Ranking the Top 20 Defensive Midfielders of the 2010-2011 Season

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentJune 29, 2011

Ranking the Top 20 Defensive Midfielders of the 2010-2011 Season

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    Having already published lists for the top 20 defenders, midfielders and forwards this season, I've decided to publish a list of the top 20 defensive midfielders this season. 

    To this end, I've used two simple guidelines:

    1) I've only selected defensive midfielders from the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A. Why? I've watched the large majority all four aforementioned leagues, so I can make balanced judgements.

    2) To ensure fairness and balance amongst the four leagues, I've included a quota of five players per league.

20. Luca Rigoni

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    • Club: Chievo
    • Age: 26
    • Nationality: Italian 

    When you watch Chievo, it’s natural to set aside Luca Rigoni’s efforts in midfield and notice star forward Sergio Pellissier. 

    By the time Pellissier wheels off in celebration, you probably would have forgotten it was Rigoni who forced the turnover or won the ball in midfield. 

    For the best part of two seasons, Rigoni has anchored the Chievo midfield to the extent that a modest club with a small budget like Chievo have escaped relegation, whilst a club like Sampdoria haven’t. 

19. Gary Medel

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    • Club: Sevilla
    • Age: 23
    • Nationality: Chilean 

    Former manager Gregorio Manzano perhaps made two of the most cost-effective signings during the January transfer window. 

    By signing Ivan Rakitić for €1.5 million and Gary Medel for €3 million, Sevilla looked a better side for the remainder of the season. 

    Whilst Rakitić quickly established himself as a fan favourite with his goals, Medel patrolled the midfield and was unabashed with cleaning up opposing players.

    Like Iván Córdoba, Medel isn’t an overtly dirty player, but sometimes, his tackling does border on dangerous. 

18. Cheik Tioté

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    • Club: Newcastle United
    • Age: 25
    • Nationality: Ivorian 

    Cheik Tioté has been a revelation at Tyneside. His tough tackling traits and seemingly smooth integration into the Newcastle line up should bring a smile to Ashley’s face. 

    Given Tioté is the prototypical player Ashley wants: cheap and efficient. 

    Tioté wears his heart on his sleeve, and his vigorous displays in midfield have allowed Joey Barton to demonstrate his abilities as a footballer. 

    Tioté’s style inevitably leads to disciplinary issues, and according to Opta, he is the second worst behaved player in the English Premier League behind Kevin Davies.

17. Eugen Polanski

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    • Club: Mainz 05
    • Age: 25
    • Nationality: German 

    Eugen Polanski has been a determined defensive midfielder for unfancied Mainz. 

    This season, Mainz has the second best defensive record in the Bundesliga, and Polanski was fundamental to that record. 

    He’s energetic, powerful, possesses good football IQ and distributes well—everything you want in a defensive midfielder. 

    That being said, he’s yet to break into the German national team and has flirted with the idea of playing for Poland.

16. Peer Kluge

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    • Club: Schalke
    • Age: 30
    • Nationality: German 

    This season, Peer Kluge has been Schalke’s third best player behind Manuel Neuer and Jefferson Farfán. 

    A tireless worker in midfield, Kluge has often put his body on the line for the team. 

    His enforcer style of play has seen him suffer thigh problems, a herniated disc, abductor muscle problems, a ligament strain and an abdominal muscle strain in the past few seasons. 

    This season, at various points of the campaign, Kluge has demonstrated some offensive ability in a Schalke side struggling to find the back of the net. 

15. Walter Gargano

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    • Club: Napoli
    • Age: 26
    • Nationality: Uruguayan 

    Danubio are a Uruguayan club who have produced gifted players like Álvaro Recoba, Edinson Cavani and Marcelo Zalayeta. 

    So one does wonder, when Napoli talent scouts were watching Danubio play, perhaps they were looking for a trequartista. 

    Well, they found a diminutive pitbull like midfielder in Walter Gargano. 

    What Gargano lacks in height, he compensates with an up-tempo in your face style of pressuring. 

    It’s his hard yards which allow the likes of Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamšík to blossom. 

    Gargano’s job security may come under threat if Napoli decide to sign Gökhan Inler. 

14. Mehmet Topal

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    • Club: Valencia
    • Age: 25
    • Nationality: Turkish 

    With over 300 appearances for Valencia and 51 games for Spain, David Albelda spent most of this season warming the benches as he watched Mehmet Topal sparkle for Los Che. 

    Manager Unai Emery made the brave decision to replace Albelda with Topal, which has proven to be the correct decision. 

    Topal’s situation is a conundrum. He’s not good enough to start for a Barcelona or a Real Madrid, yet at the same time, he’d be too good to play for a Levante or a Getafe. 

    So it seems Emery has found a gem of a player who potentially could play for a long time for Valencia, who, in the short term future, will be selling their most talented players in order to keep them afloat of their debt. 

13. Alex Song

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    • Club: Arsenal
    • Age: 23
    • Nationality: Cameroonian 

    Alex Song only cost £1 million, and he’s developed into a player who has the potential to become a world class defensive midfielder. 

    Yet during the season, it seemed Song craved a more attacking role. In a way, it was almost as if he was trying to tell Arsène Wenger that he can play as an attacking midfielder. 

    Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, given maybe Song wants to play in a role akin to Arturo Vidal at Bayer Leverkusen. 

    Vidal runs around often with disregard to his position, makes crunching tackles, bolts into both defensive and attacking halves and scores and creates. 

    Except Vidal has defensive cover in Simon Rolfes, whereas Song is the defensive cover for Arsenal. 

    Song has to understand that he bolts up forward when Arsenal turn over possession. When the opposing team cuts straight through the middle and exposes someone as clumsy as Laurent Koscielny—whose fault is it? 

    Song needs to exercise more positional awareness, he needs to improve his football IQ and most importantly, he needs to understand the role of a defensive midfielder. 

    He has all the traits to become a world class defensive midfielder, except at times, he doesn’t seem to want to play the position. 

12. Simon Rolfes

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    • Club: Bayer Leverkusen
    • Age: 29
    • Nationality: German 

    It’s unfortunate a player of Simon Rolfes’ quality has played sparingly for Germany. 

    This season, he’s anchored the midfield very well, as all action Chilean Arturo Vidal attempted to play defence, midfield and attack. 

    Standing at 1.90m tall, Rolfes adds presence in midfield, and coupled with good passing, he’s been a  quality player for quite some time. 

    The only problem for him is his knee—will it hold up? 

    He also needs to watch his back, as Lars Bender is hungry to replace him in the same fashion his brother Sven Bender did with replacing Borussia Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl.

11. Sami Khedira

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    • Club: Real Madrid
    • Age: 24
    • Nationality: German 

    When Sami Khedira arrived at the Bernabéu, Los Blancos fans would have been forgiven for expecting box-to box action from Khedira. 

    Well they were disappointed, as Khedira fulfilled what manager José Mourinho wanted—the Makélelé role.

    Khedira has been very unspectacular in his role, as was Claude Makélelé, but you just wonder with someone as talented as Khedira, surely he could play a less restrictive role. 

    Alongside one of the best passers in the game, Khedira has complimented Xabi Alonso quite well. As Alonso darts precision passes, Khedira has been mopping up in midfield. 

    With the acquisition of Nuri Şahin, I’m wondering what Mourinho intends to do with Khedira.

10. Felipe Melo

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    • Club: Juventus
    • Age: 28
    • Nationality: Brazilian 

    Winner of the 2009 Bidone d'oro award (worst player in Serie A), being labelled a waste of money by legendary manager Arrigo Sacchi, made a scapegoat for Juventus and Brazil’s failures—it’s been a torrid two years for Felipe Melo. 

    2011 didn’t start well for Melo, already having to deal with the recurring footage of his stamp on Arjen Robben the previous year, Melo kicked Massimo Paci straight in the face—Juventus would lose 4-1 having played with 10 men for the last 75 or so minutes. 

    Yet under manager Luigi Delneri, Melo began to show signs of improvement. He began to assert his influence in midfield, he began to look like the midfielder Juventus wanted so badly that they paid €25 million. 

    Perhaps it’s somewhat ironic that Melo played his best football when Juventus were playing their worse football. 

    Delneri is no longer the manager, as he was sacked, so what will happen with Melo now? 

9. Bruno

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    • Club: Villarreal
    • Age: 27
    • Nationality: Spanish 

    Manager Juan Carlos Garrido has implemented a strategy where Bruno’s role is integral to the success of Villarreal. 

    It’s his defensive covering and positional awareness which allows him to win possession and offload it to Borja Valero, who then orchestrates the Yellow Submarine’s attacks. 

    With Marcos Senna’s days at Villarreal heading to an end, Bruno looks to be a mainstay of the Villarreal midfield for seasons to come. 

8. Lucas

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    • Club: Liverpool 
    • Age: 24
    • Nationality: Brazilian

    I never was a fan of Lucas, I just couldn’t understand how a Brazilian’s technique was so ordinary. As he struggled in his first few seasons at Liverpool, I heaped on the criticism. 

    Yet this season has been different. As Liverpool struggled, Lucas stepped up and tried his heart out for the team. 

    According to Opta, he’s made the most successful tackles in the English Premier League with 172 tackles, 31 more than David Vaughan in second. 

    It’s not just winning tackles in midfield. He rarely gives away possession, and he knows his role inside out.

    He understands the role of a defensive midfielder and has played the role to great affect this season, so much so that he has to be Liverpool’s best player throughout the entire season. 

    That being said, I still think he’s expendable, but age is on his side. 

    The problem for Lucas is can he sustain this type of rigorous all out display week in, week out for the rest of his Liverpool career?

7. Luiz Gustavo

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    • Club: Bayern Munich     
    • Age: 23
    • Nationality: Brazilian 

    This season, Luiz Gustavo started 50 percent of his games as a defensive midfielder, 29 percent as a centre back and 21 percent as a left back. 

    He impressed at Hoffenheim as a defensive midfielder so much so that Bayern Munich bought him presumably to replace Mark van Bommel.

    Though in retrospect, it seems they bought Gustavo as a defender, even though his best games for Hoffenheim were as a defensive midfielder. 

    To just gauge how much of an impact Gustavo had, upon hearing Gustavo had been sold to Bayern Munich, then Hoffenheim manager Ralf Rangnick quit. 

    In my opinion, Gustavo offers a more complete game than Anatoliy Tymoshchuk as a defensive midfielder, but Tymoshchuk is solid and hasn’t done anything wrong to warrant being replaced. 

    So Gustavo played as a centre back for Bayern Munich towards the end of the season and impressed. 

    Amazingly, he’s yet to represent Brazil. 

6. Sven Bender

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    • Club: Borussia Dortmund                             
    • Age: 22
    • Nationality: German

    A pure defensive midfielder, Sven Bender has capitalised on Sebastian Kehl’s injury woes and made the defensive midfield position his own. 

    Bender’s tenacious efforts in midfield, combined with maturity and positional awareness beyond his years, have helped him seemingly become one of the most important players under manager Jürgen Klopp. 

    The question for Klopp is what happens with Kehl? 

    Does Klopp play Kehl in the starting 11 because he is the captain? Or does he continue to play Bender on merit? 

5. Esteban Cambiasso

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    • Club: Inter Milan             
    • Age: 30
    • Nationality: Argentinean 

    Former Inter Milan manager José Mourinho once discussed the value of having a fast thinker in Esteban Cambiasso on the pitch. 

    This season, he hasn’t played as well as he did under Mourinho’s treble winning season, but he’s still been excellent. 

    For the past decade or so, Cambiasso has been up there year in, year out as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. 

    Seemingly, he’ll continue to play season after season for the Nerazzurri, which can only be a good thing. 

4. Gökhan Inler

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    • Club: Udinese   
    • Age: 27
    • Nationality: Swiss 

    Gökhan Inler is the cog of Udinese, as he’s the one that holds manager Francesco Guidolin 3-5-2 formation together.

    Inler is very active in midfield, determined and does the little things which go unnoticed that lead to the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Antonio Di Natale scoring. 

    Without doubt, Inler has been the best defensive midfielder in the Serie A this season. 

    With the rumours of Napoli signing Inler and Sánchez leaving for Barcelona or Manchester City, Guidolin will have a lot to contemplate over the summer.  

3. Sergio Busquets

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    • Club: Barcelona                
    • Age: 22
    • Nationality: Spanish        

    Outside of Barcelona, Sergio Busquets is perhaps the most hated player in world football.

    His theatrics and flagrant disregard for fair play has ruined his reputation as a footballer.

    That being said, is he a holding midfielder or a defensive midfielder? 

    Sometimes he offers no defence at all, yet other times, like against a physical Athletic Bilbao side this season, he was launching into tackles and making interceptions. 

    Though I’m still a bit sceptical of his true defensive abilities, because he lacks pace, he’s not that mobile, and he doesn’t display enough steel in midfield.

    For me, Barcelona need a fighter in midfield to protect Xavi, not a diver.   

    If Barcelona signs Cesc Fàbregas, Busquets will most likely lose his midfield position. 

2. Nigel De Jong

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    • Club: Manchester City 
    • Age: 26
    • Nationality: Dutch            

    Nigel de Jong’s reputation has been sullied by several reprehensible tackles—Xabi Alonso, Hatem Ben Arfa and Stuart Holden can testify. 

    Yet to label de Jong simply a hack would be a disservice to his abilities as a footballer. 

    Yes enforcing is one of his roles, but not his only role, which seemingly many detractors think. 

    Consider his leadership, consider his distribution ability, consider his positional awareness and consider he is to Manchester City to what Claude Makélélé was to Real Madrid. 

    Unlike Alex Song, de Jong always protects his defenders. 

    I hope Ben Arfa is de Jong’s last victim, because it’s getting to a point now where there are now at least three high profiled injuries caused by de Jong. 

    As Manchester City begin their ascent into Europe’s elite, like his teammate Vincent Kompany, de Jong will be noticed as one of the world’s best footballers—providing he doesn’t injure anymore players. 

1. Scott Parker

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    • Club: West Ham United
    • Age: 30
    • Nationality: England 

    Maybe the plight of West Ham United allowed Scott Parker to have such a wonderful season. 

    It just amazed me how he’d literally put everything on the line for a club seemingly destined for relegation. 

    He could have sulked, he could have started talks with other clubs, but like a true professional, he attempted to do everything he could to help West Ham United stay in the English Premier League. 

    According to Opta, he completed the highest percentage of successful tackles at 77 percent, then factor in his seemingly ceaseless running, pressuring, defensive covering and most importantly keeping the West Ham United dressing room intact—you get the best defensive midfielder this season. 

    Surely Arsène Wenger must sign him.


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