Top 10 holding midfielders in football

Published August 19th, 2013 - 10:36 GMT

Holding midfielders have become some of the most coveted players in world football, with the age of the 4-2-3-1, for example, highlighting the importance of a hard-nosed, no nonsense midfielder.

Below, you'll find the top ten defensive midfielders in the world, but before we get to it, let's first clearly specify the criteria used to constitute a defensive midfielder.

Players like Yaya Toure, Mousa Dembele, Fernandinho, Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi are all deployed in the holding midfield area, though those players are best referred to as box-to-box midfielders. Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso and Michael Carrick are too fielded in a withdrawn midfield role, though Pirlo, Alonso and Carrick are all deep-lying playmakers.

We've restricted the list to players that sit deep and shield a defense throughout the majority of a match, or the most defensive-minded midfielder in a double pivot or midfield trio. 

Rankings are always difficult because players must be left out, often to the disappointment of supporters, but without further ado, let's get to it.

Honorable Mention

Maxime Gonalons, Lyon

Linked with a move to Arsenal this summer, the 24-year-old French international has committed his immediate future to Lyon. His size is a major asset and that, coupled with his composure and high football IQ, has made Gonalons one of the most sought after midfielders in world football.

Victor Wanyama, Southampton

Wanyama could very well deserve to be in the top 10, but I simply haven't seen enough of him to warrant supplanting others in the list. A crunching tackler, Wanyama will link up with Morgan Schneiderlin to give Southampton a formidable defensive midfield duo.

Nemanja Matic, Benfica

Formerly of Chelsea, the 25-year-old Serbian international has had a really good few seasons in Portugal and that has prompted Chelsea to contemplate a potential reunion. Standing at a towering 6'4" (1.94 m), Matic is nearly indomitable in the air and while he should have a promising career for both club and country ahead of him, a falling out with Serbia boss Sinisa Mihajlovic has caused his international career to be put on hold.

Fernando, Porto

One of the most unheralded players in world football, the Brazilian has been anchoring the Porto midfield since 2007. It's a shame that he is still yet to receive a senior international cap as his performances in the Portuguese top flight more than warrant one. 

Paul Pogba, Juventus

Pogba unceremoniously left Manchester United, but found himself in a great situation with Italian champions Juventus. At just 20 years old, he's earned two full caps in a position that France has in spades and Pogba certainly looks capable of living up to the billing as the next Patrick Vieira.

Top 10

10. Jeremy Toulalan, Monaco

Toulalan was a huge part of Malaga's surprise run to the quarterfinals in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League and the veteran Frenchman has since transferred to free-spending Monaco. Much of the focus will be on Radamel Falcao, but Toulalan, along with creative maestro Joao Moutinho, will provide a superb foundation in midfield.

9. Sandro, Tottenham

Injuries have hampered his time at Tottenham, but following a successful knee operation, Sandro is back to full strength. He's able to cut out an opponent's attack before it truly develops and his ability to maintain possession and screen the back four is top class. The 24-year-old is primed for a great season at White Hart Lane and, alongside Mousa Dembele and perhaps Paulinho as well, Tottenham will control the center of the park in the vast majority of their matches.

8. Luiz Gustavo, Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg recently completed the signing of Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo from fellow Bundesliga side Bayern Munich for just over £15 million. Arsenal were also interested in Gustavo and it's a shame Wenger was unable to work out a deal because, like he showed in the Confederations Cup, Gustavo is a classy player who rarely puts a foot wrong. He'll be a huge asset for Wolfsburg this season as he'll help the German side maintain possession and shield the centre halves to great effect.

7. Daniele De Rossi, Roma

He had a superb Confederations Cup campaign with Italy, but De Rossi didn't display that level of brilliance on the domestic front. A rift with Zdenek Zeman saw his playing time truncated and the awkward scenario fueled speculation that De Rossi would leave the Stadio Olimpico outfit, with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea rumored as a suitor. The 30-year-old Italian international will presumably stay at Roma as he'll succeed Francesco Totti as the capital club's captain and a change in management should see De Rossi reprise his world-class form. 

More: The Top 10 Right Backs in World Football

6. Sven Bender, Borussia Dortmund

The better known Bender twin suffered multiple injuries that limited him to just 15 Bundesliga starts last season. He has excellent positional awareness and is highly effective at quelling both counter attacks and odd man rushes. He's this low on the list because he was unable to stay fit for a full term, but Bender and Ilkay Gundogan give Dortmund one of the best double pivots in the world. 

5. Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton

Other than Southampton supporters, no one was truly familiar with the Frenchman until his breakout 2012-13 season. Schneiderlin led the Premier League in tackles and interceptions, an outstanding feat that illustrates his nose for the ball and understanding of the game. Alongside Victor Wanyama, Schneiderlin will help Southampton control the midfield area with extreme physicality.

4. Marouane Fellaini, Everton

Fellaini was a questionable inclusion as he was used as a No. 10 by David Moyes last season. However, with the departure of Moyes and appointment of Roberto Martinez, the Belgian international is set to reprise his defensive midfield role.

He's completely dominant in the air, possessing former Everton hero Tim Cahill's aerial ability in a massive 6'4" (1.94 m) frame. Fellaini is a major threat going forward and scored 11 goals last season, but he's also an exceptional tackler, making him an all-around talent.

3. Lars Bender, Bayer Leverkusen

The other Bender twin had a better season than his brother last year and helped guide Leverkusen to a third place finish in the Bundesliga. Lars, who played a huge role in a defense that ranked as the league's second best, has a tendency to get forward more often than his brother and boasts a significantly better goal tally. The 24-year-old has been capped 15 times for Germany and is an indefatigable worker who will track his mark all over the pitch.

2. Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich's 7-0 aggregate demolition of Barcelona could have signaled a changing of the guard as not only were the German giants able to carve through the Barcelona defense, they completely neutralized the vaunted Blaugrana attack. Much of the credit will go to Dante and Philipp Lahm, and deservedly so, but one player that was just as important was Javi Martinez.

Martinez pressed Barcelona's midfielders over both legs, preventing Xavi and Andres Iniesta from finding the time and space that make them so effective. Martinez's move to Bayern set a Bundesliga record and with Luiz Gustavo gone to Wolfsburg and Pep Guardiola in as boss, the former Athletic Bilbao man will be handed the role that the next player on this list occupied under Guardiola.

1. Sergio Busquets, Barcelona

Sergio Busquets' on-field antics are often criticized, but one cannot dispute his world-class ability. One can point to the fact that he's fielded alongside two of the world's best players, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, as a reason to call him overrated and while Busquets undoubtedly benefits from the two diminutive Spanish midfielders, he's a quality player in his own right.

He can readily be seen cutting off passing lanes, aiding Barcelona's sub-par back-line and has a tremendous knack for playing the right pass, maintaining possession and helping facilitate Barcelona's tiki-taka system. The La Masia graduate has very long legs that allow him to get stuck in and poke the ball away from opposing players.

He isn't the most ferocious tackler, but he's a cerebral footballer, using his understanding for the game to dominate his position, much like Thiago Silva does at the centre-back position. Busquets has experienced a meteoric rise and has already earned 59 caps for Spain, despite receiving his first cap just four years ago. His performances have forced Vicente Del Bosque to keep Javi Martinez on the bench and for that reason, Busquets gets the nod here.

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