Ranked! The 10 best women's defensive midfielders in the world

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The role of the defensive or holding midfielder is one with many facets. 

It can be very dependent on how a team likes to play so within our list of the best women's defensive midfielders in the world, you will find players who excel at going in for a meaty tackle, alongside players who pick out passes that most people would not even spot. 

The position has been particularly in demand as women’s football has become more possession-based with Keira Walsh recently commanding a world-record fee as part of her transfer from Manchester City to Barcelona.

Best women's defensive midfielders in the world: 10. Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns)

Sam Coffey

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Named in the NWSL’s Best XI having helped the Portland Thorns win their third Championship title, this rookie looks like she could be the long term solution to the US’s problems in midfield.

With Julie Ertz being a long term injury absentee, America have struggled to find a replacement. Coffey was the 12th overall pick in the NWSL draft and was an essential part of the Thorns’ team, starting 18 games for them. Defensively accomplished whilst being a strong passer of the ball, Coffey’s ability from dead-ball situations is just another string to her bow.

9. Ingrid Engen (Barcelona)

Ingrid Engen

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Ingrid Engen’s move from Wolfsburg to Barcelona after only a couple of seasons highlighted how well thought of the Norwegian midfielder is.

Predominantly someone who breaks up play, Engen has taken a while to adjust to Barcelona’s more possession based football, and struggled in her first season at the club. Yet there are signs this year that she is settling in better with the injury to Alexia Putellas giving her more opportunities for minutes. 

However, she remains behind Keira Walsh and Patri Guijarro in the pecking order. There is no doubt that Engen is a very talented player but it remains to be seen whether she can truly fulfil her potential in a very stacked Barcelona midfield.

8. Lena Lattwein (Wolfsburg)

Lena Lattwein

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Wolfsburg’s Lena Lattwein is a versatile player, capable of playing as the holding midfielder or further up the pitch in the midfield. Signed from Hoffenheim last season, Lattwein plays an important supporting role for Wolfsburg’s other Lena - Oberdorf.

In a midfield full of talented players, Lattwein has won over the trust of manager Tommy Stroot who has started her in every league game so far this season. Whilst she has struggled to break into the Germany team, at only 22 years old, there is plenty of development to come for Lattwein.

7. Sophie Ingle (Chelsea)

Sophie Ingle

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Don’t write off Sophie Ingle. The 31-year-old continues to marshall Chelsea’s midfield with her side’s success often resting on her performances. Ingle covers the defensive line capably for both Chelsea and Wales, captaining her national team. Ingle’s play is characterised by its calmness whilst her relationships with her teammates allows her to often move further up the pitch or drop back depending on what the team needs.

6. Sarah Zadrazil (Bayern Munich)

Sarah Zadrazil

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She might wear the No.9 shirt for Austria but Sarah Zadrazil is one of the most accomplished midfielders in the game. Playing at the base of midfield for Bayern, she rarely misses a match and was a key part in their Frauen Bundesliga win in her first season at the club. An excellent 1v1 defender, Zadrazil also has the creativity to play further forward when needed.

Zadrazil recently extended her contract at Bayern Munich, evidence of how important she is to the German side.

5. Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea)

Erin Cuthbert

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There aren’t many positions on the pitch that Erin Cuthbert hasn’t played in but she seems to be firmly settling into a central midfielder role. Previously used as a 10, a winger and a wingback, this season Chelsea have used her both as a defensive midfielder and as a No.8, often in combination with Sophie Ingle.

The Scottish pocket rocket is well known for her immense amounts of energy when she plays - she has made the second-highest number of tackles in the WSL this season - and can often be found lurking on the edge of the box ready to smash a loose ball into the top corner. Her goal for Chelsea in last season’s FA Cup final at Wembley was a case in point.

Having been at Chelsea since she was 18, Cuthbert recently signed a new deal to keep her in West London for at least two more seasons.

4. Lia Walti (Arsenal)

Lia Walti

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Arsenal’s Swiss holding midfielder Lia Walti is famed for two things - her “snake hips” and her two-footedness. Walti has a tendency to use her body to trick opponents as to how she’s going to move with the ball and her ability to pass with either foot means she is the metronome at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. 

When it comes to pass completion percentages, she is regularly near the top of the Arsenal team. Walti is in her fifth season with Arsenal and is absolutely essential to how they play due to the way in which she circulates possession.

3. Keira Walsh (Barcelona)

Keira Walsh playing for England Women before becoming the biggest women's transfer ever

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Keira Walsh grew up watching the Barcelona midfield greats so when they came calling for her this summer, it was no surprise she was keen on the move. 

Leaving her childhood club Manchester City for a world record transfer fee in women’s football, Walsh’s stock had only risen since winning Euro 2022 where she was arguably England’s best player. Her assist for Ella Toone’s goal in the final was an example of the incredible vision she has as a player, combined with the technical ability to put it in action. Manchester City’s loss has been Barcelona’s gain with Walsh immediately slotting into the Blaugrana squad.

2. Patri Guijarro (Barcelona)

Patri Guijarro

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One of the more intriguing elements of Keira Walsh’s signing from Manchester City was the fact that Barcelona already had a world class holding midfielder in Patri Guijarro. The 24 year old was scouted by Barcelona in a match when she played against them and joined the Catalan club a month after her 17th birthday. 

Guijarro’s ability is underlined in her versatility on the pitch. She has previously covered at centre-back for Barcelona (including in their Champions League final win over Chelsea) and following Alexia Putellas’ injury, has played in more of an 8 role this season. However, it is at the base of midfield where she is truly at her best. There she is able to play the biggest variety of passes, some of them absolutely outstanding in their quality, and her calmness on the ball is infectious. 

1. Lena Oberdorf (Wolfsburg)

Lena Oberdorf

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When you are watching Lena Oberdorf play in midfield, it is easy to mistake her for two players, such is the amount of ground she covers. Oberdorf is only 20 years old but there is no doubt of her supreme talent. Physically strong but also a fantastic reader of the game, Oberdorf is not afraid of putting in a tough tackle if required.

She was named Young Player of the Tournament at Euro 2022 and finished fourth in Ballon D’Or voting this year. Oberdorf looks set to be the star for both Germany and Wolfsburg for years to come.

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Jessy Parker Humphreys is a freelance women's football writer. A Chelsea fan, Jessy has been following the women's game since being taken to the 2003/04 FA Cup final at Loftus Road and seeing Arsenal thrash Jessy's local side Charlton. Fortunately, Arsenal don't win quite as much as they used to – although Jessy hopes Charlton will also be back at the top of the women's game one day.