Following on from the success of "The Premier League: Top 10 Forwards Today", I have been asked by Bleacher Report to rank the 10 best midfielders playing this season in Europe's most exciting league.
While forwards will always be judged primarily—perhaps harshly—on their goal scoring form, rating the contribution and influence of a midfielder player to his team's success is more difficult and possible more subjective.
For these reasons, I am likely to come in for a lot of stick for my selections and, more likely yet, for the order in which they are ranked.
Although it is possibly foolish to run this article with just a quarter of the league's fixtures accomplished, my decisions have been based on how well the players have fared in the past season and nine matches based on the following criteria: their individual performances, their Actim Index rating, and their influence on their team's success.
Unsurprisingly, there is a large representation from the five teams currently sitting comfortably in European qualifying positions, there are still some inclusions and omissions which will shock and stir debate.
What is certain is that, with more and more managers starting to favour a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation to a more traditional 4-4-2, the role of the attacking central midfielder and the wingers have been pivotal to a team's fortunes and the players who were initially full-backs or midfielders, the so-called runners and play-makers, are now effectively playing as forwards.
Commence the countdown...
Although former Rangers midfielder Charlie Adam is yet to score this year in the Premier League from open play, his successful penalties away to Newcastle United and then Liverpool helped earn Ian Holloway's underdogs their two most famous league victories for decades.
Indeed, Adam exemplifies Blackpool's approach to this season: energetic, fearless and passionate.
He ranks 22nd in the Actim Index overall and 11th among midfielders but the fact that he has been the instrumental figure and the leader of a Blackpool team which, despite being expected to sink without trace, has 10 points in total and eight goals away from home already this season justifies the Scot's selection in this article.
With Manchester United third in the Premier League and five points behind leaders Chelsea, Wayne Rooney doing his utmost to alienate United supporters and his colleagues and Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes approaching retirement, you would think Sir Alex Ferguson is about to face another mini-crisis as the league's longest-serving manager.
But luckily for Ferguson, several players continue to step up for him and try to lead a new generation of United youngsters to more glory. One of these players is Darren Fletcher, masterful on the ball and clever without it.
26 year-old Fletcher, having initially struggled to break into the first-team ahead of the likes of Carrick, Giggs and Scholes, is now making a name for himself as a dependable and versatile ball-winner and play-maker who can both protect a stuttering defence and provide relief to an attack weighed down by the burden of expectant fans seeking the new Eri Cantona or Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
With two goals in eight league appearances and 17th on the Actim Index, Fletcher's all-action performances have helped the Red Devils put the Rooney saga and continued questions over the club's ownership to one side.
Oh how England manager Fabio Capello wishes 21 year-old Tottenham left-winger Gareth Bale was born on the other side of the Severn River! With Chelsea's Ashley Cole overlapping the youngster England would boast the best left side in international football.
As it is, Bale has been delighting both Wales and Spurs fans for the last two years with a series of high-octane performances full of composure, energy and skill. These culminated last week in a once-in-a-lifetime hat-trick in the San Siro in his club's Champions League match against holders Internazionale.
As breathtaking as those goals were, Bale has understandably not reached the same level in the Premier League, but did score an important brace at Stoke City and ranks fourth in the league's respected Actim Player Performance Index.
Still at a tender age and with all of the physical attributes and talents at his disposal, the sky is the limit for Bale.
Four goals in six league appearances show former Real Madrid midfielder Van der Vaart's worth to Tottenham Hotspur.
Perhaps a surprise buy at the end of this summer's transfer window considering the club already has Luka Modric and many other attacking midfielders on its books, Harry Redknapp has showed us yet again that he has an eye for a bargain.
The Dutchman's style of play has changed Tottenham's game plan for the better and he has fitted in seamlessly in attack, latching on to Peter Crouch's knockdowns and terrorising opponent defenders as he drifts around the pitch.
His class and quality against Aston Villa lit up White Hart Lane and led his manager to say:
“He won’t change and I wouldn’t try to change him. He is what he is—a fantastic footballer who loves to be where the ball is. When you have a special player, you have to find a way to get the best out of them and finding a system that suits them.”
After more than 40 years in the game as a player and now coach, Redknapp is not often wrong in his judgment, and it is clear that if Tottenham can keep hold of Van der Vaart, they could prolong their stay in the Champions League for a while yet.
22 points from nine matches. 25 goals scored, two conceded. The statistics are impressive.
At six, 23 year-old Nigerian powerhouse John Obi Mikel is Chelsea's first representative in this list.
Rated by the Actim Index as the third-best midfielder in the league this season—behind Gareth Bale and team-mate Florent Malouda—Mikel enjoyed a breakthrough season last year and has followed this up with more impressive performance at the heart of the champions' team.
Ruthless in the tackle, Mikel has learned to use the ball more efficiently and intelligently and is an important member in an imposing midfield triumvirate alongside Essien and Lampard.
Although he is yet to score a league for Chelsea in his four years at the club, it has long since become clear why Manchester United reverted to the courts in their struggle with the Londoners to attract the youngster from Danish football.
Nominated in his just his second year at Chelsea for both the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon D'Or in 2006, 27 year-old Ghanaian midfield Michael Essien has been a huge part of the Chelsea revolution under Russian owner Roman Abrahamovic.
Playing on the right of defence or midfield or centrally alongside Lampard and Mikel, he manages to have a big impact on every match for his club.
Essien has already scored twice in the league for Chelsea as well as grabbing the opening goal in the team's comprehensive Champions League victory in their opening match at MSK Zilina and continues to break up opposition attacks with his tenacity and drive The Blues forward in attack through his energy and excellent reading of the game.
Despite suffering an injury which sidelined him for much of last season, new manager Carlo Ancelotti was quick to sign him up for another five years at Stamford Bridge.
Love him or hate him, Frank Lampard is vital to Chelsea and England.
With 106 league goals in 323 games and 20 goals from 83 international starts,"'Fat Frank", as he has been harshly dubbed by critics, is a goalscorer and a match winner. He has been for the last decade, ever since he made the brave move to swap East London's charm for West London's glamour and the big time.
In 2005, he was runner-up to Ronaldinho in the World Player of the Year and Ballon D'or awards—no mean feat given the historical continental bias of the judging panels. Last season was the FIFTH consecutive year in which he has scored 20 or more goals for his club.
Injury has interrupted his progress this season, but he has still managed one goal and three appearances. When he is back in a blue shirt, there will be many defenders whose hearts will drop.
Barcelona boasts one of the best teams in the history of football. Last season, they won four trophies, including the La Liga title, and notched up 99 points.
Nevertheless, when Pep Guardiola thought to himself how he could possibly improve his near-perfect team, he looked to Arsenal and its inspirational 23-year-old captain Cesc Fabregas, Spanish World Cup winner, Catalan hero and former Barcelona player. He realised what a mistake his predecessors had made when they let the midfielder leave the club for a nominal fee back in 2003.
Since his arrival at Arsenal, Fabregas has not been able to celebrate much team success, but his individual achievements have been outstanding.
Despite losing out to Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 in both the PFA Young Player and Players' Player of the Year categories, he won the latter the following year and was named as club captain at the age of 21. Unfortunately, injury curtailed his season and left his team without their best player and leader.
This season, Fabregas has scored seven goals in four European and league appearances but has not quite been at his best. Nevertheless, he was back to his dominant, mercurial best during his performance at Eastlands last weekend against Manchester City, and FIFA has just shortlisted him for their prestigious Ballon D'Or award.
At times this season, it seems that we have been watching the Luis Nani show, a feeling similar to that experienced when Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show two years ago three years ago with his incredible leaue goal tally.
Nani, who bears increasing resemblance to CR7 both in terms of his skills and his on-field demeanour, took a while to adjust to life in the Premier League, and fans and pundits criticised his sloppy play and poor work-rate.
Last season, the Portuguese winger scored seven league goals and was a decisive factor in United's ability to run Chelsea so close in the race for the title.
This year, Nani has stepped up a gear, scoring three league goals, including stunning solo efforts against West Ham United and then Bolton Wanderers. If Wayne Rooney gets back on the straight and narrow, Nani will be a crucial satellite player for United and can be instrumental in derailing Chelsea's title bid with his pace and trickery.
There is no doubting it: Chelsea's Florent Malouda is the league's in-form player.
From left wing, he has already scored SEVEN goals—the same number that West Ham and Wigan have managed in total.
In the light of things, the £13 million which Chelsea paid Lyon for Malouda in 2007 could be seen as one of the bargains of the Premier League era.
For it is not only goals which the Frenchman has contributed to his team, but also tireless tracking back and numerous assists. Strike duo Anelka and Drogba have relished and capitalised on the consistently high quality wing play which Malouda has demonstrated over the past year.
Despite scoring 12 goals and contributing eight assists last year, he was omitted from the Premier League Team of the Year. Bewildering and wrong.
However, he did not let that affect his confidence as Chelsea won the title—and he was the best performer in a wretched and infamous World Cup campaign for his country.
With his reputation burgeoning, Chelsea will do well to retain his services with unwelcome advances from Spanish duo Barcelona and Real Madrid inevitable when the transfer window re-opens in January.