Premier League The Answer to: Who is the Premier League's greatest...

The Answer to: Who is the Premier League’s greatest midfielder?

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Two days ago, we asked our readers who they thought the Premier League’s greatest ever midfielder is. This is a follow-up where we (specifically, Bemi) answer the question with statistical analysis.

Frank Lampard

Lampard was without a doubt one of the best midfielders in Europe from 2004 till about 2009. His consistency, durability and dependability made him an indispensable player in Mourinho’s great Chelsea side of the mid to late 2000’s. It is also a testament to his quality that successive managers (Grant, Scolari, Ancelotti, Hiddink) always started him. With his ridiculous productivity, can you blame them?

Lampard did his best work as an attacking midfielder thrust in front of two holding midfielders. In that position, he enjoyed a license to attack that most central midfielders did not. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t contribute defensively, but it helps put his impressive numbers in context.

Stats

With 177 Premier League goals, 173 assists and the most consecutive appearances by an outfield player (164), it is clear that Lampard is the most impressive Premier League midfielder statistically.

Verdict

The Premier League’s most effective and productive midfielder.

Steven Gerrard

Once described as the best player by a certain Frenchman, he has attracted acclaim over the course of his career like few others before or since. A superb athlete, he possessed a fantastic shot, great vision, decisive delivery from set pieces and versatility. Unlike most midfielders, he has played in every midfield position for club and country, and generally did so with distinction.

For all of Gerrard’s positive attributes, the former Liverpool captain had a tendency for rashness and impatience. It is for this reason Benitez preferred the Xabi Alonso-Mascherano pairing in central midfield, especially for the big European games. For a guy who is almost universally remembered as a central midfielder, his best seasons (2005/06, 2008/09) came when playing away from central midfield. While there is no denying his talents and attributes, Gerrard tended to do his best work as a roaming attacking midfielder.

Stats

The numbers (113 Premier League goals and 162 assists) confirm that Steven Gerrard was an effective performer.

Verdict

Blessed with immense physical and technical qualities. Better at attacking.

Patrick Vieira

In his prime, Vieira was an essential member of Arsenal’s greatest teams (1997/98, 2003/04) as well as a vital cog in a French national side that won back-to-back international trophies. He may not have grabbed the headlines like some of his teammates (Henry, Zidane, Bergkamp at Arsenal) but one could make a case for him having been as important to the sides he played in. In an era of English football where central midfielders had to be all rounders, Vieira was a hugely influential player in the Arsenal engine room. It is perhaps unsurprising that Arsenal have failed to win a title since selling him in 2005.

Blessed with a fantastic touch for his 6 ft 4 inch frame, he has been a reference point of sorts for a certain midfielder type. The likes of ‘Momo’ Sissoko, Yaya Toure and Paul Pogba have been compared to him for obvious reasons. If he had any shortcomings, it was the fact that he did not dominate enough big European games for Arsenal. In his time there, Arsenal never went past the quarter final stage in the Champions League.

Stats

With 32 goals and 68 assists in 11 Premier League seasons, it is apparent Vieira was not a “highlight reels” midfielder. If the numbers suggest Vieira was not productive, that could not be further from the truth.

Verdict

Blessed with immense physical and technical qualities. Better at defending.

Paul Scholes

Scholes was a remarkable player with an equally remarkable reputation among his peers. Former teammates like Neville and Ferdinand gush about him while former rivals like Nedved and Henry speak about him in glowing terms. Sir Alex Ferguson (the only club manager he played under) rates him as one of the four best players he managed. 

Scholes was always something of an anomaly in the English game. Here was a British midfielder who played with a continental style. He was never one for the hard running and breathless play. With his asthma and slight frame he wouldn’t have lasted till his 38th birthday playing that way. What he had was a fantastic technique and a sharper mind than most. Unlike most former attacking midfielders who have had to adjust to playing deeper as they got older, he adopted with ease. Age did not affect his touch, his passing and his football brain.

Stats

Scholes scored a whopping 107 league goals and chipped in with 138 assists. “Paul Scholes, he scores goals!” was the chant afforded to him at Old Trafford.

Verdict

The best football brain of the five. Could adapt to any tempo and position.

Roy Keane

Once billed as the single most influential player to have played under Sir Alex Ferguson (by the man himself), the Irishman has the distinction of being the most successful Manchester United captain ever. His leadership skills were nothing short of exemplary. Keane was the type to give a 100% and then vocally challenge his teammates to do so.

Roy Keane was an effervescent presence in the United dressing room. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

In the early to mid 1990s, he excelled as a box-to-box player. He was irrepressible, dynamic and tireless. But as he matured, he focused on positional discipline and ball retention. This evolution brought out the best in Keane and United’s midfield. He may have been the least gifted of that famous midfield (Giggs; Scholes; Keane; Beckham), but he was certainly the most important. He was the leader, the metronome and the heart of one of the greatest club sides in English football history. However, like Gerrard and Vieira, his performances dipped significantly after his 30th birthday. As such, there are a generation of Premier League viewers who see Keane as a temperamental defensive midfielder and little else. 

Stats

Like Vieira, Keane’s statistics are a result of the role he played. He scored 39 Premier League goals and set up a further 82 goals.

Verdict

The most influential and indomitable player in the Premiership at his peak. The greatest midfielder in Premier League history.

What do you think? Who’s the best Premier League midfielder ever? We look forward to reading your comments!

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