Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero – all names people will think key during this season’s run-in, but the attackers are only half the story.
These are the glamour names, the men the box offices and television companies crave to provide the drama for the Premier League narrative that will go into overdrive during the next few weeks.
It must be accepted that the names at the top of the scoring charts are the ones who people want to see strut the best of their stuff, but those at the back will come to be just as important.
You would think this is a given, but there appears to be little publicity surrounding the players who strive to negate the attacking talents of the Premier League’s goal hunters.
They do the dirty work of steel pile slide tackles and concrete slab towering headers, laying the foundations for victory – they will also chip in with the odd bundled goal out a goal-mouth melee.
The appearance of these gatekeepers differs greatly; from those who are rangy and elastic, gliding in front of attackers to filch possession off of their toes, to the hard-headed stocky type, who bustle and grind away, teeming with competitive pep.
They come in many shapes and sizes, but they are all essential to the success for their clubs in their individual ways.
With this in mind, GMF has decided to go through those teams who have title and top four aspirations, highlighting the key men in the respective rear guards.
Manchester United, Jonny Evans
A surprising choice maybe, but the northern Irishman has been performing admirably for the past couple of months. Rio Ferdinand has returned to form and his fitness is improving, but there will always be a question mark over whether he can keep it that way. Evans will likely play most of the games in the run in, so his form will be crucial if United see out the rest of the season as they are expected and clinch an historic 20th league title.
Manchester City, Vincent Kompany
The City captain has been missed badly in the past few weeks where consistent fitness has been hard to come by. Roberto Mancini’s side are a completely different prospect if they can call on the physically imposing centre-half and if they are to pull off the tough task of overhauling United, it will only be with him at the heart of the defence.
Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny
The Frenchman has come on leaps and bounds this season and has become the most consistent member of the Gunners back four, in terms of form and fitness. While the fitness of Thomas Vermaelen after the write off of last season and Bacary Sagna’s return have been a big boost for Arsene Wenger, Koscielny has more often than not been the driving force behind their most solid defensive performances.
Tottenham Hotspur, Younes Kaboul
Another Frenchman, who has risen to prominence in a season where he may not necessarily have been expected to play as much as he has done. Spurs’ travails in the defensive fitness department are well documented and Kaboul as been welcome relief. He is having his best season in England yet and this has much to do with the current lofty position of Redknapp’s side. It is no coincidence that Spurs’ wobble in the past month coincided with Kaboul looking less assured than he has done all season.
Chelsea, David Luiz
While John Terry brings the sort of influence to the team that no other member of the squad can even begin to match, the Brazilian needs to be fit and playing well if Roberto di Matteo is to take the Blues into the top four. It is uncertain as to whether Terry can stay fit for the entire run-in, but his powers are not what they once were and his partner is going to be very important. Luiz has much greater experience than Gary Cahill in the current situation Chelsea find themselves in and his impressive performances in recent weeks have proved how important he can be to the success of the side’s entire game plan.
Newcastle United, Mike Williamson
The former Watford and Portsmouth man has really come to the fore at Newcastle United, adjusting well to the Premier League and proving to be an important part a centre-back core of him, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor. The latter suffered a season-ending injury earlier this term and Williamson has proved to be crucial to the success of Alan Pardew’s side. Against Liverpool he was exceptional in keeping the Merseysiders' attackers quiet and stepped into the role of defensive leader in the absence of Taylor and Coloccini. The Toon will need to keep him on the pitch if they are to make a sensational entry into the top four.
These four sides are the ones with any realistic chance of a top four finish, as seventh placed Everton are currently ten points behind Newcastle.
However, a special mention must go out to Liverpool and how much they have missed Daniel Agger. The Danish centre-half injured his ribs in the Carling Cup final and has not played since.
Liverpool early season scoring woes were offset somewhat by the fact that Agger and central defensive partner Martin Skrtel were proving solid at the back, with Liverpool having one of the better defensive records in the first half of the season.
They have lost five of the seven games since the triumph at Wembley, just two less than they had done the entire season before then. While it is not he only factor in the shocking run, it highlights to importance the men at the back can be.
Who else do you think are the Premier League’s key defenders? Let us know by leaving a comment below…