With the Premier League celebrating its 25th anniversary this season, debates over the best of all time seem somewhat inevitable.
And while strikers may be the men who usually grab the headlines in the English top flight, Football FanCast are more interested in those pulling the strings just behind them.
We take a look at six candidates for the greatest central midfielder in Premier League history, and then let you decide which one deserves that almighty honour…
The only midfielder on this list to come out of retirement to win his side the Premier League title, Paul Scholes played a pivotal hand in eleven of United’s 13 top flight honours throughout the last 25 years, never making less than 16 league appearances in a single season during his trophy-laden Old Trafford tenure.
In many ways, that highlights the kind of player Scholes was – always appreciated, but even more so when he wasn’t in the team pulling the strings in the engine room.
A vibrant goalscorer during his younger years but a playmaking orchestrator in deeper positions as he reached the twilight of his career, his midfield partnerships with firstly Roy Keane and then Michael Carrick remain arguably the best the Premier League has ever witnessed.
An attacking midfielder unrivalled in goalscoring terms, Frank Lampard remains fourth in the Premier League’s scoring charts and the only midfielder to make the top 15.
During Jose Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea, he became the archetype offensive element in the three-man midfield, providing the goal threat to compensate for playing with just one central striker.
Those late runs and sublime finishes became Lampard’s trademark but in truth, the former England international was much more than simply a deeper-lying goalscorer; he was vastly creative in possession and industrious out of it as well – only two players in Premier League history have provided more assists than the former West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester City star.
While Steven Gerrard may have continually missed out on English football’s top honour, he’s undoubtedly the greatest player in Premier League history never to lift the title. Indeed, in spite of that gap on his CV, Gerrard was without question one of the top midfielders in the world throughout his career, often driving Liverpool on to success in other competitions – specifically the 2005 Champions League and the 2006 FA Cup – practically single-handed.
That’s because the former England man possessed a little bit of everything; energy, aggression, defensive resilience, a long-range passing game, deadly finishing from distance and impeccable ability at set pieces.
Underlining all those qualities though, was a determination and passion that spurred Gerrard to succeed in spite of Liverpool’s many limitations. Unfortunately though, in terms of title glory, the infamous slip against Chelsea in 2014 is the closest he ever came.
A more modern style of midfielder who was at the beating heart of Manchester City’s rise from mid-table mediocrity to resident title-winners.
Indeed, he lifted the title during his second season at the Etihad Stadium, his tormenting gallops on the counter-attack becoming a defining feature of the Citizens’ forward play under Roberto Mancini.
That was the start of Toure’s ascension as an almost unstoppable goalscoring force – when City won the title for a second time in 2013/14, the Ivorian bagged a staggering 20 goals in the top flight, a whopping five of which were outside the box, while becoming the metronomic playmaker at the base of their midfield.
If there’s one criticism of Toure, it’s that he lacks the longevity of others on this list. But when at the very top of his game, he was as good as any of the rest.
A slightly different breed to some of the aforementioned names, Patrick Vieira was more of a destructive dynamo than an eye-catching goalscorer in the Gerrard or Lampard mould.
The Frenchman was still an immense natural talent, but what made him such a special player was his ability to combine it with imperious physicality. That made him the perfect box-to-box midfielder – someone who could win the ball in the engine room and surge forward with it, before allowing more offensive-minded team-mates to finish off the attack.
Aside from incredible ability, his claim for being the best midfielder in Premier League history lays in his role as captain of arguably the best team – Arsenal’s famous Invincibles side.
While Cesc Fabregas first emerged as one of the Premier League’s top midfielders during his time at Arsenal, it’s only since joining Chelsea that the Spanish midfielder has received the titles his undoubted quality deserves.
So talented he essentially forced Patrick Vieira out of north London, Fabregas’ greatest strengths remain his technical ability and creativity – he’s racked up the most assists in Premier League history, averaging more than one every three appearances.
He was one of the driving forces behind Chelsea’s title win in 2014/15 and although he had a less significant role last season, his impact from the bench – often changing the game to secure the Blues control of possession – was still instrumental in Antonio Conte clinching a debut Premier League crown.
So, who is the best central midfielder in Premier League history? Let us know by voting below…