Who is the best defensive midfielder in the world?
Is he Italian? Spanish? Dutch? Cameroonian?
There is always great interest and discussion about declaring the top players at their respective positions. Whether ranking goalkeepers or strikers, the world wants to know who is the best.
Although there are many lists ranking the top players, the criteria often changes and creates major controversy.
Reputation, past performance, injuries and current form have all been determining factors in player rankings.
This list is the fifth of an entire series. From goalkeepers to managers, it will rank the top 10 men at their positions.
Players will be ranked by their abilities and contributions on the pitch, not by their team's performance. For example, Barcelona's Victor Valdés rarely lets in goals for the European and Spanish champions. Despite his impressive record, he finds himself behind Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina in Spain's pecking order. His individual abilities and displays do not warrant a top-five spot on the goalkeeper list.
Players will not be judged by their special games or memorable moments, but by their consistent level of top form. For example, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney will be ranked according to his form over the latter stages of 2011's campaign. He will not be judged by his terrible form post-injury, which carried into the beginning of this season.
Injuries will have no impact on the list. For example, Arsenal's Robin van Persie will be ranked according to his performances for the Gunners this season. He has been plagued by injuries in recent years, but he will be judged by his level of play when fit.
Note: Players who have just retired, such as Edwin Van der Sar and Paul Scholes, will not be included in this series.
This is the fifth installment of a series of football power rankings.
Here are the top 10 defensive midfielders in the world.
John Obi Mikel - Chelsea
Thiago Motta - Internazionale
Mark van Bommel - AC Milan
Sami Khedira - Real Madrid
Jérémy Toulalan - Málaga
Javi Martínez - Athletic Bilbao
Javier Zanetti - Internazionale
Alou Diarra - Marseille
Éver Banega - Valencia
Lucas Leiva - Liverpool
Name: Felipe Melo
International Caps: 24
Before his move to Juventus, Melo was touted as one of Europe's best defensive midfielders. Although the Brazilian had a poor start to his career in Turin, he has recovered the form that saw him leave Fiorentina for a €25 million transfer fee. Melo has lost his place in the Brazil national team, but he is still a top-quality midfield enforcer.
The Brazilian has all the physical attributes to be amongst the best players at the position. Melo is arguably the most athletic defensive midfielder in Europe. He brings power, pace, agility and endurance to the midfield. The Juventus No. 4 has unmatched energy, as he provides endless running in the middle of the pitch.
In addition to his athleticism, Melo boasts solid defensive qualities. The Brazilian is strong and committed in the tackle, rarely pulling out of 50-50 challenges.
The tough-tackling Brazilian shows great determination to win back possession. Melo uses his quickness to make key interceptions and break up opposition play. He has a tireless defensive work-rate, relentlessly closing down and hounding opponents. The Brazilian has good tackling technique to complement his combative nature, making him a true ball-winning midfielder.
With his determined, tough-tackling and athletic style of play, Melo is a true enforcer. The Brazilian is a dynamic player, and one of the top defensive midfielders in football.
Melo has all the tools to challenge for a top five place in the rankings. When at his best, the Brazilian can be a solid distributor and world-class shield protecting the backline. However, the Juventus midfielder falls to No. 10 due to his inconsistency and temperament.
The Brazilian has emerged as one of the premier athletes in Europe. His agility, power and energy sets him apart from typical midfielders. Melo's tough-tackling and hard-working style of play perfectly fits his role as a defensive midfielder. The natural ball-winner has an outstanding defensive work-rate, making crucial interceptions and dispossessing opponents.
Although Melo has the defensive abilities of a world-class holding midfielder, he lacks the consistency and discipline to climb higher in the rankings. The combative midfielder can deliver unbelievable performances in the heart of midfield, but fails to do so on a regular basis. He can suffer serious dips in form, which cause him to lose concentration and make poor decisions.
The Brazilian's temperament has also been an issue over the past two years. Melo can let his emotions get the best of him, which occasionally leads to terrible and mistimed challenges.
The Juventus midfielder climbs above the likes of Mikel and Motta with his improved form this past season and dynamic presence in midfield. When at his best, Melo can be one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. With his strength, quickness and energy, the Brazilian can cope with any opponent.
Although Melo received heavy criticism for a poor 2009-10 campaign, he returned to some of his best form last season. The combative midfielder has regained his confidence and earned the No. 10 spot on the list.
Name: Lassana Diarra
Club: Real Madrid
International Caps: 28
Diarra has struggled to cement a regular place in Real Madrid's starting 11, but he is still a top-quality defensive midfielder. The Frenchman has played for a number of Europe's elite clubs, gaining invaluable experience competing against world-class opposition. At 26 years of age, Diarra has entered the prime footballing years of his career, and looks set to become one of Europe's top holding midfielders.
Although small in stature, the Madrid midfielder plays a physical, tough-tackling style of football. Diarra shows good strength in the tackle, using his low center of gravity to shrug opponents off the ball. The Frenchman's quickness and relentless defending have become hallmarks of his game.
Diarra closes down opponents with great pace, applying high pressure on the ball at all times. The Madrid midfielder hounds players on the ball, using his agility to smother them when in possession. The Frenchman rarely gives opposing midfielders the luxury of time and space on the ball. Diarra's exceptional work-rate and endurance allows him to play with such high energy for the full 90 minutes.
The Madrid midfielder has emerged as an outstanding tackler on his feet. While he can win the ball with a sliding tackle, Diarra is more effective with the standing challenge. In addition to his tackling ability, the Frenchman has good positional awareness.
While he does not feature as a starter for Madrid, individually, Diarra has the skill-set and mentality of a top-quality defensive midfielder.
The Madrid midfielder has developed into one of the best ball-winning enforcers in football. Diarra claims the No. 9 spot with his quickness, tireless defending and combative style of play.
The Frenchman is arguably the quickest defensive midfielder in the world, closing down and applying high pressure on opponents. Diarra's impressive stamina allows him to cover every blade of grass on the pitch. He gives opponents no time on the ball, and shows great tenacity in the challenge. With his exceptional defensive work-rate, the Frenchman has become an all-action enforcer.
Although Diarra has solid natural defensive instincts, he lacks the skill to move higher in the rankings. The Madrid midfielder's poor first-touch and range of passing keeps him from climbing the list.
The Frenchman moves above Mikel and Melo with his physical attributes and high-energy style of play. Diarra does not have the passing skill of the Nigerian, but the Madrid midfielder is more effective in the tackle with his agility and tenacity. Melo could easily challenge for a higher spot, but the Frenchman edges out the Juventus midfielder with his consistency, relentless closing down of opponents and outstanding marking in the middle of the pitch.
Diarra may be a surprise inclusion at the No. 9 spot due to his current playing situation for both club and country. However, the Frenchman has clearly emerged one of the top defensive midfielders in football.
Name: Nigel de Jong
Club: Manchester City
International Caps: 54
City's first-choice defensive midfielder has undoubtedly become one of the best players at his position. De Jong's importance to both club and country cannot be understated. The Dutchman has developed into an elite midfield enforcer, shielding and protecting the backline.
De Jong's combative and tireless style of play perfectly suits his defensive role in midfield. The City star boasts exceptional tenacity and determination. He relentlessly closes down opponents, constantly putting high pressure on the ball. The Dutchman's outstanding work-rate and engine make him an ideal midfield enforcer.
The City star's positioning and tackling technique distinguish him as a world-class defensive midfielder. De Jong rarely ventures forward, playing as a natural shield in front of the back-four. He has great anticipation, and reads the game well. The Dutchman has good awareness and consistently puts himself in great defensive positions.
De Jong shows commitment and strength in the tackle, making vital last-ditch challenges in the heart of midfield. The Dutchman has one of the best sliding tackles in Europe. His ability to dispossess opponents and break up opposition play defines him as a true ball-winning midfielder.
While de Jong may not be the most skillful player in football, the City enforcer has solidified his place amongst the world's best defensive midfielders.
The Dutchman has entered the prime years of his footballing career, and developed into one of the best midfield enforcers in England. De Jong earns the No. 8 spot with his tenacity and tackling ability.
The City star has emerged as one of the fiercest competitors in football, showing unmatched determination to win back possession. De Jong's tireless defending and tackling have become trademarks of his game. The Dutchman's defensive qualities and positional awareness make him an ideal shield protecting the backline.
Although de Jong has all the tools of a world-class ball-winning midfielder, he lacks the discipline and passing ability to climb higher in the rankings. The City star's commitment occasional leads to horrific tackles, such as the challenge that left Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa with a double-leg break. While the Dutchman has a surprisingly soft touch on the ball, he does not have the distribution skills of the other midfielders on the list.
De Jong moves above Melo and Diarra with his impressive level of form, tackling and natural defensive instincts. Although the aforementioned players show similar tenacity and strength in the challenge, the City midfielder has been in exceptional form over the past two years. His awareness and sliding tackle make him one of the most reliable, and consistent enforcers in Europe.
Although de Jong committed a few horrendous fouls in the 2010 calendar year, he is still a world-class defensive midfielder and deserving of the No. 8 ranking.
Name: Alexandre Song
International Caps: 24
After two stellar seasons for Arsenal, the Cameroonian international has emerged as one of the best young defensive midfielders in world football. Song has been a key figure for the Gunners since 2009, staking his claim in the first-choice starting 11. By playing alongside creative central midfielders like Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, the Cameroonian can focus on his defensive duties as the team's midfield enforcer.
Song is a natural ball-winning midfielder. He is an imposing presence in the heart of midfield, using his size and strength to protect the backline. The Cameroonian consistently breaks up opposition play, showing grit and defensive tenacity. Song does not have blistering pace, but he closes down the space well and uses his length to make key interceptions.
The Arsenal midfielder's physicality has been instrumental towards his success as the Gunners' defensive midfielder. His engine and hard-working mentality provides an excellent balance to Arsenal's attacking and possession-based style of play.
Although he does not play a creative role in the squad, the Cameroonian is comfortable in possession. The Arsenal midfielder connects the vast majority of his passes with his simple approach. Song prefers to play the short and square pass, keeping possession for the team.
Standing at 6ft with a good leap, Song has become an aerial threat for the Gunners as well. He can mark tall players when defending corners, and challenge to win headers from set-pieces.
The Cameroonian is still refining his defensive abilities, but he has clearly developed into one of the top defensive midfielders in football.
Song has been in exceptional form for the past two seasons, emerging as one of Arsenal's key first-team players. The Cameroonian claims the No. 7 spot with his commanding presence in midfield, defensive ability and simple passing style.
The Arsenal midfielder uses his physical strength and long sliding tackle to shield the backline. He excels at disrupting the opposition's attacking rhythm and winning back possession. Song has become the ball-winning midfielder for the Gunners, making key interceptions and launching counters.
The Cameroonian does not make the intricate through-ball or perfectly-weighted pass, but his contribution to the team's possession play cannot be understated. He consistently makes the right decision, relieving pressure and finding the simple pass.
Although Song has a good balance of defensive tenacity and composure, he lacks the polished defensive abilities and skill on the ball of the players ranked above him. The Cameroonian's poor positional awareness, persistent fouling and narrow range of passing keep him from moving higher on the list.
Song climbs above Diarra and de Jong with his physical presence in midfield, aerial strength and passing ability. The Arsenal midfielder may not have the quickness or precision tackling of the aforementioned players, but he uses his length well to break up opposition play. In addition to his accomplished defensive qualities, Song provides a solid aerial presence. The Cameroonian keeps possession well, seeking out a teammate and connecting his passes.
The Arsenal midfielder still needs to improve his tackling timing and positional awareness. However, he is undoubtedly one of the best midfield enforcers in Europe.
Name: Sergio Busquets
International Caps: 30
Barcelona's first-choice defensive midfielder has endured a meteoric rise for both club and country. Still only 22 years of age, the Spaniard has already won the World Cup and two Champions League titles. Although he does not receive the praise of Xavi or Iniesta, Busquets is an instrumental figure for Barcelona and Spain.
The World Cup winner is one of the most simple and effective holding midfielders in Europe. Busquets does not aim for the killer through-ball or cross-field diagonal. Instead, the Spaniard focuses on playing the simple pass. For both club and country, he plays short passes to the more creative players in the squad.
Although he does not have an exceptional range of passing, Busquets is arguably the best one-touch passer in football. The Spaniard is able to relieve pressure and find the simple pass with a single touch on the ball. His ability to play the ball quickly has been key to Barcelona's tiki-taka style of play. Xavi and Iniesta are able to play wall-passes off the holding midfielder, with confidence that they will receive a crisp return pass.
In addition to his composure on the ball, the Spaniard has outstanding natural defensive instincts. Busquets reads the game as well as any holding midfielder. The Barcelona star has great anticipation, which allows him to extinguish danger in its early stages. Busquets has a great defensive work-rate and drive to dispossess opposing players.
Standing at roughly 6'2'' with a good leap, Busquets can also fill in at centre-back. Although he is the first-choice holding midfielder for Barcelona, the Spaniard frequently drops to the backline when the team is in possession. His strength and aerial ability give the European champions a solid makeshift back-three.
Busquets may not be the athletic, dynamic enforcer, but he is undoubtedly one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
Arguably the most surprising ranking on the list, the Spanish World Cup winner falls short of the top five. With the rankings based on the individual player, Busquets must be evaluated separate of his team. The Spaniard lands at No. 6 due to his poor tackling and lack of pace.
Busquets is clearly amongst the best players at his position. The Spaniard's one-touch passing and composure on the ball distinguishes him as a world-class talent. His reading of the game and anticipation make him an elite defensive midfielder. The Barcelona star consistently breaks up opposition play, and makes the simple and effective short pass.
Although the Spaniard plays for one of the greatest teams in club football history, that does not automatically make him one of the world's best defensive midfielders. Individually, Busquets lacks the tackling timing and pace to break into the top five.
He is an exceptionally talented and effective holding midfielder, but mistimed challenges and poor speed keep him from moving higher in the rankings. Without Barcelona's passing style of play, and the likes of Xavi and Iniesta to keep possession in the midfield, Busquets goes from a top three defensive midfielder to the No. 6 player on the list.
Busquets moves above de Jong and Song with his exceptional reading of the game and outstanding contribution to the possession play. The Spaniard may not have the defensive prowess of the City star, but the World Cup winner is composed on the ball and comfortable in possession. Song plays a similar shielding role, playing short passes to more creative players. However, Busquets has better anticipation, distribution and one-touch passing.
The Barcelona star has the potential to claim the No. 1 spot in the next few years. Although he still has some areas that need improvement, Busquets is an elite, world-class holding midfielder.
Name: Esteban Cambiasso
International Caps: 52
The Argentine had another solid season for Inter, solidifying his place amongst the world's best defensive midfielders. After Inter's treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho, Cambiasso finally received the praise he deserves. The midfielder has been a model of consistency for both club and country, as evident by his Argentine-record 23 titles.
As one of the most intelligent players in football, Cambiasso has emerged as a unique world-class talent in the defensive midfield position. Unlike holding midfielders that rely on strength and athleticism, the Inter star uses his positional sense and awareness to protect the backline. Cambiasso reads the game well, anticipating danger and making vital interceptions.
In addition to his polished defensive qualities, the Inter star boasts good passing skills and composure on the ball. Cambiasso rarely plays a poor ball, completing the majority of his passes. The Argentine can spread the play and distribute from deeper positions, making him a dynamic defensive midfielder. With his excellent technique, touch and accurate passing, Cambiasso can dictate play, drive the team forward and find the back of the net.
Although Cambiasso is not the typical or ideal midfield enforcer, he has undoubtedly been one of the best players at his position over the past few years. The Inter star's unique balance of intelligence and skill sets him apart from the majority of defensive midfielders. He may not be the most physical or vocal midfielder, but Cambiasso is undoubtedly a world-class player.
Although the Argentine might be a surprise inclusion this high on the list, he is more than deserving of a place in the top five. Cambiasso has long been one of the most underrated holding midfielders in Europe. The Inter star claims the No. 5 spot with his intelligence, distribution and consistency.
Cambiasso's reading of the game and positional sense distinguish him as a world-class defensive midfielder. The Argentine not only makes key interceptions and disrupts opposition play, but he has the skill to launch the counter-attack as well. The Inter midfielder uses his intelligence to win the ball, but has the composure and passing ability to keep possession as well. Cambiasso's 23 titles are testament to his outstanding consistency and level of top form.
The Inter star has the tools, resume and good form to challenge for a spot in the top four. However, Cambiasso's lack of tenacity and pace keep him from climbing higher in the list. Although the Argentine's awareness and anticipation cover for his loss of speed, the 30 year old can be still exposed in 1 vs. 1 situations against quicker players.
Cambiasso climbs above Song and Busquets with his polished defensive qualities and contributions on both sides of the ball. The Argentine edges out the Arsenal enforcer due to his intelligence, positioning and skill on the ball.
Although Busquets has a better touch on the ball and also reads the game well, Cambiasso's tackling technique, ability to drive the team forward, and contribution of five-to-six goals per season move him above the Barcelona star.
Cambiasso may be the oldest player on this list, but the Inter star is an elite defensive midfielder and deserving his No. 5 ranking.
Name: Javier Mascherano
International Caps: 71
The current Argentina national team captain is arguably the best ball-winning defensive midfielder in football. Mascherano excelled in the physical EPL with Liverpool, and has brought his combative style of play to Barcelona.
Although the Argentine does not feature in the club's first-choice starting 11, his ability to fill in at centre-back was key towards the end of last campaign.
Mascherano does not have the skill or flair of his Barcelona teammates, but he is undoubtedly a world-class player at his position. Messi and Iniesta may receive more praise from the media and supporters, but the former Liverpool star is an equally important figure in the heart of midfield.
The Argentine captain's impressive defensive qualities make him as an elite holding midfielder. Mascherano boasts outstanding tenacity and determination. The Barcelona midfielder is relentless when marking opponents, closing down space and constantly hounding them when in possession.
Mascherano's fierce, competitive nature makes him an ideal defensive midfielder. The Argentine captain never gives up on the play, tracking back and making last-ditch challenges. Mascherano's tireless work-rate and engine have become hallmarks of his tenacious style of play.
The Barcelona midfielder is strong and tough in the tackle, showing unmatched commitment. Mascherano breaks up opposition play, and wins the majority of 50-50 challenges. The Argentine captain has exceptional tackling technique, both on his feet and with the sliding tackle. Mascherano's combative mentality and defensive abilities distinguish him as a world-class ball-winner in midfield.
Although the Argentine has become known for his fierce tackling, he has good distribution skills as well. Mascherano does not have the most expansive passing range, but he is effective playing short and simple passes. The Argentine captain has good vision for an enforcing midfielder, finding passing lanes and spreading the play. Mascherano is not a deep-lying playmaker, but he is accurate with his passing.
In addition to his physical attributes and abilities, the Argentine has emerged as a true leader. With his tireless displays in midfield, Mascherano provides inspiration for both club and country.
The Barcelona midfielder has physical tools and defensive prowess of a top-quality holding midfielder. However, Mascherano's leadership qualities and intangibles make him one of the best defensive midfielders in football.
Although the Argentine captain is not the first-choice defensive midfielder for Barcelona, he is an elite player at the position. Mascherano lands at No. 4 due to his tenacity, tackling ability and intangibles.
The Barcelona midfielder is arguably the fiercest competitor in football. The Argentine captain's determination to break up opposition play and win back possession sets him apart from the majority of defensive midfielders. Mascherano hounds opponents and makes vital challenges with his impressive tackling technique and timing. The combative midfielder has all the qualities of a great captain and inspirational leader on the pitch.
In terms of defensive ability, Mascherano could be the No. 1 player on this list. The Argentine has the skill-set and mentality to challenge for a top three spot in the rankings. However, the midfielders ahead of him have more influence over the team's attacking play. Their contributions to the team, and Mascherano's temperament, keep the Argentine captain from moving higher in the rankings.
Mascherano climbs above Busquets and Cambiasso with his outstanding defensive play and leadership. The aforementioned players have more touch and skill on the ball, but Mascherano is clearly the more accomplished defensive player. The Argentine is an elite ball-winning midfielder and outstanding captain for Argentina.
The Barcelona midfielder may not be the automatic first-team starter he was at Liverpool, but he is one of the best defensive midfielders in football and deserving of the No. 4 ranking.
Name: Daniele De Rossi
International Caps: 63
De Rossi is arguably the most underrated defensive midfielder in world football. The Italian international's unique combination of physical attributes and technical ability makes him a dynamic force in the heart of midfield. De Rossi's outstanding skill and invaluable intangibles distinguish him as an elite defensive midfielder.
The 2009 Italian Footballer of the Year has all the tools of a complete defensive midfielder. De Rossi shows good strength and determination in the tackle, making key interceptions and breaking up opposition play. The Roma icon boasts an exceptional sliding tackle, which is among the best in Europe. In addition, the talismanic midfielder reads the game well and sticks tight to his markers.
De Rossi's work-rate and energy have been key to his success as a holding midfielder. The Roma vice-captain is hard-working off the ball, tracking back defensively and closing down opponents. The Italian international has emerged as a commanding midfield presence with his tenacious and combative style of play.
The Roma icon shows a willingness to get forward into the attack as well. De Rossi supports the play and makes late runs into the box. He possesses one of the best long-range shots in Europe, which makes him a serious threat from outside the box. The Italian's tireless running drives the team forward, making him an ideal box-to-box defensive midfielder.
In addition to his natural defensive qualities, the talismanic midfielder has outstanding passing ability and vision. The Italian can dictate play from midfield, spreading the ball and orchestrating the attack. De Rossi can play one and two-touch football in the middle, or hit the long cross-field diagonal.
The Roma vice-captain can pass with both feet, which allows him to keep the passing rhythm and find better passing angles. De Rossi has the tough-tackling mentality of a midfield enforcer, but he has the vision of a deep-lying pass-master as well. The talsimanic midfielder has an eye for the pass, and the ability to find a killer through-ball with either foot.
De Rossi has emerged as one of the best natural leaders in Europe. The Italian earned the nickname "Capitan Futuro" with his tough-tackling, spirited and inspirational displays in the heart of midfield. The talismanic midfielder exudes all the qualities of a true captain.
The Roma vice-captain and Italian international has a unique balance of technical skill and defensive ability. De Rossi is a gifted midfield dynamo, and one of the best defensive midfielders in football.
One of the more surprising rankings on the list, the Roma icon has earned a place in the top three. De Rossi has been an elite player in Serie A for nearly half a decade, and become an underrated star for both club and country.
The Italian international earns the No. 3 ranking with his expansive skill-set and contributions on both sides of the ball. De Rossi is a dynamic defensive midfielder, combining skill and passing ability with defensive tenacity and tackling technique. The Roma icon has developed into an elite box-to-box midfielder and inspirational leader.
At 27 years of age, De Rossi is in the prime years of his footballing career. Individually, the talismanic midfielder is the most complete player on this list. The Italian has the tools and intangibles to challenge for the top spot in the rankings. Although injuries kept him from reaching peak form last year, De Rossi's consistent level of top form has been sensational over the past few years. The Roma icon could easily move higher in the rankings, but the top two players are exceptionally talented and deserving of their spots.
The Roma vice-captain climbs above Cambiasso and Mascherano with his well-balanced style of play. The Inter midfielder has great technical skill, but De Rossi brings more defensive tenacity and better tackling technique to the midfield. Mascherano may be more accomplished defensively, but he lacks the Italian's skill on the ball and attacking contribution. Although the Argentine captain distributes well and connects his passes, De Rossi can dictate tempo, spread the play with both feet and find the killer through-ball.
The Italian international does not have the extensive resume as other players on the list. However, the Roma vice-captain has earned his place as one of the top three defensive midfielders in world football.
Name: Xabi Alonso
Club: Real Madrid
International Caps: 86
The Spanish World Cup winner is undoubtedly the most technically gifted defensive midfielder in football. Alonso was a star performer and fan favorite at English club Liverpool, and has been stellar in his two seasons with Real Madrid. The Spaniard has become a key player for both club and country, solidifying his place amongst the world's best holding midfielders.
Alonso's passing and vision make him a unique defensive midfielder. The Madrid star has an exceptional range of passing. The Spaniard can play intricate one and two-touch football in the middle, combining with teammates using short passes. Alonso's crisp passing has a calming effect in midfield, as he can relieve pressure with one touch.
The Spanish World Cup winner can dictate play with his outstanding passing skill. Alonso sets the tempo and rhythm from a deep-lying position, orchestrating the attack and spreading the play. Although he has the technique to string together passes, the Spaniard's ability to play the perfectly-weighted ball makes him an elite passer.
With the recent retirement of Manchester United legend Paul Scholes, Alonso has now become the best long-range passer in football. The Madrid star can consistently hit the 40-60 yard cross-field diagonal with more precision than the best pass-masters in football. Alonso's accurate passing over distance sets him apart from the majority of midfielders.
In addition to his technique and passing ability, the Spanish international has a great eye for the pass. Alonso can see the intricate pass through multiple defenders, or the long diagonal to switch the play. With his vision and range of passing, the Spaniard is a threat to make the killer pass from anywhere on the pitch.
Although Alonso's passing has become the hallmark of his game, he also has accomplished defensive qualities. While the Spaniard is not a tenacious or tough-tackling enforcer, he reads the game exceptionally well. Alonso has good positional awareness, rarely getting pulled out wide or caught upfield.
The Madrid midfielder is not the typical midfield enforcer, but he brings a unique skill-set to the position. With his exemplary passing skill and reading of the game, Alonso has become one of the top defensive midfielders in the world.
Although the Spaniard does not have the tackling ability or defensive mentality of other elite holding midfielders, he is clearly amongst the best players at the position. Alonso claims the No. 2 spot with his technical ability, contribution to the attacking play and consistent level of top form.
After impressive displays for Liverpool, Madrid and Spain, the midfielder has emerged as one of the best passers in football. Alonso's range of passing, exceptional cross-field diagonal and vision distinguishes him as the most technically gifted defensive midfielder in Europe.
The Spaniard's ability to dictate play and unlock defenses makes him a unique player at the position. While deep-lying playmakers such as Andrea Pirlo have similar passing skills, they lack the positional sense and defensive ability to excel as a defensive midfielder. Alonso is not the best tackling midfielder, but he has the anticipation and tactical awareness to play in the holding midfield role.
Although the Spaniard is a gifted world-class player, the best defensive midfielder in football has been in a league of his own. Alonso brings a unique skill-set to the position, but he lacks the defensive qualities to move claim the top spot.
The Madrid star climbs above Mascherano and De Rossi with his technical brilliance, skill and consistent level of good form. The aforementioned players clearly have more athleticism and polished defensive skills. However, Alonso's passing skill and contribution when in possession cannot be understated.
The Spaniard has the vision to see, and the ability to play, the killer pass from anywhere on the pitch. In addition to his passing skill, Alonso has kept an exceptionally high level of top form over the past few years. The Madrid star has consistently been an outstanding performer for club and country, playing a vital role in Spain's World Cup triumph and Madrid's recent resurgence.
The Madrid pass-master has emerged as a one of the biggest Spanish stars of the generation. Alonso does not fit the typical mold of a defensive midfielder, but he is undoubtedly a world-class talent and deserving of the No. 2 ranking in the list.
Name: Michael Essien
International Caps: 52
Michael Essien is the best defensive midfielder in world football.
Although the Chelsea star has been plagued by injuries over the past few seasons, he is still one of the elite players at his position. When fit and in good form, the Ghanaian is a dominant presence in midfield for both club and country.
Essien is the archetypal, modern defensive midfielder. The Chelsea star brings power, pace, athleticism and energy to the position. He marks opponents tightly and closes down the space well. Essien's tenacity and determination to break up opposition play make him a true ball-winner in midfield. The midfielder is relentless defensively, hounding opponents when in possession and making vital interceptions.
The Ghanaian has a tough-tackling and combative style of play. Essien shows great commitment in the challenge and hunger to win back possession. The midfielder uses his power and strength to shrug opponents off the ball and win the majority of 50-50 challenges.
In addition to his physical attributes and athleticism, the Chelsea star has good positioning and tactical awareness. Although he is tenacious in the challenge, the Ghanaian has exceptional technique with the standing and sliding tackle.
Essien has emerged as a world-class box-to-box midfielder, providing tireless running through the middle. The Ghanaian gets forward in support of the attack, and tracks back defensively as well. The combative midfielder has outstanding stamina, which allows him to play with such high energy. Essien's defensive determination and willingness to burst into the attack drives the team forward.
The Ghanaian arrives late in the box, providing a serious goal-scoring threat from distance. Essien hits a thunderous strike from long-range, and has an eye for the spectacular goal.
The dynamic midfielder has become one of the top box-to-box defensive midfielders in Europe. Essien's athleticism, work-rate and defensive skills make him the best enforcer in world football.
While Mascherano, De Rossi and Alonso were all serious contenders for the top spot, Essien has emerged as the best player at the position. Although the Chelsea star has recently struggled with injuries, he still claims the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
When healthy and in good form, Essien is the best defensive midfielder in the world. His powerful, combative and athletic style of play sets him apart from the other players on the list. The Chelsea star has unmatched energy and an exceptional work-rate, making him a commanding presence in midfield.
Essien's ability to drive the team forward makes him a special talent in midfield. The Ghanaian has unmatched energy, which allows him to be a force on both sides of the ball.
With his polished defensive qualities and physical attributes, the Chelsea star is a natural ball-winner. Essien may not be the most skilled or technically gifted player on the list, but he is a dynamic force in midfield.
Although Mascherano, De Rossi and Alonso have the tools to challenge for the No. 1 ranking, Essien edges them out with his tenacity, athleticism, engine and tackling ability. The Argentine captain has similar skills and tackling ability, but he does not contribute further up the pitch with late runs into the box, or have the Ghanaian's pace and power.
De Rossi may be better with the ball at his feet, but Essien edges out the Roma vice-captain with his athletic style of play, strength and speed. While Alonso is clearly the more technically gifted player, he lacks the defensive qualities to climb above the Chelsea star.
At 28 years of age, the Ghanaian is in his prime footballing years. Although he has struggled with injuries over the past few years, he is still a world-class talent.
The other top five players will continue to challenge for the top spot, but Essien is undoubtedly the No. 1 defensive midfielder in the world.
Previous Power Rankings: The Top 10 (position) in the world:
- The Top 10 Wingers
- The Top 10 Attacking Midfielders
- The Top 10 Central Midfielders
- The Top 10 Left-Backs
- The Top 10 Centre-backs
- The Top 10 Right-backs
- The Top 10 Goalkeepers
From goalkeepers to strikers, a new Top 10 list will be published every week.