World Football

The Top 5 Premier League Players in Each Position at the Halfway Stage

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

The Top 5 Premier League Players in Each Position at the Halfway Stage

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    Just past the halfway stage of the 2013-14 Premier League season, most teams will now have a strong idea of their realistic ambitions for the campaign, where they need to improve during the transfer window and, crucially, what their strongest XI should be going into the run-in.

    While some players have seen poor form, injury or competition interrupt their season, others have made a standout case for inclusion week after week.

    Here are the top five players from this season in every position.

Criteria and Positions

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    While this slideshow aims to separate generic positions, individual roles are not separated; therefore, a deep-sitting midfield playmaker will contest for a place against a true anchor in the "Central Holding Midfielders" category.

    Likewise, wide forwards who predominantly play in a 4-3-3 system will battle head-to-head against orthodox wingers or wide midfielders.

    Players do not necessarily have to have made a minimum amount of appearances to be in the slideshow, but certainly those with fewer games will struggle to make the very top spots.

    Only Premier League form is accounted for, not domestic cups or European action.

Goalkeepers

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    5. Allan McGregor has been in fine form for Hull City. He is part of the reason they have conceded just eight goals at home this season and 28 total—comfortably the best in the bottom half. He averages 1.91 saves per goal conceded and has kept five clean sheets.

     

    4. David De Gea has been a standout player for Manchester United despite their poor start to the season. He often produces telling saves and blocks to keep them in close matches. Six clean sheets from 22 games is not as many as he'd like, but often that's been up to those ahead of him rather than the Spanish stopper. De Gea has made the fifth-highest number of saves in the league this season (51).

     

    3. Tim Krul has been excellent for Newcastle United this season. The Dutch stopper is so agile and has such good reflexes that he is capable of pulling off saves that would be beyond other goalkeepers. Six clean sheets and an average of 1.92 saves per goal conceded show his capabilities, but you sense these numbers would be even higher with a regular and solid back line ahead of him.

     

    2. Wojciech Szczesny is arguably the most confident goalkeeper in the league, especially since Artur Boruc misplaced his confidence in his own dribbling ability. With 10 clean sheets, he's tied for the most in the league and his rate of 2.47 saves per goal conceded is extremely impressive. Arsenal also have the best defensive record in the league.

     

    1. Petr Cech has been the league's top stopper so far, having recovered from arguably two years of below-par form to be an imperious and peerless prospect once more. He only makes 1.27 saves per game on average, but that's largely due to Chelsea conceding the second-fewest shots per game average in the league. Cech has been simply brilliant.

Right-Backs

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    5. Geoff Cameron might be a surprise name, but the Stoke City full-back has been impressive on his raids down the right side of defence and even more so in his diligent defensive work. U.S. international Cameron is a strong tackler, covers behind his centre-back well and has been a consistent performer this season.

     

    4. Branislav Ivanovic has been a regular part of Chelsea's excellent and sturdy defence, offering support from the right side the majority of the season. As ever, he's a truly difficult opponent to get past when defending, and his solidity and reliability are amongst his biggest assets.

     

    3. Mathieu Debuchy has remembered how to defend again, and it's a wonderful thing for the Magpies. The Frenchman is still prone to those wild lunging tackles but has won 45 of his challenges this season, while creating 16 chances at the other end too.

     

    2. Pablo Zabaleta is arguably the best right-back in the league, but the odd injury and change of the team interrupted his flow a little during the festive period. Strong in defence and so, so clever with his movement and one-touch passing up front, he's likely to be part of the team of the year by May.

     

    1. For now, Seamus Coleman nabs the top spot of the right-backs after an exhilarating run of form since the start of the season. It's even more license to attack in Everton's new style, showing off all his best assets while defensively continuing to improve. He's had a great first half of the season.

Left-Backs

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    5. Leighton Baines has missed a chunk of the season due to injury, but before that, he had shown once again why he is one of the most sought-after left-backs in Europe. Deliveries from the left are a notable feature of his game, but he also uses space well and drags opponents out of position.

     

    4. Luke Shaw is having another season to remember, as he continues to improve and gain more fans with his nonstop work ethic and abilities at both ends of the pitch. They mark the youngster as a star of the future.

     

    3. Ben Davies has perhaps been Swansea's best defensive player this season in a campaign littered with mistakes and poor organisation within the team. On the left side, he's keeping his place through determined and committed displays with no shortage of quality. Going forward, he is improving as a threat. Though he can still improve defensively, at just 20 years of age, he has a few big seasons ahead—probably at a bigger club.

     

    2. Kieran Gibbs is potentially one of the top attacking left-backs in the country. His injury problems seem largely behind him this term, having played in 18 of Arsenal's 22 games. He could certainly improve his final-third output. His athleticism and capacity to get back into position quickly—along with his good technique and ability to hold the widthmark him out as a great asset in transitions. He's perfect for Arsenal.

     

    1. Cesar Azpilicueta managed to dislodge a long-term automatic starter for club and country—one who was a big part of Chelsea's first-time round under Jose Mourinho, making his achievement all the more impressive. Defensively aware, Azpilicueta contributes in attack and is versatile, and he deserves his place in the team and at the top of the league.

Central Defenders

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    5. John Terry isn't the force of old, but in a season where several of the biggest stars have either dipped in form or suffered injuries, his constant presence and leadership has been a big plus for Chelsea. Still strong, vocal and determined as ever, Terry remains a force.

     

    4. Dejan Lovren has had a superb introduction to Premier League football with Southampton, showing composure on the ball and excellent reading of the game, proving he can compete with elite forwards. Injury is going to halt his progress, but it's been a great debut campaign regardless.

     

    3. Vlad Chiriches also came into the league this year to great effect. Sidelined by his manager at the start of the season, Chiriches has had a slower introduction but has quickly made his name as a great all-round defender with the capability of bringing the ball out of defence. He looks like a great signing for Spurs.

     

    2. Phil Jagielka gets better as he gets older and will almost certainly be England's most in-form and impressive defender heading to the World Cup next summer. Reading the game, aggression and will to win are all huge traits of his. He's a regular for Everton and an outside candidate for Player of the Year so far.

     

    1. Per Mertesacker has been the Premier League's best central defender so far, putting in imperious and consistent performances at the heart of Arsenal's back four. Dominant aerially—he's won 70 percent of his headed challenges—and rarely wasteful in possession—93 percent success this season—Mertesacker is the real deal and the base on which Arsenal's title challenge is built.

Central Holding Midfielders

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    5. Tom Huddlestone has been one of the other stars of Hull City's maiden campaign back in the top flight, knitting together the team's defence and midfield with his range of passing. His 35 chances this season place him in the top 10 of all midfielders, not just deep central ones, while everyone is also glad he finally cut his hair.

     

    4. Mathieu Flamini might just turn out to be one of Arsenal's best buys in recent years, and he was on a free transfer. He doesn't contribute much going forward but provides security for others to do so, rarely misplacing a pass and making plenty of interceptions in the middle of the park.

     

    3. Yohan Cabaye is a different type of midfielder in that he operates in both deep and offensive areas, depending on Newcastle's need for any given game. He's certainly recaptured his best form this season and is the biggest value asset for the team, both on the pitch and financially. Capable of winning a game on his own, Cabaye has provided seven goals and 33 chances this term.

     

    2. Jordan Henderson is so versatile and reliable these days that he's played six varieties of midfield roles already this season, and he's excelled in most. He's best as a deep, breaking, box-to-box midfielder, though, and his athleticism and reaction to transitions brings out the best of himself and his teammates. Henderson has provided 42 chances this season—a top-five ranking for midfielders.

     

    1. Fernandinho has been a perfect signing for Manchester City. He's defensively sound, athletic and aware enough to allow his midfield partner to raid forward with regularity. He's also technical enough to do it himself at times. He goes a little unnoticed at City at times, but Fernandinho is a magical, superb team player.

Central Offensive Midfielders

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    5. Mesut Ozil fits perfectly into the Arsenal system, and the German has made a good starting impact in the Premier League, though there's almost certainly more to come from him. If so, defences should start preparing—Ozil already creates the most chances in the league out of all midfielders, with 51 so far.

     

    4. Ross Barkley is having a truly wonderful first full campaign, with Everton manager Roberto Martinez giving him full license and confidence to create danger and get involved in the final third. Injury has halted his run of games now and his team will miss him, but there's almost no ceiling to this lad's potential.

     

    3. Oscar is maybe the quietest member of Chelsea's attack during games, but he provides a great conduit for the ball to pass through to those flashier, faster talents. He uses space so well it's difficult to get a hold on him. He also works his socks off defensively, is stronger than he looks and is tactically aware enough to let the team change shape around him.

     

    2. Aaron Ramsey had a dream start to the season, rattling in eight goals from midfield by November and having a huge all-around impact on the Gunners' team. He was their standout player in the first third of the campaign. Though injury has stopped his impact, he looks beyond his early-career best and dominates a true central midfield match.

     

    1. Yaya Toure is head and shoulders above most, but his imperious and relentless performances this season are a big part of the reason Manchester City are favourites for the title. There is very, very little in the game that Toure is not capable of.

Right-Sided Players

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    5. Kevin Mirallas has benefited from the arrival of Martinez at Everton, and his pace and ability to stretch the game are a big part of Everton's attacking prowess. He's given license to join in the attack centrally when possible and play off the front man. He should score more often, but he's still having an impressive season.

     

    4. Raheem Sterling has worked his way back into the Liverpool team and been a standout part of the attack alongside their free-scoring forwards. His great pace and improved awareness of space are notable, but he's also creating at will for others and works hard on the defensive side.

     

    3. Jesus Navas is a big signing for City in that he offers a different method of attack to his midfield teammates, usually choosing to stretch the pitch, attack defenders one-on-one and drill in low crosses early. Few can match his pace in the final third.

     

    2. Willian has taken a while to get started in Chelsea colours, but since coming into the side he's made the position his own and shows great tenacity, creativity and resilience on the ball. He's able to up his tempo suddenly to play through balls or dribble past a defender. He could turn out to be the top wide man in the league from the right side.

     

    1. David Silva might not have been quite at his best yet this term, and his role has switched considerably depending on who else is on the team, but he remains a great provider of chances for the forwards and a great link player in the final third. There are still only a handful of top wider attacking midfielders in the league, but Silva comes into that category.

Left-Sided Players

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    5. Adam Lallana doesn't really play on the left, of course, but Southampton's fluid attack certainly gives him licence to roam toward it and have a big impact in the channels. One-touch linkup play, dribbling at a defender and through passes around the edge of the box are all part of his game plan, and Lallana's quick feet and good balance make him a real danger.

     

    4. Santi Cazorla was somewhat overlooked at the start of the season as Arsenal tried to fit in a number of midfielders, but he has quickly shown they can't really do without him in a string of good performances. His off-the-ball movement is exceptional, he brings others into play to run off and receive the ball again and he brings balance with his width and overlapping.

     

    3. Adnan Januzaj has become the focal point of Manchester United's buildup play, as other more experienced players around him have failed to shine this season. He's taken to the task rather well too, playing all the way across the attacking midfield line and showing good footwork, excellent vision and an aptitude for scoring goals in his fledgling season.

     

    2. Samir Nasri has featured in almost every game for City, though his early performances were off the bench. He's had to work hard to win a regular place, but the volume of chances he creates and his far better work ethic within games are a direct result of that improvement. He has a 90 percent pass completion rate for the season too, which is excellent for a final third player.

     

    1. Eden Hazard is perhaps in the top four or five players in the entire Premier League this season and unsurprisingly takes the left-sided role, with his electric ability on the ball and threat to opposition defences making him one of the most watchable players around. He's had a very good first half of the season, and there's more to come.

Forwards

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    5. Alvaro Negredo has proven a lot of people wrong in his first half-season in England, scoring nine Premier League goals along the way. Much of his best form has come in cups or Europe, but he's still been a huge piece of City's attack in the league. Good movement, impressive channel work and his goals for the club make him an eye-catching debutant this term.

     

    4. Wayne Rooney has been one of the few bright spots for Manchester United this season, having started from a position of not being assured a place on the team to being arguably their best attacker. His work-rate, creativity and willingness to shoot from anywhere around the box have been sorely missed in his enforced absence.

     

    3. Daniel Sturridge has suffered from a couple of injuries, but when on the pitch, he has continued his excellent start to life at Liverpool, scoring and creating goals with great effect and consistency. Sturridge has started in 11 of 12 matches this season and is almost as good as a link man as he is running off the shoulder of the defence.

     

    2. Sergio Aguero has missed a few games because of injury but has returned to being a wonderfully consistent striker this term. His goal return is excellent, with 14 this season so far, but he also contributes huge amounts to Manchester City's buildup play and works hard from the front.

     

    1. Luis Suarez has been the standout player in the Premier League so far. Despite missing the first five matches, he's scored the same or more goals than almost half of the top flight's entire teams. He's been a virtuoso performer leading the Liverpool attack and has produced an array of contenders for goal of the season. He's scored 22 goals in 17 games, which is an astonishing strike rate.

     

    Statistical data from Squawka.

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