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Ranked! The 10 best central midfielders in the world

Frenkie de Jong

The brilliant men in the middle who come out top in our examination of the greatest the engine room has to offer

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10. David Silva (Manchester City)

David Silva

A Manchester City mainstay since his arrival in the Premier League nine years ago, Silva won his fourth Premier League title after another excellent individual season in 2018/19. Capable of playing on the right, as a No.10 or in the slightly deeper midfield role he’s been used in by Pep Guardiola, the Spanish schemer is a master at running games and finding spaces that, to mere mortals, seemingly don't exist.

Silva’s decision-making is almost flawless, and his tremendous technique means he’s invariably able to execute those ideas. He’s even begun to add more goals to his game in the last couple of years, becoming an even more rounded player at the age of 33.

9. Fabinho (Liverpool)

Fabinho

It's often said that Liverpool's star quality is provided by the front three and two full-backs, with the midfield seen as relatively functional. That's a little unfair to Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and, in particular, Fabinho, who took a while to settle at Anfield but is now among the Premier League's best engine-room operators.

The former Monaco man is a master at halting opposition attacks, with his astute positioning and rangy frame making him an extremely difficult opponent to get past. He's a tremendous footballer too, capable of line-breaking passes and the occasional long-range howitzer, as he demonstrated in November's vital victory over Manchester City.

8. Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Luka Modric

Modric turned 34 in September and has shown signs of decline at times in 2019. Last year was the best of Modric's career, as the Croatian schemer won a third consective Champions League with Madrid, helped his country to their first ever World Cup final and ended the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly by scooping the Ballon d'Or.

Modric experienced something of a post-World Cup hangover, but he's been excellent so far in 2019/20, reminding everyone of his enduring quality. Zinedine Zidane will have to manage his minutes, but Modric remains an integral part of this Real Madrid side, just as he's been since arriving in Spain seven years ago.

7. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Sergio Busquets

It’s now over a decade since Busquets broke into the Barcelona first team and helped Pep Guardiola’s side win the Treble in his debut season. The rangy defensive midfielder is now in his 30s and has racked up over 500 matches for the Blaugrana, but remains one of the world’s leading exponents of the No.6 position, with his reading of the game, reliability in possession and ability to resist an opposition press still up there with the very best.

Busquets has never been the most mobile and has shown signs of vulnerability in the last couple of years, but in the correct midfield make-up, the Spain international still has plenty to offer. There aren't many like him – and even fewer who do his job better. 

6. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Toni Kroos

Kroos is Real Madrid’s heartbeat; the player who sets the tempo and makes things tick in the centre of the park. A pass master who rarely gives possession away, the former Bayern Munich midfielder is one of the best distributors on the planet, be it over long or short distances.

He’s an extremely clever player too, able to find space in a crowded centre and know exactly when to speed the game up or slow it down. The German struggled at times last season as Real Madrid struggled in both La Liga and the Champions League, but he's been back to his best in the opening months of 2019/20.

5. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)

Miralem Pjanic

Cristiano Ronaldo will be the main man at Juventus for as long as he remains at the club, but there's an argument that Pjanic is actually Maurizio Sarri's most important player.  

The Bosnian is a player who dictates the tempo of matches for the Bianconeri and has been one of Europe's most quietly consistent players for quite some time. He's won Serie A in each of his three full seasons since signing from Roma in 2016, and will now hope to add a Champions League winner's medal to his collection.

4. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)

Bernardo Silva

He may have been pipped to the FWA Footballer of the Year award by team-mate Raheem Sterling, but in the eyes of many Manchester City fans Silva was their team's standout performer last term. The Portuguese scored seven goals and set up seven more, admirably filling the sizeable shoes of the injured Kevin De Bruyne as Pep Guardiola's men retained the Premier League title.

The £43m signing from Monaco was snapped up as a wide player originally, but he's shone centrally as well as on the flank at the Etihad. "I love him" said Guardiola last term. "He can play three of four positions - he's one of the most talented players I've ever seen."

3. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Frenkie de Jong

De Jong first came to the attention of a wider audience when clips of him vacating his centre-back position and fearlessly dribbling the ball upfield began to circulate online. The Dutchman was soon moved into his more natural midfield role by Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, just in time for the youngster to inspire the team to Eredivisie glory and a remarkable run to the Champions League semi-finals last term.

De Jong's exceptional displays in 2018/19 earned him a summer switch to Barcelona, where he's immediately made his mark. A terrific passer and intelligent mover, the 22-year-old's standout attribute is his ability to beat the opposition press with some fancy footwork or a quick drop of the shoulder.

2. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)

N'Golo Kante

Kante is a different type of player to the majority of his peers listed here, but he’s undoubtedly one of the world’s top midfielders. A two-time Premier League champion and World Cup winner, the 28-year-old has made ball-winning fashionable since he played an instrumental role in Leicester’s title triumph of 2015/16.

Quick, tenacious and intelligent, Kante is so much more than a sitting midfielder who patrols a small area of the field. The Frenchman was entrusted with a more advanced role by Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea and has continued in that position under Frank Lampard, popping up with the odd goal and demonstrating that there are considerably more strings to his bow than many first thought.

1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne isn’t the best footballer in the world, but he’s arguably the most complete. Creative, powerful, skilful and dynamic, the Manchester City man can pass, shoot, dribble, tackle and cross - and all with either foot.

The Belgian contributes in every phase of the game; he has the technical ability of a luxury player without being anything like a luxury. He's the key man in a star-studded Manchester City side, as demonstrated by a remarkable return of nine assists in 13 Premier League appearances so far this season.

See also...

The 10 best strikers in the world

The 10 best forwards in the world

The 10 best centre-backs in the world

The 10 best goalkeepers in the world

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