It is up to the players in the middle of the pitch to dictate the flow of the game, and the top central midfielders will pull all the strings and be the engine for the team. You cannot underestimate the importance of central midfielders, as they are key in stifling their opponents by breaking up their attack before they get into the final third, but they are also responsible for driving attacks forward and both setting up and scoring goals. Central midfielders must have excellent concentration, as for the full 90 minutes they need to be aware of what is happening around them in every direction and be ready to switch into defensive or attack mode at any given moment.
It has become common for many managers to abandon the role of box-to-box central midfielders, and instead opt for a defensive midfielder and an attacking midfielder. The defensive midfielder will drop back and act as a shield for the back-4, breaking up plays before they become dangerous and patrolling the area in front of the back-4. While they do this, the attacking midfielder will occupy a more advanced role and be responsible for providing support to the striker ahead of them. This style is not to every managers liking, and the central midfielder is still key to many teams systems and the top players will directly impact how the game is played.
Only the most intelligent, focused, creative, physically fit and skilled players can fill the role of the CM, and we have seen many legendary players occupy this position over the years. There is currently a crop of elite central midfielders playing in all the top leagues around the world, and it is worth taking a closer look at who these players are to see how they are so influential in games. Whether they are breaking up plays, using their vision and passing ability to unlock defences, igniting an attack through tearing through midfield or locking horns with their counterpoint, the central midfielder is the heart of the team and if they can boss this area of the pitch they will determine how the game is played out.
10 10. Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich, Spain)
9 9. Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona, Spain)
Xavi may be nearing retirement and is in the process of being replaced by Ivan Rakitic, but it is impossible to talk about the worlds best central midfielders without including the Spaniard. He still possesses the ability to change a game in the blink of an eye, as he has incredible control and vision which will be missed once he retires. Iniesta is capable of providing this, but with the two of them commanding the centre of the pitch they provided the spark to all of Barcelona’s breathtaking attacking play over the years and Xavi brings a level of calmness whenever he is on the pitch.
8 8. Andrea Pirlo (Juventus, Italy)
7 7. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid, Germany)
6 6. Arturo Vidal (Juventus, Chile)
Arturo Vidal tooted his own horn by proclaiming to be the best central midfielder in the world last year, and although he does not top this list he is certainly up there. Vidal has developed to become an exceptional defender and attacker that also possess the all important character traits to command the centre of the pitch. He has earned his nickname “Il Guerriero” (The Warrior), which is fitting for his style of play.
5 5. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea, Spain)
Cesc Fabregas has proven over the years that he is one of the greatest deep lying playmakers to play the game through his play at Arsenal, Barcelona and now Chelsea. He is an exceptional passer with terrific vision, allowing him to unlock defences in a second with a precise pass, but he is also a real goalscoring threat. He has ripped Premier League defences to shreds since his return and has played a huge factor in Chelsea’s dominance.
4 4. Luka Modric (Real Madrid, Croatia)
Playing alongside the best in the world, Modric’s skill and importance to Real Madrid is often overlooked. Like he did with Spurs, Modric pulls all the strings and keeps things ticking over through his movement and passing ability, and he is also more than capable of helping out with defensive duties. Working as the engine for the team, it is Modric that determines the speed and flow of the game from the centre of midfield. A mini maestro, Modric’s main attribute is his intelligence, and he uses this to ignite attacks that will often begin with him before unselfishly finding the likes of Bale and Ronaldo ahead of him.
3 3. Yaya Toure (Manchester City, Ivory Coast)
2 2. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, Germany)
1 1. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain)
The epitome of class, Andres Iniesta has won it all and been an integral part of both Barcelona and Spain’s success in recent times. Barca fans affectionately call him “El Cerebro” (The Brain), which perfectly sums up the manner in which Iniesta plays the game. He possesses incredible vision for the game, and when he has this and fantastic dribbling and passing ability it makes him one of the most dangerous players in the world. He has excelled next to his partner in crime, Xavi Hernandez, who appears to be in decline but Iniesta certainly has a few years left in him.
The 30-year-old was recently included in the FIFA FIFPRO World XI for the 6th consecutive year, despite it not being a terrific year for Iniesta and Barcelona. With six La Liga titles, two Copa Del Rey trophies, three Champions League titles and a World Cup and two UEFA European trophies for Spain, Iniesta’s greatness cannot be disputed.
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