7 Best Central/Attacking Midfielders in World Football

 
 
Isco of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander  match between Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid on April 28, 2019

It seems like it’s been a while since our last video in this series, looking at the best currently active footballers in each position. This is the penultimate positional video of the series, with only centre-forwards still to come, and today in the turn of the attacking midfielders.

Now, as followers of this series will know, for the purposes of our XI at the end of the series, there is no strict central or box-to-box midfielders seven. We have a holding midfield seven, which we uploaded a few weeks back, and our attacking midfield seven today, and any genuine central midfielders just have to be considered for the seven most closely aligned to their playing style.

So, before you take to the comments saying “They’re not an attacking midfielder!”, in the purest sense of the term at least, please do bear that in mind.

Okay, here are our 7 best attacking midfielders in world football:

7. Isco

Isco fails where a number of others succeed in terms of this seven, and that is with regards to his consistency, and that almost saw him miss out here altogether. He could equally have been considered for our left wing seven, since he has played a lot of football out on the left flank over the last couple of seasons, but we still think he’s most effective playing through the middle.

Based on this season alone, and current form, Isco wouldn’t make this seven, but as I’ve said so many times in this series when including the likes of Marcelo and Sergio Ramos, this series isn’t based solely on this season. Isco is a phenomenally talented footballer. On his day, he is virtually unplayable. Touch, technique, vision, flair… Isco has all the attributes to be the best attacking midfielder in the world.

When Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid in the summer, although obviously irreplaceable, I thought Isco might be the one to step up and become Real’s go-to match-winner. He hasn’t been able to do that yet, and that’s why he’s no higher than seventh, but he’s still a world class footballer who it would seem wrong to leave out.

6. David Silva

Burnley's Chris Wood looks to get away from Manchester City's David Silva during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester City at Turf Moor on April 28, 2019 in Burnley,...Burnley's Chris Wood looks to get away from Manchester City's David Silva during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester City at Turf Moor on April 28, 2019 in Burnley,...

Aged 33 and having called time on his international career, it’d probably be fair to say David Silva was now in the autumn of his career. Silva may now struggle to play three games in a week, or at least to do so multiple times in a season, but his performance levels certainly haven’t dropped. Last season was arguably the finest of Silva’s career, and he’s registered 38 appearances so far this term.

One could make a good case for Silva being the best player in Man City history, and had I made this video last season, he’d be even higher than sixth. Such an intelligent footballer, Silva is brilliant in tight situations, he rarely loses possession and he can thread the ball through the eye of a needle. He has chipped in with a typically reliable 9 goals and 8 assists this season, which is an admirable return, but it’s his ability to keep things ticking over, dragging the opposition all over the park with his brilliant positional play and picking them apart which makes him such a wonderful midfielder.

So sixth, in many respects, seems a little harsh on David Silva, who was City’s best player in their recent derby win over Manchester United, but this is an incredibly competitive seven.

5. Toni Kroos

We’re back in the Spanish capital for fifth place, with Isco’s Real team mate Toni Kroos. Now, obviously, Kroos isn’t a true attacking midfielder. He is a central midfielder who tends to operate as a deep-lying playmaker, but as we explained in the introduction, we have to put central midfielders into one of our two sevens. Since Kroos’ primary function in the Real side is to effect play in an attacking sense with his fantastic vision and range of passing, I’d say it makes more sense to include him here than in our defensive midfield seven.

As with most Real players, this season has seen a drop off in standard by Kroos. The 2014 World Cup winner was widely considered to be among the two or three best central midfielders in the world a year or two ago, playing in by far the most effective midfield trio in the world game. Now there will be plenty who feel he shouldn’t even feature in this series at all, but we don’t like to be too reactionary or fickle.

Kroos is one of the best passers of a ball in the world game. Even from the very beginning of his career as a teenager at Bayern Munich, his style has never really changed. He often looks languid and almost disinterested, and you’re about as likely to see him sprinting as you are to see two panda’s mating on the pitch at the Bernabeu. Kroos’ style of play has served him well though, as a three-time FIFPro World XI inclusion who has won almost everything there is to win in the game. When it comes to weighting a pass, few can compete, so Kroos is our choice in fifth.

4. Bernardo Silva

Bernardo Silva of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester City at Turf Moor on April 28, 2019 in Burnley, United Kingdom.Bernardo Silva of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester City at Turf Moor on April 28, 2019 in Burnley, United Kingdom.

Right, there will no doubt be some debate about this one since Bernardo Silva has played a fair bit of football out wide on the right especially over the last few weeks. As such, many people expected the Portuguese workhorse to feature in our right wing seven - and he could well have done - but he’s equally at home here. For anyone who is interested, Silva has played 17 games out wide on the right this season and 22 through the middle in games he’s started, so there’s not much in it.

Wherever he is played though, Silva guarantees sensational technique and a remarkable engine. For a player so skillful and creative, we are often used to seeing pretty second rate performances in terms of tracking back and winning the ball. That isn’t the case with this man, whose relentless appetite to win the ball back has helped establish him as a key man for Pep Guardiola this season.

Silva joined Man City from Monaco the summer before last, and although he registered 53 appearances last term, he wasn’t as pivotal to the side as he has been this season. Good on the ball, intelligent in the pass and a real goal threat if given half a yard on his left foot, Silva has a bit of everything, so he makes our top seven.

3. Christian Eriksen

Staying in the Premier League in fourth place, anyone with even a fleeting interest in this channel will know how much of a fan I am of Christian Eriksen. He too has an excellent work rate twinned with wonderful technique, and the Danish international is the key man in terms of playmaking in a very good Tottenham side. Eriksen was one of a number of players signed by Tottenham following the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, but he was just about the only one who was any good.

Maybe Tottenham should just stick to signing former Ajax players, because Eriksen - just like Tottenham’s three centre-backs - has proved to be an inspired signing. Now aged 27 and probably in his prime as a footballer, this is Eriksen’s sixth season at White Hart Lane, and he has got better with every one.

Not just a pretty footballer who is neat in possession and can pick a pass, Eriksen is a match winner. His passing is quick and incisive, catching the opposition off guard, and how often does he crop up with a crucial goal? Eriksen has only got 9 goals this season, compared to 14 last season - albeit he has been playing a little deeper - but virtually everyone of them has been a key strike. A hugely talented and effective footballer, Eriksen takes third for us.

2. Luka Modric

Luka Modric of Real Madrid warms up prior to the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Campo de Futbol de Vallecas on April 28, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.Luka Modric of Real Madrid warms up prior to the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Campo de Futbol de Vallecas on April 28, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.

It’s a funny old game in the sense that last season I would be criticised for underrating Luka Modric by saying he’s nowhere near Lionel Messi and probably either the second or only just the best central or attacking midfielder in the world, meanwhile I’ll now be accused of overrating him for… saying exactly the same thing.

Clearly, Modric had a wonderful 2017-18 season at both club and international level, and his 2018-19 season was always going to struggle to live up to that level. And so it has proved. In fact, with Real about 57 points behind Barcelona in the La Liga table and having been dumped out of the Champions League by Ajax, it has been quite a significant drop-off.

However, after a decade at the highest level, it would be incredibly foolish to write off the talents of Luka Modric. He is still the best midfielder in Spanish football, he leads Real Madrid’s assist charts and he, albeit wrongly, became the first player since 2007 to beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the Ballon d’Or. Modric is such a natural and complete footballer. So intelligent in the way he moves the ball, a tireless runner and a constant source of creativity. He is among the two best central or attacking midfielders on the planet.

0. Honourable Mentions

This set of honourable mentions could truly be a video in of itself, and an hour long special at that, so we’re going to have to be incredibly selective with regards to the players we mention and how much time we dedicate to them.

In terms of deep-lying playmakers, Marco Verratti is probably the one who stands out as being most unfortunate to miss out. Verratti looks like a born footballer, so graceful in possession and intelligent in the pass, and he recently featured in our Best XI signed for less than £10 million video.

When it comes to natural central midfielders who we’d have to say were closer to being attacking midfielders than defensive ones and therefore have to be considered here, there a handful who come to mind. Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara initially made my seven, before just getting bumped out. Barcelona and Brazil prospect Arthur has the makings of a world class playmaker, but hasn’t quite done enough to make this seven for us just yet. Miralem Pjanic is a first class midfield technician who can rival the best in terms of ability on the ball and in the pass - and when striking a dead ball of course. Then there’s Luka Modric’s international team mate Ivan Rakitic, whose importance to Barcelona has reached new heights following the departure of Andres Iniesta.

In terms of a more robust, all-action box-to-box central midfielder, they don’t come much finer than Radja Nainggolan, who has been one of Serie A’s outstanding players over the last decade. I would also give an honourable mention to Dele Alli, who I have previously said I feel is underrated. Alli is such a clever footballer, a master of peeling off the back of defenders, excellent on the ball and a constant thorn in the opposition side. I suspect anyone who has played against him would throw his name into the hat, so I will too.

If one looks in an even more attacking sense, at attacking midfielders who really are primarily forwards, Paulo Dybala must surely lead the way. A brilliant footballer who was always touted to reach the top, Dybala has certainly done that in terms of Serie A, but he’s yet to really shake the world when it comes to the Champions League or a World Cup.

Lastly, and I suspect most controversially, we must of course mention Paul Pogba. Probably the most talked about footballer of the last three years, at least outside of Messi and Ronaldo, Pogba isn’t easy to rank. On the one hand, some may argue Pogba’s match-winning ability at his best is as good as Isco’s, who made this seven despite his inconsistencies. On the other, one could question whether Pogba’s actual raw ability is quite as good as some like to make out. One week, you’d say Pogba has to be in here. Another week, you’d probably say he shouldn’t make the top 25. Personally I think it’s a close call, and Pogba is obviously a special player when you can get a tune out of him, but I just couldn’t justify putting him ahead of any of our seven.

Right, that’s it for our honourable mentions, of course, we could have gone on to the likes of Mesut Ozil, James Rodriguez, Ilkay Gundogan and countless others, but we have to stop somewhere. We’re certainly spoilt for choice with this seven, and I’ve no doubt you’ll all have your own opinions on who should have featured in the comments. Before that though, here is your probably somewhat predictable top spot…

1. Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne  of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on April 20, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom.Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on April 20, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

I suspect 99% of our subscribers could have guessed who would top this seven from the off, and a very many of you who are new to the channel had probably worked it out by virtue of a process of elimination by the time of the honourable mentions.

Kevin De Bruyne is my kind of footballer. I don’t think that’s a particularly well-hidden fact among the YouTube football community, and I have been mocked on occasion for banging on about him for a little too long, so I’ll try to avoid doing so here.

This season has been a tough one for De Bruyne. Having fought his way back from two long-term injuries, he appears to have suffered a third now which may keep him out for the rest of this season. That’s a crying shame for Man City, who - despite having a squad laced with quality - look a far better side when the Belgian is in their team.

He stood out a mile last season even when the likes of David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero were at full tilt. What’s more, when he made his most recent return to full fitness and prior to his third setback of the season, De Bruyne looked like he’d never been away; controlling games, waltzing past opponents and laying chance after chance on a plate for his team mates.

When it comes to vision and weight of pass, De Bruyne is probably second only to Lionel Messi, and I would argue that he is the best and most consistent crosser of a ball in the world game right now. There will be those who say that having only played 23 games this season, De Bruyne shouldn’t make this seven, but such a claim would only ring true if I felt De Bruyne’s talents had diminished through injury and that he would return an inferior footballer. I do not, and for that reason he has to top this seven.

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