There is no question that in the sport of soccer, you usually need established superstars to reach the pinnacle of the sport, especially in Europe. And while every team simply doesn't have the likes of a Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, it's just as important to have role players who don't get nearly as much recognition as the stars but are equally important. Just look at the Argentina national team from the last World Cup. It was Lionel Messi and 10 more, and we all know how that went down without the proper support around Messi to help the team gel.
Those underrated, perhaps undervalued (from the outside) players are really the key to creating consistency and securing results in close games. Be it a clinical forward who comes up in big moments to a midfielder who can help control the pace of the match and keep the ball away from an opposing team. Every club has players who fall short of superstar status but deserve to be included among the best players on the globe. Here are three players in the Premier League who aren't viewed as stars by most but at this point, they deserve to be up there with the best players in the league.
Roberto Firmino, Liverpool: We could just change his name to Johnny on the spot. What an unselfish, talented player who has blown up at Anfield. The 26-year-old Brazilian gets better with each year, and following his play at Hoffenheim, he has become an important part of the Reds attack alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. No season was better than last when he scored a career-high 27 goals, 11 of which came in the Champions League. He always puts his team first. Just look back at this summer's World Cup when Brazil beat Costa Rica in the group stage. It was a goal from Philippe Coutinho that won it in added time, and it was Firmino who created it with his team-first header into the heart of the box. Instead of going for the individual glory, he put his team in the best position to win, and it is that unselfishness that makes him so great.
Heung-Min Son, Tottenham: Another player who is similar to Firmino when it comes to just seemingly always making an impact. Son is Asia's biggest soccer star in years and blows you away when you watch him play. South Korea isn't considered a hotbed for top soccer talent, but over the years the country has produced some fine, world-class players like Park Ji-sung. Son is as good as any.
The 26-year-old joined Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 and has repaid the team with 47 goals in 143 games. He's faster than you think, smarter than you think and can put the ball away from any spot. He may not be as renowned as a guy like Harry Kane, but he is crucial to the Spurs' success and consistency.
There have been some rumors about Bayern Munich wanting Son to help improve their exposure in Asia, and that would be a smart move. He is the continent's best player and is simply world class.
Marc Albrighton, Leicester City: The player Chelsea should have signed instead of Danny Drinkwater. Marc Albrighton isn't the most agile or stylish player you will ever see, but he is a rock in the middle of the field and has been so important to Leicester City from even before winning the Premier League in 2015-16. He can play on either side of the midfield but is the man in the middle, possessing the patience and ball control needed to get the attack going and prevent the opposing the team from doing so. He'll never be one of those "he has to be in the national team" guys, but he has had a fantastic career and helped create one of the greatest stories in Premier League history with the Foxes' improbable run to the title.
And now, our latest world power rankings:
World Club Soccer Power Rankings
Previous rankings:| | | | |
|Huge comeback against PSG and blanked Southampton. Flying high. This team just keeps getting better and has a chance to win the Premier League and the Champions League.|
Bayern Munich (GER)
|The German giants only slip because of the week Liverpool had, but beating Benfica and Schalke both on the road was super impressive.|
|Cristiano Ronaldo scored again and this team is undefeated on the season without even a draw. Wojciech Szczesny has been better than most thought.|
|Drawing Girona at home wasn't pretty, but a first-half red card always makes something like that possible. A rough showing but not enough to slip.|
|Way to respond to the Liverpool loss by beating Rennes. Ligue 1 should be over by January.|
Manchester City (ENG)
|The loss to Lyon wasn't pretty but way to bounce back and pound Cardiff. Three games left before the Liverpool showdown on Oct. 7.|
|Another team that had to bounce back after a midweek defeat in the Champions League. Unfortunate against Inter, but this once again feels like a Spurs team that is good, just not good enough.|
Real Madrid (ESP)
|Finding their footing, especially in defense. Three goals allowed in last six games.|
|What a week for Diego Simeone's team with wins at Monaco and Getafe. Thomas Lemar is looking like quite the signing for this team.|
|Just one of those days where the ball wouldn't go in. Drawing at West Ham feels like a loss as the Hammers are awful.|
|Still Italy's second-best team, but they don't feel like a real threat to win a trophy. It's Juve and everybody else, once again.|
|See what happens when you start Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It's not that difficult, Unai.|
|Good win at Young Boys but again slipped up at home against Wolves. Inconsistent as ever.|
Borussia Dortmund (GER)
|A win and a draw this week but the play hasn't been impressive. Fortunate to beat Club Brugge on Christian Pulisic's fluke goal, but the creativity in attack just isn't there lately.|
Inter Milan (ITA)
|Two straight wins via the stoppage time game-winning goal. That will get confidence going and keep belief there for a while that no result is out of reach.|
|Miss you, Alisson. Five goals conceded and none score this week. Lots of work to be done.|
Boca Juniors (ARG)
|Losing to rival River Plate on Sunday wasn't good, but they won the one that mattered most this week vs. Cruzeiro in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores quarterfinal.|
|Lucky to get a point at Fulham. Time to see if this team is for real with Spurs and Arsenal next.|
Cruz Azul (MEX)
|Three-point lead atop Liga MX and allowing just 0.5 goals per game.|
São Paulo (BRA)
|Two straight draws but still top of the table. Massive games against Internacional and Palmeiras in the coming weeks.|
|They get a pass for getting destroyed at Barcelona, because this team is killing it domestically. 6-0-0 in the Eredivisie and just crushed rival Ajax 3-0.|
|Racing plays Monday night against Union.|
|The consistency is back. On pace to make the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals and closing in on the top four in Brazil.|
River Plate (ARG)
|Stringing together some wins in league play and beating rival Boca Juniors will make every fan of the club happy. Have to finish the job against Independiente in Copa Libertadores.|
|Lost to Chapecoense and drew Corinthians. Had been winning those close games, but now the results have gone the other way.|
Biggest movers: Inter Milan (+3) and Internacional (-4).
Teams knocked out of the top 25 this week: Borussia Monchengladbach (GER), Bournemouth (ENG)
Honorable mentions: Deportivo Alaves (ESP), Watford (ENG), Toluca (MEX), America (MEX), Atletico Tucuman (ARG), Celta Vigo (ESP)