Do you want to know the top 25 midfielders in Europe this season? If so, then read this article.
It will judge a footballer on his form throughout this season as opposed to his FIFA rating or how popular he is.
The idea of the article is to give you the most accurate picture of the best 25 European-based midfielders this season.
Nemanja Matić, Benfica's elite DM, was No. 26 on the long-list
This article has picked the top 25 midfielders in Europe this season via a combination of objective and subjective analysis.
The power ranking is based entirely on a midfielder’s form throughout the season not his past reputation.
Some media graphics have Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney, Michu, Marouane Fellaini, Alexander Meier, et al. as midfielders when they should be categorised as forwards.
Last 10 Long-List Cuts
Nemanja Matić (Benfica), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nürnberg), Mikel Arteta (Arsenal), Szabolcs Huszti (Hannover 96), Borja Valero (Fiorentina), Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven).
Explaining Big-Name Omissions
Ángel di María (Real Madrid): Defines inconsistency.
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich): Has only started 31 percent of league games. However, he’s been world-class when he has played.
Beñat (Real Betis): Commits some of the most mindbogglingly stupid fouls you'll ever see in football. He claims the uncertainty over his future has been a factor in his recent decline (via Dermot Corrigan at ESPN FC).
Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona): Last November, he was considered one of the most in-form midfielders but has since gone missing for extended periods.
David Silva (Manchester City): Not a lot of separating his performances from Fulham's Damien Duff, who didn’t even make my long-list.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea): Has underperformed for the Blues compared to last season with Lille. His high upside suggests he will become a world-class footballer in the coming seasons.
Etienne Capoue (Toulouse): So many stray passes from the Frenchman, who is supposed to be a pivot, but has left holes at the back charging forwards (when he shouldn’t be doing so). It seems he wants to be like Moussa Sissoko, who has found his niche as a deep-lying forward for Newcastle United.
Frank Lampard (Chelsea): Been asked to play as a defensive midfielder but has overruled management and started himself as an attacking midfielder. In doing so, it screws up the team's shape. Being the top scorer for the club in league games indicates that management were originally in the wrong.
Isco (Málaga): Scored in three successive weeks and then went missing in action for a month. It sums up his season thus far.
Javi Martínez (Bayern Munich): He played better for Athletic Bilbao but this time next season, he should be one of the best defensive midfielders in the game.
John Obi Mikel (Chelsea): Nigeria base their team around him and he was elite at the Africa Cup of Nations. The Blues do everything to hinder Mikel like playing an attacking midfielder or a box-to-box midfielder as a partner in midfield.
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal): The German has done exceptionally well in a role he dislikes. He wants to be the No. 9 hence why he moved back to Köln, where he became one of Europe’s most lethal strikers. Statistically, Lukas is excellent but he isn’t a prolific crosser, very predictable due to his heavy dependency on his left foot and tends to go missing for most of the game.
Oscar (Chelsea): Loves playing in the UEFA Champions League (especially vs. Gianluigi Buffon) but has been hit and miss at league level.
Ramires (Chelsea): He’s a box-to-box midfielder, not a pivot. It’s stupid that the Blues want to strip away his strongest trait (lung-bursting runs).
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid): Has regressed since his Stuttgart days where he was an exciting box-to-box midfielder. Now, he’s a safe and limited holding midfielder under José Mourinho.
Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United): Yet to replicate Borussia Dortmund form.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal): His statistics are heavily diluted by spending a significant portion of the season as a centre forward. As soon as he signed the extension, he was thrown back out wide. Needs to study Thomas Müller in terms of making smartest decisions because Theo has no plan B as a winger. What do Walcott and Podolski have in common? They’re centre forwards forced out wide.
Tom Cleverley (Manchester United): Metronomic passing ability but needs to get stuck in more.
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid): Makes the most passes per game at the club, though gives away the ball 17.8 percent of the time. His defensive positioning is suspect hence having the most yellow cards on the team. Hasn’t been vintage Xabi.
Yaya Touré (Manchester City): How can he be called box-to-box if he ignores his defensive duties? 1.1 tackles per game should not warrant a four-year extension. 1.1 dribbles per game proves his trademark runs haven’t been effective this season.
With his agent Dimitri Seluk speaking out last month, perhaps the Ivorian's mind has been distracted for most of this season, which would explain the dramatic decrease in his statistics.
Now that Yaya can potentially earn £240,000 per-week on performance-related clauses (per Mark Ogden at The Telegraph), he went beast mode on Chelsea and ran the show like he should have done all season for City.
With each uncharacteristically effortless performance, Claudio Marchisio is putting his starting position at risk—Paul Pogba is waiting in the wings.
Did Claudio show up in the two games vs. Bayern Munich?
It's incomprehensible to think that Marchisio runs himself into the ground week-in, week-out but in the two most important games of the season, he wasn't himself.
Yes, credit has to go to Bayern, however Claudio's game revolves around effort—why didn't he just try harder?
Remember, he's also one of the team's worst passers (ranks 15th in pass completion percentage), so why start someone that's invisible and gives away the ball?
In fairness to Marchisio, he's had numerous standout games this season, notably against Chelsea and Celtic.
In Mesut Özil's last seven games for the German national team, he has registered five goals and seven assists.
For Deutschland, he is a FIFA Ballon d'Or contender, whereas the Real Madrid version is less impressive .
José Mourinho's habitual need to take Mesut out of the game robs him of the opportunity to score or create more regularly in a Los Merengues shirt.
Of Özil's 27 La Liga games, an astonishing 70.4 percent of them have been sub-affected.
That said, he's been a catalyst in José's ruthlessly counter-attacking methodology vs. Barcelona, with the German threading three assists.
 This article ranks the player based on his club performances and excludes national team performances.
José Mourinho was in attendance when Borussia Dortmund thrashed Greuther Fürth 6-1.
He would have noted how complete Jakub Blaszczykowski is: a terrific tackler, great vision and a team-first player.
The Polish international finished with a goal, three assists and won back the ball three times.
Kuba's tackles per foul (2.8) is higher than the majority of full-time right-backs in Europe's elite leagues.
Franck Ribéry holds a 0.20 difference over Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp for kicker's highest rated Bundesliga player.
Franck's current kicker rating (2.20; the lower the better) would be the highest since the 1994-95 season, when Matthias Sammer—Bayern Munich's sporting director—recorded a 2.17 rating for Borussia Dortmund.
It's not just kicker because Bild have given Ribéry a 2.09 rating.
I strongly disagree with both publications.
Hiroshi Kiyotake, Nürnberg's playmaker, is equal with Franck on 10 league assists.
Do you know who's Nürnberg's top-scorer in league-play? Per Nilsson, a centre-back, with five.
Jakub Blaszczykowski; BVB (10), Szabolcs Huszti; Hannover 96 (9), Jonathan Schmid; Freiburg (8) and Julian Draxler; Schalke; (8) have all outscored Ribéry (7) in the Bundesliga.
It seems kicker and Bild have been enamored by the Frenchman's 4.7 dribbles per league game (the most prolific in Europe's elite leagues).
But, Gökhan Töre was persistently marked down for holding onto the ball last season, when he averaged 5.3 dribbles per game.
Also, Ribéry takes 7.4 shots per league goal, which is wasteful.
Andrés Iniesta has accumulated eight of his 14 assists as a left forward, but people still want him in midfield to combine with Xavi.
Remind me again, who scored the stoppage-time equaliser against Chelsea to send Barcelona into the UEFA Champions League final on away goals in the infamous Tom Henning Øvrebø game?
Who netted a 116th minute winner in extra time for Spain during the 2010 FIFA World Cup final vs. the Dutch?
Where was he placed in Michael Cox's Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament? On the left.
The closer Andrés is towards goal, the better.
Why wasn't he omitted then?
His versatility to morph into a second midfield maestro for Barça ensures a place on this list.
You're probably thinking: "but, why so low at No. 21?"
When Thiago has been given a fair opportunity, is there a substantial gap in quality in midfield between him and Iniesta? Nope.
Andrés does a job in midfield and people overrate it as if it's genius.
You know when he's a genius?
Cutting in from a wide position, dinking his way past much stronger and bigger defenders with his famed La Croqueta move and making key passes to Lionel Messi.
To think a few years ago, Toni Kroos was playing as a left winger in a 4-4-2 on loan at Bayer Leverkusen.
Toni has transformed into an elegant No. 10, who has built a foundation to become one of the premier playmakers in world football.
Now, he's out for an extended period with a groin tear (per Bundesliga.com).
Imagine how devastating it would be to his psyche if he never regained his starting position having waited so long for his opportunity.
Remember that he was never guaranteed to be a Bayern Munich star, with club president Uli Hoeness revealing he originally thought Kroos was an early-bloomer (from kicker via Livio Caferoglu at Goal.com):
For a long time I thought that he had no further potential and would not develop any more.
He has undergone a sensational development.
From a passing perspective, Kroos is superb at creating shots for his teammates, but surprisingly only has eight assists.
What he needs to work on is his calmness in front of goal.
His 44 percent shooting accuracy (18 percent lower than Arjen Robben) and his inefficient 8.8 shots per goal reveals a major problem whenever he's presented with a goal scoring opportunity.
Toni must be more fearless like a certain 20-year-old at Borussia Dortmund.
Considering this is Santi Cazorla's first season in the Premier League, he has made a smooth transition.
He leads Arsenal in Premier League goals (12) despite being a poor finisher (8.3 shots per goal).
Cazorla is a complete footballer, having the ability to win back the ball (something Juan Mata doesn't do) whilst also dictating the tempo of play.
Will it be a long-term problem for Santi when Jack Wilshere eventually inherits the No. 10 role?
Not at all.
Cazorla made his name at Villarreal and Málaga as a false winger.
Real Sociedad manager Philippe Montanier has his team playing in a swashbuckling manner.
Carlos Vela has been integral to Sociedad's success, scoring and creating the most league goals.
He has formed a dynamic triumvirate with Xabi Prieto and Antoine Griezmann.
Should Montanier's side qualify for the UEFA Champions League, will Carlos be in the team?
According to James Dickenson at Express.co.uk, Arsenal could activate a £4 million buy-back option in the Mexican international's contract.
The Gunners won't be integrating him back into the club, instead, they're likely to trigger an auction for Vela.
Last season, Marco Reus played behind Mike Hanke as Borussia Mönchengladbach's deep-lying forward.
Hanke often acted as the diversion whilst Reus went on a rampant scoring spree. In the span of five games, he accumulated eight league goals, and finished with 18 in the Bundesliga.
Since moving back to Borussia Dortmund, where he played as a junior, Reus has had some great performances as a wide attacking midfielder for BVB.
He came up big in the 3-2 win over Málaga and he also scored a hat trick vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, who at the time were just two points behind Dortmund.
It isn't just his goal scoring because Marco is one of the many playmakers in Jürgen Klopp's side.
One slight concern with Reus is his tendency to hit a wall and fail to bounce back immediately. For example, there was an odd six-game stretch where he had limited impact for Dortmund.
In February, Marek Hamsik was robbed at gun-point (via Paolo Bandini at The Guardian):
Someone stuck a pistol in his face.
Hamsik had been waiting in traffic on Via Cinthia, preparing to join the Tangenziale bypass, when a scooter carrying three masked men reportedly pulled alongside his BMW. One man smashed the driver's window, before aiming a gun at Hamsik and demanding his watch—a Rolex Daytona worth upwards of €10,000 (£8,600).
The player did as he was told and the scooter sped off.
For Hamsik, this was not the first time. In December 2008 he was the victim of a similar theft while Christmas shopping. Then his car was a Mini and his assailants were two instead of three but otherwise the incident was almost identical—right down to the brand of watch that was stolen.
Firstly, why don't Napoli have a security team for Hamsik? Secondly, he didn't score or create in the next four games for the club.
Marek has come into his own with some spectacular performances.
If Edinson Cavani leaves Napoli, will Hamsik follow suit?
Xavi spoke glowingly about Sergio Busquets' intuitive passing ability (from Sid Lowe at The Guardian):
Busquets [is] the best midfielder there is playing one-touch.
He doesn't need more. He controls, looks and passes in one touch.
Some need two or three and, given how fast the game is, that's too slow.
Sergio doesn't create the highlight reel assist, he makes the necessary pass.
Defensively, he has made a lot of progress and improvement since breaking into Barcelona's first XI.
However, he can still be lulled into low-percentage tackles like Xabi Alonso, hence why Busquets has nine yellow cards—which is a high amount when you consider that opposing La Liga teams only have 30.7 percent of possession per game.
To balance the debate, when played in the same midfield as Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, Sergio doesn't receive adequate defensive support, given that No. 6 and 8 combine to average an anaemic 1.5 tackles per game.
Who has been the superior player this season: Steven Gerrard or Yaya Touré?
If you say Yaya, you're either a) Ivorian b) part of the Yaya Touré fanclub c) haven't watched a single Liverpool game this season.
Gerrard has easily been the better player.
G = goal/s, SPG = shots per goal, A = assist/s; SCPG = shots created per game
Touré is 6'2" and built like a brick house—surely, he's a better ball-winner than Steven.
TPG = tackles per game, TPF = tackles per foul, TA% = tackling percentage, IPG = interceptions per game
Bayern Munich took Andrea Pirlo to the cleaners.
In the first leg, Andrea gave the ball away 30 percent of the time. It slightly improved to 22 in the second leg.
At least, Lille's midfield general Florent Balmont came out of the 6-1 loss to Bayern with some dignity intact.
We may live in a prisoner of the moment society but Pirlo has been vintage Pirlo for most of the season.
Two curveballs Jürgen Klopp has thrown this season: 1. playing Kevin Großkreutz as a full-back and 2. starting Ilkay Gündogan as a No. 10 vs. Greuther Fürth (scored a brace). Ilkay did play an advanced role for Nürnberg but found his calling as a pivot for Borussia Dortmund.
Not only has he exponentially improved his defensive positioning but he can create space and drag opposing players out with a smart dribble.
He's been crucial to BVB's UEFA Champions League run.
Morgan Schneiderlin is a world-class ball-winner.
He has won back the ball 260 times from 32 league games whilst only committing 1.9 fouls per game.
Southampton have tied him down till 2017 therefore enabling them to sell him at a premium should a club bid for the Frenchman's services.
One of the main reasons why Borussia Dortmund hasn't lost a UEFA Champions League game this season is Mario Götze.
He's more decisive, has a higher upside and is a substantially better dribbler than Toni Kroos.
What Mario needs to learn from Toni is to not force the pass.
Götze has 13 combined assists in Bundesliga/Champions League this season, which increases to 19 (per Transfermarkt.com), if you were to count assists via the standards set by EA SPORTS PPI.
BVB function more cohesively with Mario making the key passes, rather than Shinji Kagawa, who was more interested in trying to be Kunishige Kamamoto.
If Götze continues to develop at the rate he's going, he will seriously contend for the FIFA Ballon d'Or in a few years' time.
If we were to talk about pure ability, Thomas Müller shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as Franck Ribéry.
Yet, Franck has been a no-show in the UEFA Champions League, whereas Müller has been well, Müller-esque.
Like Gerd, underestimate Thomas at your peril.
How will he play as the No. 10?
His playing style won't be aesthetically pleasing like Toni Kroos but Thomas will cash in.
Juan Mata has spoon-fed Fernando Torres goals whilst picking up Oscar's workload whenever the Brazilian has played.
Eden Hazard has also disappeared on occasions throughout the season, leaving Mata to carry Chelsea throughout the game.
He is to the Blues what Gareth Bale is to Tottenham Hotspur.
Michael Carrick is one of the few players in European football that catches flack for playing the position correctly.
Meanwhile, Frank Lampard plays himself as an attacking midfielder when he's supposed to be a defensive midfielder (another inept decision from management) and the majority of Blues' supporters want him to receive a new contract.
In the Premier League, Michael has won back the ball 144 times in return for three yellow cards.
His ball-winning was even better in the UEFA Champions League (+1.1 increase in possession won per game) whilst his fouls per game was 0.6 lower.
Carrick has answered his critics (i.e., me) by upping his defensive work-rate.
You shouldn't hold on to what he didn't do in the past and you have to give credit when it's due.
What does a real captain look like? Riccardo Montolivo.
Need him to enforce, no problems, he'll put his boot in as Barcelona found out (he also leads the team in tackles per game).
Want him to control the tempo of the game, sure, pass it to him because he thrives in pressure situations.
He has taken his game to another level since moving to AC Milan.
It's rare to have a player like Blaise Matuidi whose offensive and defensive positional awareness is so high.
In addition to the dramatic late equaliser vs. Barcelona, he has netted winning goals against Troyes and Lyon.
Even though Blaise is a high volume ball-winner (3.4 tackles and 3.5 interceptions per league game), he has only picked up three yellow cards.
In Mousa Dembélé's last two Premier League games for Fulham, he completed 121 of 126 passes.
He makes 90.7 percent of his passes for Tottenham Hotspur whilst also being a threat off the dribble and a midfield destroyer.
Why does Mousa need to aspire to be Yaya Touré when the Belgian is already a better player?
Lead La Liga and UEFA Champions League in passes per game and pass completion percentage whilst playing through various injuries—challenge accepted.
If all of Xavi's passes were simple, his shots created per league game would be around 0.1-0.9, instead it's 1.3 (rises to 3.2 in the Champions League).
Burnout will be a major concern for the midfield maestro.
Arturo Vidal has Javi Fuego's tackling prowess, Park Ji-Sung's stamina and David Luiz's craziness.
Vidal's defensive output: 5.4 tackles per league game, 4.9 tackles per UEFA Champions League game, 1.4 interceptions per game and 2.2 interceptions per Champions League game.
Those are video game-like numbers.
The primary issue with Arturo is he lives and dies by his impulsiveness.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is a tactically perfect footballer, who can adapt to any situation.
With his positional discipline and midfield generalship, Javi Martínez is adapting quickly to the Bundesliga, whilst Luiz Gustavo looks a better player than he really is.
That is the beauty of Schweinsteiger, who is the heart and soul of this Bayern Munich juggernaut.