he is only featuring for the u23 side.
Mikel Arteta seemingly feels that he is not ready for Premier League football. The question on everyone’s lips is “why not?”.
It isn’t like Arsenal have an outstanding defensive record so far. They have improved since last year, but that is probably down to shape rather than personnel.
One would think that now is an ideal time to get Saliba into the side considering the back three that Arteta has utilized thus far this season. He would have the brilliant Gabriel plus another centre-back and two wingbacks to cover for any errors that he might make.
Arsenal are also playing Europa League football, which most clubs often use to blood new talent. Yet they did even register Saliba to play in the competition.
While Arteta has rested his big names in Europe, they have been replaced by older players like Shkodran Mustafi. Surely Arsenal would benefit a lot more from giving these minutes to Saliba?
It is especially confusing when one takes a look at another teenage, former Saint-Etienne centre-back who is also new to the Premier League. Leicester’s Wesley Fofana has been nothing short of a revelation, yet Saliba was seen as the better player in Ligue 1.
Is Saliba likely to do a worse job than the likes of Rob Holding or David Luiz in the immediate future? Mikel Arteta seems to think so, much to the anger of Gunners fans.
For the last two seasons, James Maddison was part of one of Europe’s most exciting midfield trios at Leicester City.
In fact, he has developed into one of the best creative players in the league, despite still being just 23-years-old.
Yet this season has seen his career stall to an extent, through no fault of his own. He has struggled with injury, some serious and some minor.
That may be one reason for Brendan Rodgers’ refusal to play him at times this season. But as the old saying goes, “if he’s fit enough to sit on the bench, he’s fit enough to start”.
And Maddison has sat on the bench five times this season, only starting two of the Foxes’ eight league games this season.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation has clearly worked well, as the Foxes are currently top of the Premier League table. Leicester may stick with this until Wilfred Ndidi returns from injury late next month.
So Maddison will possible have to adapt his game to a hybrid winger/No 10 role.
It does look like the Englishman will feature more regularly from now on, as he started last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Wolves. Yet this start came at the expense of Harvey Barnes and Cengiz Under.
Rodgers has to find a way to get at least two of the three into the side if he wants to maintain their great start to the season.
He simply must be a regular in the advanced midfield role going forward. No matter how well the team went without him.
Last season, Mateo Kovacic was quite possibly as one of the three or four best No 8’s in England. Yet this season has seen him play just four games and just 203 league minutes for Chelsea.
Frank Lampard clearly has not worked out his best team just yet, such is the array of top talent he has at his disposal. Yet be it a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 he decides to go with in future, Kovacic simply has to play.
He started in the game at West Brom in September but was hooked at half-time with his side 3-0 down. The Blues came back in the second half and drew 3-3. Surely Frank Lampard did not put this solely on the 26-year-old’s shoulders?
He has since rotated the likes of Jorginho, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz as Ngolo Kante’s partners in midfield.
There is no real reason that Kovacic and Kante could not form a formidable double-pivot. Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic could then play behind Timo Werner. On paper, it would be one of the best XI’s on the planet.
Kante’s ball-winning ability is no secret. He could sit back and sweep up any counter-attacks if the Croatian went on one of his fantastic ball-progressing dribbles.
Kovacic himself has also put up good defensive number throughout his career. Lampard wouldn’t have to worry in that regard.
Having too many good players is as good a problem that a team can have. Yet Mateo Kovacic is one of Chelsea’s very best.