Ashley Young’s selection against Liverpool made us wonder who were the best defensive attackers in the Premier League. So here – in reverse order – are the most voracious tacklers amongst the top flight’s so-called attacking players…
Gaston Ramirez (Middlesbrough)
We could throw Cristhian Stuani in here too as Aitor Karanka is doing a pretty fine job of getting more tackling than creativity out of his attacking midfielders. He learned at the feet of Jose Mourinho, remember. Regarded as something of a fanny merchant at Southampton, Uruguayan Ramirez is now a defensive forward, making more than twice as many tackles per game as key passes. And that’s why Boro have conceded a credible 11 goals in the Premier League…but scored just seven.
Andros Townsend (Crystal Palace)
He learned under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle that fans (and managers) love their middling wingers to track back. Sure, they like the fancy stuff, but diligently follow your full-back and they will forgive you the errant crosses and the shots flying high, wide and not so bloody handsome. Nobody shoots more than Townsend at Palace (of course) and only one player dribbles more (see below) but the England winger is also tackling more than any Palace full-back or central midfielder. Chunky must be very proud.
George Boyd (Burnley)
Welcome to 2016/17; it’s exactly the same as 2014/15 for Scotsman Boyd, always the SHOCK name atop the lists of Premier League players who cover the most ground. Is there a point when we should cease to be SHOCKED? And it’s not aimless running…he tackles more than any other player at Burnley. “Even if you bring a few tricks to the party, you will get found out at this level if you don’t have sweat on your jersey after 90 minutes,” says Boyd. But it’s the tricks that are missing; Boyd is yet to score or assist a Premier League goal this season and has created just three chances in eight games. But boy can he run.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
And so we come to the only Palace player who dribbles and tackles more than Townsend. It’s clearly a piece of p*** being a Palace full-back. It seems a long time (but it’s less than two months) since Pardew was questioning Zaha’s attitude after a summer pursuit by Tottenham but Zaha’s effort levels cannot now be queried. He’s even managed to claim a shot and an assist in amongst all that tackling, putting him in a two-man club at Palace with James McArthur.
James McClean (West Brom)
The Baggies have not lost a game started by the Irishman this season and that’s due in no small part to the industry of a player who finally looks like the perfect exponent of Pulisball – covering every inch of the touchline and tracking the opposition full-back like a particularly hungry Bear Grylls. Nacer Chadli might get all the headlines but McClean is tackling even more than Claudio Yacob, and there is a man who likes a tackle. Oh and he’s not done anything daft for aaaaaaages.