When Aymeric Laporte was lost for months with a knee injury, there was a fairly standard reaction to the news.
This was the player Manchester City could least afford to lose for a long period of time.
[ MORE: Juve wants De Gea ]
There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?
It’s going to be a defender heavy list.
Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).
But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.
It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).
Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?
Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.
It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.
This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.
Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.
Four players have played every minute of the early season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and David De Gea. Both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have nearly played the full 360.
The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.
Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.
So while we’d like to make the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, the answer is probably still Kante.
The easy answer is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it is not necessarily the correct answer because of replaceability. If the Gabonese superstar goes down, Unai Emery can still roll out a strike force with Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.
The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.
So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).
It’s Virgil Van Dijk.
Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).
The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).
We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.
It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.
An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.
Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).
Best of the Rest
Less explanation, similar amounts of confidence.
Aston Villa: Jack Grealish
Bournemouth: Nathan Ake
Brighton and Hove Albion: Shane Duffy
Burnley: James Tarkowski
Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic
Everton: Michael Keane
Leicester City: Wilfred Ndidi
Newcastle United: Fabian Schar
Norwich City: Teemu Pukki
Sheffield United: Dean Henderson
Southampton: Jannik Vestergaard
Watford: Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham: Sebastien Haller
Wolves: Willy Boly