Each English Premier League Team's Most Important Player for 2012
The saying goes that no one player is bigger than the club.
While that may be true, most teams, no matter how good, will generally have one or two players who are as good as indispensable to their cause.
Even the greatest sides usually have at least one man without whom they wouldn't be as strong. They may not necessarily be the best player in terms of pure ability, but they will be the first name on the manager's team sheet.
Here is a list of 20 players, one for each Premier League team, that their respective managers just cannot countenance having to do without.
Arsenal: Robin van Persie
At the time of writing, van Persie has scored 20 goals for Arsenal this season and an incredible 40 for this calendar year.
The Dutchman has enjoyed an injury-free 12 months that has finally seen him fully deliver on his potential to become one of the most fearsome forwards in world football.
With the departure of Cesc Fabregas in the summer, van Persie now also wears the captain's armband, making him as important in the dressing room as he is on the pitch.
Aston Villa: Richard Dunne
The centre-back often reserves his most heroic performances for his international outings with the Republic of Ireland, but he is still a key man for Aston Villa.
Alex McLeish was not a popular choice to take over as manager at Villa not just because he came from the club's local rivals Birmingham City, but also because of the defensive manner in which he sets up his teams.
Nevertheless, Villa's style is now all about the counterattack, making Dunne the key man in marshaling the defence to soak up pressure so his attacking teammates can hit opponents on the break.
Blackburn Rovers: Ryan Nelsen
Rovers may have scored more goals than most teams in the top half, but their poor defensive record is what sees them in the relegation zone.
On paper the defensive partnership of Scott Dann and Chris Samba should not be one that has shipped so many goals, but ship they have and in large numbers.
Nelsen has not played since August, but his return from injury for the start of 2012 could not have come at a better time considering Dann's recent layoff with a ruptured testicle. The New Zealander can now re-establish his partnership with Samba that helped keep Blackburn safe from the drop for so long.
Bolton Wanderers: Kevin Davies
For all the talk of Owen Coyle instilling a new footballing philosophy at Bolton since taking over at the club two years ago, they have far from abandoned the long-ball tactics that served them so well over the past decade.
Their captain Kevin Davies is a vital part of that style of play, and the big target man is able to hold up the play for others to join in the attack.
With Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong long-term absentees through injury, Davies will be even more important for the Trotters as they bid to avoid being relegated this season, their 10th in the Premier League.
Chelsea: Fernando Torres
When Torres was bought by Chelsea last January, he was supposed to be the last piece of the puzzle which would help the Blues to European glory. Instead, he has become a £50 million millstone around their neck.
The Spain striker continues to cut a sorrowful figure, scoring just five goals in all competitions since making the move to west London. He is now a near-permanent fixture on the Stamford Bridge bench.
However, with the ageing Didier Drogba heading off to the African Cup of Nations next month, Torres has the opportunity to finally prove himself with an extended run in the team.
Should he thrive then Chelsea can look with optimism towards winning the Champions League and then perhaps even the domestic title the following season. Should he fail, however, and he will continue to be an expensive piece of clutter in the Chelsea squad that could hamper the club's progress as a whole.
Everton: Marouane Fellaini
Everton may not be able to buy many players as they continue to walk the financial high wire, but signing Fellaini to a new long-term contract in November was almost as good as a new signing.
The Belgium international is an excellent midfielder, equally adept in several different roles in the centre of the park as and when he is needed by manager David Moyes.
The new deal means that the 24-year-old should still have at least a couple more years at Goodison Park before he finally gets the big move his talents warrant, and that could prove to be priceless for the Toffees.
Fulham: Clint Dempsey
Versatility is the key attribute for Fulham's American forward.
Dempsey can play anywhere across the attack or in advanced midfield positions, and has done so to great effect this season. He is currently Fulham's top scorer with six Premier League goals so far this season.
With big-money signing Bryan Ruiz struggling to settle in English and main striker Bobby Zamora unable to recapture his best form, Fulham's Texan forward is crucial to Martin Jol's hopes of a good first season in the Craven Cottage hot seat.
Liverpool: Luis Suarez
Love him or hate him, it is impossible to deny the impact that Suarez has had in 2011, not just on Liverpool but on the Premier League as a whole.
Some players struggle to make the switch from Dutch football to the Premier League, but the Uruguayan has been a force of nature for the Reds virtually from the moment he arrived at Anfield from Ajax in January.
If he does end up serving the eight-match ban handed him by the FA for allegedly racially abusing Patrice Evra, a suspension which will not be enacted until after an appeal has been heard, then his prolonged absence for Liverpool is one which would all but do for their waning hopes of claiming a Champions League spot.
Manchester City: Vincent Kompany
City's transformation over the summer from ruthlessly defensive grinders to free-scoring Premier League title contenders has rightly seen a lot of attention and praise lavished upon their attacking players.
The likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli have all been exemplary performers this season, but since before any of them were at the club it was Kompany who helped form the solid foundation upon which this new team was built.
The Belgian defender has also effortlessly assumed the role of club captain following the Carlos Tevez debacle, and leads by example both in terms of his commitment and quality.
Manchester United: Phil Jones
With injuries robbing United of the services of Nemanja Vidic for the rest of the season and Rio Ferdinand intermittently, the defending champions are struggling for bodies at the back.
In addition, the continued poor health of Darren Fletcher and fitness problems of Tom Cleverley also have Alex Ferguson's options in the heart of the midfield limited.
Thank goodness then for Jones, the versatile teenager signed for big money in the summer who has so far excelled for his new club in both central defence and also further up the pitch.
Certain sportwriters' fawning comparisons with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer may be a little premature, but the stage seems set for the youngster to play a vital role over the next 12 months.
Newcastle United: Fabricio Coloccini
The Magpies exceeded most people's expectations in the first half of the season by spending a large portion of it in the top four of the table.
While a great deal of credit should go to the goals of Demba Ba and the midfield control of Yohan Cabaye, it was Newcastle's defence which was at the heart of their pre-Christmas success.
The back five, led by club captain and Argentina centre-back Coloccini, started every match together until Steven Taylor picked up a season-ending injury. Now it is up to Coloccini to help regroup his unit and arrest the severe slide his team are currently enduring.
Norwich City: Steve Morison
There is a lot of love out there for Grant Holt, Norwich's club captain and centre-forward who scored a hatful of goals for the Canaries in their march up from League One all the way to the Premier League.
However, Morison has started six more games in the league this season than Holt, his superior fitness and aptitude for the lone front role making him a vital part of Paul Lambert's team, especially away from home.
The big Wales forward can tirelessly run the channels and hold the ball up as his teammates push forward, and he has already chipped in with six goals of his own this term.
Queens Park Rangers: Alejandro Faurlin
Faurlin's name could have become an infamous one had the dubious circumstances around his signing led to sanctions from the FA that would have denied QPR promotion to the Premier League.
As it was, QPR escaped with just a fine for their improprieties in buying the Argentinian, and he has gone to be a key part of the club's midfield.
One of the most underrated players in the top flight, Faurlin is a classy midfielder who is able to keep the tempo up and pick out attacking teammates with important passes. He is the one who pulls the strings in the centre of the park for QPR, and will be key to their chances of survival.
Stoke City: Jonathan Walters
Many were left rather nonplussed when Tony Pulis signed Walters from Ipswich Town for £2.75 million a year-and-a-half ago, but the centre-forward has gone from strength to strength since joining the Potters.
Midway through the current season Walters has scored four league goals—he got six in total last term—but it is as much for his all-around play as his marksmanship for which he has become such an important player for Stoke.
With the Potters still competing in Europe going into the New Year and targeting another top-10 finish, the rugged Walters will be looking to play his way into a starting berth for the Republic of Ireland when they kick off their Euro 2012 campaign in June, something which can only be good for Pulis in the meantime.
Sunderland: Sebastian Larsson
The Sweden midfielder was one of Steve Bruce's many summer signings, but he could not help the erstwhile manager save his job at the Stadium of Light.
Under Martin O'Neill's tenure, Larsson showed what a key player he is likely to be for his new boss when he scored a superb trademark free kick to win his first match in charge.
Larsson's prowess from dead-ball situations, both in terms of strikes and deliveries for others, will be vital in turning Sunderland's fortunes around in 2012.
Swansea City: Danny Graham
Swansea have so far been commendable in their first season in the Premier League for remaining committed to the passing and possession football that won them promotion via the playoffs last season.
Still, for all their classy, Barcelona-lite play they are not exactly the most high-scoring of sides, hence the importance of striker Danny Graham.
Enlisting a striker from Watford to get you the goals that will keep you in the Premier League may have looked a risky tactic from manager Brendan Rodgers, but after an initial barren period and a spell out injured Graham is now delivering the goods.
Tottenham Hotspur: Luka Modric
Spurs have been sparkling this season in the Premier League, and are rightly lapping up all the plaudits that are coming their way.
How different it could all have been had midfield playmaker Modric made his desired move across London to Chelsea rather than stay at Tottenham after chairman Daniel Levy dug in his heels.
With the Croatian still in the heart of the midfield, the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Gareth Bale and loan-signing Emmanuel Adebayor have been able to flourish in attack and have Spurs fans dreaming of a return to Champions League football next season.
West Bromwich Albion: Shane Long
For all the summer signings that grabbed the attention for their high fees and star names, West Brom signing Shane Long has to be up there with one of the best purchases of the last transfer window.
The Ireland centre-forward to been a revelation upon his return to the Premier League, having been a semi-regular for Reading a few years back.
Long brings so much pace and energy to the Baggies attack that he's a handful for any defence, and with Peter Odemwingie suffering a bout of second-season syndrome his importance for Roy Hodgson's side cannot be underestimated.
Wigan Atheltic: Ali Al Habsi
Last season, while on loan at Wigan from Bolton, Al Habsi was like a one-man highlight reel in goal for the Latics.
The Oman goalkeeper played a big hand in Wigan surviving relegation on the last day of last season, and his exploits earned him a permanent move to the DW Stadium.
This term he has been no less heroic. When you are standing behind perhaps the worst collection of defenders in the Premier League you have your work cut out for you, and manager Roberto Martinez must be permanently grateful that he is up to the task.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Steven Fletcher
One thing that this Wolves team of Mick McCarthy's can never be accused of is a lack of fight. Sadly, a lack of goals is very much a charge that can be levelled against them in recent times.
So what a vital piece of the puzzle Fletcher is for the Molineux club. The Scotland striker gives just as much as any of his teammates, but is able to deliver in the final third too.
Fletcher has seven goals in 13 Premier League appearances this season. He got 10 in 29 for the whole of the last campaign. If Wolves are to beat the drop again this year, they will need Fletcher to continue that upward trajectory.