The defensive midfielder – A position fundamentally important to any leading side, yet a role that is often underrated and under-appreciated in equal measure.
Goals may be the glitz, glamour and lifeblood of the sport, but here at the Football Faithful we like to show our appreciation for those whose selfless style shines through.
Football history has delivered some brilliant ball-winning machines throughout the years, and there is a handful of multi-functional defensive midfielders currently at the top of their game.
Here are six of the best defensive midfielders in European football right now:
The Ghana international is a crucial cog in the Atletico Madrid midfield, shining brightly as Diego Simeone’s shithousery style is implemented to such great effect at the Spanish side.
Premier League fans unfamiliar with La Liga may have witnessed the 26-year-old’s all-action talents during Atletico’s recent Champions League elimination of holders Liverpool, Partey’s dynamic and combative style hugely influential in sealing the club’s progress to the last eight.
Tireless without the ball and classy when in possession, Partey’s dynamism and athleticism make him ideally suited to the hustle of the Premier League and he has been linked with moves to both Manchester United and Arsenal in recent months.
Reportedly available for around €50m due to a release clause in his contract, he could prove to be an inspired signing for any leading side seeking a tough-tackling midfield presence.
Leicester’s surge into the Premier League’s top four and Champions League places has been centred on a fine young side at the King Power Stadium, but perhaps the jewel in the crown of Brendan Rodgers’ side is Nigerian international Ndidi.
The 23-year-old has proven to be a revelation in the Midlands since arriving from Belgian side Genk, topping the Premier League charts for most tackles in each of his first full seasons at the club.
Rodgers has spoken publicly in admitting that the Foxes are a better side when Ndidi is present, and the statistics would certainly back up that assessment with Leicester drawing two and losing three of the five matches the midfielder missed recently with a knee injury.
Bigger clubs are circling for the powerful star – Barcelona the latest of Europe’s elite to be linked with a move – but it will likely take a huge figure to prise Ndidi away from the club this summer.
The Brazilian international has cemented himself as a key figure in the Real Madrid in recent years, providing a defensive screen that helped the club to three consecutive Champions League titles.
Zinedine Zidane’s side may be in a period of transition following an all-conquering period on Europe’s biggest stage, but Casemiro’s relishing of the game’s dirty work makes him an essential part of their future moving forward.
The 28-year-old is amongst La Liga’s most prolific players for both tackles and interceptions per game, whilst no player has made more than his 53 recoveries of possession.
Currently embroiled in a tight title race with arch-rivals Barcelona, the midfielder will likely play a crucial role in Los Blancos’ hopes of delivering silverware to the Bernabeu this season.
Kimmich’s elite level talents have seen him shifted around the Bayern Munich side in recent years, operating in a variety of midfield and defensive roles before a return to the centre of the pitch this season.
The 25-year-old has scored three goals and provided a further four assists from a defensive midfield role for the Bavarian giants during the current campaign, playing a crucial role in Bayern’s pursuit of an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title and the Champions League.
Amongst the most versatile players in world football, Kimmich’s best role is perhaps his current positioning in front of the defence, dictating the play as a deep-lying midfield pivot for a Bayern side with ambitions of conquering Europe for a sixth time.
N’Golo Kante’s best form may not have been seen often in the past two seasons, due to a controversial move into a more forward role under Maurizio Sarri and persistent injury problems, however, the Frenchman remains arguably the finest defensive midfield player in world football and a deserved inclusion on this list.
Blessed with relentless stamina and excellent ball-winning ability, Kante has established himself as a hugely popular figure with both supporters and teammates, winning a host of major silverware including back-to-back Premier League titles and the World Cup.
Jamie Vardy: “I remember when we signed N’Golo Kante. He didn’t want to get a car because he just thought he could run to training every morning.” pic.twitter.com/yqomfAOkTK
— PurelyFootball UK (@PurelyFootball) March 26, 2020
Arguably the key player in each of those triumphs, Kante’s influence helped Leicester to an improbable championship before being named as the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year as new side Chelsea were crowned champions the following year.
Few players can provide the energy or dynamism that are trademarks of the 28-year-old’s game, regaining possession with incredible regularity and bringing infectious tenacity for both club and country.
Kante has made just 16 Premier League starts so far this season, and Chelsea will hope to be able to call on his services more often in the coming months.
Every leading club in Europe is closely monitoring the progress of young midfielder Camavinga, with no teenager in Europe’s top five leagues having played more minutes than the precociously talented 17-year-old.
Real Madrid are believed to be leading the chase for the Rennes star, who made his first-team debut as a 16-year-old last April before establishing himself as an indispensable player at the heart of the Ligue 1 side.
No player across Europe’s Top 5 Leagues has made more tackles per game this season than Eduardo Camavinga (6.2).
He’s 17 🤯🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/KyDE0WyTQK
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 25, 2020
No U21 player across Europe’s leading leagues has made more tackles or won more duels than Camavinga, whilst he has also won more fouls than any other player to help Rennes push towards Champions League qualification.
The youngster’s mature performances defy his tender years, averaging a huge 4.3 tackles per game (Kante’s average this season is 2.1) and it remains to be seen how long Rennes can keep hold of the teenage prodigy.
Qualification for the Champions League may maintain his services for another season at least, but Camavinga looks destined for a big-money move to one of Europe’s elite in the near future.