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Ranking the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League

Gone are the days when defensive midfielders were deemed little more than ‘water-carriers’ for more talented teammates, with Premier League clubs having smashed their transfer records for reinforcements in the position.

Indeed, the three most expensive players in Premier League history have all played the role. But who, right now, is the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League?

We’ve ranked the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League right now.

5. Yves Bissouma – Tottenham

Yves Bissouma has blossomed under the management of Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham, with the Mali midfielder having bounced back from a difficult debut season at Spurs under the new head coach.

Bissouma has re-emerged as one of the best ball-winners in the division, a reputation built at Brighton but that had stuttered at Spurs. This season he ranks third in the Premier League for tackles won (31) and third for dribblers tackled (27).

His press-resistant brand of football has been welcomed by Postecoglou, who has demanded his team are brave in possession in any area of the pitch. Bissouma ranks in the 97th percentile of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues for pass completion (90.9%) and for passes attempted (77.10) per 90 minutes. His ability to evade pressure – averaging 1.56 successful take-ons per game – also ranks the 27-year-old in the elite bracket of defensive midfielders (91st percentile).

The challenge for the midfielder now will reining in the recklessness that has punctuated his performances this season. Bissouma is currently facing a four-game ban after receiving his second red card of the season against Nottingham Forest. It is the midfielder’s third card-related ban of the campaign so far.

4. Joao Palhinha – Fulham

Joao Palhinha: Duel Monster.

The Portugal international has been a prolific ball-winner since arriving in the Premier League, topping the rankings in Europe’s top five leagues for duels won (274) and tackles made (144) during the 2022/23 campaign.

Fulham’s capture of the 28-year-old has been inspired business, with the sheer volume of Palhinha’s numbers making it a mystery as to how he was overlooked by sides higher up the division.

An imposing physical presence, Palhinha is in the top one percent of Premier League midfielders for pressure regains and tackles this season. A summer move to Bayern Munich fell through late in the summer transfer window, a situation that Fulham will be delighted with given his impact once again.

Though his offensive contribution is modest, Palhinha’s defensive work is almost unmatched. Fulham should expect big bids to arrive for the Portuguese in the January window.

3. Bruno Guimaraes – Newcastle

Bruno Guimaraes might prefer a role higher up the pitch than the one he has occupied for much of his time with Newcastle, but the Brazilian has been brilliant as the deepest member of the Magpies midfield.

Guimaraes is another whose transfer has looked like an oversight from rival clubs, with the £40m Newcastle paid to sign the midfielder from Lyon already repaid. A firm fans’ favourite at St James’ Park, Guimaraes is among the most complete central midfielders in the Premier League right now.

The 26-year-old offers drive and dynamism from the base of the midfield, ranking in the 93rd percentile of his positional peers in Europe’s big leagues for successful take-ons per game, while his combination of technique and tenacious defensive work has thrived in the bustle of Premier League midfield battles.

Against Fulham last weekend, he led the game for touches (137), completed passes (102), take-ons completed (4), chances created (5) and duels won (9). He’s been a fantastic all-action addition for a Newcastle side looking to challenge the top teams.

2. Declan Rice – Arsenal

If the Premier League was to end right now, there’s a strong chance that Declan Rice could claim the Player of the Season awards.

Rice’s record-breaking price tag placed pressure on the midfielder after his summer switch to Arsenal, but the former West Ham captain has made an immediate impact at the Emirates. The 24-year-old has been almost faultless in an Arsenal shirt, adding presence to a team who are gearing up for another challenge for the Premier League title.

He ranks second in the Premier League for passes into the final third (2nd) and fifth for both progressive passes (125) and interceptions (27). The England international has raised the level of those around him, while mopping up defensive danger and gliding past players to power forward.

Vital goals against Manchester United, Chelsea and Luton have also been timely, with Rice already a leader in Mikel Arteta’s side.

1. Rodri – Manchester City

Rodri remains the leading defensive midfielder in the Premier League, perhaps the very best in world football right now.

The Spaniard was the conductor of Manchester City’s treble-winning team last season, a metronomic figure who Pep Guardiola centres his side around.

Poise, presence and possessor of an expansive passing range over all distances, Rodri leads the Premier League for passes into the final third this season. He also ranks in the top 10 players in the division for pass completion (92.7%), through balls, progressive passes, goal-creating actions, touches, progressive carrying distance and successful take-on percentage (71.4%).

Perhaps the greatest compliment to Rodri is how much poorer a team Manchester City look in his absence. He’s missed four games through suspension so far this season, and the Citizens have lost them all.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 17

See more – The Premier League substitutes with the most goal involvements this season

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