The prospect of assuming control in midfield cannot be understated and neither can the talents capable of doing precisely that.
Possessing the right playmaker in the middle of the park can transform a team’s tempo and style of play. Some of the most technically gifted players in the world find their natural home in midfield.
Where does the Real Madrid playmaker stand among other midfield talents at this moment in time though? Here’s our tiered rankings for the best midfielders.
Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
It’s hard to pick out a more complete midfielder in world football at this moment in time.
Even though Kevin De Bruyne’s 2018/19 campaign has been plagued by injury, his indisputable class has resurfaced since his return in recent weeks. The Belgian always possessed an excellent range of passing and has a natural ability to whip in sublime crosses.
However, his physical and tactical development in the last two to three years has seen him move into the middle where his vision, driving runs and shooting have taken centre stage. Pep Guardiola famously claimed that only Lionel Messi ranks higher than the Manchester City playmaker.
On evidence of the last couple of seasons, including a superb World Cup campaign, that claim has gathered legitimacy.
Luka Modric, Real Madrid
Beating Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or takes some doing. The latter half of 2018 may have brought Luka Modric’s credentials for the accolade into question but there’s no denying him a mention among the best players in the world.
At his best, Modric can be the most elusive player on the pitch, regardless of any congestion in midfield. His awareness, touch and low centre of gravity means he’s always able to engineer space for himself.
While capable of dictating play and stretching defences with his passing, he doesn’t hesitate to carry the ball through the heart of the opposition when the opportunity arises. A sprinkling of the odd spectacular shot is the perfect topping for this rich midfield talent.
Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
Tottenham spent £109 million on seven players in the summer of 2013 as part of their efforts to replace Gareth Bale who joined Real Madrid. It proved a flawed strategy but at least it meant securing an absolute gem in Christian Eriksen.
The Dane has gone on to operate at the heart of Tottenham’s teams since, playing a huge role in bringing a sophisticated brand of football to the north-Londoners, particularly under Mauricio Pochettino.
The 27-year-old has been the creator in chief for Spurs over the years and is only getting better and more influential with age. His 12 assists in the Premier League this season, leading the division in that regard, is testament to his remarkable consistency.
Whether playing on the flank, in the number 10 role or in central midfield, Eriksen is always the orchestrator with the bulk of the team’s best moves going through him. It also helps that he has an eye for goal aside from his ability to dictate the tempo of a game.
N’Golo Kante, Chelsea
While Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were the poster boys who basked in the glory of Leicester City’s fairy tale 2015/16 Premier League triumph, N’Golo Kante’s tireless efforts at the heart of midfield was just as integral to their success if not even more so.
After he repeated the feat with Chelsea the following season, his value was evident. His work rate is unparalleled but it’s almost disrespectful to highlight that as his finest attribute.
He brings a level of sophistication to the defensive midfield role with his reading of the game and clean ball-winning abilities turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye. He was one of the exemplary performers during France’s World Cup success last year and though he’s had to operate in a different role under Maurizio Sarri this season, he’s still a mainstay in a team he selflessly offers balance.
Toni Kroos, Real Madrid
Few players in world football are capable of orchestrating a team’s build-up play in the manner that Toni Kroos does.
The Germany international can dominate a midfield with the utmost control and composure, prompting several ‘Kroos control’ headlines no doubt. His passing range is vast and among the most complete in world football while his reading of the game is impressive as well. At 29 though, Kroos requires ample support in midfield without which he can even be a liability at times.
The modern game is unforgiving for players who lack mobility, particularly in his position and when Casemiro hasn’t played for Madrid, Kroos has been left exposed. While he still possesses tremendous ability on the ball, Los Blancos’ poor form as a whole has hampered his performances, hurting an otherwise glowing reputation laden with silverware.
Sergio Busquets, Barcelona
So often the villain of the piece as far as opposition fans are concerned, Sergio Busquets is the undisputed unsung hero of Barcelona’s phenomenal success over the last decade.
Lionel Messi naturally takes the bulk of the plaudits along with the several others in his supporting cast. However, Busquets has been the fulcrum of every Barca side assembled in that time.
No one retains possession like Busquets and the midfield anchorman is the foundation for the team’s build-up play. He isn’t a defensive midfielder who launches himself into challenges but his reading of the game and positioning is unparalleled, making him the perfect sweeper ahead of the back-line.
He is also one of the most accomplished passers in the game, something he rarely gets credit for. World Cup winning Spain coach Vincente del Bosque once said: “If you watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. But if you watch Busquets, you see the whole game.”
Paul Pogba, Manchester United
When he’s on song, Paul Pogba may just be the best midfielder in the world. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the temperament to be bestowed that title and it’s also why he only makes our fourth tier.
The Frenchman has everything you’d want in a central midfielder. He’s a supreme athlete capable of marrying pace and power with skill and finesse. He’s blown hot and cold this season but a tally of 16 goals across competitions stands as a career-best return.
The World Cup winner can dominate games with his driving runs, creativity and sublime control on the ball but can just as easily be a liability with his poor positioning and wastefulness in possession. There’s no doubting his phenomenal ability but consistency is key at the highest level and that’s where Pogba falters.
Miralem Pjanic, Juventus
Miralem Pjanic has always shown great potential but over the last three years or so, he’s elevated himself into the running to be the world’s best midfielder.
The diminutive Bosnia and Herzegovina international doesn’t boast a physique with which he can naturally impose himself on an opposition but his boundless technical ability makes him a dynamic playmaker in the middle of the park with his close control helping him evade challenges in tight spaces.
What he lacks in size and pace he makes up for in work rate and tenacity. He isn’t a renowned tackler but a keen defensive awareness ensures his contribution without possession. Such is his quality in dead-ball situations that former Lyon star Juninho described him as the best free-kick taker in the world.
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