Is there any reason why Manchester United and Arsenal are stuttering into the new season, while Liverpool and Chelsea are sitting at the top?
Well I can pinpoint at least one reason—for the first two games, Manchester United and Arsenal were both without their lynch pins, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas respectively, while Liverpool and Chelsea have Steven Gerrard and John Terry fit and leading their teams to the top of the Premiership.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to put the wins on Gerrard and Terry, and nor should we blame poor results on the absence of Ronaldo and Fabregas. Teamwork is definitely important. Yet we cannot deny the fact every team has its own lynch pin—that one player who has exerted the most influence and been the most consistent player throughout all the club’s games.
In my humble opinion, we can measure the extent of influence of that player by observing the results of the club in the player’s absence, which is what I have attempted to illustrate above.
With this as a measurement parameter, (in my opinion) some nominees are already obvious—Steven Gerrard for Liverpool, and Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester United.
Who, then, are the stars for the rest of the clubs?
I have compiled this list based on players still remaining at the club as at the start of the 2008/2009 Barclays Premier League Season. I dare not say I did a great job—I left out newly promoted clubs Hull, Stoke, and West Brom, but I definitely put in a lot of effort to compile this.
In no order of merit…
Pivotal Player: Cesc Fábregas
Arsenal’s midfield dynamo with seven goals and 20 assists is the obvious choice. Fabregas’ creativity was sorely lacking in the Gunners' first two games of the season. When he came back for the Newcastle game, Arsenal won 3-0. It is anyone’s guess why he was only used as a substitute for Spain’s European 2008 Championship!
Notable Mention: Emmanuel Adebayor
Pivotal Player: Gareth Barry
There is a reason why Rafael Benitez made the Aston Villa captain his top transfer target. His statistics are not astronomical, just nine goals and 10 assists. His ability to score, assist, and a tireless work ethic to provide cover for the back four made him the outstanding player for Villa.
Notable Mention: Ashley Young
Pivotal Player: Roque Santa Cruz
Frankly my first choice was Brad Friedel, but he has moved on to Aston Villa. In his first season with Rovers, Roque Santa Cruz displayed an uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time. The Paraguayan finished the season as the club’s top scorer, with 19 goals. The £3.5m that Blackburn paid for Santa Cruz now seems like a bargain!
Notable Mention: Morgan Gamst Pedersen
Pivotal Player: Jussi Jaaskelainen
Finland’s No. 1 is amongst the most highly regarded goalkeepers in the Premiership. His loyalty to Bolton is the only reason why the big clubs have not prised him away. Jaaskelainen reminds me of Peter Schmeichel, he has the ability to make himself big to intimidate onrushing strikers. His reflexes and commanding presence in the penalty area proved to be invaluable to Bolton time and again.
Notable Mention: Kevin Davies
Pivotal Player: John Terry
Chelsea and England captain John Terry is the league’s top centreback. He is not the tallest defender around, but his timing and leaping ability make him a dangerous target from set pieces. Terry’s leadership and ability to galvanize his team is what makes him so special. I am not surprised he is the league’s top paid defender. I am only surprised that Frank Lampard is paid more than him!
Notable Mention: Didier Drogba
Pivotal Player: Mikel Arteta
I am not sure if I am the only one who noticed Everton usually win when Mikel Arteta plays! The fleet footed Spaniard can score cracking goals from free kicks as well as deliver quality crosses from the wings for the strikers. His excellent close control of the ball and quick feet often took him pass defenders with ease. Despite a season shortened by injuries, it is no coincidence that he suffered a cracking 85 fouls last season!
Notable Mention: Ayegbeni Yakubu
Pivotal Player: Jimmy Bullard
When Jimmy Bullard missed the first half of the 2007/2008 season to injury, Fulham seemed in freefall to the Championship. Jimmy Bullard’s comeback provided the turning point in Fulham’s season. I would say his leadership, energy and delivery from set pieces is the sole reason why Fulham avoided the slide to relegation. Thoroughly deserved the England call-up.
Notable Mention: Antti Niemi
Pivotal Player: Steven Gerrard
In his first season, Fernando Torres bagged 24 goals for Liverpool. But nobody will dispute that Steven Gerrard is the heart and soul of Liverpool. Gerrard’s tireless running, superb vision on the ball and the ability to strike from distance and from set pieces made him one of the best midfielders in the world. His most important quality is his determination—this guy never gives up! One moment he runs up the field to intercept a ball, the next moment he is back in his own half making critical tackles. Even at 3-0 down to AC Milan in the 2004/05 Champions League, Gerrard never ever gives up.
Notable Mention: Fernando Torres
Pivotal Player: Elano
Many wondered who Elano was when Sven Goran Eriksson signed him from FC Shakhtar Donetsk. There was no such queries by the end of the first few games. Manchester City’s rise to the top of the league early last season and their collapse to 9th place near the end of the season are linked to the same reason—the form of their Brazilian playmaker.
Notable Mention: Martin Petrov
Pivotal Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Frankly, I am torn between Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic. Indeed, Vidic deserve as much of a mention for his defensive intensity as Ronaldo does for his attacking prowess. However, Ronaldo’s 31 goals (42 in all competition), seven assists, dazzling stopovers and monstrous pace made him the most feared winger in the world. A favorite to win the Ballon d’Or.
Notable Mention: Nemanja Vidic
Pivotal Player: Stewart Downing
One of the best, if not the best left winger in England, Stewart Downing is my definite starter on the left of midfield. His excellent dribbling, and delivery from the left made him the scourge of many Premiership right-backs.
Notable Mention: Afonso Alves
Pivotal Player: Shay Given
On his day, Shay Given is impossible to beat—just ask Manchester United! The Irish international possesses all the qualities of great keepers—he is a good shot-stopper and confident at claiming crosses. His best quality must be his incredible reflexes, he has the ability to make seemingly impossible saves. For the past few years, he has been my choice for the PFA Team of the Season.
Notable Mention: Michael Owen
Pivotal Player: David James
Portsmouth ended last season in 8th place. That deserves attention because the club hovered above the relegation zone just one season ago. Portsmouth’s remarkable turnaround has a lot to do with the form of David James. In 2007/2008, James finally showed the form that made him England No.1 in the early part of 2000.
Notable Mention: Nwankwo Kanu
Pivotal Player: Kenwyne Jones
Many wondered why Roy Keane would pay £6M for the Trinidad and Tobago striker. Southampton manager George Burley stated that “Kenwyne is another Didier Drogba in the making, as far as physical attributes, his strength and power in the air are second to none.” His height made him a excellent decoy for his strike partners. Jones’ seven goals, 10 assists last season were proof of his worth.
Notable Mention: Kieran Richardson
Pivotal Player: Jermaine Jenas
My first choice was Dimitar Berbatov, who has since signed for Manchester United striker on the last day of the transfer season. He is so influential that Juande Ramos made him the scapegoat for Tottenham’s stuttering start to the new season!
My next choice is Jermaine Jenas. Jenas statistics are not impressive but his strength is the little things he does. He is inventive and tenacious, running from box to box to defend and to attack. He also can pop the occasional goals from distance.
Notable Mention: Aaron Lennon
Pivotal Player: Dean Ashton
Despite a season shortened by injuries, Dean Ashton still racked up 10 goals in 20 games. That’s a goal every two games! When he is fully fit, Ashton is one the best strikers in the league. His strength in the air makes him a difficult task for any defender. He also packs a powerful shot from either foot. Three games into the new season, and he has already scored two goals. It would be interesting to see how West Ham's season would progress when Ashton is healthy.
Notable Mention: Mark Noble
Pivotal Player: Chris Kirkland
In the 2000/2001 season, Chris Kirkland rose to prominence as one of the most promising young English 'keepers in the country, while with Coventry City. However since moving to Liverpool, he has been plagued by injuries. In the 2007/2008 season, Kirkland managed to stay relatively injury free, and proved to be critical to Wigan’s relegation battle.
Notable Mention: Emile Heskey
That is a mouthful from me, now let me hear from you!