Lists

Ranked! The 10 best central midfielders in the world

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

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10. Casemiro (Real Madrid)

Casemiro

There are more glamorous players in Real Madrid’s star-studded dressing room than Casemiro, but the Brazilian has been integral to their recent success. The holding midfielder brings balance to the team and helps get the best of those around him, not least engine-room colleagues Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Casemiro goes about his business with minimum fuss, plugging gaps and breaking up play in front of the back four. He distributes the ball crisply and accurately, and occasionally pops up with a long-range goal for good measure.

9. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Paul Pogba

Pogba’s return to Manchester United in 2016 hasn’t quite panned out as either party would have hoped; the Frenchman has shown flashes of his sublime talent for Jose Mourinho’s side in the last couple of years, but the relationship between player and manager remains an uneasy one.

Still, there can be no denying Pogba’s extraordinary ability, even if he hasn’t shown it quite as often as United fans would have liked. A creative midfielder who can pass, dribble and score, the 25-year-old has all the technical and physical gifts you could ask for in a No.8.

8. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Sergio Busquets

It’s now a decade since Busquets broke into the Barcelona first team and helped Pep Guardiola’s side win the Treble in his debut season in the top flight. The rangy defensive midfielder is now in his 30s 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 the opposition press still up there with the very best.

Busquets has never been the most mobile and has shown signs of vulnerability when defending space in the last couple of years, but in the correct midfield make-up, the Spain international still has plenty to offer.

7. Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)

Thiago Alcantara

Injury problems have dogged Thiago throughout his career, but on raw talent alone there are very few midfielders who compare to the Bayern Munich man. The son of a Brazil international and a graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, the 27-year-old combines South America street-smartness and dribbling skills with Spanish control and passing ability.

Thiago is comfortable on the ball in tight spaces and can navigate his way out of sticky situations, but he also excels when given plenty of room to pick a pass. Now 27, he could (and should) be approaching the peak of his powers.

6. Isco (Real Madrid)

Isco

A dazzling playmaker with an extraordinary level of natural ability, Isco is arguably the most entertaining player to watch in world football. The Real Madrid man can play in a number of different attacking midfield roles and usually drifts across the pitch regardless of his starting position, searching out space and looking to get on the ball as much as possible.

Tricky, nimble and oozing creativity, Isco is brilliant at quickening the tempo and taking opponents out of the game with his sublime passing and dribbling skills.