Defensive midfielders play one of the most important, but underrated, roles in modern-day football.
Even though the average fan associates a defensive midfielder with the sole duty of protecting the defence, today’s defensive midfield stalwarts have proved to be much more.
It is the defensive midfielders who are now tasked with the duty of having to control the game’s tempo from deep within midfield and carve out chances for the team.
They are required to orchestrate the play, screen their defence and occasionally provide an extra man in attack - in what often becomes a highly taxing job. This season, defensive midfielders have once again underlined their importance to football.
Here’s rating the ten best defensive midfielders in the world right now.
Explaining notable omissions:
Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan and Juventus’s Arturo Vidal have not been considered for this list because of their evolution over the course of the past season to play in a more advanced role, as conventional centre midfielders.
Even though many still consider them to be defensive midfielders, it would be unjust to consider them for this list as they have spent most of the season playing in front of, and not alongside other defensive midfield partners.
Sami Khedira and Michael Essien (both Real Madrid), Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Milan Badelj (Hamburger SV), Sandro (Tottenham), Maxime Gonalons (Lyon).
10. Roman Neustadter | Schalke 04
Schalke probably made the signing of the season last summer when they acquired the services of Roman Neustadter on a free transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Since his move, the Ukrainian born Neustadter has impressed greatly, and has been one of the key figures in Schalke’s season, helping them to a fourth place finish in Bundesliga. He led the team for passes, tackles and interceptions in a season where he was at the heart of everything that Schalke achieved.
9. Mikel Arteta | Arsenal
A genuine attacking midfielder for much of his career, Arteta was shifted to the base of the midfield by Arsene Wenger in what proved to be a brainwave from the long serving manager.
Arteta adapted seamlessly to his new position, and has been a key figure for Arsenal in attack as well as in defence, orchestrating the play from deep within midfield. His passing was also particularly impressive, with the midfielder having completed the most number of passes in the Premier League last season at an impressive success rate of 91.5%.
8. Daniele de Rossi | Roma
Coming from a country that is known for producing quality defensive midfielders time and again, de Rossi has been a consistent performer for Roma over the past decade.
The player is especially strong in tackling and has an uncanny ability to pick out a decisive pass, which have made him one of the best deep lying midfielders in world football. His versatility is also to be admired, with the player often playing in central defence, as well as in advanced midfield positions when the team needs it.
7. Lars Bender | Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender has had another impressive season with the German giants, helping them to third place in the Bundesliga. An exceptionally proficient tackler, Bender also possesses a reading of the game which is unparalleled in his team.
He is also one of the surest players on the ball, and has been central Bayer’s impressive season in defence where they had the second best defence in the league. His amazing form has also been noticed at the international level, with Bender now a regular fixture in all of Joachim Low’s German squads.
6. Javi Martinez | Bayern Munich
When Bayern Munich signed Javi Martinez for a whopping 40 million Euros from Athletic Bilbao, most people believed that he was overpriced. However, after a particularly impressive season with the Bavarians, Martinez has emphatically answered all his critics.
Martinez’s impressive efficiency in shielding his defence was one of the major factors behind Bayern’s record breaking season in defence, in which they conceded only 18 goals in 34 matches in the league.
5. Sergio Busquets | Barcelona
Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets has been a mainstay in the midfield for both club and country over the past four years.
A massively underrated player who quietly goes about his work of shielding the defence line in an otherwise adventurous midfield, Busquets has been one of the major contributors to Barcelona having a good defensive record despite their extremely fragile defence. A master of the simple pass, Busquets has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the world over the past few seasons.
4. Michael Carrick | Manchester United
England international Michael Carrick is another massively underrated player for the Red Devils. A player who is remarkably adept at keeping the play ticking with his simple but yet incisive passing, Carrick has been the most consistent player for the Premier League Champions this season.
His efforts earned him a spot in the shortlist for the Premier League Player of the Season, being the only defensive player to appear on the list.
3. Blaise Matuidi | Paris Saint-Germain
In a star studded and expensive PSG lineup, it is ironic that a modest transfer made by former manager Antoine Kombouare has been one of the most impressive players this season.
Even though Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hogged most of the limelight for PSg, it has been Matuidi who has been their most efficient and consistent performer on the pitch. A player who has shown great ability in the tackle as well as in intercepting the opposition play, Matuidi has also shown a great range of passing – proving that he is indeed one of the foremost defensive midfielders on the planet right now.
2. Andrea Pirlo | Juventus
A player of a completely different mould from the others on the list, Andrea Pirlo is not the regular hardworking physically strong defensive midfielder. He excels instead in the role of a deep lying playmaker, pulling the string from within his own half.
The arrival of ‘The Architect’ was the main reason behind Juventus’s amazing revival over the past two years. However, Pirlo misses out on the top spot in the list solely due to his comparatively inferior guarding of his defence line.
1. Xabi Alonso | Real Madrid
Real Madrid and Spain midfielder tops the list due to his absolutely sensational displays for both club and country.
A player who has the uncanny ability of coming up with the match winning pass, as well as having the sheer strength and tactical awareness to provide his defence with an unwavering cover, Alonso has been the personification of the ideal defensive midfielder. The midfielder also has a habit of scoring important goals for his team, and has been probably the best defensive midfielder in recent memory.
Note: Even though the players' entire career has been taken into consideration, more importance has been given to recent form.
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