In the last couple of weeks, we began ranking the best players in every position across Europe. You can read the ranking of the best centre backs here.
Today, we look at the top 10 defensive midfielders.
Defensive midfielders link the defense to the attack. They break up the opposition’s play. They provide cover when defenders venture upfield.
They distribute. They hold, attack and most importantly protect the defence. In some cases, create goals and they’re all as different from each other as the jobs they perform—anonymously, for the most part—for their teams.
This is a list of 100 of the very best defensive midfielders based on the 2019/2020 season.
This is based on
1. Eye test + defensive stat quality
2. level of influence in their teams overall.
3. Total duel success rate above 50%
10. André Zambo Anguissa (Villarreal)
Say what you want about his Fulham spell and his horrible Europa League final performance while at Marseille, André Zambo Anguissa has been a man reborn at Villarreal this season. He has been heavily involved in midfield for them, delivering 1.2 Interceptions, 2.2 Tackles and 7.9 total duels (59%).
Add to that, he has been one of the league’s best dribblers, making 2.4 dribbles per game at 83% success rate. His ability to ball-carry and move the ball from defence to attack has been crucial for Villarreal’s build-up and he has had a season deserving of recognition.
9. Benjamin André (Lille)
Everyone talks about Boubakary Soumaré in Lille’s midfield but the unsung hero has actually been Benjamin André. Signed from Rennes in the summer, he has settled very well in Lille’s midfield, doing a lot of work that gives license to other players to get forward and deliver.
With 2.3 interceptions, 2.8 tackles and 7.9 total duels (54%) per game, one can see just how much work André does for them. In the Champions League, he made 2.2 interceptions and 3.6 tackles per game while being involved in 8.2 duels. Without his willingness to do the dirty work, the likes of Soumaré would not be getting any shine.
8. Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)
Brozovic has easily been Serie A’s best defensive midfielder this season. Inter’s great form and title challenge have been possible because he has been a rock in front of the defence, boasting 1.3 interceptions, 2.4 tackles and 4.8 total duels (53%) per game. His influence in build-up has also been sizable, with his 84.6 touches per game and 61.4 passes per game (89%). His long balls have also been an excellent feature, with 5.9 played by him per game at an incredible 78% success rate.
7. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Barcelona have struggled with their defensive structure and organization but in Sergio Busquets, they have a man they can often rely on to reduce the pressure they face defensively. Whether through interceptions or playing out of pressure or tackles, Busquets makes life easier for them. They are often handicapped by having such an old XI so his work has been very important as his workload is a lot.
With his 93.4 touches per game, he is still heavily influential for them in midfield, helping their build up play and getting in the way of opposition attacks. 1.4 interceptions, 2.7 tackles and 6.0 total duels (61%) per game show his defensive influence. When you consider the fact that his ground duel success rate (5.1 per game) is 66%, you understand how important he has been.
6. Baptiste Santamaria (Angers)
There has recently been a wave of transfer speculation around Santamaria and one has to wonder why it took so long. He has absolutely been killing it at Angers for a while. This season, he has reached a new level of excellence, completely bossing things in midfield for them.
As influential as he is for them in defence, what’s probably surprising to many is how influential he has been for them going forward, as he breaks lines to set them on their way. He does a lot of work defensively; 1.5 Interceptions, 3.2 Tackles and 7.4 total duels (60%) per game is evidence.
One remarkable feature of Santamaria’s game is that he doesn’t foul much (0.7) per game compared to other defensive midfielders doing the dirty job. Instead, he gets fouled more than he fouls. With all the work he does defensively, he has only gotten one yellow card in 28 games. This further shows how excellent he has been.
5. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern)
One has to wonder what Joshua Kimmich cannot do. He seems adept at way too many positions but this season, he has returned to his favoured position and has been excellent for Bayern. Defensively, he has not racked up an overwhelming volume but he has been effective.
Add to that, he has been excellent for them in build-up, while also contributing a lot offensively. Bayern are top of Bundesliga and Kimmich’s influence cannot be overemphasized. 0.8 interceptions, 1.5 tackles and 4.6 total duels (57%) per game while creating 9 big chances and having 101 touches per game. His ground duel success rate of 60% at 3.8 duels per game is solid.
4. Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)
No, this is not hype. Eduardo Camavinga has really been good for Rennes and it’s not surprising that he has gotten the attention of many big clubs in Europe, especially Real Madrid. Rennes have risen to 3rd in Ligue 1 and Edu has been a big part of that. It’s crazier to think he began the season as a 16-year old.
Now 17, his statistics rival those of the best in his position in Europe’s top 5 leagues. 1.4 interceptions and 8.6 total duels (58%) per game show how much work he has done in midfield for Rennes. More evidence is in the fact that only Ricardo Pereira (4.3) has made more tackles per game than Camavinga in Europe’s top 5 leagues (4.2) this season.
3. Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)
Ordinarily, one should not even classify Thomas as a defensive midfielder. Atletico don’t particularly play with one and he is way more rounded a player than that. He has completed 1.9 dribbles per game with an 87% success rate and he regularly runs things in the opposition half.
A truly complete central midfielder, he is only included on this list because of his heavy influence in the defensive part of the field for them. 1.4 interceptions, 2.1 tackles and 6.6 total duels (63%) per game, ensuring they have one of the best defensive records in Europe this season.
2. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Leicester City enjoyed their best spell and rose to second in the Premier League when Ndidi was in the thick of things. As soon as he got injured, everything fell apart and they began leaking goals and struggling to win games. Nothing quite showed the Nigerian’s value than this dichotomy. His huge defensive involvement is clear – 2.7 interceptions, 4.0 tackles and 7.9 total duels (56%) per game.
1. Casemiro (Real Madrid)
The Real Madrid midfielder has played a huge role in Madrid having the best defensive record in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Casemiro has been incredible this season, thwarting opposition attack after attack. His involvement has been high, evidenced by his 2.1 interceptions, 3.3 tackles and 8.6 total duels (56%) per game.