We’re over halfway into the Premier League season and the established elite have returned to the top of the table, following Leicester’s surprise title win last season.
From holding midfielders to attacking midfielders, how good are this season’s top six look at this moment in time?
Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah
Antonio Conte has preferred the midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic since changing to his 3-4-3 formation. Kante has already proven to be one of the signings of the season, while Matic has put in consistent performances so far, but is yet to recapture the form that he showed in Chelsea’s title-winning campaign two years ago.
No European football means opportunities for other players have been limited, none more so than for Cesc Fabregas. He’s struggled to break into the starting team as he doesn’t offer the same defensive qualities at Kante or Matic, but his passing is of the highest standard and has helped Chelsea break the deadlock against both Watford and West Bromwich Albion this season.
If Fabregas is struggling for game time, then it’s been non-existent for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’s made just one substitute appearance this season, while Nathaniel Chalobah has started in cup games, but has also made just eight substitute appearances in the league. Rumours of midfield additions have been rife, but Conte might want to persevere with the two academy graduates.
Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum
When Philippe Coutinho went off injured against Sunderland, Liverpool fans would have been deeply concerned, but such is the team spirit instilled by Klopp, others have taken up the mantel. None more so than Adam Lallana, who’s been one of the most improved players in the Premier League this season and has scored 7 goals and created 7 assists. Jordan Henderson is another who’s improved this season. It was doubtful whether he’d have been a part of Klopp’s plans when the German arrived, but he’s shown leadership and might not be the flashiest of players, but does do a job. Where it was once all about Steven Gerrard in the Liverpool midfield, a team ethic is now in place and this midfield is looking seriously impressive, albeit underrated.
Kevin de Bruyne, Fernando, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Fabian Delph, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane
Regardless of where you stand on the “Pep Guardiola is a genius” spectrum, one thing can be assured and that is you’ll never know until kick off as to who will start in midfield for Manchester City. Kevin de Bruyne started the season in incredible form, providing 9 of the midfield’s 16 assists, but his form has tailed off lately. David Silva is City’s other key playmaker and has assisted 4 goals this season.
Fernandinho received his third red card in six games against Burnley and his place in the team is likely to come under consideration, while Yaya Toure’s contract is up at the end of the season and it’s widely expected that he’ll move on.
New signing Ilkay Gundogan was impressive in his league appearances for City, but injury has ruled him out for the rest of the season. On the other hand, Leroy Sane is one for the future, but has struggled to settle so far.
Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka
Arsenal’s midfield are brilliant creatively and going forward, but they lack in physical strength and nous when it comes to defending and edging a game out. Mesut Ozil’s contract situation is of grave concern to supporters as he is one of their marquee players, but he often goes missing in the big games. Aaron Ramsey is another who’s gone missing this season when he’s been fit, while Santi Cazorla’s injury is a big setback for the Arsenal midfield.
For £35 million, Granit Xhaka’s arrival should have seen Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny demoted in the midfield pecking order, but Arsene Wenger has proved to be either reluctant to start him or he doesn’t trust his temperament when it comes to the big games.
Erik Lamela, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Victor Wanyama, Moussa Sissoko, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou
Like Liverpool, Tottenham’s midfield unit has to do a lot of running and works well as a team. Victor Wanyama has looked like a bargain signing following his arrival from Southampton in the summer. His arrival has signalled a move into defence for Eric Dier, while it’s also allowed Tottenham’s more creative players to get further forward up the pitch.
Still only 24, Christian Eriksen already looks an impressive player but can get even better, while Dele Alli has put his early-season struggles behind him and has shown fantastic form with 6 goals in his last 3 games. Mousa Dembele is hugely underrated in their midfield.
Mauricio Pochettino’s worry would be those who arrived in the summer, with the exception of Wanyama, have struggled to make an impact. Moussa Sissoko is inconsistent, while Georges-Kevin N’Koudou hasn’t made a massive impact in his substitute appearances.
Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba
Jose Mourinho signalled his intention at Manchester United with the world record signing of Paul Pogba. Pogba endured a tough start, but has started to look the part in recent weeks and his partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hugely encouraging for United supporters. Ander Herrera was ignored by Louis Van Gaal, but favoured by Mourinho and is seen as key to moving on from Michael Carrick.
Like Pogba, Mkhitaryan is another who’s shown his class after a tough start, while Juan Mata, who many tipped to be sold in the summer, has proven to be an important player at Old Trafford.