Top 10 midfielders of the Premier League season

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Discussing and dissecting the quality of midfielders can be a touchy subject. If the player in question is regularly playing wide in the top band of a 4-3-3, does he get to be dubbed a midfielder? How do you account for defensive mids, if the majority of your list is focused on the excitement and trickery of attacking players?

Should you take a fantasy league approach, in which just one appearance at midfield qualifies a player to be eligible for a top ten list? And what, exactly, makes a player truly top in his position?

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In this case, the top ten footballers for the 2013-2014 Premier League season have been chosen based on their clear, definable numbers, like goals scored and assists provided. But the players on the list were also selected according to their value to their team…which is why you might see some interesting names:

10. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
With Aaron Ramsey healthy, the Gunners were challenging for the title. With Ramsey injured, they were worried about losing out on Champions League. Despite missing over three months of the season, the Welshman still had 17 goals and 9 assists in all competitions – that’s in 37 appearances. Who knows where Arsenal may have finished this season if they’d been able to count on a fit Ramsey? It’s a question plaguing supporters’ dreams, it’s certain.

9. Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/PSG)
It’s probably not kosher to bestow top honors on a player who only spent the first half of the season in the Premier League. But Cabaye’s worth to Newcastle is perhaps best demonstrated by his absence. His seven goals and two assists for the Magpies don’t tell the full story. After his move to Paris Saint-Germain, it became painfully clear that Cabaye was the architect of Newcastle’s entire game. After his move, Newcastle failed to score in their next four matches. They went on to win four of their final sixteen matches, failing to score in ten of those.

8. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
What is Liverpool without Stevie G? The Reds are hoping they won’t have to find out for a few more years. Brendan Rodgers, hoping to keep the Liverpool captain on as a valued member of the side, moved the 33-year-old into a deeper role in midfield. There were a couple blips – most notably the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in January – but Gerrard now looks as though he will flourish there. In total he notched 13 goals and 13 assists in Liverpool’s impressive season, and his impressive form shouldn’t be overshadowed by an unfortunate slip…

7. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
Giving a top-ten spot to a player with only 15 starts and 4 goals seems a bit odd. But then again, Manchester United finishing in 7th also seems a bit odd. It’s been known for ages that United are lacking in the midfield, so when an exciting teenager comes along and seems to be able to create more in his few minutes on the field than the entire rest of the team, it’s worth acknowledging him. Particularly when, in his first start with the team, he sinks two goals in seven minutes to give his side a comeback win over Sunderland.

6. Adam Lallana (Southampton) Lallana, now 26, has been at Southampton since he was born, more or less. He was part of the club when they were sent down to League One and with them as they rose up, and up, up to 8th place this year. He’s now come into his own, displaying a quiet brilliance throughout the entire Saints’ season. Lallana has six recorded assists to his name, but he also works to set up his teammates – or takes the goals himself, bagging nine this season. His performances have earned him a place in England’s World Cup squad, with him likely to see some starts in Brazil.

5. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
This may just be another case of a quality player shining for a disappointing team, but it seems Eriksen is the real deal. It took him a bit to find his Premier League feet after joining from Ajax in the summer, but once he was established in the side it became clear that Erikson was one of the few buys upon which Spurs definitely did not waste their money. He might not score many goals but he certainly can set them up, particularly with his tremendous free kicks. Now Tottenham fans will be hoping whoever comes in to take the helm will be able to get even more out of their favorite Dane.

4. Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
The Palace captain very nearly played every minute of every Premier League game this season – he came off injured in the final match against Fulham, losing out on the last 30 minutes of the match. But worry not, Socceroos fans, Jedinak is confident it’s just a minor injury and he’ll be fit to play in Australia’s first World Cup match. The defensive midfielder played a key role in Crystal Palace’s 11th-place finish, sweeping up in front of the defense to ensure that the Eagles could hold off many of the league’s strongest attacks.

3. Ross Barkley (Everton)
Barkley, just 20 years old, filled a variety of roles for Roberto Martínez this season. He’s played behind the striker, out wide in a band of three, or in a more withdrawn role – much of the time to great success. Barkley’s made it difficult to remember that this was really his first season in the Premier League (he spent much of the last on loan to Sheffield Wednesday) and that it’s still not certain where his best role on the field might be. But his versatility and his creativity make him a quality addition to any squad. That fact was not lost on Roy Hodgson, who named him in England’s World Cup squad.

1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Some want to call Hazard a “forward”. Let’s face it – Chelsea’s forwards are Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres, who have under 20 goals between them. Hazard, an attacking midfielder, has 14, in 32 starts. Just a few months ago, his playmaking abilities were being talked up as among the best in the world. But manager José Mourinho apparently didn’t feel the same, dropping him after the Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and now telling him he needs to work harder at his game. Mou, most teams would kill to have such a talented player in their squad – enjoy it!

1. Yaya Touré (Manchester City) There’s no official ranking of these ten players, but you’ll have to admit we’ve saved the best for last. Yaya is the king of the Premier League midfield, a consistent gem in the center of the pitch. In 35 games he scored 20 league goals for Manchester City, ending the year as their top scorer. He absolutely terrorizes defenses, either with his own shots on goal or by placing a perfect pass to the likes of Sergio Agüero or Edin Džeko. Snubbed for the Player of the Year award, Touré decided to go ahead and win the title instead.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.