Top 5: Premier League Centre-Backs - 3rd April 2012
5. Phil Jagielka
A really good example of a player who would be far more widely lauded if he played for a Champions League club - just like his central defence partner Sylvain Distin. Injuries have made his inclusion in the England this Summer a bit of a lottery, but surely deserves to be there ahead of lesser talents plying their trade at more newsworthy clubs. Gary Cahill?
A natural defender with a composure and sense of the game which is reminiscent of a pre-injury nightmare/pre-affray charge Jonathan Woodgate.
4. Younes Kaboul
One of the most improved players in the league. Compare the present day Kaboul with the version that arrived at Tottenham in 2007 - complete with nose ring and strange hair.
Ledley Kind may occupy a special place in Tottenham fans’ hearts, but it’s the Frenchman that has been their most impressive performer this year. Combines an ever-improving positional sense with the physique of a phonebox and an unexpected composure with the ball at his feet. The most important difference between now and five years ago? Decision-making. Tottenham no longer concede goals because of Kaboul’s decisions, they keep them out because of them.
3. Fabricio Coloccini
Another hugely improved player. When Coloccini first arrived in England in 2008, he seemed to adhere to the assumption that South American defenders would never be suited to Premier League life. Such were Newcastle’s deficiencies in their relegation season, it’s hard to apply any context to the Argentine’s initial partnership with Sebastien Bassong - or apportion any blame to them for the season’s outcome.
Now? A fantastic defender, and an integral part of everything his side is currently achieving. Next time Newcastle are on television, watch how many times Coloccini makes a crucial header at a defensive set-piece - because that sums up his contribution to the modern-day Newcastle; the pivotal defender. Times a tackle brilliantly, fantastic in the air, and blessed with Latin technique on the ball. David Luiz, take note - defend first.
2. Nemanja Vidic
His case for inclusion here is somewhat undermined given Man United’s improvement since his season-ending injury - but we all know how valuable the Serb is at Old Trafford.
Looks like a Rocky villain, and galvanises United’s backline more effectively than anyone since Steve Bruce. Like all the players on this list, he’s decent enough on the ball to be a three-dimensional defender rather than just a stopper, even if he does possess all the qualities associated with the latter. Earns extra points for being a goal-threat in the opposition’s box.
1. Vincent Kompany
Have you noticed how defensively average City are when Kompany doesn’t play? How about the sense of panic that seems to consume the other members of that back-5 when their captain isn’t there?
Right, exactly. The Belgian is a colossus for his club, and has all the attributes needed in a modern centre-back - discipline, athleticism, anticipation, and aerial ability, plus, owing to beginning his career as a defensive midfielder, assured on the ball.
The press may well be trying to tell us that City’s collapse is down to Mario Balotelli’s antics, but having Kompany only sparingly available during this last third of the season is the main reason they’ll probably fall short.
Top 5: Attacking Midfielders in the Premier League - March 28th 2012
5. Hatem Ben Arfa
I wrote a couple of days ago about Ben Arfa’s increasing appreciation for how to be effective in England. The balance between taking players on, and giving a pass - if Newcastle’s wonderfully talented playmaker continues to develop that understanding, he’s going to be moving up this list pretty quickly.
4. Stephane Sessegnon
Another Sunderland player who seems to have flourished since Steve Bruce left the club. One of those players that you’d pay to watch, and who’s capable of unlocking any defence either with his range of passing or his ability to take opponents on. Scores goals, creates goals, and links the midfield and attack as well as anybody in the league. Elevated on this list for his startling contribution to my fantasy team.
3. Juan Mata
He’s faded badly as the season’s progressed, but that’s perhaps excusable given that this is his first season in England and that he’s been hacked to pieces for most of the year by opponents struggling to contend with his technical ability. Plus, of course, he’s a creative player trying to spark a particularly unimaginative Chelsea side into life - it was always going to be tough.
As and when the expected rebuild occurs at Stamford Bridge, expect the Spaniard to be the centre-piece of whatever gets put together. Give him runners, give him targets, for God’s sake give him a free-role, and let him play - a truly gifted footballer.
2. Luka Modric
What’s the most frequent - and lazy - misconception about Tottenham’s Croatian playmaker? He doesn’t score enough goals, so he’s not contributing enough.
Okay, Match of the Day viewers be gone - watch him for ninety minutes. Watch his close control and his ball retention, appreciate his vision, and marvel at his ability to play the game at his own pace. If you’re someone who can’t spot the subtleties in a game, then you’ll always point to Gareth Bale as being Tottenham most potent attacking weapon - but it’s really Modric. He’s the tempo-setter, he’s the player that everything goes through, and he’s the one, after all, that puts Gareth Bale into those offensive positions.
1805 passes this season with 80% accuracy. Not bad, is it?
1. David Silva
Can you imagine playing 5-a-side against him?
Like Juan Mata, it’s not a coincidence that he’s also tailed-off as the season comes to its close - he’s an undersized player in a physical environment.
That we notice that his form is not what it was, is really just testament to how high his standards were through the first 6 months of the season. Still top of the assists charts (12), he’s the guile at Manchester City - he’s the wrong-footing pass that carves-up a defence, he’s the difference-maker when the opposition parks the bus at the Etihad.
An incredibly watchable player; you could learn a lot just by watching his first-touch for ninety-minutes and appreciating the way he sets himself up to use possession.
If Roberto Mancini’s side do win the title, he deserves as much credit as Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure - Silva is the jagged edge to City’s blunt instrument. Inspirational.
Top 5: Goalkeepers in the Premier League - March 14th 2012
5. Michel Vorm
The outstanding signing of the season. What’s the biggest threat to a newly-promoted side’s top flight status? Goal concession. Highlighting the amount of saves that Vorm has made this season - and trying to quantify that as a points total - is unnecessary, because we’ve all seen it, this guy has been the find of the season.
At only 6ft, he’s under-sized for the position, yet his agility and reaction speed really is something to behold, and while it would be unfair to take credit away from the rest of the Swansea squad, Vorm is a big part of why they’ll still be at this level next season.
4. Wojciech Szczesny
It’s a credit to the 21-year-old that from the moment Arsene Wenger threw him into the first-team - against Manchester United at Old Trafford - nobody has again mentioned his position as being an area of Arsenal weakness.
A goalkeeper needs a special type of personality to reach the top, and Szczesny blends that DNA with a great set of physical attributes. While there are moments where his relative youth is exposed by his decision making, he’s never once shown himself to have anything other than complete confidence in his ability to play at this level and perform under the global spotlight of the Premier League.
Aside from his occasional lapses under the high-ball, this is a player with a complete skillset - a shot-stopper, quick off his line, good distribution, and a natural leader. He’s got fifteen years of his career still to go, and there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t become one of best keepers on the continent.
3. Brad Friedel
Ageless. When Spurs moved for the American in the Summer, the consensus was that they were trading Heurelho Gomes’ boom-bust goalkeeping style for something more reliable, if slightly less spectacular. The first half of that presumption has held true, but Friedel has shown himself to be fully-capable of the kind of high-wire pyrotechnics associated with players half of his age.
The critics credit Tottenham’s revival this season to Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor, but the security the 40-year-old has brought to their backline is grossly under-appreciated.
2. Jose Reina
Classy, really classy. It’s unfortunate that he’s played in an era with such a talented group of Spanish keepers, because with any other nationality he would have trebled his 24 international appearances.
Great distribution from the floor and from his hands, outstanding aerially, and has a tendency to come up with big saves when in one-on-one situations. Not to mention his occasional penalty-saving heroics.
Still only 29, and approaching what should be his peak between the posts.
1. Joe Hart
Maybe a little bit of English bias here, but that’s just a product of the relief of having someone so reliable in goal for the national team.
Much like with Szczesny, he has the perfect set of mental attributes for the position - confidence bordering on arrogance, unflappable, and resilient to errors. Ideal.
Without intentionally watching out for it, it’s easy to miss the command that Hart has over his Manchester City defense. That’s the rock upon which everything is built for a goalkeeper, command of his area and the players in front of him - and Hart has that in spades.
Outstanding in every aspect of his game, and there’s nothing that suggests that he won’t get near the triple-digit cap mark for his country. To be an elite keeper for a table-topping side is completely different to performing well for an inferior club. It’s something that Peter Schmeichel used to specialise in - be a spectator for 89 minutes, save the points in one. Hart’s the same, and it’s a very special player that can do that.