The World’s Best Defensive Midfielders is an article we might not have published twenty years ago. according to rage Sky expert Roy Keane, midfielders weren’t separated into specialist roles in the 90s – they were all required to both go forward and tackle when necessary.
TFF doesn’t quite agree with that, but it’s true that times have changed since Roy’s time. Midfielders are now categorized and given special roles. The ones on this list are destroyers; the men tasked with breaking up the opposition’s attacks and placing their teams on the counter.
So without further ado, let’s review the best defensive midfielders on the planet…
10. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Once the gold standard of defensive midfielders, the leggy Spaniard has fallen down the pecking order since his days of sharing a midfield with Xavi and Andreas Iniesta. The 34-year-old remains a leader for Los Blaugranas but has lost much of the physique that once made him so painful to play.
The metronymous passer looks set to move into MLS at the end of this season. He will leave Catalonia as a true legend and one of Barca’s most successful players.
9. Casemiro (Manchester United)
Driven out of Madrid to make way for younger, brighter models, Casemiro is obviously no longer seen as at the peak of his powers. At his best, the growling, slamming Brazilian was the cornerstone on which five Champions League titles were won by Los Blancos over the past decade. His game has since deteriorated.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a future at elite level, though. Now at Manchester United, Casemiro has a chance to prove Real Madrid wrong and reaffirm his claim as one of the game’s best water carriers. First hurdle: ousting a resurgent Scott McTominay from the Red Devils starting XI.
8. Fabinho (Liverpool)
Early season stats suggest Liverpool are running less, pressing less effectively and scoring more goals than usual. It’s no surprise, given the huge disappointment of missing out on the league and the Champions League in their last two games last season.
Yet, it may also have something to do with the stuttering form of their midfield metronome. When Fabinho is firing on all cylinders, the Reds are a different beast. It’s not quite there yet, and that shape is reflected in its lower-than-normal position in our list.
7. Rice Declan (West Ham)
Captain of West Ham fantastic and essential to England on the eve of a World Cup, the rise of Declan Rice has been mind-blowing for a few seasons. The Londoner tops the Premier League stats for carrying the ball, while also ranking highly for duels and possession won.
It’s a big. strong ball of energy with the technical quality to back it up. A massive cash move seems inevitable at the end of this season.
6. Marco Verratti (PSG)
Having had more tackles than any other player in the Champions League last season – proof of his defensive skills – Verratti has also started the new season well. A few assists in the early matches of the Ligue 1 campaign were proof of the other side of his game. Few defensive midfielders also come with the Italian’s vision and passing range.
Without him, PSG’s astonishing attacking triumvirate simply wouldn’t be possible.
5. Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid)
Replacing Casemiro’s leadership and consistency in Real’s midfield wouldn’t be an easy task for any player, especially not a 22-year-old. Yet former Monaco Tchouameni was tricked into doing just that and he responded with typical maturity.
The Frenchman has already bumped into Carlo Ancelotti’s favorite XI and is growing in stature in La Liga. He ranks among the best players in Spain for steals and his passing range is underrated. His next task is to conquer Europe as his predecessor did five times.
4. N’golo Kante (Chelsea)
“Kante is our van Dijk, our De Bruyne,” remarked Thomas Tuchel before the German was kicked by Chelsea in early September. While the praise was high, the frustration in Tuchel’s voice was clear as he lamented the injury problems his talisman suffered regularly.
Kante is by far the best defensive midfielder in world football, but we had to take him off this list in a few places because we just haven’t seen enough of him lately. I’m crossing my fingers that the little genius is fit enough to play a big role in the World Cup this year.
3. Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan)
The best defensive midfielder in Italy and among the best in the world. Brozovic often flies under the radar because his game is so simple. But it’s so effective too.
The Croatian has run more than any of his Serie A peers this season; he also made more defensive sprints and played more passes into the opposing third. It’s a workhorse and progressive rolled into a slim frame. A world-class defensive midfielder who deserves more credit outside of Italy.
2. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern)
Bayern’s scrappy number 6 is the heartbeat of the team – the leader in midfield who ensures a star side stay humble and competitive against weaker opponents.
One of the best passers in the Bundesliga, Kimmich’s transformation from world-class full-back to Julian Nagelsmann’s team metronome has been nothing short of marvelous. He looks set to play a colossal role in Qatar as Germany seek to remind the world that they are still feared on the world stage.
1. Rodri (Manchester City)
Spaniard Rodri has become Pep Guardiola’s Man City pivot since the departure of club legend Fernandinho last season – and he’s taken on the job admirably.
The 26-year-old is a gamer’s paradox – an ox who rarely sheds his weight. Instead, he relies on a clever reading of the game, two excellent feet and a sumptuous range of passing to keep opponents on the back foot. He has the trick of pace to beat the press and rarely misses a pass. The piece of the puzzle that brings it all together.
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