From tough-tackling hardmen to goalscoring wizards, midfielders come in all shapes and sizes and the Premier League has been lucky enough to host some of the best in its 29 years in existence.
There isn’t room for everyone so picking just five players from all those greats to have graced the top flight is certainly no easy task and creates plenty of debate. Whether your favourite has made it or not, what isn’t up for debate is that the five men below are amongst the finest examples of Premier League midfielders in the competition’s history.
It was hard enough to whittle down to five the Premier League’s greatest midfielders, let alone pick out a number one so this list is in no particular order.
David Silva arrived during the early days of Manchester City’s transformation into a Premier League superpower, signing from Valencia in 2010. Over the next decade, the man nicknamed the Magician had everyone at the Etihad Stadium fall under his spell as he helped City win four league titles, alongside two FA Cups and five League Cups.
Silva made over 400 appearances for City, scoring 77 goals and providing 140 assists as he firmly established himself as one of the club’s greatest-ever players. Despite having to compete for a spot on this list against the likes of Yaya Toure and Kevin de Bruyne, Silva’s quality and his importance in establishing City as title contenders trumps all other contributions from fellow Citizens.
Sticking with the theme of men who helped kickstart club revolutions, Patrick Vieira was one of the foundations for the great Arsenal teams under Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman was the first of a new generation of Premier League midfielders that was blessed with a combination of top-level pace, power and technical ability.
Vieira was the bedrock of Arsenal’s midfield from 1996 up until his exit in 2005, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups, with the last of his league championship successes coming as part of the infamous ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003-04. Part of what makes Vieira infamous is his combative nature (he was sent off 10 times for Arsenal) and in that era, that put the World Cup-winner on a collision course with the next man on our list.
Roy Keane and Vieira’s running battles epitomised the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United at that time. Vieira was Keane’s main rival for the title of Premier League hardman for many years, a title the Irishman protected with pride. However, Keane was far more than a warrior, possessing a great engine, an excellent understanding of the game and a rather underrated range of passing.
His leadership skills were a big part of why United dominated the 1990s and into the next decade, leaving Old Trafford with seven Premier League winners’ medals. Although he played no part in the final, Keane was also a big reason why United won the Champions League in 1999 to complete an unprecedented treble, cementing his place in the club’s hall of fame in the process.
Just like the England teams of the so-called Golden Generation, there’s not enough room for both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard on this list and it is the latter who will have to make way. Despite both being icons of Chelsea and Liverpool respectively and ranking amongst the greatest English midfielders of their generations, there is one big difference between the pair; Premier League titles.
While Gerrard has none, Lampard has three to go along with plenty of other pieces of silverware he collected while at Stamford Bridge. His goalscoring record for a midfielder is the best the Premier League has ever seen too with his 177 goals, putting him sixth in the competition list of all-time scorers. The now-Everton boss was more than just a goalscorer though with his reading of the game and range of passing helping him stand head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
Paul Scholes could do it all as a midfielder, apart from tackle, at least that’s what his critics would have you believe. Scholes arguably has the best range of passing of anyone on this list, while he regularly contributed goals, including some of the most memorable in the competition’s history.
Scholes spent 18 years as part of an all-conquering Manchester United team, keeping his place in the squad under Sir Alex Ferguson, who had little room for sentiment and would have got rid had Scholes not performed for him. Only Ryan Giggs (13) has more Premier League winners’ medals to his name than Scholes, who collected 11, alongside a vast number of other trophies during his time at the club. He left after 719 appearances for United, good enough for third on the club’s all-time appearance list, and having made an indelible mark on the Premier League.