As last season moved along, a fairly strong consensus formed: Lucas Leiva was the most underrated player on the squad, and quite possibly the most underrated player in the league. Opinion, though, can shift, and by the end of the season he was the consensus player of the year for his club, a starter in midfield for his country, and had won over many of his former critics as the top tackler across Europe's five biggest leagues. There may still be a remaining few holdouts when it comes to recognising Lucas' quality and importance, but at this point it seems a small and rather sad minority unable to look past their long-held preconceptions, and while he may still not be held in the kind of esteem some think he deserves, it would be hard to label him truly underrated any longer.
Which—as new players struggle to fit in and old ones struggle to get a game in this season's squad—brings to mind a question: If Lucas isn't Liverpool's most underrated player any more, who is?
Once the Kop dreamed of a team of Carraghers, but over the past 18 or so months he's moved steadily towards the top of the list when discussing areas Liverpool needs to improve in.
He may not be the player he once was, but with talk of his legs going and how he drags the defensive line worryingly deep as people begin to wonder if it's any longer in the club's best interest to have him starting regularly, has opinion of him flipped too far in the opposite direction? Just as at the height of his game his reputation was built largely on heart and passion, where as good as he might have been he was probably never quite as good as fans wanted to make him out to be, has the sea change to a more negative stance left Liverpool's grizzled defender underrated where before he might have even been overrated?
Recent injuries may not be helping his cause, but ever since his arrival at the club there has been an ongoing discussion as to whether he's in fact one of the best attacking right backs in the league or just a fast guy without a whole lot of end product or defensive sense.
Often opinion on Johnson seems split into two camps, one claiming he's just not good enough and the other placing blame for his occasional struggles on the lack of a consistently employed system that plays to his strengths. But does the large pool of doubters mark Johnson as genuinely underrated, or does it signify no more than a split in opinion that won't be resolved until he's healthy enough to get a solid run of games under Kenny Dalglish?
Perhaps he hasn't been taken for granted in recent seasons the way he once was, yet the industrious Dutchman has now found himself on the bench more often than not when in the past he would be top of any manager's teamsheet.
Many fans don't seem to see him as part of the club's best eleven any more, either—assuming they ever truly believed he was and weren't simply willing to give his hard work a grudging respect while hoping that somebody new would arrive to take his place. It would have been hard to make the argument that he was underrated at the end of last season, but with all of the bloggers who took part in our preseason roundtable leaving him out of their best elevens and some suggesting it's more important for the club to play a still developing Jordan Henderson ahead of him, has the locked-on starter for Holland returned to the role of Liverpool's most underrated player?
He's spent long stretches of his Liverpool career as an afterthought, and even a pair of hattricks towards the end of last season doesn't seem to have pushed him into the discussion when it comes to who should be a regular starter for the club.
Any time he's on the pitch he seems to fit well with the pass and move mentality so many who follow Liverpool yearn to see week in and week out, and his link-up play with similarly-minded players such as Lucas and Luis Suarez almost always boosts the squad's possession game. After some struggles early on, he's also at times shown a nose for the goal similar to Dirk Kuyt's, something that can seem missing in a squad that at times lacks for clinical finishing. Yet even his fans would likely have a hard time figuring out a place for him in the starting eleven, especially with Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy as competition as his usual position—and when even the people who rate a player can't find a regular spot for him, does that signal just how underrated he is or in fact suggest the opposite?
Almost nobody expects Spearing to end his career at Liverpool, and at best most think him a handy squad player living out the dream of playing for his boyhood club before an eventual and inevitable move to a side down the English league pyramid brings him more playing time at a level suited to his talents.
Despite this, over the past year some of Liverpool's best performances have come with Spearing in the lineup, and as recently as against Brighton in the League Cup Spearing has shown a level of comfort when paired with Lucas Leiva that no other player on the squad has yet developed. Even if he might not be on the road to superstardom, does he perhaps have it in him to be a regular starter for Liverpool after all? And does the way most fans have been so quick to dismiss him out of hand mean he's the most underrated player on the squad either way?
Vote early, vote often. Or at least once a day. And let us know why you picked who you did as Liverpool's most underrated player—especially if you think we left somebody out who deserves that recognition ahead of Spearing, Maxi, Kuyt, Johnson, or Carragher.