Who is the best defensive midfielder in the world football right now? A solid spine is crucial to a team’s chances of success and elite defensive midfielders have never been in such high demand.
A once under-rated and under-appreciated component of the side, Europe’s wealthier clubs are now increasingly likely to splash huge sums on the game’s tough-tacklers and defensive screens.
From brilliant ball-winners to deep-lying playmakers, the differing interpretations of the specialist role made this a hard list to whittle down, but we’ve attempted to rank the five best defensive midfielders in the game right now.
Here are our rankings of the five best defensive midfielders in the world right now.
5. Declan Rice
Declan Rice looks set for a mega-money move from West Ham this summer, a transfer that has seemed inevitable ever since the midfielder starting stamping his mark on Premier League pitches.
Rice has been a revelation since progressing from the club’s academy system, establishing himself as the Hammers’ best homegrown talent for several seasons and as one of the first names on the team-sheet for Gareth Southgate and England.
24 – Aged 24 years and 144 days, @_DeclanRice last night was the youngest player to captain an English side to victory in a major UEFA competition final since Bobby Moore also did so for @WestHam in the 1965 Cup Winners’ Cup final (24y 37d). Emulating. pic.twitter.com/RLQr5Eo0Z9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 8, 2023
The 24-year-old is powerful and technically accomplished, boasting an innate sense of where danger will present and so often arriving in the right place at the right time to snuff out opposition attacks. Last season the midfielder led the Premier League for interceptions, while no player in the division regained possession in the defensive third on more occasions.
He was exceptional in Europe to lead West Ham to a first major trophy since 1980, with Rice named as the Europa Conference League’s Player of the Tournament for his performances in the Irons’ victorious campaign.
Arsenal appear the frontrunners to land Rice this summer and the midfielder will be keen to test himself on the Champions League stage and compete at the top end of the Premier League. He has the dynamism and presence that could bring last season’s runners-up closer to title success.
4. Marco Verratti
Marco Verratti has been at the centre of the Paris Saint-Germain side for more than a decade with the Italian integral to the club’s dominance of Ligue 1.
Verratti has won nine league titles since arriving at the Parc des Princes and has been named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season on seven occasions, in addition to lifting the 2020 European Championship with the national side.
The 30-year-old is far from a domineering presence on the pitch, but is tenacious in his work off the ball and elegant when conducting the PSG side from deep. Despite some suggestions that the midfielder is not as irreplaceable as he once was, Verratti’s influence is underlined in the statistics.
🆕 Marco Verratti set two records yesterday for a single Ligue 1 game this season:
🎯 Accurate passes – 135
🦶 Touches – 155 pic.twitter.com/c7HWUp8C2k
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 22, 2023
The Italy international led the Champions League for tackles during the 2021/22 season, while he has ranked among the elite bracket of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues on a number of metrics this time around.
Verratti has ranked in the 99th percentile of positional peers for attempted passes and pass completion percentage, the 98th percentile for progressive passes and in the 95th percentile for tackles per 90 minutes – averaging 3.29 tackles per game.
In a team that has often lacked balance from back to front, he has served as the classy conduit.
3. Joshua Kimmich
Bayern Munich’s side has been built around Joshua Kimmich in recent campaigns, a footballer regarded as one of the most intelligent in the modern game.
Since being signed from the second-tier by Pep Guardiola, Kimmich has excelled at full-back, in central defence and in his natural role at the base of midfield.
The Germany international is technical and tenacious in equal measure, combining a relentless desire to win with one of the Bundesliga’s best passing ranges.
Positionally excellent, tactically intelligent and always willing to engage in the less glamorous side of the game, he has been the driving force in Bayern’s unprecedented run of domestic dominance and has won eight league titles and the Champions League since arriving in Bavaria.
Bayern Munich are understood to be open to signing a more defensive-minded midfielder this summer, in a move which could help bring the best from Kimmich. Given less defensive responsibility, his tempo-setting game could thrive further.
Casemiro’s exit from Real Madrid last summer looked to be the beginning of the end for the midfielder, with one of the Spanish side’s modern greats allowed to depart as Real refreshed in the engine room.
Manchester United spent £70m on the five-time Champions League winner in a deal that was questioned given Casemiro’s age, but he has proven an inspired addition to Erik ten Hag’s improving team.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 6, 2023
The 31-year-old has dominated duels and provided presence that has long been lacking in a maligned Manchester United midfield, while he has demonstrated a quality in possession that was often overlooked in the shadow of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos at the Bernabeu.
The spine of the side has been immeasurably improved since Casemiro’s arrival, the club’s combative general who has become a firm fans’ favourite. The committed performances of ‘Classemiro’ have been a driving force of Ten Hag’s debut campaign, one which has seen pleasing progress with silverware success and Champions League qualification.
Erling Haaland’s achievements this season have seen many question whether the Norwegian is in fact an experiment created in a lab. The Norwegian goal-machine has appeared to be the ideal combination of centre-forward attributes, but it could be argued that Rodri is perhaps the perfect player for a Pep Guardiola side.
Were Guardiola to design his dream pivot at the base of the midfield, it would likely look a lot like the Spaniard who has become arguably the most important player to Europe’s best side.
The 26-year-old is often faultless in possession, comfortable off either foot and boasts an exquisite range of passing over long and short distance. He turns and steps away from even the most intense of press with a leisurely swagger and can more than mix it physically when required.
Rodri was the only player to win possession 100+ times during the 2022/23 Champions League season.
And he scored the winner in the final. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/7We7ALJux5
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 11, 2023
He was outstanding during the club’s treble-winning season and scored the club’s Champions League final winner against Inter Milan, the defining moment of a campaign that saw Rodri named as the Champions League’s Player of the Season.
Guardiola demands his side protect the ball at all costs and few do it better than Rodri. A misplaced pass is about as rare as rocking horse s***.