Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Karim Benzema among world's most underrated stars

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Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic

Opinions in football are like strikes at goal: some are dead on, others are well wide of the mark.

By their very nature, there’s rarely any middle ground, it’s one or the other and personal bias can often drive which side of the divide people fall on.

Which bring us to today’s potentially divisive offering.

We’ve picked out five players who for a variety of reasons are underrated. Now, this is not to say these players are not already rated, but that they are deserving of more recognition than what they currently garner, whether from their own supporters or on a more global scale.

After examining five of the most overrated stars, here’s a look at five of the most underrated players in football right now.

KARIM BENZEMA | REAL MADRID

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The top three all-time highest goalscorers in the Champions League are probably names easily guessed. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul are an obvious cast of goalscoring greats, but the man at number four might surprise.

Karim Benzema is indeed the fourth-best marksman in Europe’s top-tier competition with an impressive 60 goals in 112 appearances.

Considering the vast majority of those games were spent as a decoy for the man in top spot, it’s an immense return.

Even beyond Europe, Benzema’s numbers are to be celebrated with his decade at Madrid seeing him reach 223 goals in 465 appearances, spearheading the capture of 17 major trophies.

He’s done so quietly on his part, in a variety of different roles and often under incredible criticism from the Madrid fan base.

When Ronaldo left the club last year, the 31-year-old went onto to enjoy his second-best league scoring record for Los Blancos, plundering 21 times. And yet, despite being Real’s best player in 2018/19, there remains calls to see him usurped by new-boy Luka Jovic.

Only when Benzema is out of the side will people realise what is lost.

SADIO MANE | LIVERPOOL & SENEGAL

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There was narrative which annoyed many last season that Sadio Mane was underrated, but it was mainly the Liverpool fan base frustrated with that assessment.

In their eyes, Mane is the attacking leader of the European champions, a scorer of crucial goals – particularly openers – and a player who embraces multiple positions – he’s Jurgen Klopp’s best option at cloning Roberto Firmino.

But to the wider world, Mane is still considered beneath someone like Ronaldo. The Senegalese was fifth in UEFA’s Player of the Year award with two of his own team-mates ahead of him in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.

On the basis of last season, Mane was more deserving of a spot in the top three.

Need evidence? He cunningly won the penalty in the Champions League final against Tottenham, scored away at Porto in the quarters and twice at the Allianz Arena versus Bayern Munich in the last-16 – the first of which was a sublime finish.

After an energy-sapping club campaign which saw him share the Premier League golden boot with 22 goals, he then powered Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations final.

The 27-year-old should have a reputation as the best attacker in the world not-named Messi, but he doesn’t and he should.

MARCO REUS | BORUSSIA DORTMUND & GERMANY

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Mention the name Marco Reus and undoubtedly ‘injury’ follows shortly after, but the mercurial German forward enjoyed one of his finest campaigns in 2018/19.

An inspirational leader for Borussia Dortmund, the 30-year-old powered his side to within sight of the Bundesliga title. His 17 league goals was the third highest in the German flight with a further contribution of eight assists.

Beyond the numbers, Reus is the buzzing heartbeat of Dortmund, integral to the build-up play and high press. Some of his goals last season were delightfully serene.

In transition there are few better players with the ability to turn defending into goals with so few touches.

There were numerous examples coated by his trademark technical skill in 2018/19. Nurnberg, Bayern Munich and Hannover are three prominent cases in which a counter-attack was driven by Reus, before his sharp pass out wide was followed with him ghosting into intelligent pockets of space to then apply a lethal finishing touch when the ball is returned.

Reus is one of the most devastating counter-attacking players on the planet, but his injury record has stopped him from consideration among the very best in the world.

IVAN RAKITIC | BARCELONA & CROATIA

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He helped guide his side to a dominant La Liga crown, was instrumental in inspiring Croatia to a stunning World Cup final and has retained a reputation as a premier playmaker for much of his career.

Ivan Rakitic mirrors his compatriot and Real Madrid rival Luka Modric in a lot of ways, bar one glaring – and glittering – difference. Modric won the Ballon d’Or last year, breaking the decade Messi-Ronaldo duopoly, and yet he probably wasn’t even his country’s best player in Russia.

This is not to say Rakitic should have been a considered candidate, but the Barcelona midfielder deserves far more credit and respect than he gets. Arguably his best performances in a Croatia shirt came at the last World Cup, while at club level, the 31-year-old has been a standout for Barca ever since recovering from a testing 2016/17 campaign.

Social media is an ocean of opinion, but there is more garbage there on Rakitic than in the world’s debris-filled waters. He’s an absolute monster of a box-to-box midfielder, a technically superb striker of the ball, a brilliant passer both long and short with an outstanding engine.

Rakitic is the complete package, and yet he’s been consistently named as the man Barca want to offload in a deal for Neymar, with even the suggestion of a ludicrous swap for Juventus midfielder Emre Can. The club and sections of its fan base may not know what they had until he’s gone.

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN | TOTTENHAM & DENMARK

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Spurs thinking they don’t need Christian Eriksen for their fresh era is akin to opening the swanky Tottenham Hotspur Stadium without electricity. The structure is sound and looks great, but without an energy supply it’s pretty pointless.

Eriksen has been Spurs’ creative fulcrum since joining from Ajax back in 2013, contributing to nearly 19 goals per season on average. When the 27-year-old, out of contract next summer, suggested he was ready for a move elsewhere, the club seemed content to cash in rather than offer him terms befitting of his importance to the team.

But the Dane is caught in a weird situation with none of the elite sides he wants to step up to – the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and notably Real Madrid – seemingly interested in him, despite Spurs’ relatively low asking price.

Eriksen’s age and consistent output should mark him out as the most in-demand playmaker around, but that simply isn’t the case.

His importance to Spurs was never more obvious than when he entered their Premier League opener against Aston Villa and illuminated their attack.

Perhaps Europe’s elite need to switch on their own metaphorical light bulb before missing out on such a glorious talent.

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