Ranking the five best central midfielders in the world right now - Kevin De Bruyne
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Ranking the five best central midfielders in the world right now

Central midfield is called the engine room for good reason. Dominance in the centre of the park can transform the narrative of a game and the world’s best central midfielders take control of the biggest occasions.

Categorising midfielders is increasingly difficult with more specified roles than ever before, but we’ve attempted to rank the five best central midfielders in the world right now.

For those racing to the comments to blast the absence of their favourite names, specialist defensive midfielders and attacking midfielders will be placed in their own (separate) rankings.

Ranking the five best central midfielders in the world right now:

5. Ilkay Gundogan

Fresh from completing football’s Mount Everest with treble success at Manchester City last season, Ilkay Gundogan pulled the curtain down on his decorated career with the Citizens in favour of Catalonia.

A free transfer move to Barcelona provided a new challenge for the German and he has been a constant source of creativity in an otherwise mixed season for the Spanish side. No player in Europe’s top five leagues has created more chances (100) than Gundogan, while only Phil Foden (72) has carved out more opportunities from open play (70).

We’ve seen Gundogan in multiple forms in recent seasons and each has been fulfilled to the highest standard. Whether conducting games from the base of midfield or crashing into the opposition penalty box, the 33-year-old is elegant and efficient in each role.

“When Gundogan has the ball, everything gets better,” Barcelona boss Xavi said after a Champions League over Antwerp in September. “He does everything well, absolutely everything. If we play well, it’s because of guys like him. His signing was heaven-sent, honestly. He is a superlative player, a total joy to watch.”

It’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about midfielders.

Midfield Magicians: Barcelona’s beating heart, Xavi

4. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid

Toni Kroos looks set to answer Real Madrid’s pleas to extend his career into another campaign with the veteran still pulling the strings for the Spanish superpower.

The 34-year-old has been dominating games for over a decade and continues to be the metronome of the Madrid midfield, leading Europe’s top five leagues for passes and progressive passes per 90 minutes.

Kroos offers security in possession with almost flawless use of the ball even when under pressure. His evergreen class has seen Germany persuade the icon back out of international retirement for Euro 2024 and it took Kroos just seven seconds to register an assist on his first appearance back with the national team.

Class is permanent.

3. Federico Valverde – Real Madrid

It might be doing a disservice to label Federico Valverde as a central midfielder. The Uruguayan, in essence, is a man for any role and any occasion, using his unrelenting work ethic to run opposition teams into submission.

He might not boast the natural guile of other options in the Real Madrid midfield or on this list, but he’s great in almost all areas and combined with trademark endurance it makes him integral to Carlo Ancelotti.

Just three players have recorded more assists than Valverde (7) in La Liga this season and his ball-carrying is elite, ranking in the 97th percentile of midfielders in Europe for progressive carries per 90 minutes across the last 12 months.

The 25-year-old was instrumental in the club’s 2021/22 Champions League win and is heading towards a third La Liga crown this season. Somehow, still, underrated.

2. Bernardo Silva – Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has fought tooth and nail to keep Bernardo Silva at Manchester City in recent seasons. You would, too, if you had a footballer of such unique qualities.

The Portuguese playmaker can, and does, do it all. He’s both intensity and elegance, a rare combination but one that has seen Silva shine wherever he is stationed.

A chameleon of a footballer, he has been Manchester City’s best player at times from the flanks, further forward, or scampering centrally between both boxes. Watching the 29-year-old can be compelling. He’s equally likely to be seen twisting and turning away from traffic with twinkle-toed footwork as he is hurtling around the pitch to set the tone for the press.

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A footballing ballerina with a built-in battery pack, Bernardo is utterly brilliant.

1. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne might just be the most complete footballer in the game today. His left foot is better than most player’s stronger side and he sees – and executes – passes others can not comprehend.

After an instrumental role in Manchester City’s treble success last season, De Bruyne completed the set at the Etihad with UEFA Super Cup and Club World Triumphs in 2023/24.

In a City side not short of attacking options, he rarely chooses the wrong one. He has been arguably the best player, in the best club side, in Europe across the last five seasons.

For context, if the Belgian failed to provide another assist for two ENTIRE league campaigns, he’d still have the best assist-to-game ratio of any player among the Premier League’s top 10 assist providers.

Read – Ranking the five best goalkeepers in the world right now

See more – Ranking the five best centre-backs in the world right now

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