Bruno Fernandes’ importance to Manchester United was once again underlined with his impact as a substitute last weekend, coming off the bench to inspire a comeback victory against West Ham at the London Stadium.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had hoped to hand the Portugal international a rest ahead of the crucial Champions League clash with RB Leipzig last night, though was forced to call upon the inspirational Portuguese playmaker in a change that turned the tie.
The term ‘one-man team’ can often be derogatory towards the rest of a squad, but there is no denying that even the game’s biggest clubs often overly rely on their top talents.
Following the impact of Fernandes at West Ham we’ve decided to look at the most valuable players from each of the division’s leading sides, here is the one player each ‘top six’ side just can’t do without:
Chelsea – Edouard Mendy
Chelsea invested a huge £226.1m into their squad during the summer as the west London side splashed out on a host of marquee arrivals, headlined by the signings of Germany internationals Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Each of the club’s summer additions have shown encouraging signs thus far, but perhaps none has had a greater influence than Edouard Mendy.
The Senegalese international arrived from Rennes on the recommendation of Petr Cech following the unconvincing performances of Kepa Arrizabalaga, with the 28-year-old instantly replacing the under-fire goalkeeper as number one and making a strong start at Stamford Bridge.
Mendy has kept nine clean sheets in just 13 fixtures in all competitions and has conceded just four goals during that time, impressing with his command of the penalty area and bringing a much needed calming presence to the Chelsea backline.
Edouard Mendy has kept nine clean sheets in 12 matches since joining Chelsea.
He's averaging one goal conceded every four games. Incredible 🧤 pic.twitter.com/YtjTXaqWHd
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 3, 2020
No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets in the Premier League so far this season and his signing has been a transformative one behind a hugely improved defence, Mendy already a player they can ill-afford to be without.
Mendy’s reliability has been a world away from the performances of the much maligned Kepa and the Chelsea faithful will hope it can long continue, the return of the Spaniard or the similarly unconvincing Willy Caballero enough to give supporters nightmares.
Liverpool – Jordan Henderson
Just a matter of weeks ago and a common consensus would probably have handed this accolade to Virgil van Dijk, but as Liverpool continue to pick up results in the absence of the Dutch defender it opens up the debate over the Reds’ most influential player.
Alisson certainly has his merits given his performances since moving to the Premier League, whilst the dynamism of full-back pairing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Roberton are a key factor in the champion’s style and system.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane must also be mentioned, though the arrival of Diogo Jota has provided Liverpool with much needed depth to their forward ranks.
Jordan Henderson, however, is a player who leaves a void that has largely been unfulfilled when absent, with the statistics further backing up the eye-test assessment that Liverpool are a poorer side without their club captain.
Last season saw Liverpool compile a Premier League win percentage of 90% with Henderson in the side, a figure which dropped markedly to just 50% whenever the England international was missing.
Henderson often sets the tempo for the Reds with his energy and tenacity in the engine room, whilst his leadership and organisation may be just as important if not tangible with statistics.
The 30-year-old may not be the most fashionable footballer to have graced the Premier League but he is often the heartbeat of one of the most dominant champions the division has seen, his recognition as the FWA Footballer of the Year last season reward for his role in the Reds’ success.
Manchester City – Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne is regarded by many as the best player in the Premier League, which makes him the leading candidate as Manchester City’s most valuable player.
De Bruyne may just be the finest midfielder in world football and has produced performances of consistent excellence in recent seasons, being named as the PFA Player of the Year last season after equalling the Premier League’s single season assist record.
Man City possess an abundance of attacking options but there are none who deliver with such regularity, De Bruyne unerring in his ability to create goalscoring opportunities with forward runs, incisive passes and deadly deliveries.
Pep Guardiola’s side may have been crowned as champions in 2018/19 despite a lengthy absence for the Belgium international through injury, though the current crop are perhaps more dependent on the 29-year-old than ever before.
The departure of David Silva has left the midfielder without his most trusted creative ally, burdening him with more responsibility as the hub of the Manchester City side.
There are many who feel De Bruyne has not yet reached the extraordinary heights of last season that saw him named as the Premier League’s finest player, but a return of 10 assists in just 11 starts in all competitions is clear evidence the midfielder remains largely in a league of his own.
Manchester United – Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes’ arrival from Sporting Lisbon last January proved the catalyst behind an impressive second half of the season for Manchester United, the midfielder inspirational as the Red Devils secured a top four finish and Champions League qualification.
Rarely has a winter window signing had such a profound and immediate impact on a club’s fortunes, the performances of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side having been chalk and cheese with and without the Portugal international.
Inconsistencies remain in this United side but in Fernandes they have consistent class, the 26-year-old having provided an incredible 26 goal involvements in just 24 Premier League appearances since moving to English football.
No player in the division has created more chances than Fernandes this season, whose eight chances created against West Ham last weekend the most any player has registered in a single fixture so far this season – despite coming on at half-time.
Fernandes is unquestionably the player that makes the side tick and both a leader and winner, with only Liverpool having earned more Premier League points than Manchester United since the midfielder’s debut against Wolves in February.
United have got plenty wrong with their recruitment in recent years, but the addition of Fernandes has proven a spectacular success.
Arsenal – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal have endured their worst start to a campaign in 45 years this season and their faltering fortunes have gone hand-in-hand with a downturn in form for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Aubameyang has been one of the Premier League’s finest forwards since arriving into the division almost three years ago, winning a share of the league’s Golden Boot in 2018/19 before finishing as runner-up for the accolade last season.
The Gabon international scored 29 goals in all competitions last season and inspired the Gunners to FA Cup success with doubles in both the semi-final and final, though the goals have dried up this time around and contributed hugely to Arsenal’s wretched recent form.
Arsenal look a shadow of the side which showed progress over the opening months of Mikel Arteta’s reign with an out-of-sorts Aubameyang having failed to make an impact, scoring just once from open play in 11 league games this season.
It’s no coincidence that the club’s downturn in form has coincided with Aubameyang’s struggles, with the north London side in need of their only regular provider of goals to rediscover his touch and revive their fortunes.
Tottenham – Harry Kane
Pep Guardiola once memorably referred to Tottenham as the ‘Harry Kane team’ and whilst his quip was largely viewed as disrespectful towards the north London side, there is no disputing Kane’s influence on Spurs.
Guardiola insisted the comment had been intended as a compliment to Kane and with good reason, the forward having twice won the Premier League’s Golden Boot and boasting a record of 202 goals in just 304 appearances for Spurs to date.
Kane recently moved into the Premier League’s all-time top 10 goalscorers and possesses the best goal-per-game ratio of any player to have hit a century of goals, his importance having only increased this season in a new role as both creative and goalscoring threat.
The 27-year-old has scored eight goals and provided a league-leading 10 assists in just 11 fixtures, an astonishing return of productivity for a player playing at the peak of his powers.
The first player to reach 10 #PL assists in the last five seasons (games played):
2016-17: Eriksen (25)
2017-18: De Bruyne (24)
2018-19: Hazard (21)
2019-20: De Bruyne (17)
2020-21: Kane (11)
Harry Kane is a JOKE. 😳 pic.twitter.com/VMXNnYtLbb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 6, 2020
Kane is the complete centre-forward package and provides the perfect focal point for Jose Mourinho’s side, bringing others into play with clever link-up and battling against entire backlines often singlehandedly.
Tottenham are the current league leaders and their position at the summit is largely down to the performances of Kane and forward partner Son, the former an irreplaceable figure for both club and country and the key reason the north London side are daring to dream this season.