Every fan has a favourite player for their team, and quite often goalscorers get the lion's share of the praise. Managers will also have their favoured players, and their choice will rarely correlate with that of the fans, because managers will pay more attention to the finer details, with those players that break up play and win possession for their side often among the most key to their plans.
Here, WhoScored.com take a look at the top ball-winners in the Premier League this season, with a few players popping up that regularly find that praise passes them by.
Possession won in the defensive third
When it comes to the players to have won the ball the most times in their team's defensive third of the pitch, it is surprising to find that it is in fact a midfielder that leads proceedings.
Steve Clarke's West Brom have impressed many this season with a fluent passing game that has seen them hanging around near the top of the table, with their attacking exploits taking much of the limelight. Youssuf Mulumbu is a vital cog in their machine, though, and having won possession a total of 70 times in the third of the pitch nearest his own goal, it is easy to see why. No other midfielder in the division gets near him with this tally, though defenders Davide Santon (66) and Jan Vertonghen (62) are not all that far behind. Mulumbu's value is all over the pitch, as he shown by the goal and assist he already has to his name, whilst only 5 players have won the ball in the middle of the park more times than him.
Possession won in the middle third
At Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is sometimes criticised for his decision to spend big on bringing Joe Allen with him when he moved to Anfield in the summer, though given the fact that Allen wins the ball so much, it may not have been solely due to his passing abilities, as many might believe.
Allen has won the ball a massive 86 times in the middle third of the pitch this season; a tally at least 16 greater than any other player in the Premier League, with Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini following on 70. Allen's work is so often overlooked, and Liverpool’s rivals sometimes tout him as a waste of money, but there is no reason to underestimate the value of such a player. He has also won the ball more times in total over the whole of the pitch than any other player in the English top flight this season, gaining possession back for his side an incredible 147 times.
He wins the ball in central midfield time and again, playing the ball off simply afterwards, and with a 90.8% pass success rate to boot, which only 9 Premier League regulars - 4 of which are defenders - can better, he is a great player to have on board. While strikers usually hold the key to the fans' hearts, Allen is a prime example of a manager’s favourite, and there is good reason to agree with Rodgers' choice on this one.
Arteta is much the same in this way. More often than not, he plays it simple and his main job is to win back and retain possession for his side rather than do anything too ambitious, though Fellaini is rather a more attack minded player, but he gets stuck in and is not scared to go in for tough challenges to win the ball. In terms of times the ball has been won in the middle third of the pitch, Everton's Leon Osman (67) and West Ham's Mark Noble (65) make up the top 5 ahead of Mulumbu (62).
Possession won in the attacking third
In England, we love a striker that will run themselves into the ground for the cause of the team, and sometimes adore them yet more if they are from another part of the world and take it upon themselves to prove their worth to their new team through hard work. While Luis Suarez often makes the headlines for the wrong reasons, no one can deny his work rate is second-to-none, and he has arguably won the fans over in spite of his misdemeanours as a result of it.
Carlos Tevez is a striker of a similar ilk to Suarez in this way, and if the Argentine were to get more of a run in City's first team he may have won more of the ball than the 10 times that puts him joint fifth in the rankings for possession won high up the pitch. However, Suarez is streaks ahead of anyone else, having won the ball 16 times in the attacking third, with the closest player to him on 11. Along with Joe Allen, Rodgers clearly has his players putting in the work, though that is simply not enough for his team at the moment. Raheem Sterling is joint second behind Suarez, along with Steven Pienaar and former Liverpool man Charlie Adam (11), but their ball winning has not paid enough dividends, with 9 teams having scored more goals than Liverpool (23), despite them having more shots than any other team (323).
Suarez has been fantastic this season, and he is one of few strikers nowadays that is of great worth both with and without the ball.