A position we’re all quite familiar with over in the Premier League is that of the defensive midfielder. It’s been a mainstay in a division full of 4-4-2s, heightened physicality and one played at such breakneck speed that added steel in front of the defence is imperative.
Tactically the game has changed ten-fold in just the last 20 years, but the necessity for a ball-winning, defensive midfielder has remained throughout. It may not be considered the most glamorous job in football, but that doesn’t make it any less important than others.
In Europe there are some outstanding talents spread across the leagues, but here at 90min we’ve picked out the five best currently plying their trade.
Ranking them isn’t quite as easy as you’d think.
If Marcelo Brozovic had been as good as he’s been this season for the past five, there is a strong claim for him to feature higher on this list. That isn’t to say his previous seasons at Inter weren’t superb in their own right, but this time around, he’s been instrumental in the Nerazzurri being well in the hunt for the Serie A title.
More often than not utilised in a more box-to-box role, his transition into a more traditional holding midfielder under Antonio Conte has been a stroke of genius.
Tireless work off the ball is essential in Conte’s system, with Brozovic acting as the hounding, disrupting midfielder who gives opponents nightmares whenever they receive possession.
His all round ability has improved this season, be it carrying the ball through the thirds with bull-like power, or finding his strikers with long, accurate balls.
Every team needs its engine room. Brozovic is all of Inter’s.
Read James Cormack’s Marcelo Brozovic overview here.
Fabinho has, in many ways, completed Liverpool. After their Champions League final heartbreak in 2018 all eyes were on the goalkeeper situation, but Jurgen Klopp added the Brazilian enforcer to his ranks, and it’s worked wonders.
He’s been the missing cog they didn’t know they needed, offering the platform for the other midfielders to press high up the pitch and maintain their attacking brand of football.
After a slow start to life on Merseyside, Fabinho’s combative style and intricate passing has catapulted him into one of the finest defensive midfielders in Europe.
Rarely does he venture into foreign territory, instead offering the perfect shield in front of an already established backline. Don’t let his lanky physique fool you, he’s an absolute menace in midfield.
Read Robbie Copeland’s Fabinho overview here.
It took a bit of time for Casemiro to get to where he is, but now he’s there, the argument for him being Real Madrid’s most important player is a valid one. The squad is filled with midfield riches, but none perform the role Casemiro does and it’s vital to Zinedine Zidane’s side.
What is evident with the Brazilian is that he loves to tackle. He loves to steal possession and he loves to build attacks, which all shows in his all-action style of play. Just as tough to get the ball off as he is getting the ball off others, his influence was key to Los Blancos’ recent Champions League successes.
All the usual traits attributed to Brazilian footballers are evident in Casemiro, who offers trickery and guile in midfield to complement his rough and tumble approach.
Unlike many others in his position, The Tank also boasts a keen eye for goal. Alongside Toni Kroos, the dependency of his teammate presents him with the opportunity for an occasional foray forward, which has seen him score 22 goals for Madrid. Plenty of them screamers, too.
Read Grey Whitebloom’s Casemiro overview here.
Unassuming, shy and reserved, N’Golo Kante on a football pitch is nothing like the man off of it.
The defensive midfielder role is often considered as the engine room of a team, but there are few – if any – footballers across the globe who literally never stop running quite like the Frenchman. He just doesn’t stop going.
Tenacious, commanding and relentless both in possession and off it, it’s those traits that prompted Eden Hazard to label his former teammate as a ‘rat’, since you can’t fend him off ever.
His influence on the Premier League as a whole can’t be understated either. Being the only player to win back-to-back league titles with two different clubs, it’s clear just how important Kante has been to both Leicester and Chelsea.
Read Jamie Spencer’s N’Golo Kante overview here.
The best there is right now, without doubt.
With Bayern Munich looking like the best side in Europe at the moment, the reasons for that being the case are aplenty. They’ve got quality throughout the squad, but they’re also the fortunate beneficiaries of the most complete footballer going at the moment.
Trying to argue against that is a discussion not worth having. Joshua Kimmich is about as close to perfect as a footballer can get.
With versatility in abundance due to the various roles he’s played in Bavaria, all that experience has weaved together to form the perfect package.
Kimmich is robust, technically astute, determined, smart and hard working, with no obvious flaws in any part of his game. Able to control the tempo of matches, dig his heels in and defend when required, but also provide the eye-of-the-needle pass forward that starts (or finishes) an attack, you’d be hard pressed to see anyone knocking him off his perch in the next few years.
Read Declan Houten’s Joshua Kimmich overview here.