It’s easy to recognise who European football’s big guns are – you only have to see the goal return of Cristiano Ronaldo, the goals created by Lionel Messi and the defensive record of Bayern Munich to know that.
But what about those unsung heroes; the ones that go under the radar because they play for unfashionable clubs, or do great work that goes largely unnoticed. Well, this article is their chance to shine.
Remember, all of these stats are permed from Europe’s top five leagues too, so we know that the players contained within are top drawer.
Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen)
This German midfielder averages 4.9 tackles won and 3.7 interceptions made per game – putting him near the top of not one but two categories that a defensive midfield shield requires.
At 27, Bender is at the peak of his powers: young enough to get around the pitch and engage in physical battles, old enough to have the nous and experience required in such a tactical position. He could be a top summer transfer target.
Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Toulouse)
No player in Europe makes more tackles per game that Akpa-Akpro: 4.8 successful per match from more than 2000 minutes of action.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also delivers two key interceptions per game, 1.5 clearances and 1.3 dribbles in what is a poor Toulouse outfit. Any side looking for a full back that can defend and attack could do worse than taking a look at this 24-year-old.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla)
Just look at those lovely stats: 2.4 tackles made, 4.8 interceptions completed, 3.2 successful clearances per match. That all-action approach ensures that Krychowiak is the ideal midfield rock; no wonder the 26-year-old is being touted as the long-term successor to Sergi Busquets at Barcelona.
Borja Baston (Eibar)
It must be easy being a striker for the likes of Barca or Real Madrid. With such quality creative talents around you, you can rest assured that chances are going to come your way in abundance. But what happens when you don’t play in the best of sides, and you have to fashion your own chances? You can often go unsung, as Borja Baston has probably noticed. The 23-year-old has notched 16 goals for a solid yet unspectacular Eibar side this term, so don’t be surprised if a big club comes a-knocking in the summer.
Ryad Boudebouz (Montpellier)
Mesut Ozil, Dimitri Payet, Neymar, Kevin de Bruyne….these are the kinds of names you’d expect to find in a list of European football’s leading ‘key pass’ makers. But Ryad Boudebouz?
The Algerian delivers 3.2 key passes per game on average for Montpellier – more than the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. This statistic is more important than assists in many ways, because an assist requires a striker to finish the chance created, whereas a key pass relies solely on the quality of the individual delivering the ball.
The Algerian is fifth in Europe for ‘key passes – crosses’ as well; the boy is a serious talent.
As far as midfield metronomes go, Jorginho is up there with the best of the bunch. A pass success rate of 91% from an average of 99 passes per game (more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues) is incredible, as is his 1.9 key passes per game and three assists thus far from a deep midfield role.
Jorginho is the unsung hero of this free-scoring Napoli side; the platform from which the likes of Higuain, Insigne and Hamsik can build.