Best Defensive Midfielders in the World

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 13.11.2023.

While the forwards undoubtedly get the most fan adoration, one could say that defensive midfielders are the stars of the defensive units. The crowd loves a player who runs like possessed in order to get the ball back to their team. Mid-pitch tackles and the blocks on the edge of the box. Yet the best defensive midfielders aren’t just that anymore. Some are primarily ball-winners, others ball-distributors. The very best? Well they do both of those things on the highest level.

With the departure from Europe of aging N’Golo Kante, who was the unanimous best defensive midfielder for years, bar the last one, the throne for the best DM is up for grabs.

The Best Defensive Midfielders in 2023

Looking at consistency as the primary filter, as players who have barely 50 games at a high level like Moises Caicedo and Manuel Ugarte, still have to justify the price tags to their names. Secondly, the impact of the player on the team and then the statistics relevant to their role in the squad.

Note that when we list statistics rankings, we’re taking into consideration all players, not just defensive midfielders.

#10 Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli & Slovakia), 28

Stanislav Lobotka

Depicting talent from a very young age, earning him a move to Ajax, but Stanislav Lobotoka had to wait and grind in order to fully reach his potential. Now 28, the Slovakian was one of the key players in Napoli's long-awaited Scudetto run. His overall pass completion rate is at 91.8%! While in the title-winning season he had 104 tackles across all competitions! He has still five more years at the high level, with not that many miles on his body, with only 45 games played for Slovakia and barely over 200 total for top five league teams.

#9 Marten de Roon (Atalanta & The Netherlands), 32

Marten de Roon

Being a defensive midfielder for an extremely attacking team is an especially difficult task, yet Marten de Roon has been the consistent factor for Atalanta for over 300 games now! While also managing to be a leader in the league for both attacking and defensive stats! The eccentric Dutch defensive midfielder has bene in the Serie A's top players for progressive passes for four seasons! With passes into the final third, he has been in the top 10 of the top five leagues altogether on two occasions! Additionally three times in Serie A alone. He has been in the top five tacklers in Serie A across four seasons!

He is not the biggest name, but he is without a doubt one of the most influential defensive midfielders in the past five years.

#8 Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid & France), 23

Aurelien Tchouameni

Even though he is still only 23, Aurelien Tchouameni has established himself at Real Madrid and France quickly. Earning 28 caps already for the World Cup runner ups, in a harsh competition, and getting 64 appearances for Real, after playing in 95 matches for Monaco and 37 for Bordeaux. He has established himself as a confident shot-blocker, tackler, and secure ball carrier. Utilizing the established and well-connected core of the Real Madrid midfield, Tchouameni's proper exams will start when Luka Modric and Toni Kroos depart from the team, though. Still, it's quite enough for the youngest man on this list.

#7 Marcelo Brozovic (Al-Nassr & Croatia), 30

Marcelo Brozovic

Yes, Marcelo Brozovic most likely said goodbye to European football, yet what he has done over the past years cannot be overlooked because of his financial decision. Even in the summer of 2023, the tireless Croatian has been sought by the biggest teams of the Old Continent. His endurance, is a stuff of myth, especially as his feeding habits resemble that of athletics-unamused students - drinking sodas and eating salami before big matches. Like the ones he collected in abundance and against expectations with his national team. Yet Brozo would always end up delivering and being the man who covered the most space at the end of every match. Now reaching the game mileage an average family vehicle in his home country has.

#6 Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United & Brazil), 25

Bruno Guimaraes

Even though NUFC spent an obscene amount of money, no previous club with a "sugar daddy" has shown such an improvement and consistency as quickly as they. A lot of that has to do with Bruno Guimaraes as the pivotal member of the team in the centre. Bridging the attacking full-backs with the front team, the creator for Newcastle's star-studded side is heavily employed in every game. He has returned 19 goal involvements in 74 matches from his deep-lying playmaker position as well!

#5 Emre Can (Borussia Dortmund & Germany), 29

Emre Can

One of the three most consistent and reliable players on the list, along with the top two defensive midfielders, Emre Can is perhaps still underrated overall. Playing in Germany, Italy, and England, the 29-year-old has a breadth of experience that is unrivalled amongst those with who he shares the position. Can also has a sense for goalscoring, bagging in 36 in his club career. Can also had the sixth-highest pass completion in the 2022/2023 Bundesliga season, showing how well-rounded he is as a DM.

#4 Casemiro (Manchester United & Brazil), 31


Even though he is paying the toll for his long career at the very top echelon of football, Casemiro still deserves a spot in the top 10 defensive midfielders of the world. In a team not as dominant as his previous Real Madrid side, Casemiro is showing flaws more often, yet he will be regarded as one of the most consistent DMs in the past decade. He was still the 17th in the top five leagues when it comes to tackles in the 2022/2023, higher than all the other players on this list.

#3 Declan Rice (Arsenal & England), 24

Declan Rice

A €116,600,000 player. It's still early in Declan Rice's Arsenal career, but the Gunners aren't frantically looking for a receipt. As big as it is, that is saying a lot. Being a former West Ham United captain at a young age, playing in 245 games for the Hammers, bringing them their European trophy for goodbye, Rice offers a lot as a player - consistency, leadership, combativeness. He was ninth in the Premier League when it comes to tackles made across his last season with WHU, and he was first in interceptions, showing the ability to read the game. While also being fifth in progressive carrying of the ball in the 2021/2022 PL season, and seven the following year.

#2 Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich & Germany), 28

Joshua Kimmich

The victim of being too versatile and too good for just one position. One could make a strong argument that Joshua Kimmich would be alone at the throne for the best defensive midfielder in the world if he stayed on that spot through the entirety of his career. Not to mention the managerial carousel that has untypically hindered Bayern Munich in the past several years.

The 28-year-old who has more experience than most 35-year-olds is an efficient tackler, getting the best of his opponents in two thirds of his attempts. Joshua is also a weapon in ball progression, both with his dribbling and passing, and he has been the sixth player in the top five leagues with the most touches on a ball in the 2022/2023 season. But Kimmich is also a goalscorer and an assistmaker, in 363 games for FCB, he has 100 assists and 40 goals!

#1 Rodri (Manchester City & Spain), 27


Not the flashiest. Teacher's pet. Always playing it safe. Yet there's no denying that in 2023, Rodri is the best defensive midfielder in the game of football! The Champions League winning goal doesn't even need to come into consideration for this to be truth (also, Rodri was poor the entirety of that game). Yet Rodri is the pillar around which the base of Manchester City's sovereign domination has been built. During all his seasons at the Etihad, Rodri has had a pass completion percentage higher than 90%! While recording high numbers of both tackles and blocks!

Rodri, even though he is not the most agile or fast player, was 12th in the top five leagues when it comes to ball carries in 2022/2023 season. He was second in total touches over the campaign!

It seems that the rankings of the best defensive midfielders in the world have resetted in 2023 and new names will most likely make the numbers in the following year.


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