Who Are the Top 5 Central Midfielders In the Premier League?
This is our second piece in a series looking at the English Premier League's top 5 players at each level of the field. We covered the back line last week, and now we shift to the central midfield.
For clarification purposes, we are going to focus on defensive midfielders and central midfielders in this installment. Wingers and attacking midfielders will get their own piece later on in the series. Paul Pogba would certainly crack this list if he signs with Manchester United, but as of now that deal is not yet official.
5) Granit Xhaka, Arsenal
Xhaka transferred from Borussia Mönchengladbach to Arsenal this summer, and the Swiss midfielder should be a strong addition to Arsene Wenger’s squad.
Xhaka was a very good passer last season, as he had an 85.1% pass success rate in the Bundesliga. He did this while also averaging 82.7 passes per game (the second-most in the league), showing that he is very involved in the team when they have the ball.
In addition to his passing skills, Xhaka also contributes defensively. He averaged 2.4 tackles per game and 2.7 interceptions per game a year ago, which ranked him in the top 25 in the Bundesliga in both categories.
The main reason Xhaka does not rank any higher on our list is due to his lack of discipline. Xhaka led the Bundesliga in red cards last season with three, but if he can get this sorted out he should be one of the best midfielders in England.
4) Ilkay Gundogan, Manchester City
Another transfer from the Bundesliga, Manchester City signed Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund in June, and he figures to be a major part of their squad this season.
Unfortunately, Gundogan is currently dealing with a knee injury that will likely prevent him from playing with the first team until at least late August.
Gundogan was very involved in the Dortmund offense last season, making 80.9 passes per game at an 87.8% success rate. Only three players in the entire Bundesliga averaged more passes per game than he did. His style should mesh well with the short-passing, possession-based philosophies of new Manchester City skipper Pep Guardiola.
Gundogan is also a fantastic dribbler, averaging 2.2 dribbles per game last season, which was 11th best in the league. His passing and dribbling abilities figures to help open up opposing defenses and create goal-scoring chances for Manchester City this season. Gundogan and David Silva should be a potent midfield paring for City.
3) Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea
More of an offensive-minded player than the others on this list, Fabregas had a bit of a down year last season, but he still deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other top midfielders in the league.
He is typically very accurate with his passes, completing them at an 84% success rate last season while attempting more passes per game (76.5) than other other player in England. He finished tied for 9th in the league in key passes with 67, adding 5 goals and 7 assists.
Even based off last season’s numbers, Fabregas is deserving of a spot on this list, but if we go back two years, we see that Fabregas has the potential to do even more. In the 2014-15 campaign, Fabregas helped Chelsea win the title by pacing the league in assists (18) and ranking second in key passes (95).
At the age of 29, it is not too farfetched to expect Fabregas to at least get close to regaining his form from the 2014-15 season, but even if he can't quite match his numbers from that year, he still figures to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
2) N'Golo Kante, Chelsea
Chelsea paid Leicester City some serious money to acquire N’Golo Kante this season, and it is because he is one of the best players in England.
Kante was named to the PFA Team of the Year for the 2015-16’ season, as he helped Leicester City shock the world by winning the EPL title.
Last season, Kante led the Premier League in tackles with 175 and also led the league in interceptions with 156, as he was arguably the best defensive-minded player in the league. Kante consistently won the ball from opponents, and he was able to spark countless Leicester City counterattacks.
Here's what made Kante so vital to Leicester’s counterattacks last season: after he wins the ball, he has the ability to dribble up field and get into dangerous positions in the opposition’s half. Kante completed 1.4 dribbles per game last year, which is a solid number for a defensive-minded player. Combined with his ability to win the ball makes, he's easily one of the best midfielders in the league.
1) Mousa Dembele, Tottenham
Dembele's season ended in bizarre fashion last year as he was suspended for six games after eye-gouging Chelsea’s Diego Costa. Other than that incident, Dembele had a fantastic year. He truly did it all as a midfield wizard for the Spurs.
He demonstrated incredible dribbling abilities, completing 2.9 dribbles per game, which was tied for the 5th most in the league. What was so remarkable about Dembele’s dribbling is that almost nobody was able to take the ball away from him.
Dembele finished the year with 83 successful dribbles (9th most in the league) with only 7 unsuccessful dribbles, which is insane. Everyone else in the top 10 in successful dribbles had at least 42 unsuccessful dribbles, meaning Dembele was the toughest player to get the ball from in the league -- by a wide margin.
Not only is it nearly impossible to tackle Dembele, but you’re also going to have a hard time intercepting any of his passes. Dembele finished last season with a 90% pass success rate, 4th-highest in the EPL. He is also an ace at winning the ball back for his team, finishing fourth in the league with 3.6 tackles per game last season.
Dembele is one of the best -- and most underrated -- players in Europe, and he'll be an engine in the middle of the field for Tottenham again this year.