With Francis Coquelin facing three months out for Arsenal, Mark Holmes looks at the most important players for the Premier League’s top 10 teams.
Leicester City – Jamie Vardy
Riyad Mahrez is a close second, but Claudio Ranieri has felt confident enough to start the Algerian on the bench on two separate occasions this season, while he was withdrawn at half-time on another.
Vardy on the other hand has started every Premier League game and scored in all but two of them, at the weekend equalling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 consecutive games in the competition.
Were Leicester required to rely on Leonardo Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki for any length of time, it is hard not to believe they would suffer in the goals department.
Manchester United – David de Gea
This was another close-run thing, with Chris Smalling another hugely-important figure, but the unconvincing early-season performances of Sergio Romero would suggest that United would not have climbed to second in the Premier League were it not for the happy end to the long-running De Gea saga.
The Spain goalkeeper was long tipped to move to Real Madrid in the summer but eventually stayed put, even signing a new contract at Old Trafford. He has gone on to keep five clean sheets in nine Premier League games, quickly re-establishing himself as the best goalkeeper in the country.
Manchester City – Vincent Kompany
In the case of Kompany, the statistics say it all.
Manchester City have conceded only one goal in the Belgian’s eight Premier League games – and that due to a Joe Hart howler against Norwich City – but 12 in the five he hasn’t, including four apiece against Tottenham and most recently Liverpool.
David Silva and Sergio Aguero are crucial to the Citizens’ title chances, but no player has quite such a remarkable effect on results as Kompany.
Arsenal – Francis Coquelin
Perhaps Mathieu Flamini will prove everybody wrong, but the widespread consensus is that the injury suffered to Coquelin against West Brom last weekend will have a huge detrimental effect on Arsenal’s bid to maintain their promising early-season form.
It is astonishing that a player farmed out on loan to Charlton a year ago has become such an integral player of the Gunners’ side, but Coquelin has succeeded where many others have failed in ending the calls for Arsene Wenger to sign a new holding midfielder.
Unfortunately, the Frenchman’s lay-off may yet make Wenger’s decision not to strengthen in that area look foolish.
Tottenham – Harry Kane
Mauricio Pochettino did not continue to play Kane through his goal drought out of the goodness of his heart; he did it because Tottenham don’t have another player in the squad capable of performing in the centre-forward’s role anywhere near as well as the 22-year-old.
Even when he is not scoring, Kane offers a good mixture of aerial threat, hold-up ability and pace in behind – the England international is the perfect No.9 in the modern-day 4-2-3-1 formation. Son Heung-min, Clinton N’Jie and Nacer Chadli, good players they may be, are not.
West Ham – Dimitri Payet
Another player whose absence is set to be keenly felt in the coming months is Payet, who, like Coquelin, faces three months on the sidelines.
West Ham paid in excess of £10million to sign the Frenchman from Marseille over the summer, but five goals and three assists in 12 Premier League appearances quickly had him pegged as one of the signings of the summer. The only wonder is that it took him until the age of 28 to move away from Ligue 1.
Slaven Bilic made two more impressive forward signings in the shape of loanees Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses over the summer, but the Hammers face a tough task to maintain their top-six position in the absence of their star of the season so far.
Everton – Romelu Lukaku
So small is Everton’s squad that several players can lay a claim to being their most important player. Injuries to any of Seamus Coleman, John Stones, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley could have a major effect on the Toffees’ season, but Lukaku is capable of bloodying the noses of any defender you care to mention, something which simply cannot be said of Arouna Kone.
Only one player in the Premier League, Vardy, can better Lukaku’s combined total of nine goals and four assists, while no out-and-out centre-forward has completed more dribbles per game. Like Kane, Lukaku is the perfect focal point of a 4-2-3-1 formation and would find a place in any squad in the country.
Southampton – Jose Fonte
When Dejan Lovren left Southampton for Liverpool, many felt the Saints would struggle. The same was said when they lost out to Tottenham on Toby Alderweireld in the summer, yet Ronald Koeman’s side boast the seventh tightest defence in the Premier League after 13 games.
Virgil van Dijk is the latest player to earn plaudits playing alongside Fonte, but any lengthy absence for the skipper would likely confirm the suspicion that it is in fact he who Saints’ defensive solidity is built around.
Sadio Mane provides pace like few others, especially in the absence of Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long, while Graziano Pelle’s place is extremely secure in the absence of those two players, but Fonte is Saints’ Mr Consistency.
Liverpool – Lucas Leiva
Something of a divisive figure among Liverpool supporters, it should come as no surprise that Lucas has started and finished all five of the Reds’ Premier League games since the appointment of Jurgen Klopp.
The German’s ‘gegenpressing’ style requires a holding midfielder that will run himself into the ground chasing the ball; Lucas been in the top three for distance covered in all all five games under Klopp so far, while no player in the league gets close to his average of 5.3 tackles per game.
The Brazilian also boasts the best pass completion ratio of any player in the Liverpool squad to have started more than five games in the Premier League this season. Other players will get the headlines, but nobody performs the role asked of him quite so perfectly as Lucas.
Crystal Palace – Yohan Cabaye
Regarded as more of a creator than a stopper, only two midfielders in the Premier League – and six players in total – have made more tackles per game than Cabaye this season.
The Frenchman has started every game for Palace since his summer move from Paris Saint-Germain, playing more minutes than any other player at the club. As well as the leading the way in terms of tackles, Cabaye has made the most interceptions, completed the most dribbles and also scored the most goals, four, though three of them have come from the penalty spot.
Scott Dann is a crucial figure for the Eagles in defence, but Cabaye has taken the team to a new level this season, one which they would struggle to maintain in his absence.