Many pundits and experts have routinely commented on and scrutinised the apparent core of a team, or in other words, the ‘spine’ of a side. It is usually the four, or five, most indispensable players in a team. These players are usually those who take up central positions in their sides: goalkeeper, centre-back, central midfield and forward; hence a sort of straight line goes through the starting line-up resembling the spine of a human body.
Not all teams have a fully completed spine of five or even just four players, with some even off-colour or currently undeserving of such high status at their clubs. Still, we will rank the best eight cores in the Premier League right now, based from the current top four as well as Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and reigning champions Chelsea.
8th – Chelsea – Courtois, Terry, Fabregas, Hazard, Costa
On paper, this spine should be leading the league, or near the top of it. Yet most of these players are either off-colour or haven’t featured much this season. Thibaut Courtois has only returned from a long-term injury, while John Terry’s age is really revealing itself now, after having played every single minute of Chelsea’s title triumph last season. Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard are not close to the goals and assists they achieved last term, while Diego Costa has spent most of the season fighting with opposition centre-backs rather than putting the ball in the back of the net.
7th – Liverpool – Skrtel, Henderson, Coutinho
If fit, Daniel Sturridge is a shoe-in for the top end of this spine. At the other end, Simon Mignolet is not good enough to claim such a lofty position. Martin Skrtel is one of the elder statesmen of a team lacking in experienced personnel at the moment, while skipper Jordan Henderson’s influence and ability have been sorely missed. Philippe Coutinho’s form has not been the greatest this season, having had most, if not all, the attacking burden placed onto him.
6th – Everton – Stones, Barkley, Lukaku
Roberto Martinez’s side lacks a top-class goalkeeper and central midfielder, even though a resurgent Gareth Barry might dispute that claim. However, the Toffees do possess what is perhaps the best young core in the Premier League right now, with composed English centre-back John Stones attracting interests from top teams. Fellow Englishman Ross Barkley has developed into an exciting attacking threat, dovetailing well with ex-Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been bagging goals for fun in the league. Martinez will face a huge fight to keep this core of young trios at the club, but if he does so, the former Wigan manager will have a very impressive spine to build his Everton side around.
5th – Leicester City – Kante, Mahrez, Vardy
N’Golo Kante has been one of the signings of the season, having displaced the bigger name in Gokhan Inler to seal his spot in the high-flyers’ central midfield. Riyad Mahrez has perhaps been the best player of this season, as he nears Hazard’s numbers of last campaign with half a season to go. Along with Mahrez, goalscoring star Jamie Vardy leads the way in the goalscoring charts, and will hope to fire Leicester to a European spot. Leicester’s core would have been much stronger had they had a more impressive goalkeeper and notable centre-back.
4th – Manchester United – De Gea, Smalling, Mata
Like Sturridge, Wayne Rooney would usually be guaranteed to be part of United’s core. However, his form this season has been spectacularly poor, with questions raised over his first-team spot at Old Trafford. David De Gea’s usual heroics have saved United several points this season, while Chris Smalling has matured into one of England’s finest defenders at the moment. Though he usually starts from the right, Spanish playmaker Juan Mata’s drifting into the centre of midfield allows him to dictate United’s play, with his form the most consistent among United’s attacking players. Finally, though United have four midfielders packed with individual ability, neither has so far nailed down a permanent first-team place, due to injuries and constant loss of form.
3rd – Tottenham Hotspur – Lloris, Alderweireld, Eriksen, Kane
Spurs has been impressive this season, especially with a tighter defence, and Toby Alderweireld has to be credited for this. The Belgian defender has formed a secure partnership with compatriot Jan Vertonghen, who himself could be part of this Spurs’ core. Hugo Lloris continues to impress between the sticks, while Christian Eriksen continues to be influential up top. Ahead of him is Harry Kane, who got over an early season slump to rise up the goalscoring charts. Special mentions goes to English duo Dele Alli and Eric Dier, who will certainly be part of this young impressive Spurs’ spine in a few months’ time, if not already.
2nd – Manchester City – Hart, Yaya Toure, Silva, Aguero
Kompany’s absence this season has sorely been missed by Manuel Pellegrini, as City would no doubt be leading the league had he not been injured for most of the campaign so far. Behind him, Joe Hart continues to be a safe pair of hands in goal, while midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure has had a decent campaign so far. City have the most threatening duo in the league for the past few years in David Silva and Sergio Aguero. When fit, both complete a strong City core.
1st – Arsenal – Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Ozil, Giroud
The signing of Petr Cech has certainly completed Arsene Wenger’s spine, having uncovered the previously-unknown Francis Coquelin last season. Laurent Koscielny improves with each passing game, while Olivier Giroud has started adding more goals to his usual game of linking up with his supporting midfielders. Alexis Sanchez just misses out due to Giroud’s improved goalscoring form at centre forward. Mesut Ozil, the undisputed king of the assist charts this season, is perhaps the main reason why Arsenal are doing so well this season. The German’s ability to link up with whoever plays up front for Arsenal has enabled Wenger’s side to break down defensive teams and counter-attack at will. Ozil’s form will be key to a possible first title win in over a decade for Arsenal’s long-serving manager.
What do you think? Which core is the best in the league?
Featured image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam.