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European Soccer: Barcelona's Xavi and Iniesta and the Top 10 Midfield Duos

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIJune 8, 2011

European Soccer: Barcelona's Xavi and Iniesta and the Top 10 Midfield Duos

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 08:  Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona celebrates with team-mates David Villa and Andres Iniesta during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Barcelona and Arsenal at the Nou Camp Stadium on March 8, 2011 in Bar
    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    A team with two star midfielders like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta has a huge competitive advantage—they can dictate the terms of the game, leaving opponents at their mercy.

    Great strikers can score goals, and great defenders can stop them. But with no midfield, the strikers won't get the ball, and eventually one will get by the defense.

    Having two top midfield talents is a great asset to any team. But it's better to have two players who complement each other's skills so they do not take each other's role. That way, they can each play to their fullest potential. 

    Here are the top ten midfield tandems in club football.

10. Wolfsburg: Josué and Diego

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    MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 25: Tomas Necid (L) of CSKA Moscow competes for the ball with Josue of VfL Wolfsburg during the UEFA Champions League group B match between CSKA Moscow and VfL Wolfsburg at the Luzhniki Stadium on November 25, 2009 in Moscow, Rus
    Dima Korotayev/Getty Images

    Two single-named Brazilian midfielders, Josué and Diego, will be united as defensive midfielders in Wolfsburg for what we hope to be a fantastic season.

    Wolfsburg's recent success is one of the greatest cinderella stories in all of soccer. Two years after finishing 15th, the last spot that avoids relegation, for the second year in a row, the Wolves took the Bundesliga by storm and won the entire thing.  

    At the end of that season, Wolfsburg lost Bosnian midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic, who played a large role in their championship run. After a disappointing result the following season, the team decided it was time to properly replace their departed star, and so acquired Diego from Juventus.

    Diego's first year in Wolfsburg included several incidents with management, including one time when Diego took a free kick when he wasn't supposed to.

    He also simply left the team hotel when informed he would not start a critical relegation game last season, which left the team with only a six player bench. 

    Wolfsburg eventually won the game, finishing once again in the familiar 15th place.

    It would be great for soccer if Diego can get his act together and be the stout defensive midfielder he was brought in to be. He and Josué have real potential to bring the Wolves back into contention. 

9. Manchester United: Michael Carrick and Nani

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Nani of Manchester United celebrates scoring to make it 2-0 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on October 30, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by M
    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    As English icon Ryan Giggs' career is nearly at its end, it is up to Michael Carrick and Nani to continue the tradition of outstanding Manchester United midfielders.

    Nani plays a finesse game on the wing, using his superb ball-control skills and trickery to create space. He is prone to take the occasional shot from long range, but typically prefers crossing or passing into the box for assists.

    Carrick has had a tough time staying healthy for the Red Devils, but is a proven reliable center midfielder when on the pitch. He is considered one of the more skillful and creative distributors of the ball around the league.

    Nani and Carrick will have a lot riding on their shoulders this upcoming season as Manchester United hope to defend their Premier League title. They and all of Man-U's faithful hope to see many more extravagant celebrations like this one in the upcoming season.

8. Roma: Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro

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    UDINE, ITALY - APRIL 09:  Francesco Totti (C) of Roma celebrates with teams mates Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro  after scoring  his opening penalty goal  during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and AS Roma at Stadio Friuli on April 9, 2011 in
    Dino Panato/Getty Images

    David Pizarro and Daniele De Rossi are a fearsome combination in AS Roma's midfield.

    Pizarro, the Chilean native, played an integral role in Roma's success from his signing in 2006 until 2010, when Roma finished second to Inter in Serie A. 

    His production suffered last season due to a combination of age and a rift with new manager Claudio Ranieri, which included Pizarro being placed in the transfer window. By the end of the season the two had smoothed out the tension, and Pizarro returned to usual form.

    Daniele De Rossi has emerged as Italy's premier midfielder since their World Cup victory in 2006. He can pass, dribble and shoot with the best of them, and has truly come into himself as a leader for this Roma squad in the past couple years.

    Pizarro and De Rossi are a powerful and underrated force in Serie A. 

7. Manchester City: Gareth Barry and David Silva

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    LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  (L-R) Yaya Toure, Joleon Lescott, David Silva and Gareth Barry of Manchester City look dejected during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on April 11, 2011 in Liverpool, Engla
    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    The addition of David Silva to an already solid midfield led by Gareth Barry fueled Manchester City in their 2010-2011 campaign, which saw them finish third overall in the Premier League.

    Silva and Barry's styles nicely juxtapose, and complement each other very well.

    Gareth Barry is solid but unspectacular, playing good defense and making crisp passes as a center midfielder. He will score goals, but is mostly a dependable passer and defender in the middle of the field.

    David Silva, on the other hand, brings his Spanish flair with him to his attacking midfield role. With speed and touch, Silva is a much more exciting player to watch. He can cross or pass with ease, and added some dynamism to Man City this past year.

    With Yaya Toure also lining up beside this duo, Man City sports one of the top midfield units in the Premier League.

6. Real Madrid: Xabi Alonso and Kaká

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    MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 31:  Kaka (R) of Real Madrid stands with his teammate Xabi Alonso prior to taking a free kick during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Getafe at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 31, 2009 in Madrid, Spain. Real Madrid wo
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    A year ago, Xabi Alonso and Kaká where one of the deadliest combos around the world. But Kaká was injured for the majority of last season, which is why this duo has been dropped a little.

    Kaká was at one point considered one of the best players in the world. Most comfortable in an attacking role, he can score goals or be a playmaker equally well, but he prefers to put the ball in the net himself.

    Xabi Alonso has a cannon of a leg that he was not afraid to showcase during Spain's World Cup run in 2010. He is a great tackler and fabulous upfield or lateral  passer, which makes him an ideal defensive midfielder.

    Together, Alonso and Kaká will link up for many more Real Madrid goals in future seasons.

5. Inter: Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 29:  Wesley Sneijder of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates after the goal scored by Samuel Eto'o during the Tim Cup final between FC Internazionale Milano and US Citta di Palermo at Olimpico Stadium on May 29, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Pho
    Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

    Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder thrived in coaching legend José Mourinho's system, as they led Inter to Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League victories in the 2009-2010 season. 

    The team failed to win its fifth consecutive Italian Championship last year, coming in second to inter-city rival AC Milan.

    Sneijder, nicknamed "The Sniper," is renowned for his picture perfect passes and ridiculous shots from long range. He was named Champions League's best midfielder for his efforts in the 2009-2010 season, and continued his success last year with another impressive season as Inter's playmaker.

    Cambiasso is the unsung hero of the Inter side, playing a stalwart defensive midfield and controlling games with his passing. While Sneijder racks up official assists, Cambiasso is the true playmaker, making incisive passes with his unbelievable vision.

    Don't be surprised to see Sneijder and Cambiasso lead Inter right into the thick of the Champions League tournament again next season. 

4. Bayern Munich: Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry

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    BERNE, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 13: Arjen Robben of Netherlands challenges Franck Ribery of France during the UEFA EURO 2008 Group C match between Netherlands and France at Stade de Suisse Wankdorf on June 13, 2008 in Berne, Switzerland.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Ge
    Phil Cole/Getty Images

    Back in the Euro Cup 2008, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry played on different sides. During the club season though, they both suit up as Bayern Munich's wingers.

    Opposing defenses have to pick their poison with Robben on one side and Ribéry on the other.

    Anyone who saw the World Cup Final can agree that Robben can flat out run. As Unger from the 2005 remake of the classic film The Longest Yard would say, "He's so fast he makes fast guys look .... not fast!"

    After a stellar 2009-2010 season, Robben missed the first third of last season with a hamstring injury sustained during the World Cup. Once healthy, he returned to top form in no time, scoring 12 goals in his abbreviated season.

    Ribéry was acquired from Marseille back in 2007 for a then-club-record 25 million euros. Unfortunately, his time in Munich has been marred by injuries.

    When healthy though, Ribéry is a veritable assist machine. He contributed an assist or goal in five straight matches in the second half of last season—in four of those matches, he either scored or assisted every goal his side scored.

    A large percentage of Ribéry's assists are converted by speed-demon Arjen Robben.

    With Bastian Schweinsteiger playing center midfield, Bayren Munich makes a strong case for the strongest midfield trio in the world.

    But for now, they'll have to be satisfied with their number four ranking for duos.

3. Arsenal: Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 06:  Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal celebrates with team mate Samir Nasri after scoring during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates Stadium on March 6, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Arsenal's midfield combination, featuring Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, may be one of the more underrated ones in the world.

    Fabregas was not granted a starting spot for Spain in the World Cup, instead coming on as a regular late-game substitute. His limited playing time was not for lack of talent. Rather, Spain's style favored the talented Busquets, Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi as the starting midfielders.    

    Nasri was omitted entirely from the French national team.

    At his club however Fabregas is Arsenal's primary playmaker. He is often commended for his vision and creativity, as well as understanding of timing and space, which play a crucial role in Arsenal's complex passing attack.

    He is also responsible for most set-piece plays.

    Nasri is an exceptional athlete with great fundamentals and deceptive quickness. He is technically sound, with great feet and balance.

    Very versatile, Nasri can play anywhere in the midfield. He has admitted that the playmaker role as an attacking midfielder is his preference, but due to Arsenal's personnel he most often plays wing in the 4-3-3 formation.

    Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are two fantastic playmakers for Arsenal, and will put their team in a position to win every time they step onto the pitch.  

2. Chelsea: Frank Lampard and Michael Essien

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Frank Lampard (R) of Chelsea celebrates victory with Michael Essien after the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on March 1, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/G
    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Frank Lampard and Michael Essien on the same team gives every other EPL team nightmares.

    Lampard is a great handler who scores lots of goals as a midfielder, particularly from long range. He also is a terrific playmaker, threading beautiful passes to Chelsea's forwards Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

    Likewise, Essien has dribbling skills that make defenders look foolish. He is also a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch, and consistently places magnificent crosses in the box. 

    Didier Drogba receives a ton of publicity as a top striker, but he would be nowhere near as productive without the dynamic duo of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien behind him.

1. Barcelona: Xavi and Andrés Iniesta

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Andres Iniesta (L) of Barcelona runs past his teammate Xavi Hernandez after scoring his sides third goal during the la liga match between Barcelona and Racing Santander at the Camp Nou stadium on January 22, 2011 in Barcelo
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Xavi and Andrés Iniesta could go down as the most fearsome tandem in soccer history—they are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

    On defense, they are always right where they need to be to stop any potential threat before it even begins. 

    With the ball, they are like phantoms, darting and feinting every which way and somehow always ending up where they weren't supposed to be

    They exemplify Barcelona's suffocating style of play, controlling the ball and wearing down their opponents with their precise passes and probing runs.

    Their superior physical fitness and impeccable technique make them the model players for coaches around the world.

    Their intensity and love for the game make them the ideal teammates and leaders. 

    Both started for Spain's World Cup Champion squad—that they both play for the same club team is just plain unfair to the other clubs around Europe.

    They are the best midfield duo in the world.

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