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