Who have been the best players so far this Premier League season?
Sergio Aguero or David Silva at Manchester City? Wayne Rooney? Nani? Perhaps even Luka Modric, or Juan Mata at Chelsea. And what have all these players got in common?
They are the smaller side of six foot, predominantly playmakers, or at least creative forwards who revel in freedom behind a central striker. This trend is even more noted when you consider that Arsenal have had their worst start for years, having sold two playmakers, and seen a third, Jack Wilshere, sidelined by injury.
Yet the Premier League is supposed to be noted for its pace, strength and physically demanding nature. Has it mellowed?
Yes. Put simply, a creative playmaker is becoming increasingly fashionable with the league’s top clubs. For Manchester United, defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final in May was a reminder that they do not have the skill in possession required to go all the way in Europe’s top competition. For Chelsea, they have turned to Mata as they look to evolve from the functional, direct side built by Jose Mourinho into a quicker, more creative team building through the midfield.
Manchester City have seen David Silva become their key player arguably as they look to build on their progress by taking a more attacking approach this season. For Tottenham, the presence of a player who can control and create the play has been crucial to their rise in recent years. Other stars may shine brighter, but Luka Modric has been their most important player in the Harry Redknapp years.
This demonstrates that the Premier League is adapting to the demands of possession based football at the very top level. It is why Arsenal are increasingly struggling in the Premier League; once they were the only team who looked to control the play and build through the middle. Now everyone does it, and suddenly Arsenal’s advantage in possession is being challenged by an increasing number of opponents.
And players arriving in England are adjusting quicker than before. Are Sergio Aguero and Juan Mata better than Thierry Henry or Cristiano Ronaldo? Maybe, but probably not. It seems to be that the changing nature of the Premier League is making it a league in which such players can thrive. In the top flight every team, apart from Stoke, aspire to play good football. Even Sam Allardyce’s former clubs Bolton and Blackburn do so. Promoted sides, from West Brom, Newcastle and Blackpool last year, to Swansea, Norwich and QPR this, look to play expansive football. And the team who are the benchmark for all sides looking to establish themselves in the Premier League, Fulham, have always played good football.
All of which means it is good time to be a playmaker in the Premier League. Adaptation to the league doesn’t take the six months it used to. The league is becoming less physical and more technical. This is a golden opportunity for English football, which has traditionally been held back by the neanderthal instinct. The playmaker is back.