Who has been the Premier League’s best playmaker?

Juan Mata 2

Across the Premier League’s 20 clubs, each with a 25-man squad at their disposal, there are some players who have outshone their peers this term; including Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla.

The abundance of quality in the English top tier is astounding now more thane ever as the transfer market, along with new and old money to throw at it, has seen an influx of some of the world’s finest offerings, most notably in the form of flair players.

Every team, however they are set up by their manager, revolves around a nucleus, a central hub of creativity, from which their attacking play and goalscoring opportunities are generated. These players are the real dangermen.

What Xavi is to Barcelona, Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool – in fact I’d go as far as to say the England captain’s influence over the club is significantly greater than the Spaniard’s.

Gerrard has been one of the best players in the world for almost a decade at Anfield and, despite his 32 years of age, this season has been exception to that rule.

Despite injuries and fatigue the captain has provided the league’s top goalscorer with ample opportunities – would Luis Suarez thrive so remarkably with the Reds if it weren’t for Gerrard? I think not.

Gerrard has 10 assists to his name so far and 10 goals but the stats don’t fully credit him with the energy, dynamism, determination, and conviction Gerrard brings to Liverpool – season after season after season. He is Mr Liverpool.

Continuing with the Barca parallels – Juan Mata is Chelsea’s Andres Iniesta. The Ballon d’Or runner-up’s compatriot has been simply sublime this term. He has the most assists of anyone in the league – 13 in total – and has scored 10 goals to top it off.

His creative play, his movement, his technique, vision, and concentration are so far above the majority of other players – even his world-class teammates Eden Hazard and Oscar. Chelsea simply couldn’t live without him.

Now, there is never an appropriate comparison in this world to Lionel Messi, but the closest it comes this season in this league is Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. 

With the arrival of Robin van Persie, Rooney has been re-deployed as something of a tequartista, a number 10, or a second striker. His role is now to create rather than finish. He has proven himself worthy of the comparison to the greats in world football for his sheer ability to adapt and improvise, to develop constantly and has become one of the most well-rounded footballers of his generation.

Yes, he can score goals – we knew that – and he’s netted 12 in the league this term. He has provided 9 assists, however that doesn’t accurately assess what he brings to United’s build-up play.

He has been mature (more than I expected considering he’s been thrust out of the limelight somewhat) and positive. His attitude and discipline have really improved over the years. He is Mr Man United, in my view.

He is possibly one of the only players who could even pretend to replace the vision and technique, the audacity and delivery of Paul Scholes. Wayne Rooney was a striker but now he has become a force of nature.

Those who have bemoaned his lack of goals and consistency are missing the point entirely. He’s in transition at present – from a goal-scorer to a goal provider.

Looking at the league’s assists table, it’s surprising to me to see that Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla is not higher up the list. I wasn’t expecting him to have made the most goals in the league but, to my surprise, he’s not even made the most goals at Arsenal – Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski each have 9 assists apiece.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story – the widemen wouldn’t and couldn’t have anywhere near as much impact on the Gunners’ play without their Spanish maestro pulling the strings.

Cazorla has done a fantastic job for Arsenal this season – he settled straight in and got to work, looking at his performance, one would assume he’d been playing in England for years – he’s taken barely any time to adapt from La Liga and has played (astonishingly) in every single game of Arsenal’s league campaign.

He has been impossible to rest – they need him too much. He’s scored 8 goals, and made 12 with his assists but I’d go as far as to say he’s made the majority across the board.

He is the closest Arsenal have come to filling the creative void left by Cesc Fabregas. His first-touch, his passing looks effortless, his vision and his control – he controls the pace and tempo of every game he plays in.

For my money, it’s got to be between Mata and Gerrard. Out of respect, I’d be tempted to go for the Englishman and he would certainly be in my team of the decade. However, I have to give to Mata – he’s been the best playmaker.

In all honesty, had he have had a more fortunate and in-form frontman ahead of his, it’s scary to think of what he might have achieved with Chelsea this term.

image: © Ben Sutherland

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