The Premier League, for as far back as I can remember, appears to be going through a real dearth in terms of the overall quality and standard of the league. Now, more than ever before, games are won by the collective as opposed to individual moments of brilliance. After attending the Merseyside Derby at the weekend and seeing first-hand the teething problems that Liverpool’s central midfield partnership of Charlie Adam and Lucas are going through, it brought one thing to mind – who can lay claim to having the best central midfield partnership in the Premier League?
Man Utd this season have started with all attacking bluster, yet they still retain a degree of frailty at the back. This is in part due to the forward-thinking attitudes of the likes of Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Both make similar runs at the same time and as such, they leave the Utd back line exposed. Darren Fletcher has come back and done reasonably well, but as yet no real ‘partnership’ has emerged as such.
Man City can certainly lay a strong claim. They predominantly operate with a midfield triumvirate of Yaya Youre, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. Toure is given a free role to attack the opposition, but De Jong and Barry usually sit in front of the back four and keep it simple. While there may be an understanding positionally, it’s rare that they dominate the opposition. They’re decent, but little more than a platform for their supremely talented forward line to build upon.
Chelsea are still going through a change in style and formation under new manager Andre Villas-Boas. He appears to chop and change depending on the opposition, which in turn makes a mockery of the media circus surrounding Frank Lampard. Ramires has shone brightly on occasion so far this term, but he still looks to be lacking a settled partner.
Liverpool are still most certainly a side in transition too, struggling between the sublime and the abject. Inconsistency has dogged Dalglish’s charges this season and while Lucas could most definitely be said to be one of the finest central midfielders in the league, easily the most improved, I still have my reservations about Adam. On no more than 3 separate occasions during the Derby match alone did I catch Lucas shaking his head in disbelief at another attempted Hollywood pass by Adam, when a simple 5 yard-ball was comfortably the best option available – The Scot clearly infuriates the Brazilian.
Newcastle have begun the season in excellent form and not enough credit can go to manager Alan Pardew for the superb job he’s done under difficult circumstances. Step forward our first major contender – Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye. The pairing have dovetailed excellently despite their ‘partnership’ being in its’ relative infancy.
For the first time in a long while, the Newcastle defence is not the joke that keeps on giving. A lot of credit must go to Tiote for the job he’s done patrolling the space just in front of the back four. His ferocious tackling ability, while it may over step the mark at times leading to the Ivory Coast international currently in possession of a terrible disciplinary record, is exactly what the side needs.
Cabaye has adjusted to the English league fantastically well. Many were surprised that Newcastle were able to lure Cabaye away from current Lique 1 champions Lille, in what many saw as a sideways move at best for the French international, with Cabaye missing out on Lille’s Champions League adventure. However, he offers them real drive from the centre of midfield and excellent delivery from dead balls. Joey Barton who, I hear you cry? They’re certainly my nomination for best midfield partnership.
Spurs can also lay a strong claim. Scott Parker has settled into the Spurs midfield alongside Luka Modric excellently. So in tune are they with each other’s game, that they are the only side in the Premier League to complete more than 600 passes in two separate fixtures this season (Wigan and Liverpool).
Parker keeps it simple and plays the short, easy passes and Modric is granted the platform and freedom to express himself. The greatest compliment that you can pay them is that Redknapp’s overdue return to 4-4-2 has gone relatively smoothly and now it’s Van Der Vaart that’s struggling to secure a place in the starting eleven, with the Dutchman having to be shoehorned into the side on the right of midfield – a tactical switch that is fraught with danger, as Arsenal’s goal on Sunday clearly served to highlight. A close runner-up in my eyes.
Everton certainly have the talent at their disposal, but with Moyes often forced to plump for a striker-less 6-4-0 or 4-5-1 formation, it leaves the players little time to settle into the same position. There may be potential further down the line in a Jack Rodwell/Marouane Fellaini partnership, with the Belgian mightily impressive in the Derby and Rodwell desperately unlucky to even be given a card by the ridiculously out of his depth Martin Atkinson. Ross Barkley also looks quite the talent to keep an eye on too.
Arsenal’s central midfield has been one that’s gone through a degree of upheaval over the last few months. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere showed on occasion last term that Arsene Wenger may already have found his replacements for Fabregas and Nasri, but they’ll have to wait until February now with Wilshere out for the long haul.
A crisis of confidence has affected Alex Song’s game just when he was beginning to emerge as a player of great quality and Arteta will require a bedding-in period. One bright spark of their defeat to Spurs, though, was the performance of young Francois Coquelin and a bright future awaits him.
Casting my eyes around the rest of the league, the only other side that catches my eye is Swansea – with the likes of Mark Gower, Joe Allen and Leon Britton’s impressing for their ability to keep the ball under pressure.
There are of course other midfielders that stick out as being exceptional – Wigan’s James McCarthy, returning Bolton man Stuart Holden, Joey Barton at QPR, Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal and Danny Murphy at Fulham – but whether they are part of a ‘partnership’ yet remains to be seen.
Much in the same way as there appears to be a lack of genuine out and out strike partnerships in the league at the moment, the lack of central midfield partnerships is notable. Newcastle’s Tiote and Cabaye, for the time being, hold the mantle for me, although Parker and Modric look to have more potential going forward. It’ll be interesting to see whether Newcastle can continue their rich vein of form throughout the campaign, because if they can, a lot of it will be down to their dynamic duo Tiote and Cabaye.
Which pairing gets your vote?
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