10) Jose Fonte (32, Southampton)
We suspect Jose Fonte is unique in world football. Who else could have possibly won the Football League Trophy and the European Championship? Adam Lallana may still be dreaming of such an unlikely double (fingers crossed for 2020) but Fonte has those two shiny medals safe in the bank. We would like to think it’s the trophy won with a 4-1 win over Carlisle in 2010 that holds a special place in the heart of an uber-reliable centre-half who seems like a thoroughly nice chap to boot.
An old-fashioned centre-half without a hint of sh*thousery is a rare and wonderful thing; there’s a reason why Jose Mourinho looked at his squad this summer and thought Fonte might be a more sensible back-up option than Marcos Rojo or Phil Jones. Did we say might? He most definitely would.
9) Wayne Rooney (30, Manchester United)
As tempting as it was to leave him out altogether, we have to admit that Wayne Rooney is just about worthy of a place on this list. After all, no player over the age of 30 has registered more assists than Rooney (2) this season and there really is no greater accolade.
Should he still be in the Manchester United side? Should he be playing as a No. 10 for any team with title-winning aspirations? Can he drop any deeper in search of the ball? Does Jose Mourinho have the cojones to drop him? Does Jamie Jackson cringe every time he thinks of the piece he wrote when Rooney turned 30? The answers: No, no, probably, hopefully and we should sodding well think so but probably not, no.
8) James Milner (30, Liverpool)
We’re not entirely sure how James Milner could still be only 30. What’s clearer is that James Milner is now Liverpool’s first-choice left-back – he has played nowhere else this season and Alberto Moreno is now operating on a strict emergency-only basis. We still believe the decision not to buy a new, specialist left-back is an error, but Milner’s middle names might as well be ‘Able’ and ‘Deputy’. His are safe hands.
“Milly can play there, especially in the style of play we think we should play,” said Klopp recently. “Full-back is not only a winger in the offence situations. It’s a really good position for Milly.”
It may well be where Milly (seriously? Could they really do no better?) plays for the next 15 years. By which time he will be 35.
7) Gareth Barry (35, Everton)
You can only truly excel at this level for 600 games if you a) look after your body and b) intelligently adapt your role. We should now add c) receive the gift-wrapped present of a ridiculously energetic central midfield partner, as Ronald Koeman certainly did the Englishman a massive favour with the purchase of Idrissa Gueye, who can do two-thirds of the running while Barry does a fair wedge of the thinking.
By the end of last season – with Roberto Martinez’s tactics leaving him exposed – he looked close to the knacker’s yard, and there were questions asked in pre-season about his place in Koeman’s plans. Now the Dutchman is predicting that one of the cleverest footballers he has ever managed could play on for another two seasons, by which time he will have amassed close to 1000 bookings.
6) Ashley Williams (32, Everton)
There is certainly no shortage of experience in this high-flying Everton side, with four regular starters over the age of 30 and Arouna Kone on the bench. The pick of them all is (old) new boy Williams, who is the captain without an armband in a defence that looks transformed by Koeman’s guidance and the Welshman’s leadership. Our Daniel Storey is a massive fan and has previously made a case for him being the best British centre-half (prior to John Stones being Pepped).
Williams is master of all aspects of the centre-half game, comfortable attacking the ball in the air, chasing nippy strikers or passing out from the back. He definitely knows when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away and when to run.
With Ashley Williams in the side, Everton have conceded just four shots on target in four games.
— Chris Smith (@cdsmith789) September 17, 2016
5) Santi Cazorla (31, Arsenal)
His unrivalled close control in tight spaces has made the Spaniard an absolute pleasure to have in the Premier League since his arrival in 2012, when his performances – largely as a No. 10 – brought 12 goals, 12 assists and the Arsenal Player of the Year trophy in his first season.
As Arsenal have bought more dynamic creative players, Cazorla has found himself a new niche as a deeper playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, forming a vertically challenged midfield partnership with Francis Coquelin that would have seemed unthinkable three years ago. The legs may be slowing but his vision, control and desire remain; he’s the only non-Manchester City player to have two Premier League goals and assists so far this season. Not bad for an old man.
4) Fernandinho (31, Manchester City)
“I think Fernandinho can play in ten positions,” said Pep Guardiola this summer as he pondered moving the Brazilian back into central defence. For now, Fernandinho remains the stalwart of his central midfield, his intelligence and discipline allowing Guardiola to indulge himself (and us) with more creative players like David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan.
Fernandinho is the only City player to have been on the pitch for every minute of this thus-far-faultless season and he has barely put a foot wrong, his reliability allowing the youngsters in front of him the freedom to express themselves. The ignorant still mix him up with Fernando but there is a really obvious clue: He’s bloody good.
Most passes completed in the Premier league this season:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 19, 2016
3) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34, Manchester United)
“Going for him is his class, his talent, his desire to do well. What goes against him is that he is not the youngest player anymore, so you are questioned about that in every game,” said Arsene Wenger in August, before Zlatan answered those initial questions with four goals in his first four Premier League games. It’s impossible to argue with that return.
Against Watford he was certainly lacklustre, with the Manchester Evening News claiming that ‘his immobility was almost as much of a problem as Rooney’s’. Let’s face it, at 34 he is unlikely to run the channels or chase down defenders. Are United spending £250,000 a week on an ageing target man? Is it worth it if he scores 15 goals?
2) David Silva (30, Manchester City)
Just wonderful. I confess that Silva is one of my personal favourite Premier League players, the ease of his brilliance destroying any notion that you must be a physical specimen or a speed merchant to thrive in this league. True excellence transcends the physiological and Silva has that head-on-a-swivel vision that means he can dominate a midfield against Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba even though they tower above him.
The creative artist behind two Premier League title wins, he is now being encouraged to sit deeper to orchestrate attacks at their source while City’s younger guns press and probe further up the pitch. It might just mean we get another three or four years of Silva at this level. Thank you, Pep.
1) Laurent Koscielny (31, Arsenal)
Quick, aggressive, proactive, intelligent and a footballer comfortable with the ball at his feet, Rio Ferdinand is not the only one who thinks the Frenchman is the best centre-half in the Premier League. We have a soft spot for Toby Alderweireld but Koscielny has longevity on his side.
There was a time when Koscielny was susceptible to the odd brainfade but he is now near-imperious and Arsenal are a very different defensive prospect in his absence. Gunners must simply hope that Rob Holding is playing close attention.
Honourable mentions to Jason Puncheon, Yohan Cabaye, Darren Fletcher, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick (is he still a thing?) and some bloke called John Terry.