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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.

10. Casemiro (Real Madrid)

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.

 

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9. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

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)

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)

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)

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.

 

5. David Silva (Manchester City)

A Manchester City mainstay since his arrival in the Premier League eight years ago, Silva won his third title after a superb individual season in 2017/18. 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 from the engine room.

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 32.

 

4. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)

Kante is a very 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 in the summer, the 27-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. His forward bursts should become even more prominent under Maurizio Sarri, and the Frenchman is set to prove he has several more strings to his bow than were previously assumed.

 

3. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Kroos is Real Madrid and Germany’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 of the ball on the planet, be it over long or short distances.

He’s an extremely clever player too, who is able to find space in a crowded centre and know exactly when to speed the game up or slow it down. Kroos also demonstrated his set-piece prowess at the World Cup, bending in a brilliant free-kick against Sweden in second-half stoppage time.

 

2. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

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.

Deployed in a No.8 role by Pep Guardiola, De Bruyne contributes in every phase of the game; he has the technical ability of a luxury player without being anything like a luxury. He was the star man in Manchester City’s record-breaking title triumph last term, and at 27 still has plenty left to give.

 

1. Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Modric turned 33 in September but shows no signs of slowing down. This year has arguably been the best of his career: after helping Real Madrid win their third consecutive Champions League in May, the ex-Tottenham man starred as Croatia reached the World Cup final for the first time in their history two months later.

A superb passer who’s also adept at carrying the ball forward and driving into space, Modric is an influential midfielder who raises the game of those around him. After a magnificent 2018, he fully deserves top spot in this ranking.

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