Ranking the five best defensive midfielders in the world right now - Rodri - Manchester City
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Ranking the five best defensive midfielders in the world right now

Central midfielders can no longer be categorised into a single group, with box-to-box presences the exception rather than the norm. Engine rooms now often occupy specialists, with defensive midfield screens arguably the most important of the lot.

Tasked simultaneously with destroying and dictating, defensive midfielders must be technical and tenacious, able to both implement and evade a press.

We’ve attempted to rank the five best defensive midfielders in world football right now.

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

5. Bruno Guimaraes – Newcastle

That Bruno Guimaraes makes this list in a position that might not even be his best is a testament to the talent of a footballer who has become adored at St James’ Park.

A high-profile recruit as Newcastle’s new era got up and running in January 2022, he has cemented himself as a fans’ favourite at the Magpies and as one of the most influential midfielders in the Premier League. Guimaraes is the sort of player supporters cherish, combining extroverted passion with the talent to match.

He’s just as likely to be seen hurtling back towards goal to make a challenge as he is dissecting defences with line-splitting passes, an all-round midfield package of energy and elegance.

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The Brazil international continues to operate at the base of the midfield, where Newcastle’s football runs through him, though some have championed the signing a specialist anchor to free the 26-year-old further forward. Wherever stationed, he will be hugely effective. He’s that good.

4. Aurelien Tchouameni – Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s midfield rebuild saw €100m spent to sign Aurelien Tchouameni from AS Monaco, with the Spanish side beating competition from the Premier League to land the imposing Frenchman in 2022.

After a mixed start, he has grown in influence and importance to Carlo Ancelotti’s side, with his defensive acumen appreciated when used as an emergency central defender at times this season. The 24-year-old – as elite ball-winners do – works predominantly in the shadows of his attacking teammates, regaining and using the ball with unerring effectiveness.

Intelligent in his positioning and distribution, he ranks in the elite percentiles of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues for pass completion (97th – 91.4%), interceptions (95th), clearances (94th) and aerial duels won (92nd). In the defensive midfield fundamentals he excels and alongside compatriot Eduardo Camavinga – an unfortunate omission from this list – he looks set to be the future for Real Madrid as the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric move on.

3. Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are facing a sizeable problem as summer approaches. Joshua Kimmich’s failure to agree terms on a new contract has led to Europe’s elite sniffing around a midfielder who has been at the forefront of the club’s Bundesliga dominance.

Kimmich might not be in the mould of a traditional defensive midfielder, but he’s a footballer of such intelligence that he’s able to fill multiple roles to world-class standard. Having excelled at right-back and in central defence earlier in his career, his conversion to a regular midfield role brought out the best in the 29-year-old.

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Compared to his midfield peers across Europe’s top five leagues, he ranks in the 98th percentile for shot-creating actions, attempted passes and progressive passes per 90 minutes, and in the 99th for crosses, key passes and expected assists. While there are some reservations over his defensive capabilities, he is the fulcrum of the Bayern side and the conduit through which their game runs.

2. Declan Rice – Arsenal

Arsenal broke their transfer record to sign Declan Rice last summer, confident that the addition of the West Ham captain would turn Mikel Arteta’s team from contenders to champions.

Rice has made an immediate impact in the Arsenal engine room, so much so that his price tag is rarely mentioned. He’s both a ball-winner and the first avenue for progression, ranking third in the Premier League for progressive passes this season. His all-round game has been on show in a more adventurous Arsenal team, setting career-best numbers for league goals (6) and assists (5).

There’s been big moments, too. A last-gasp winner against Manchester United endeared him to the Emirates, before a crucial goal from distance at Chelsea and a late decider in a topsy-turvy win at Luton Town. The 24-year-old recently reached 50 caps for England and captained the Three Lions for the first time against Belgium this month. His leadership and drive are crucial for club and country.

1. Rodri – Manchester City

Manchester City might have the most talented squad in European football, but a black hole emerges at the centre of Pep Guardiola’s universe whenever Rodri is absent from the side. It seems a long time ago that the Spaniard was being questioned after an underwhelming first season at the Etihad, with the 27-year-old having since evolved into the most irreplaceable player in the Citizens side.

He might not cover every blade of grass in the style of his predecessor Fernandinho, but Rodri’s game is built on presence and poise. He’s the centre-piece of the best side in club football, offering security to his side in and out of possession.

A misplaced pass is as rare as hen’s teeth, while Rodri’s knack for important goals has elevated his standing at Eastlands. None have been bigger than the decisive moment to win a maiden Champions League title last season, as the Spaniard slammed home a winner against Inter Milan to complete the treble.

His importance to Manchester City is shown with an incredible unbeaten run in the side. City have lost four games in all competitions this season – and Rodri has been absent for them all. His last defeat came more than a year ago, in February 2023.

Rodri’s impact in recent campaigns has placed him in the conversation surrounding the best defensive midfielders of the modern era.

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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