Ranked! The 10 best defensive midfielders in the world right now

Best defensive midfielders list
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The best defensive midfielders in the world is the kind of list we might not have been able to publish 20-odd years ago. According to raging Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane, midfielders weren't separated into specialist roles in the '90s – they were all required both to get forward and put a tackle in when necessary. 

FourFourTwo isn't entirely convinced that all midfielders used to be held to the Irishman's extremely high standards, but it is true that the times have a-changed since Roy's day. Midfielders are now increasingly categorised and given special roles. Those on this list are the destroyers and the heartbeats; the men tasked with breaking down opposition attacks and setting their teams on the counter.

As always with our best players in every position lists, we update our ranking fairly regularly, so form is a major factor. If a regista you love is a little lower on this list than you'd care to see – or, heaven forfend, completely absent – it may just be that they've recently been injured or below their personal best.

So without further ado, let's run through the best defensive midfielders on the planet...

10. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets | Barcelona v Real Madrid live stream

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Once the gold standard of defensive midfielders, the leggy Spaniard has fallen down the pecking order since the days he shared a midfield with Xavi and Andreas Iniesta. The 34-year-old remains a leader for Los Blaugranas but has lost a lot of the physicality which once made him such a nuisance to play against. 

The metronymic passer looks set to hot-foot it to MLS when this season ends. He will depart Catalonia as a true legend, and one of Barca's most successful players ever. 

9. Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid)

Eduardo Camavinga, best young players in the world

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He's ousted big-money signing Aurielien Tchouameni from both Real Madrid starting line-ups and the France first XI at times this season – though the two can also play together. The 20-year-old shows an assurance on the pitch that could see him sit on this list for years to come.

Camavinga's favoured position is as a defensive pivot, seeing a lot of the ball and helping set the tempo of games.

Manchester United transfer rumours suggest that the Red Devils are willing to spend big bucks to bring him to the Premier League soon.

8. N'golo Kante (Chelsea)

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante

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"Kante is our van Dijk, our De Bruyne," remarked Thomas Tuchel before the German was given the boot by Chelsea last September. While the praise was high, the frustration in Tuchel's voice was clear as he lamented the injury issues his talisman has regularly suffered. 

Kante is probably the best defensive midfielder in world football when he's on the pitch, but drops down this list simply because we haven't seen enough of him lately. After suffering a hamstring injury in August, he still hadn't made an appearance for Chelsea under Graham Potter by the time April rolled around, and missed the entirety of France's run to the 2022 World Cup final.

7. Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan)

Marcelo Brozovic

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The Croatian's early years at Inter were dogged by inconsistency and disciplinary issues, but he has grown into becoming the best defensive midfielder in Italy and up there with the best in the world. Brozovic often flies under the radar as his game is so simple. But it's so effective, too.

Very few players in Serie A keep possession better than he does, and he often has a progressive intent the spurs the Nerrazzuri on. He deserves more credit outside of Italy. 

6. Declan Rice (West Ham)

Declan Rice

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West Ham's season may be less than fantastic, but their captain remains so. Declan Rice started every game of England's 2022 World Cup campaign, and was only substituted in the final group game when progression to the knockout stage was assured.

He's a big, strong ball of energy with the technical quality to back it up. A massive money move seems inevitable at the end of this season – the only question will be which big club lands his signature.

5. Marco Verratti (PSG)

Marco Verratti

(Image credit: PA)

Verratti has now spent more than a decade at PSG, and has eight Ligue 1 winners' medals (as well as over 400 appearances) to show for it. While a club with such lavish transfer kitties can often neglect the positions further back the pitch, the Italian's ever-presence in Paris is simply because he has commanded a spot in the midfield.

He made more tackles than any other player in last season's Champions League – testament to his defensive qualities – and few defensive midfielders are blessed with his vision and passing range. 

Without him, PSG's astounding attacking triumvirate would simply not be possible. 

4. Thomas Partey (Arsenal)

Thomas Partey at Arsenal

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With six years experience under the tutelage of legendary defensive midfielder Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Thomas Partey has hit new heights with Arsenal in 2022/23.

When he sat out a Ghana international in March, there was widespread hyperventilating across north London at what a potential injury could do to their Premier League run-in. The Gunners' title challenge simply wouldn't have happened without him.

3. Casemiro (Manchester United)


(Image credit: Getty)

Ushered out of Madrid to make way for younger, shinier models, Casemiro looked past the peak of his powers. At his best, the snarling, snapping Brazilian was the cornerstone on which five Champions League titles were claimed by Los Blancos over the last decade.

Those who thought he had no future at the elite level were dead wrong. He has been crucial in revitalising Manchester United under Erik ten Hag to help make them look the best they have done since the Fergie years. At 31, he's adapted seamlessly into the high-tempo of the Premier League and become an immediate favourite in the Manchester United squad.

2. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern)

Joshua Kimmich

(Image credit: PA)

Bayern's scrappy No.6 is the heartbeat of the side – the leader in midfield who ensures a team of stars stays humble and competitive against weaker opponents.

One of the best passers in the Bundesliga, Kimmich's transformation from world-class full-back into the metronome of this Bayern side has been nothing short of marvellous.

1. Rodri (Manchester City)


(Image credit: Getty)

Spaniard Rodri has become the fulcrum of Pep Guardiola's Manchester City since the departure of club legend Fernandinho last season – and he's taken on the job admirably.

The 26-year-old is a paradox of a player – a beefcake who rarely throws his weight around. Instead, he relies on intelligent reading of the game, two excellent feet and a sumptuous range of passing to keep opponents on the back foot. He has the turn of pace to beat the press and rarely misplays a pass. The piece of the puzzle which brings the whole thing together. 

Just don't mention Scotland.

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Conor Pope
Online Editor

Conor Pope is the former Online Editor of FourFourTwo, overseeing all digital content. He plays football regularly, and has a large, discerning and ever-growing collection of football shirts from around the world.

He supports Blackburn Rovers and holds a season ticket with south London non-league side Dulwich Hamlet. His main football passions include Tugay, the San Siro and only using a winter ball when it snows.

With contributions from