Defensive midfield has not always been the most glamorous of positions, but a specialist screen in front of the backline is crucial to the strength of a side.
Those capable of anchoring a midfield and winning the ball back with regularity are worth their weight in gold, while the very best can launch attacks of their own with playmaking skills from the base of the engine room.
Several top sides are looking to overhaul their midfields this summer and we’ve looked at five defensive midfielders who are set to be in demand in the summer transfer window.
Moises Caicedo is the latest name to have risen to prominence at Brighton, another unknown quantity plucked from an obscure location before developing into a star on the south coast.
Caicedo broke into the Brighton team last season and hasn’t looked back since, shining as part of the club’s impressive outfit with performances full of tenacity and endeavour. Brighton turned down approaches from Chelsea and Arsenal for Caicedo during the January transfer window, but will face a difficult challenge to keep him beyond this summer.
The Ecuador international trails only Fulham’s Joao Palhinha for tackles in the Premier League this season (93) and at 21 has the perfect profile to continue improving when, somewhat inevitably, he moves on from the Amex Stadium.
.@MoisesCaicedo55 is SO good. 🤤 pic.twitter.com/BeD6O8Xgxw
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) January 5, 2023
Already one of the best in the division when it comes to defensive duels, Caicedo boasts an underrated passing range and an ability to remain cool when under the pressure of the press. He recently excelled out of position at right-back as Brighton beat Manchester United and the Seagulls are braced for interest in the midfielder this summer.
He will not come cheap, with Brighton having turned down offers of around £70m in January.
Declan Rice is expected to leave West Ham this summer after turning down the offer of a new contract at the London Stadium. Rice has made no secret of his desire to compete in the Champions League and the Hammers are not expected to stand in their captain’s way should a suitable offer arrive.
The roadblock could be West Ham’s valuation, who insist Rice is worth more than the British record £106m that Chelsea spent to sign Enzo Fernandez from Benfica in January. West Ham are also reportedly keen to see the fee paid to sign Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham this summer, with their view that Rice is of similar value.
Arsenal are understood to have made Rice the club’s leading transfer target and it is not difficult to see how the 24-year-old would improve Mikel Arteta’s side. Rice has regained possession on more occasions than any player in Europe’s top five leagues this season and leads the Premier League for interceptions.
Declan Rice is the only player in Europe’s top five leagues with 30+ in these metrics in 22/23:
◉ 62 interceptions
◉ 51 clearances
◉ 38 take-ons completed
◉ 36 aerial duels won
◉ 36 chances created
◉ 33 shots
And he’s won possession more times than any other player (322). pic.twitter.com/UHFW0OqHMF
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 7, 2023
Rice’s best work comes as a midfield anchor with his ability to step in and regain possession. The England midfielder is a powerful presence and excellent in snuffing out opposition attacks, but has shown improvements to his forward game across the past two seasons. Full of dynamism in the engine room, Rice could be the perfect addition to an Arsenal side seeking drive from midfield.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle and Liverpool have all also been linked and Rice would improve the midfield options at any of the Premier League’s top sides.
Manuel Ugarte could offer a more cost-efficient solution to the aforementioned Rice and has been linked with several sides in the upper echelons of the Premier League.
Ugarte has had a fantastic season at Sporting Lisbon and could be the latest exciting midfielder to swap the Portuguese capital for the Premier League, following the arrivals of Bruno Fernandes, Matheus Nunes and Joao Palhinha in recent windows.
The Uruguayan has stepped into the defensive role vacated following Palhinha’s exit to Fulham last summer and has excelled at the base of Ruben Amorim’s midfield.
💪 Manuel Ugarte has won possession in the midfield third more times (143) than any other player in Liga Bwin this season pic.twitter.com/85h9bC0Qrs
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 12, 2023
Remarkably, the 22-year-old leads the Champions League for tackles this season (29) despite Sporting’s group stage exit, while he also leads Portugal’s Primeira Liga for tackles won (63) and ranks sixth for interceptions (54).
The ball-winning machine has been linked with Liverpool, Chelsea and Aston Villa in recent weeks and is understood to have a release clause of around £52m. Given the astronomical sums suggested elsewhere, that could prove good value.
Martin Zubimendi continues to be linked with leaving Real Sociedad, despite a public insistence that he wants to remain with the club whose youth set-up he first joined aged 12.
The midfielder has evolved into one of La Liga’s best deep-lying conductors and his performances have earned interest from Arsenal, Manchester City and Barcelona. The latter links have gained in strength following the announcement that captain Sergio Busquets will leave the Camp Nou at the end of the season, with Zubimendi viewed as an ideal stylistic replacement for the club legend.
Zubimendi on Barcelona & Arsenal new links: “I have never planned to leave Real Sociedad — I always say that. I love life here, at home, I’m so happy here”. ⚪️🔵
“The value of this club are same as mine so I feel very good, I always said that I’m happy”, told Marca. pic.twitter.com/dFv9h9GdKB
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 10, 2023
The 24-year-old, however, does not seem overly keen on an exit as Sociedad close in on Champions League qualification and recently said transfer speculation makes him feel ‘uneasy’.
“I have never said anything about wanting to leave La Real,” he told Radio Marca Donostia.
“I do nothing but see news of that and it makes me feel uneasy. I have neither listened nor wanted to do anything. I do not know if I have been able to leave, but I have not even considered it. I have already said it several times, to say it more times it seems that they do not listen to me.”
Arsenal had expressed interest in Zubimendi in January but were informed that the midfielder would not be sold for less than his release clause of €60m (£52.8m).
Manu Kone is on the radar of Europe’s top clubs after another impressive season at Borussia Monchengladbach.
The 21-year-old has impressed as part of a defensive double pivot in the Monchengladbach midfield, where his tall frame and intelligent defensive work has won admirers across Europe.
𝐁𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐬𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐚 𝐠𝐨𝐚𝐥 #️⃣1️⃣
Inch perfect from Manu Koné 📏#DieFohlen pic.twitter.com/vP8oOt0vwZ
— Gladbach (@borussia_en) January 25, 2022
The 6ft 1inch midfielder thrives in breaking up the play and moving on the ball efficiently, while he ranks 9th in the Bundesliga for tackles (70) and eighth for progressive passes (159) during the current campaign.
Monchengladbach look set to lose Marcus Thuram on a free transfer this summer and will want to avoid a similar situation with Konte, who will enter the final two years of his deal at the end of the season. The German side could look to cash in on Kone while his value remains high and there appears to be no shortage of suitors for a midfielder valued in excess of £30m.
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