Kevin De Bruyne’s match-winning display in the Manchester Derby on Sunday put him in the top eight in terms of direct goal contributions by midfielders in Premier League history. For that reason, we’re using this metric to discuss some of the best schemers that England has ever seen, so that the notions of personal preference and subjective tastes can be circumvented.
Most all-time EPL goal involvements by midfielders:
- 279 🏴 Frank Lampard
- 212 🏴 Steven Gerrard
- 162 🏴 Paul Scholes
- 161 🇪🇸 Cesc Fàbregas
- 153 🇪🇸 David Silva
- 142 🏴 David Beckham
- 141* 🏴 James Milner
- 132*🇧🇪 Kevin De Bruyne
Lampard’s absurd tally of 177 goals & 102 assists makes him the obvious starting point of this debate, especially considering that he won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League in Chelsea blue. He even managed six goals and an assist in the sky blue of Manchester City, which was a strange sight to behold.
Lampard’s compatriots Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes are both unanimously regarded as greats of the English game too. Both notched over 100 EPL goals during glorious spells with Liverpool and Man United respectively. Plenty of ex-pros and legends of the game, including Xavi, have lamented the fact that they never got to play alongside Scholes. Gerrard is widely regarded as Liverpool’s greatest ever player, and for good reason.
Then there’s little Cesc Fàbregas, who captained Arsenal at the age of 21, before moving back to Barcelona. His influence on the Premier League was far from finished though; he returned to London to help Chelsea to two Premier League titles in 2015 and 2017. All-in-all, only Ryan Giggs (162) has more assists in Premier League history than Fàbregas’ 111. The Spaniard is undoubtedly one of the most stylish and creative playmakers the country has ever seen, and it was he who supplied the killer pass for Andrés Iniesta’s winner in the 2010 World Cup final.
Speaking of Spanish magicians, no “greatest Premier League midfielder” debate is complete without a mention of David Silva. El Mago glided across the Etihad Stadium pitch, delighting City fans with his subtle brilliance and wand of a left foot. He collected four Premier League titles and posted some seriously impressive personal stats along the way, in what was a beautiful journey to witness. Peter Drury said of Silva “He’s the painter of some of the prettiest pictures in football.”
Man United and England legend David Beckham revolutionized the role of a creative and versatile midfielder and became part of the bedrock of a footballing dynasty under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 90s. Of the current active crop, James Milner is a bona fide Premier League legend, having made 582 appearances in the top-flight. Only Gareth Barry (653), Ryan Giggs (632) and Lampard (609) have made more. Milner made his EPL debut for Leeds United all the way back in 2002, and he’s still going strong.
Man City’s current midfield dynamo De Bruyne’s tallies of 51 goals & 81 assists from 201 appearances give him an average of 0.66 direct goal contributions per game. That’s an elite output by anyone’s reckoning, especially considering that if you extrapolate Lampard’s numbers, his direct goal contribution average was 0.46 per game over his 609 appearances.
City great Yaya Touré became the embodiment of a perfect modern midfielder, capable of doing pretty much everything on a football pitch, especially when it came to making a telling impact in the big games. His numbers in the 2013-14 season were gobsmackingly good.
Yaya Touré’s 2013-14 Premier League numbers:
- 35 appearances
- 20 goals
- 9 assists
- 10 goals from set-pieces
- 2502 passes completed
- 40 chances created
- 90% pass accuracy
Overall, Yaya notched 62 goals & 32 assists in the EPL, but the Ivorian was an imperious presence in the heat of the battle and often won matches on his own with spontaneous moments of brilliance. On his day, nobody could live with him in full flight. Often likened to fellow Premier League great Patrick Vieira, Touré and the ex-Arsenal man pioneered the role of the box-to-box midfielder, with the pair proving that big men could also possess silky, subtle skills.
There are also naturally gifted players, both past and present, who deserve a mention even though their direct goal contributions numbers don’t quite stack up. The legendary quarterback style playmaker Xabi Alonso was one of the most complete central midfielders the world has ever seen.
Man United’s often-criticized but supremely gifted star Paul Pogba is also a joy to watch when he’s in the mood to dazzle his adoring fans. And then the likes of Michael Carrick and Jordan Henderson, although not the most fashionable or flamboyant choices, have been the fulcrum of wildly successful teams in their own right.
Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Mesut Özil have also sprinkled a considerable amount of fairy dust on England’s top-flight in their heyday. Who’s your favourite Premier League midfielder of all time?