Top 15 Midfield Destroyers in European Football
The anchor position in midfield is one of the most important jobs to hold in a modern day top-flight team.
Many managers employ a holding central midfielder, sitting just in front of the back four, to break up play and win back possession of the ball.
It's become a specialist job ever since Claude Makelele perfected it for Jose Mourinho's Chelsea and, if used correctly, can transform a leaky team into a solidified force.
This article contains my thoughts on the top 15 midfielders currently playing in the holding role. The position is hotly contested and if you think someone deserves to be in this list, feel free to add your opinion in the comments.
Enjoy the slideshow!
Javier Mascherano has gone from an Argentinian unknown arriving at West Ham via suspicious circumstances, to one of the best destructive midfielders in the game.
He's not huge, he's not chunky and his passing isn't fantastic. But he does have that mean streak which is required in all midfield destroyers. He is strong in the tackle and doesn't relent.
His positional ability and tackling skills are so good that he has even filled in at central defence for FC Barcelona—most notably in the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United in 2011.
Yaya Toure is more or less redefining the attributes needed for the role of the central midfielder—it's not just his defensive abilities that impress.
He is a rare breed of midfielder, possessing seemingly equal skills both offensively and defensively.
Not only is his tackling, marking and determination to press the ball of the highest quality, but his finishing and passing is also of a very high standard.
His surging runs through the middle of midfield have been sorely missed by Manchester City as Toure is currently representing the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.
If you had suggested to me two years ago that Scott Parker is set to become one of the top defensive midfielders in Europe, I'd have assumed you'd gone slightly mad.
My, how things change.
Fresh off winning the PFA Player of the Year award in 2011, the former West Ham captain has settled in well at new club Tottenham Hotspur.
He's an integral player in a Harry Redknapp team that's currently still within a shout of the Premier League title even at this late stage.
He's been a standout performer for England too with some calling for him to become captain for the Euro 2012 Championships.
His dominant and assured display against Spain at Wembley in November was certainly one of the best anchor midfield displays I've ever seen.
Esteban Cambiasso had a bit of a rough start this season as Gian Piero Gasperini's reign at the helm of Internazionale was far from smooth.
Both he and the team have been rejuvenated since Claudio Ranieri came in to pick up the pieces and the Argentine midfielder is back in good form.
When it comes to attacking, Cambiasso has always been limited.
He is, however, an assured and safe player who tackles hard and excels in regaining possession.
His short passing game is good and he doesn't put his teammates under unnecessary pressure.
Daniele De Rossi
Daniele De Rossi has fallen off the radar a little in terms of publicity, but I assure you it's all still there.
The long-serving Roman captain will bounce back to full capacity now the lengthy contract negotiations surrounding him are over.
The new five-year deal De Rossi has signed with the Giallorossi is a boost for the club and a boost for his performances.
De Rossi marshals the midfield with tenacity and determination, stamping out flickers of opposition attacks. He is also one of the few true defensive-minded midfielders with a cannon of a long shot, giving him an extra edge to his already dangerous game.
Alex Song has developed into a very talented defensive midfielder.
He, like Esteban Cambiasso, is very limited in an attacking sense but makes up for it by playing a prominent role in Arsenal's free-flowing midfield.
Song has turned into an interception monster.
There are plenty of players out there who do a good job of intercepting passes, such as Stiliyan Petrov for Aston Villa, but the Cameroonian has the physical attributes and calm on the ball to steady a fast paced Arsenal game plan.
He's only getting better too and the longer he sees familiarity in the form of midfield partners Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, the more efficient he will become.
If I were an Arsenal fan, I'd be hoping they keep Alex Song for seasons to come.
Seen as the long-term solution to replacing captain fantastic Massimo Ambrosini, AC Milan have recruited another Italian terrier to run rampant amongst their central midfield three.
Antonio Nocerino is a solid fixture in a Milan midfield which oozes quality. He's tireless, rabid and even looks to have copied Gennaro Gattuso's beard.
Not only is he solid in the tackle and dogged whilst pressing the opposition, he's got a knack of appearing in the right place at the right time. So far he's yielded seven goals for the season—an admirable return for a player in his role.
The Bundesliga is an interesting place to be right now. Bayern Munich have dominated German football for as long as I've been alive, but the tide appears to be turning.
Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga last year and sit atop the division again this year. Jurgen Klopp has built a solid team and while Mario Goetze takes the highlights, Sven Bender has been brilliant in central midfield.
He's not got the typical powerful defensive build but he can spot a tackle and control the play. His interceptions and reading of the game are akin to Alex Songs'.
He never misses a ball.
Michael Essien just about sneaks into this list and it's more on past glories than current form.
He's had a couple of really bad injuries that have cut short his playing time over the last few years. No one is exactly sure what shape he is in at the moment.
There was a stage several seasons ago where the Ghanaian could have been considered as the best player in the Premier League.
He was able to control Chelsea's midfield with ease, tackling hard and playing it short. Doing the simple stuff is easy for Essien as he's so reliable in the short game.
I'm hoping he'll come back just as strong a player as he used to be.
The hype regarding Yann M'vila has died down a little recently, but that won't be the case for long.
The summer window saw countless links to Manchester United and Chelsea but nothing materialised. January was quiet for most clubs but M'vila is all set for a big summer.
He and Marvin Martin are set to carry Laurent Blanc's French national team in the Euro 2012 Championships and if he impresses as much as most expect, he'll be the subject of a huge bid after the tournament.
He's certainly obtainable considering he currently plies his trade at Stade Rennais FC, but where will he end up?
The English clubs will show some interest but Paris Saint German could present a very attractive option closer to home.
Sami Khedira had a summer to remember in 2010 as, after shining during the World Cup finals in South Africa, secured a dream move to Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho.
Real Madrid have a lot of depth at the defensive midfield position and Khedira currently vies for a place in the starting 11 with Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra, Nuri Sahin and even Fabio Coentrao.
Industrious and full of running, Sami Khedira epitomises the classic efficiency of a German midfielder.
When comparing his performance in the World Cup to that of Gareth Barry in Germany's 4-1 victory over England, the stark contrast was simply frightening.
Nigel De Jong
If anyone has any doubts about the aggressiveness Nigel de Jong displays on the football pitch, I can only ask you to refresh your memories with this video.
Ultimately, de Jong is as close to a purely defensive midfielder you can get. He has almost no attacking instinct whatsoever, although he did score a bit of a blinder against Liverpool recently.
It's difficult to find anyone who tackles as hard as the Dutch World Cup finalist. His very presence makes opposition players nervous and they don't hold onto the ball any longer than necessary.
The much-maligned Lucas Leiva is blossoming into a very good footballer.
His performances for Liverpool over the last year have been significantly better than what the fans had become accustomed to. It even got to the point where, when injured, fans had been wishing him to return as soon as possible.
He came to England with huge expectations on his shoulders under Rafael Benitez as the youngest ever winner of the Bola de Ouro trophy. Initially it seemed he was another big flop, but he's turned out pretty decent after a patient waiting game played by Liverpool.
He's neat and tidy in possession nowadays and never stops running. He's no technical wizard, but makes up for it with 110 percent effort at all times.
When Bayern Munich purchased Luiz Gustavo from fellow Germans Hoffenheim, several eyebrows were raised.
The Brazilian holding playing was unproven to say the least at the time, but he has blossomed into a very decent combative midfield player.
He holds the fort whilst Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery move across the field, interchanging positions and tormenting opposing defences.
Luiz Gustavo is the one constant in Bayern's steady midfield as he often finds himself in the right place at the right place to pick up the scraps and restart an attack.
Arturo Vidal is a versatile, strong performer who can excel almost anywhere centrally and on the right hand side.
His big-money move to Juventus has put him under considerable pressure and whilst he hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations yet, it's only a matter of time.
He, like Daniele De Rossi, can unleash an absolute rocket of a shot from deep on the pitch. This gives him a duel threat, meaning players aren't sure whether to stand off or close in quickly.
Three Who Should Be Up There
John Obi Mikel - Once touted as the future best defensive midfielder in the world, Mikel has fallen off the path to stardom and has a significant amount of work to do in order to get back on track.
Gokhan Inler - The Swiss midfield general has been solid through his Serie A career with Udinese and is now impressing at Napoli. One full season at a great team like Napoli and he'll merit consideration for a full selection in a list like this.
Marouane Fellaini - He has all the potential to be a late blooming star. His size, strength and heading ability give him an aerial edge in the midfield battle and he's no slouch on the sprint either. More consistent game time and a slight tweak to his on field behaviour will see him become one of the best.
Three Who Will Be Up There
Sandro - From what we've seen of him so far, Sandro looks a really decent prospect. The bad injury he sustained during the summer hasn't stopped Tottenham Hotspur from climbing the table but it has set his career back. If he gets back swiftly and plays regular football, the sky is the limit for this guy.
Phil Jones - Central midfield, defensive midfield, centre-back and right-back. These are the positions young Phil Jones has played for Manchester United so far. No one is absolutely certain of his best position yet, but I'd be willing to bet he becomes the Red Devils' long-term holding midfielder with the talents he possesses.
Radja Nainggolan - With impressive physical attributes and determination to match, it won't be long before Cagliari's star central midfielder gets the recognition he deserves.
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