Successful teams generally have a world class player who screens his defense. The likes of Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira and Edgar Davids excelled in the position in their heyday. Here is a look at ten of the best defensive midfielders currently in the game.
A first-choice for club and country, Busquets' predominant role is to maintain his position behind Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, dispossess the opposition and pass the ball to his more creative teammates. A penchant for overreacting to fouls can infuriate the opposition, but this does not diminish his overall contribution. A product of the club’s La Masia youth academy and one of the best holding midfielders in the world, Busquets is the master of the simple pass.
Although he may not bite into the tackle like some of the other defensive midfielders in this list, Alonso’s main role for club and country - when selected by Spain – is to sit in front of the back four, win back possession and find the attackers. A real leader, there are few finer sights in the game than Alonso spraying long range passes right and left, and he gets in his fair share of tackles, too.
When Barcelona realized they could not sign Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal in 2010, they decided to make Mascherano their one big summer signing. After paying in the region of $27 million to Liverpool, the Argentinean was converted from a defensive midfielder into a central defender, although he still plays in his favored position for his country. A River Plate youth product, he is fearsome in the tackle, and an economical distributor with a never-say-die attitude.
4. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany & Bayern Munich)
Arguably the least defensive player on this list, Schweinsteiger is nonetheless a vital performer for Bayern and Germany in his ‘pivot’ role in the 4-2-3-1 formations that both sides deploy. Alongside a more defensive midfielder, Schweinsteiger breaks up opposition attacks before using his outstanding range of passing to launch his own sides’ forays up field. Also armed with a powerful shot, ‘Schweini’ knows where the net is and has scored some important goals in his career.
The Roma youth product gets forward more than most players on this list, but his defensive contribution should not be understated. His tough tacking enables others to move into more advanced positions, but he himself is capable of between five and 10 goals a season. De Rossi possesses a similar spirit to club idol Francesco Totti, that can sometimes boil over, but it is the sort of passion the Roma tifosi love.
6. Sami Khedira (Germany & Real Madrid)
The German international goes about his business quietly in the midfield engine room. Entering what should be the peak years of his career, Khedira may grab few headlines but his ability to win the ball in the air and on the ground while distributing it with economy are vital for club and country. Khedira was one of Jose Mourinho’s first signings when he arrived at Real Madrid in 2010.
7. Nigel de Jong (Holland & AC Milan)
The Holland international is one of Serie A's more feisty customers. Responsible for breaking Hatem Ben Arfa’s leg in 2010 and almost decapitating Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final earliar that year, De Jong is nonetheless a vital presence for club and country. A master at keeping his position in front of the back four, De Jong’s biting tackles make him one of the most combative midfielders in world soccer.
8. Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina & Inter Milan)
Dubbed ‘the new Fernando Redondo’ when he was younger, Cambiasso had to leave Real Madrid in search of regular action and was a key member of the Inter Milan team that dominated Serie A in the second half of the last decade. Famous for finishing off a 24-pass move for Argentina against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup, Cambiasso is also a smooth operator in the opposition half.
9. Alexandre Song (Cameroon & Barcelona)
Song is a master at breaking up opposition attacks, maneuvering himself out of tight situations and playing the ball simply to a teammate. A snip from French club Bastia in 2006, the Cameroon star was another gem unearthed by wily Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. But the player and the club grew apart and Wenger appeared happy to sell Song to Barcelona in 2012.
10. Michael Essien (Ghana & Real Madrid)
Essien is the model player: fast, strong, well-built, tactically aware and professional. Chelsea had to haggle with tough negotiators Lyon for his signature in 2005, but the Ghanaian was well worth the wait. The player's main weakness has been his susceptibility to injuries over the last few years. In 2012 he joined Real Madrid on a one-year loan deal as he linked up with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.