Ranking the EPL's top midfielders

Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Nani among EPL's best midfielders

Originally Published: August 16, 2012
By Albert Larcada | ESPN Insider
Nani, Gareth Bale, Scott ParkerGetty Images, AP Photo, Getty ImagesNani, Gareth Bale and Scott Parker are three of the top midfielders in the EPL.

Unlike goalkeepers, defenders and forwards, midfielders' roles can vary by team, game or even game situation. In the English Premier League (as in most other top leagues) midfielders are generally grouped three ways.

The first is the Sergio Busquets type who -- aside from center backs -- is usually the last to join an attack and the first to prevent a counter. This style of player has become in vogue thanks to the club and international success of Busquets, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira. Their skill set must include strong tackling and defensive abilities, along with dribbling capabilities and a knack for precise passing.

The second group is the wingers. These are generally the speedy players on the flanks stretching the defense. Think Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery for Bayern Munich. Historically the Premier League has been known for having some of the best wingers in the world, but that may not be the case today with Robben, Ribery and former United left winger Cristiano Ronaldo all playing outside of England.

The last group is the attacking midfielders. These players have the least amount of defensive work to do so passing, dribbling and shooting are all necessary skills. In recent years the Premier League has started picking up some of the best in the world at this position. The Barcelona duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta may be the best at this position in the world.

With these categories in mind, let's take a look at the top three EPL players in all three groupings:

Defensive midfielders

1. Scott Parker, Tottenham

Parker has made himself one of the most indispensable players in the league. Among midfielders in the past two EPL seasons -- one for West Ham, one for Spurs -- Parker is seventh in defensive clearances, second in pass interceptions and first in tackles and blocked shots. He's done all of this without scoring an own goal or committing a defensive error that led directly to a goal.

Parker also does a great job of distributing the ball and igniting the Spurs' attack. Last season he sported an 88.7 percent pass completion rate, top 10 in the league and 4 percentage points better than the next-best player among Tottenham's 10 most used outfielders. As you can see on his pass heat maps below, he did a great job of spraying the ball around the field from his center midfield spot.

ESPN Stats & InformationHeat map of Scott Parker's passes made, left, and received, right, on Tottenham in 2011-12. Brighter red indicates increased frequency.

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Albert Larcada is an Analytics Specialist in ESPN's Stats & Information group. Among other analytics projects, he maintains, advances and writes about ESPN's Soccer Power Index (SPI) algorithm.