In the final installment of this series, we look at the most undervalued players [MUP] candidates for the Manchester teams. Part 1 looked at the MUP candidates for Everton F.C. and Tottenham Hotspurs. We then analyzed the 2012/2013 Arsenal F.C. and Chelsea F.C. squad in Part II as we continued our search for the player that fans failed to recognize for his team’s successes. You know, the guy on the team that fans forget when recounting a famous league campaign or cup run or rival match. This series is dedicated to the unsung heroes of the top 6 teams in the EPL. By discussing two nominees from each of team, the aim of the series is to present players to readers that they would otherwise have missed.
Candidate #1: Carlos Tevez –
One thing is certain with Tevez, when he is on the pitch, he will give his 110% effort. Only Rooney rivals Tevez in terms of intensity during a game in the EPL. He scores, creates, defends and then some. The challenge with Tevez as Sir Alex and Manchini found out is that he plays when HE wants to play. Keeping him happy is the challenge for his new manager at Juventus and that is a challenge few have come out unscathed. In his final season at City, he registered 34 appearances, 6 of those coming off the bench. His time on the field saw him score 11 goals and provide 8 assists.
The difficulty with players such as Tevez is that what they bring to the game—the passion, intensity, the never-say-die-attitude that players and fans rally around cannot be measured [yet at least]. This means that looking at the 11 goals, it is tempting to say that he could have done better especially as Dzeko had 14 goals mostly coming off the bench. When we combine goals and assists, Tevez led his team with a total offensive output of 19. Dzeko was closest with 17 [i.e. 14 goals and 3 assists]. If you place value on the intangibles that are unable to measure, you will agree with Tevez’s pole position as his team’s MUP. For better or worse, Tevez is an immensely talented footballer that is incredibly selfless and plays football like a man possessed. The blue half of Manchester has lost one of their greatest gladiators and the fans at the Etihad stadium will forever remember him.
Candidate #2: Pablo Zabaleta –
Signed in the summer of 2008 from RCD Espanyol, a club where he had spent three seasons, he has quietly established himself as his team most reliable performer. Manchester City is a nouveau riche club and the team has often comprised of talented players with egos. Correction, talented AND overpaid player with HUGE egos. It says a lot about Zabaleta that none of the City Managers have ever had an issue with him. From Ballotelli to Nasri, City’s former managers have had to deal with egos that proved to be a handful. The most recent manager, Mancini was unable to control Tevez and Ballotelli and that played a huge factor in his dismissal at the end of this season.
By all indications, Zabaleta is a professional’s professional. He made the most appearances of any defender on the team with 29 starts and 1 appearance as a substitute. Not impressed with his consistency? How about the fact that with 2 goals and 2 assists, his offensive output is more than double that of his nearest competitors [Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany both have a single goal].. All of his team mates love him and he is one of the few players in the City squad that opposing fans can root for. His efforts was recognized at the end of the 2012/2013 season when City fans voted him the season’s player of the year. A recognition that came at least 2 seasons too late and this is why he is his team’s 2nd nomination of the MUP award.
Outside Shot: Edin Dzeko –
I think a striker’s greatest fear, next to a career or season ending injury and an extended period of goal-drought has to be being labelled a ‘super-sub’. This tag almost guarantees you NEVER start the game as you are considered most valuable coming off the bench. Some have carried this tag with pride, think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United but for players who want to be in the starting 11, it becomes a burden that sadly defines their career. I remember being in awe of Dzeko when he playing at Wolfsburg. He and Grafite [Edinaldo Batista Libanio] played were a sight to behold and they plundered 54 goals in the 2008/09 season whilst leading Wolfsburg to their first league title in their history. The next season, he was the Bundesliga top scorer with 22 goals. Quite simply, Dzeko has proved that he has the quality and he thrives as the team’s main marksman. Unfortunately at City, he has to make do with coming off the bench. To be able to perform in a less than appealing role in such a dignified manner earns him this outshot of being nominated as his team’s MUP. In his 32 appearances with half of those coming off the bench, he scored 14 goals and provided 3 assists. To City fans reading this, he has the ability to be contribute much more.
Candidate #1: Patrice Evra –
Football fans are a fickle lot. Ever since United signed Evra for £5.5 million, the French left-back in 2006, he has worked to establish himself as one of the best modern left-backs in the world, let alone the EPL. Yes, he suffered an unusual loss of form during the beginning of the 2012/2013 season but this was the first time since he became a starter in the 2007/2008 season but fans, pundits and analysts were quick to lampoon the vice-captain. He recovered from his poor early season form [which affected the entire United squad by the way] and ended the season with 4 goals and 4 assists. Rafael, who most fans celebrate as the team’s most attacking full back scored ‘only’ 3 goals and provided 3 assists.
Not only is he deceptively strong but with a pass success percentage of 87%, he rarely misplaces a pass. Only Rafael made more tackle per game [i.e. 3.1.] than Evra who had 2.4 tackles per game in the EPL. Only Robin van Persie and Carrick made more appearances [38 and 37 respectively] than Evra who made a total of 34 appearances for United. Recent transfer speculations suggest that United placed a bid for Leighton Baines. Buttner and the returning Da Silva twin will provide competition for Evra even if the Baines transfer never materializes. Being made the scapegoat for the team’s defensive shortcomings is alone to justify his nomination as United’s MUP. Throw in the fact that despite his better than average season performance, most fans are eager to see him sold to make way for the aforementioned Baines. The guy just can’t catch a break.
Candidate #2: Rio Ferdinand –
To understand why the 34 year old, ex-England international earns a nomination despite being part of the backline that conceded 31 goals to earn the dubious title of the worst defensive record in 11 years, you have to take into account his performance in the 2012/2013 season. Firstly, at 33 he was not expected to be the highest played center-back but with 28 appearances [2 sub appearances] he was the calming presence at the back-four. De Gea’s effort has been rightfully recognized as he is perhaps the most naturally gifted keeper of his generation.
Ferdinand has recovered impressively with his loss of pace as his ability to read games and intercept passes means that he no longer needs to chase after opposing strikers. Watching Ferdinand play is entrancing—his every touch is measured and intentional as evident by his 89.6% pass success percentage. Defensively, he chipped in with 31 tackles and 41 interceptions over the course of the season. With his preferred partner Vidic injured for most of the season, it was Ferdinand that provided the experience Johnny Evans was lacking.
Always one to prove the critics wrong, it is fitting that it was Ferdinand that scored the last goal in the last game of the season which doubled as Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match in charge of United. Ultimately, it is the 32year old’s uncanny ability to adapt that earns him his nomination as United’s MUP. When you least expect it, the old dog becomes re-animated with a new lease of life. Fans should expect to see Rio play well into his 40s.
Outside Shot: Phil Jones –
Readers will notice a trend that all the nominees for Manchester United are defenders. Given that RVP led a one man offensive and is rightfully recognized as the team’s MVP, it is the defense that is forgotten in United’s title winning campaign. The fact that the backline was porous and allowed 31 goals and you can appreciate why most fans are quick to celebrate United’s attackers. Phil Jones despite being listed as defender on the United website is featured on this list for his cameo performances in the middle of the field.
Of his seventeen appearances last season for United, he only featured on defense on six occasions. His versatility has seen him feature alongside Carrick as a defensive midfielder. Whiles he is no Xavi or Fabregas, Phil ‘I-always-make-funny-faces’ Jones performs the task handed to him quite admirably. By filling in at the team’s weakest position and not being out of place, he earns himself an outside shot at the MUP award for Manchester United.
This concludes the series on the MUP candidates of the top 6 EPL sides. As usual, all comments and suggestions are welcomed.