The Best

The 25 best defensive midfielders in world football - ranked

90min
Kimmich and Kante are world class
Kimmich and Kante are world class /
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In the modern game, a defensive midfielder is required to be at their very best for the full 90 minutes, running with their engine on full blast.

They need to be relentless pressers, able to read every situation imaginable but also be talented on the ball, capable of intricately stroking it around at close range or picking a long-range pass. Often, it's hard to gain recognition in the best sides around the world if you play the anchor role, but every great team often has a 'number six' keeping the lights on - you know, making things tick.

The fun bit, for us anyway, is the debate around who the very best in the business is because there are inevitably differing opinions about who is the top dog.

So, because those kinds of debates are what we thrive on, we present the 25 players who are the best in the business right now - primarily based on current form and standing at the highest level, taking into account injuries and excluding those who typically operate as a more rounded 'central' midfielder...


25. Mohamed Camara

Mohamed Camara
Camara has impressed in the Champions League / Christian Kaspar-Bartke/GettyImages

It can be hard to make much of a splash around Europe when you play in Austria - no disrespect intended - but Mohamed Camara's excellent performances in the Champions League have helped his standing grow this season.

The Mali international was particularly awesome in the last 16 clash with Bayern Munich, impressing with his leadership skills, tireless engine and strength in one on one duels. Watch this space.

24. Edson Alvarez

Dutch Eredivisie"Ajax Amsterdam v ADO Den Haag"
Alvarez can also play in defence / ANP Sport/Getty Images

There'll always be the tired old argument that Eredivisie football isn't up to the same standard of Europe's top five leagues.

While there is a large element of truth to that, there's no disputing that versatile Mexican star Edson Alvarez has a big future in the game. Carry on with the kind of performances he's been putting in as an anchor and Ajax's midfield is in safe hands.

23. Douglas Luiz

Douglas Luiz
Manchester City sold Douglas Luiz to Aston Villa, but inserted a buy-back clause / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

If you're on the radar of Manchester City from a young age, you're usually pretty good.

The bad news for Douglas Luiz is that competition for places meant an exit was needed for regular first-team action. At Aston Villa, he's found exactly that and is a very capable patroller in front of the back four.

22. Ismael Bennacer

Ismael Bennacer
Ismael Bennacer in action / Marco Canoniero/GettyImages

In case you were playing a game of spot the talent Arsenal let slip through their grasp, look no further than Algeria's Ismael Bennacer.

Allowed to leave the Emirates in 2017, he's since starred for two years at Empoli before rocking up at Serie A giants Milan. His starting spot at San Siro has come under fire in recent months, but he's still helped them become a major force in Italy again.

21. Fred

Fred
Fred gets a lot of game time at Man Utd / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Manchester United's Fred is one of those midfielders - some people think he's great, some people think he's good and some people think he's rubbish.

The issue is that his role at Old Trafford is largely undefined, though he does spend most of his time dropping deep to recycle possession and break up play. He's arguably underappreciated for fulfilling a role that isn't entirely natural, particularly as his displays are actually pretty consistent.

20. Fernandinho

Fernandinho
Fernandinho is a Man City legend / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

The Brazilian is in the twilight of his career and has evidently handed over the responsibility of being Manchester City's main DM to another star who we'll get to later on.

However, on the odd occasion he is needed by Pep Guardiola nowadays, Fernandinho is still capable of mopping up everything that comes his way thanks to his intelligence and efficiency.

19. Boubacar Kamara

Boubacar Kamara
Kamara is a standout player in Ligue 1 / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

A regular member of Marseille's side since 2018, Boubacar Kamara continues to go from strength to strength in Ligue 1.

Technically gifted on the ball, Kamara has a great awareness of what's around him, often drawing fouls while displaying a great passing range. A representative of France at every youth level going, it might not be too long before Didier Deschamps is on the phone for senior duty.

18. Marten de Roon

Marten de Roon
Atalanta are one of the most exciting sides to watch / Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

It looked as if Middlesbrough had done well to turn a modest profit on Martin de Roon a year after signing him from Atalanta, but few could ever have predicted his dramatic improvement since returning to Serie A.

He helped pin together one of the stories of the 2019/20 Champions League season, and Atalanta continue to delight the world - with De Roon's imposing style at the centre of their success.

17. Ryan Gravenberch

Ryan Gravenberch
Gravenberch is a star of the future / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Sitting deep with a ridiculous amount of creative ability for a teenager, there's a reason why there's so much hype about Ajax starlet Ryan Gravenberch.

With an excellent passing range and strength in the air at 6'2, sides like Manchester United and Liverpool have been linked with the Netherlands international. It seems like only a matter of time before one of Europe's elite clubs prises him away from the Eredivisie.

16. Wilfred Ndidi

Wilfred Ndidi
Ndidi is probably Leicester's most important player / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Leicester's indifferent form so far this season has seen Ndidi's standing among the world's best DMs drop, but there's no doubt that he's the one who makes his side tick when they're at their best.

Much of his brilliance comes from his love of tackling and intercepting the ball - something he does with alarming regularity.

15. Denis Zakaria

Denis Zakaria
Zakaria has enjoyed his start to life at Juventus / Marco Canoniero/GettyImages

Juventus usually have a pretty solid eye for recruitment and their deal to snare Zakaria from Borussia Monchengladbach could prove to be one of the best of the 2022 January transfer window.

He's been tasked with solidifying what has been a pretty farcical Juve midfield in recent times, and with his excellent passing and dribbling ability, he may well do just that.

14. Idrissa Gueye

Idrissa Gueye
Idrissa Gueye is underrated / Marcio Machado/GettyImages

Keeping it simple, getting stuck in and giving away fouls.

That's a pretty brief but accurate representation of all that Idrissa Gueye does for PSG, albeit to a pretty high standard.

He's an under the radar player, but his superb work brings out the best in everyone around him.

13. Bruno Guimaraes

Bruno Guimaraes
Guimaraes is a relative newcomer at the highest level / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Having become a star at Lyon, Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes chose to swap France for England in January when he signed for newly minted Newcastle.

He's still adapting to life on Tyneside, but there's no doubting that he'll soon be a pivotal cog in Eddie Howe's starting XI.

12. Leandro Paredes

Champions League Round of 16"Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid"
Paredes is quality / ANP/GettyImages

Leandro Paredes knows his name will never be up in lights at Paris Saint-Germain, given the calibre of teammates he gets to play with each and every week.

He's been getting more starting opportunities recently and has made them count, helping Mauricio Pochettino's side sit comfortably top of Ligue 1. He sits deep, Marco Verratti trots up ahead of him and PSG invariably win - simple, eh?

11. Aurelien Tchouameni

Aurelien Tchouameni, Paul Pogba
Tchouameni helped France win the 2021 Nations League / John Berry/GettyImages

Monaco took Tchouameni from Bordeaux in 2020 and he has since become one of their most important players and a fully-fledged France international, too.

Real Madrid have scouted him on numerous occasions and must have been impressed by the amount of defensive work - particularly tackles and interceptions - Tchouameni gets through, though his progressive game isn't half shabby either.

10. Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves, Daniel Podence
Neves is a top player / Malcolm Couzens/GettyImages

There will be a time when Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves gets itchy feet and starts clamouring to play Champions League football, though given how well his side are performing this term, who's to say they won't be hosting Real Madrid or Bayern Munich at Molineux next season?

Regardless, he's too good not to be competing at Europe's top table, given his immense energy, technical proficiency and endless work rate.

9. Sergio Busquets

Sergio Busquets
Buesquets is still around / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Barcelona have won eight La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues with Busquets at the base of their midfield, and though Lionel Messi can take 99% of the credit for their success during that period, Busquets has more than pulled his weight.

He still dictates play with his delightful body feints and swift turns, even if Father Time is catching up with him. He remains one of the last vestiges of an era gone by in Catalonia.

8. Jorginho

Jorginho
Jorginho was a Ballon d'Or contender in 2021 / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/GettyImages

An amazing 2021 when he won the Champions League and the Euros had many clamouring for Italy international Jorginho to be given the Ballon d'Or.

That was never going to happen given he's not even the best DM in the world, let alone the best player, but he remains a smooth operator with the ball at his feet.

7. Marcelo Brozovic

Marcelo Brozovic
Marcelo Brozovic is great / Marco Canoniero/GettyImages

Inter's resurgence under Antonio Conte and continued progression with Simone Inzaghi owes much to the consistent brilliance of Marcelo Brozovic.

Always regarded as a capable and accomplished midfielder, he's assumed the role of dropping deepest in I Nerazzurri's central three and is the best in the business in Serie A for what he offers.

6. Declan Rice

Declan Rice
Rice is West Ham's driving force in midfield / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

Declan Rice is improving at a phenomenal rate, leading West Ham's ascension as top-four challengers.

Few players can match the England international's sublime tackling rate, while he is also starting to become a force at the other end of the pitch in attack.

No wonder Manchester United and Chelsea have been sniffing around him.

5. Casemiro

Carlos Henrique Casemiro
Casemiro is still one of the best / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

What is there to say about Casemiro that hasn't been said already? Real Madrid's contrasting records with and without him tell you everything you need to know; they simply have no player capable of filling his shoes, even for 90 minutes here or there.

As midfield destroyers go, he is unplayable, while he has a level of class on the ball that most can only dream of.

4. Rodri

Rodri
Rodri is at the top of his game / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

It's fair comment to say that Rodri's first season at Manchester City was a little underwhelming.

The Cityzens had opted to trigger the £62.6m release clause in the Spaniard's Atletico Madrid contract, but adjusting to the speed of the Premier League proved difficult for the then 23-year-old.

Fast forward to the present day and Rodri has elevated his game back to the highest level, showing not only his class but his readiness to assume Fernandinho's throne.

3. Fabinho

Fabinho
Fabinho does a bit of everything / Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/GettyImages

Fabinho took his time to get up to speed at Liverpool, but once he settled into a groove it was quickly apparent just how good he is.

A resilient shield that protects the Reds' back four, his reading of the game is second to none - evidenced by Jurgen Klopp opting to move him to centre-back during the most unique injury crisis last season.

When he's not playing in his favoured defensive midfield role, Liverpool are far worse off, and you'd arguably go as far as to say Fabinho is one of their most indispensable players.

2. Joshua Kimmich

Joshua Kimmich
Kimmich is one of the best footballers in the world / Alexander Hassenstein/GettyImages

Joshua Kimmich is one of the most versatile top-level players in the game today. There's very little he and his Bayern side can't do, evidenced by their 2020 Champions League success and continued Bundesliga dominance.

Much of that has been down to the German's brilliance at the base of midfield, ticking things over and breaking up play on an unprecedented level.

1. N'Golo Kante

N'Golo Kante
Kante is a winner / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

It's been a rollercoaster couple of years for N'Golo Kante at Chelsea, but there's no disputing that he's back to his very best.

The Frenchman has everything you want from a defensive-minded midfield player. An efficient ball-winner, he can run all day long, is a tenacious and committed team player and is so often the driving force behind blistering counter-attacks.

Above all else, he's super reliable and often gets through more work than a midfield duo all by himself.

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