Rio Ferdinand, (29; from Leeds United, £30m 2002) Has extraordinary fist-clenching, face-scrunching, goal celebrations — usually for goals scored by other players. Speaks out of the side of his mouth, which is useful for communicating with fellow defenders on the sly. Marshals the stingiest defence, though still prone to occasional lapses in concentration.
Paul Scholes, (33) Goes quietly about his business until referees penalise him for amputating an opponent’s leg, whereupon he brings out the foaming invective. Finds a million different ways to retain possession. An intensely private man who is loved by United fans for talent and humility. Rated by another United nut, Bobby Charlton, as the most complete professional footballer.
Wayne Rooney, (22; from Everton, £20m 2004) Has a one-in-two cussword ratio. Facial expression ranges from mirror-threatening smile to referee-threatening scowl. Most consistent of United’s holy trinity; they’ve lost only once this season when he has played. Fans say he is the successor to Bryan Robson and Roy Keane as on-pitch soul of the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo, (23; from Sporting Lisbon £12.24m 2003) Provokes a cacophony of hatred from opposing fans every time he touches the ball. Scores goals by the bucketload. So good he even doubles up as fourth official, generously giving a free-kick every time someone breathes within a five-yard radius of him. Named after Ronald Reagan, due to his father’s admiration for the former American president.
Carlos Tevez (24; from West Ham 2007) Can resemble a dog relentlessly chasing a ball in the park and make Rooney seem work-shy. Also pops up with late equalisers, invariably from corners and invariably from four yards out. Certainly more fancied by the terraces than the club’s previous Argentinian, Juán Sebastian Verón. The scar on the right side of his face, neck and torso is the result of pulling a kettle of boiling water over when he was 10 months old.
John Terry, (27) Hurls body in front of goal-bound piledrivers. Performs vital last-ditch tackles with partially severed foot. Overcomes recent decapitation to head balls off line. Embodiment of gung-ho backline enforcer. If only he could run a bit faster. Once hung around the Chelsea car park for two hours before a game anxious to get his car into its "lucky" space.
Michael Ballack, (31; from Bayern Munich, free 2006) Since returning in December from eight months out with an ankle injury, he has been revealed as the sort of player Chelsea thought they were getting when they signed the captain of Germany. Big player, scoring big goals in big matches. Good in the air, insightful passer, cool finisher, he has lately shown he can hack it in the rough and tumble of the Premier League. Takes penalties like a German.
Michael Essien, (25; from Lyon, £24m in 2005) Never stops running, propelling anything he finds in his path goalwards. Is a bit of everything: right side of midfield, the holding role, right-back, central defence. Possibly too versatile for his own good — one of the world’s top midfielders will probably find himself playing full-back.
Frank Lampard, (29; from West Ham United, £11m in 2001) Trots about all over the place: takes free-kicks, corners, penalties, likes a shot or two. Player most likely to pick the ball out of the back of the net after scoring and perform knees-high trot back to the centre circle. Admits to owning “about 30 or 40 pairs” of shoes. And a house just down the road from Tim Henman.
Didier Drogba, (30; Marseille, £23.8m in 2004) Looks like a tall, powerfully muscled Adonis with wet-look, ironed flat barnet. May be seen writhing on the ground having apparently been hit by a high-velocity bullet. Re-discovered his shooting boots in the semifinal win over Liverpool.