Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur and England) **
Named as player of the year last season by journalists, Parker has been, if anything, better this campaign for Spurs. Tenacious and aggressive in the centre of the park, he has superbly complemented Luka Modric and given Spurs a bite that has previously been lacking. For England he now seems assured of a place within the starting XI at Euro 2012 after a series of fine performances, not least as man of the match against Spain.
Daniele De Rossi (Roma and Italy) **
The judgement is still out on Luis Enrique’s time at Roma, but he has certainly brought the best out of Daniele De Rossi. Playing both at centre-back and in his natural central midfield position this season he has consistently impressed with his tigerish tackling, intelligent use of the ball and inspirational leadership. He has been regularly linked with a move to Manchester City in recent weeks, but Roma would be loathe to give up such an important and much loved part of the team.
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona and Spain) **
Often perceived as the enforcer in Barcelona’s midfield the quality of Busquets’ passing is beyond doubt. Perfectly skilled in the La Masia tradition the lanky midfielder is instrumental in the way that Barcelona retain possession as he is a master at making himself available for the ball. For Spain there remains the suggestion that Del Bosque will have to choose between Busquets and Xabi Alonso if he is to adequately mimic the Barcelona style, but the young Catalan currently appears to be pivotal to the wily coach’s plans.
Jeremy Toulalan (Malaga and France) *
Among the most astute pieces of business done this summer was the move to Malaga of Jeremy Toulalan. Continuously impressive for Lyon and France he has brought his excellent anticipation and reading of the game to La Liga and already marked himself out as one of the best midfielders in the league. Strangely one man who doesn’t appear to be an admirer of the Malaga man is France coach Laurent Blanc. Time will tell if he can force his way back into the fold.
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool and Brazil) *
For much of his time at Anfield there were doubts about whether Lucas was really up to the standards that Liverpool required. Last season he came on immeasurably and continued that progress during recent months. Indeed such has been the change in his play that when he suffered a severe injury many felt it spelt the end of Liverpool’s season. Certainly it will be interesting to see how Liverpool’s defence performs without the Brazilian in front of them .
Alex Song (Arsenal and Cameroon) *
Many have characterised Arsenal as a one-man team given Robin Van Persie’s phenomenal 2011, but the contribution of Alex Song should not go unnoticed. With Jack Wilshere injured and both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri departing, there has been great responsibility thrust upon the young midfielder but he has so far stepped up and proved himself capable. Not merely a strong tackler in central midfield he has also shown himself capable of playing some excellent passing football so far this year.
Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) *
Last season’s Borussia Dortmund team was frequently seen to revolve around the attacking midfield triumvirate of Nuri Sahin, Mario Goetze and Shinji Kagawa. The result was that the role of Sven Bender in winning and retaining the ball was frequently overlooked. This season, with Sahin gone to Madrid, there has been an even greater onus on the role of Bender and he has again been at his best as Dortmund have surged back up the league.
Phil Jones (Manchester United and England) *
Since signing from Blackburn in the summer, the hype surrounding Phil Jones has been enormous. Originally expected to be back-up for Nemanja Vidic he has been played at centre-back, right-back and frequently in central midfield as Sir Alex Ferguson has altered his team. While he has impressed in all of them, it has primarily been for his rampaging charges forward rather than his defensive qualities that he has received acclaim. If he wants to mature into a great defensive midfielder or centre-back he may well need to calm the rushes of blood and focus on his positioning.
Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany) *
While his brother excels in Dortmund, Lars Bender has improved considerably in nearby Leverkusen. Arturo Vidal’s move to Juventus has deprived the Leverkusen midfield of a key source of energy and drive, but Bender has adapted admirably and more than filled the void. Leverkusen now face the ultimate test in the Champions League in the shape of Barcelona, Bender will have to step up again if he is to stifle Xavi and co.