We look at the stats behind some of the Premier League's best midfield men
We look at the stats behind some of the Premier League's best midfield men

Premier League's best midfielders: Defensive, attacking and box-to-box - the main statistics behind the top stars this season

As the Premier League resumption moves closer Sporting Life's latest series picks out the best Premier League players in every position this season. Next up on the list is the midfielders.

There have been a number of stand-out performers throughout the campaign who have played a significant part in helping their side reach their current position.

Creative outlets or defensive support? Arguably, a balanced midfield is certainly required.

George Pitts breaks down the statistics and picks out the ideal trio in the middle...

Pinpoint accuracy

Accurate passes (%):

Rodri celebrates his goal
Rodri: Manchester City's club-record signing showing his quality

1. Rodri (Manchester City) - 92%

=1. Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City) - 92%

3. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) - 91%

4. Fernandinho (Manchester City) - 90%

=4. Harry Winks (Tottenham) - 90%

=4. Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea) - 90%

The best midfielders tend to go down as the more attacking ones, those that rack up impressive tallies in the shots, goals and assists markets.

Undoubtedly, they are key parts of any midfield and we will come on to that shortly, but a balanced midfield needs a player that does the dirty work, the lesser noticed stuff - man-marking, tackling, simple passing, the team's quiet orchestrator. Every successful team has one.

The first category we are looking at is the passing statistics - and the names coming up are the deeper-lying midfielders who play the simple balls.

There is, of course, a line to be drawn for minimum appearances when it comes to the accurate passers category with it being calculated as a percentage, so on 14 appearances Norwich's Tom Trybull just about misses out - a shame as he would sit top on 93%.

Half of the top six has Manchester City players. In part due to their rotation under Pep Guardiola and you could also say due to the amount of games Fernandinho has had to play in the centre of defence in Aymeric Laporte's absence. Also due to the fact Man City dominate games so often.

But the Brazilian is probably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League at the minute - it shows when Man City are without him.

Whether he is in there with Rodri or Gundogan alongside him, the deep-lying City midfielders play a key role in transitioning the ball from side to side, defence to attack, passing it on to the more creative attacking midfielders such as Kevin De Bruyne (more on him later, too), David Silva and Bernardo - to name but a few.

Georginio Wijnaldum scores against Everton
Georginio Wijnaldum: Key in keeping Liverpool's midfield ticking

The other players in this list play a similar role in the team - Winks and Kovacic at Tottenham and Chelsea respectively, where perhaps their string pulling and influence tends to go more unnoticed - while Wijnaldum's inclusion is interesting due to his versatility in midfield.

Depending on injuries and selection, the Dutchman can be found playing deeper or box-to-box in the midfield three for Jurgen Klopp's table-topping Liverpool. A player whose efforts you could also say go under the radar as he helps to keep the team ticking.

Total number of accurate long balls:

  1. Ruben Neves (Wolves) - 153
  2. Rodri (Manchester City) - 131
  3. Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) - 114
  4. Joao Moutinho (Wolves) - 113
  5. Fernandinho (Manchester City) - 107
  6. Fred (Manchester United) - 103
  7. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) - 101

It is a credit to Fernandinho and Rodri that they made the list of most accurate passers when the above stats show how often they go for the long balls - not just the simple plays.

But it is another deep-lying midfielder in Ruben Neves who tops the lot. The Wolves man rarely goes in the opposition box (all of his 46 shots this term have come from more than 18 yards, to back that up) and that is because he is well and truly fulfilling his role as a string-puller.

Manchester City star Fernandinho
Manchester City star Fernandinho

The Portuguese star is a key reason behind their success in the Premier League in the last two seasons, and why they cruised to the Sky Bet Championship title the season before.

As well as those long-range rockets, he does the dirty work for Nuno Espirito Santo's side and has a range of passing to boot, with the ability to not only see the opportunity to switch play, but to execute it perfectly as well, alongside team-mate and compatriot Joao Moutinho who also makes the cut.

Granit Xhaka has his critics at Arsenal, too, but his ability to spread play accurately is actually pretty good, with only Ruben Neves and Rodri beating his total.

Fred's importance to Man United is becoming clearer this season after a difficult first campaign, with the Brazilian forming an excellent understanding with Bruno Fernandes in the last month-and-a-half of action before the unfortunate stoppage.

Another man in Liverpool's midfield in Jordan Henderson makes the cut. He recently had a spell on the sidelines, which coincided with the Reds stuttering slightly, highlighting his importance to the side.

Not only is the England man a hard worker, his ability to switch play is top drawer too as he can quickly spot the opportunity to transition to attack and put through one of their front three.


1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - 16

2. Adama Traore (Wolves) - 7

=2. David Silva (Manchester City) - 7

=2. Emiliano Buendia (Norwich) - 7

There really is no contest when it comes to setting up goals in the Premier League. If we open it wider to all positions, Trent Alexander-Arnold takes second with 12, but De Bruyne is by far the king of assists.

Kevin De Bruyne Premier League stats so far this season
Kevin De Bruyne Premier League stats so far this season

The Belgian has had previous seasons disrupted by injuries, but he has been a key performer when on the field for Manchester City.

Remember when City signed him for £55million in 2015 and people thought they had over paid for a Chelsea flop? What a snip that purchase has proved to be.

De Bruyne sees passes others would not in games that are played at lightning speeds, before executing it sublimely. He has developed a knack of whipping in crosses from deep that somehow get in behind defences and they are just so difficult to deal with.

A look at his strengths on WhoScored.com just show his ability with the ball - key passes (very strong), taking set pieces (very strong), through balls, passing, long shots, finishing and concentration.

A combinations of long balls, quick-thinking and set pieces, no midfielder comes close to KDB when it comes to laying on assists. He is just three short of equalling his best Premier League campaign for assists - which came in 16/17.

On more than half that figure we see Adama Traore of Wolves tied with De Bruyne's teammate David Silva as well as Emiliano Buendia of Norwich, whose inclusion is all the more impressive considering where the Canaries sit in the table.

Of those seven assists for Buendia, four of them came from laying on top scorer Teemu Pukki. A tough season, but their flourishing partnership is certainly a positive for them to take.

Defensive impact

Number of successful tackles:

  1. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) - 91
  2. Declan Rice (West Ham) - 87
  3. Joao Moutinho (Wolves) - 79
  4. Jonny Castro (Wolves) - 77
  5. James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) - 72
  6. James McArthur (Crystal Palace) - 68

A category you would certainly have seen Idrissa Gueye top had he stayed in the Premier League and not joined PSG from Everton last summer.

The only player who came close to his defensive stats was Wilfried Ndidi, a man whose importance to Leicester was proved as they missed him when he had knee surgery in January, which could have been a key factor in him returning to action much sooner than expected.

Ndidi is the man responsible for doing the dirty work in this Leicester team, helping fill the void left by N'Golo Kante in 2016, and he is arguably among the league's best in his position. A surprise really that there has been little concrete interest in securing his signature, barring a few murmurs linking him with Arsenal.

Ndidi leads the way in both successful tackles and interceptions (joint top) and the fact he only has three bookings all campaign shows how clinical he is at committing challenges.

England midfielder Declan Rice is close behind in both categories as he continues to improve and find his way in this position after initially swapping between defence and midfield in the earlier stages of his career.

Leicester aside (and Chelsea, below), it is interesting to see few names from the top teams here, but that makes sense as they dominate possession so often that they rarely need their midfield men to do the dirty work.

So the more prevalent teams, especially in the interceptions stats, are those teams in the bottom half, as they generally spend more time chasing the ball than with it, with three inclusions from the bottom five.


1. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) - 61

=2. Declan Rice (West Ham) - 61

=2. Etienne Capoue (Watford) - 61

4. Philip Billing (Bournemouth) - 59

5. Jorginho (Chelsea) - 57

6. James McArthur (Crystal Palace) - 52

Finding the target

Kevin De Bruyne celebrates with his Manchester City team mates
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates with his Manchester City team mates


1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - 8

=1. Dele Alli (Tottenham) - 8

3. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) - 7

=3. Harry Wilson (Bournemouth) - 7

The role of an attacking midfielder has arguably developed in the last decade or so. Although there can be skewed lines in terms of who to include and who can be classed as a forward, these are the players you can still consider midfielders that are topping the charts in terms of attacking statistics.

As well as his eye-watering assist numbers, De Bruyne also leads the way with goal contributions - his joint-best goalscoring Premier League campaign to date.

He did also notch eight goals and 16 assists in Man City's centurion campaign but he has already matched that figure in 11 fewer appearances.

It helps that he is brilliant from a dead ball situation, but all eight goals have impressively come from open play situations.

Level with him is Dele Alli, whose club Tottenham have not had the best campaign and you would argue that the England playmaker has not necessarily been at his best either.

Dele Alli: Spurs forward's 50th Premier League goal came from the spot against Burnley
Dele Alli: Spurs forward's 50th Premier League goal came from the spot against Burnley

So to see his shooting stats and goal record among the best from the league's midfielders shows just how highly the 23-year-old is rated.

What is positive from the shooting stats (below) is to see four of the top five players being made up of British players.

Mason Mount, Harvey Barnes and Harry Wilson have all broken through in the top flight this season after impressive loans in the Sky Bet Championship last term.

They have continued that form with a fearless approach - especially further up field with the goal in their sights.

Total number of shots on target:

1. Mason Mount (Chelsea) - 26

2. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - 23

3. Harvey Barnes (Leicester) - 22

4. Dele Alli (Tottenham) - 19

5. Harry Wilson (Bournemouth) - 17

Who makes the best trio?

Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his goal against Sheffield United
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates against Sheffield United

It was always going to be a case of who joins KDB in the three.

The 28-year-old has been a cut above this season and, even though City are nailed on to miss out on the title now, it is not down to his lack of effort. If anything, they have struggled in the games without him.

The Belgian is a joy to watch as he helps City unlock opposition defences, but he also has that aggression in his game that is required when teams have to dig in.

Although he is at the top of his game in England, it would be interesting to see if one of Spain's big two come calling while he is in his prime.


Rodri speaks to the media
Rodri: A big signing for Manchester City in 2019

It was a tough one, with Fernandinho probably regarded as the best defensive midfielder at the minute, but the Brazilian has been utilised in defence too often this term and in his absence Rodri impressively places high in some of the above key stats.

The Spain midfielder has taken little time to adapt to England after moving to the Etihad for a club-record £62.8million last summer.

With some of the league's most accurate passing, both long and short balls, he is often City's metronome, keeping play ticking over from side to side and back to front, showing composure on the ball when it matters.

At 6ft 3in, he has the size and physicality to do the dirty work too while also chipping in at the other end, with four goals in all competitions (a vital strike coming in the Carabao Cup final).

At just 23, he is going to keep improving and is City's ready-made replacement for Fernandinho.

Wilfried Ndidi

Brighton's Beram Kayal (right) battles for possession with Leicester's Wilfred Ndidi
Brighton's Beram Kayal (right) battles for possession with Leicester's Wilfred Ndidi

We have got Rodri keeping us ticking over as the passer, De Bruyne making things happen as our creator so we need someone in there to do the dirty work - and that man is Leicester's Ndidi, who has proven to be an able replacement for N'Golo Kante.

He is right up there for tackles and interceptions in a Leicester team that's littered with skilled players such as James Maddison and Harvey Barnes going forward, but he's there to ensure the back door remains firmly closed.

He is just ahead of Declan Rice in total tackles, but averages one more per game than the West Ham man and also has a better average in terms of interceptions - and in a better team who will have more of the ball, so could be more vulnerable on the counter attack.

That in itself makes sweeping up in midfield even more crucial.

He will not make too many teams of the season, but the stats show us that Ndidi is leading the way in combative midfield performers - and alongside De Bruyne and Rodri was have all bases covered in the engine room of the middle of the park.

Our stats-based midfield three

Tackler: Wilfried Ndidi

Passer: Rodri

Creator: Kevin De Bruyne

Let us know who would make your midfield three by tweeting @SportingLifeFC or @GeorgePitts_

Premier League: Top Performers Series

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