Top 5 defensive midfielders in the Premier League in 2021/22
Since the mid-2000s, every successful side in the Premier League has been built around a strong holding midfielder.
In the late 1990s, the newly-created Premier League was defined by magical number 10s like Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola.
So, in response to this, teams started playing defensive midfielders, most notably Claude Makélélé who had the role named after him.
Almost two decades on, players in the Makélélé-role remain an integral part of any team.
So, ahead of the 2021/22 Premier League season, we look at the five best defensive midfielders England’s top-flight has to offer.
5) Declan Rice- West Ham United & England
Last season, West Ham United finished sixth in the Premier League, their highest top-flight finish since 1998/99.
So, the Hammers have qualified for the UEFA Europa League group stages and will play group phase football for the first time.
Arguably, the key reason behind their rapid rise up the table was their midfield double-pivot.
Declan Rice is a West Ham academy graduate, making his senior debut on 21 May 2017 aged just 18.
To date, he has made 145 appearance for the club and was named their player of the year in 2019/20.
Last season, the 22 year old played 32 times in the Premier League as David Moyes’ side gatecrashed the top six.
Statistically, Rice ranked first for interceptions in the league last season (78) while his midfield partner Tomáš Souček was 11th in this metic (55).
Rice attempted just 37 dribbles but was successful with 89.2% of them, a league high %.
Souček got all the headlines, scoring ten goals last season, but he and Rice were most effective at doing the unglamorous side of the game, mopping up in front of the defence.
Rice’s performances for West Ham earned him a spot in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 side, starting all seven matches as England reached the final.
This season, West Ham will need to juggle Premier League and Europa League commitments but Rice will remain an integral cog in the West Ham wheel.
4) Pierre-Emile Højbjerg- Tottenham Hotspur & Denmark
In a generally underwhelming season for Tottenham Hotspur, summer recruit Pierre-Emile Højbjerg proved his worth.
In August 2020, Spurs spent around £15 million to bring the Southampton midfielder to North London and he’s been worth every penny.
Last season, Højbjerg was one of just two outfielders to play all 3,420 minutes in the Premier League; James Ward-Prowse the other.
Given Tottenham’s cup commitments, he played 4,323 minutes in all competitions, only missing five of 58 matches.
Also, since joining Spurs, he’s played 14 times for Denmark including all 570 minutes at Euro 2020.
The Dane last missed three games in-a-row due to injury during his Bayern Munich days, August-September 2013.
His statistics within these games are outstanding too.
In the Premier League last season, Højbjerg ranked first for tackles (119) and first for pressures (807).
He was also fourth for completed passes (2389), fourth for touches (3050) and joint-first for fouls, alongside Tomáš Souček on 69.
Mousa Dembélé, now of Guangzhou City, is still revered by Tottenham fans but it does look like they’ve found a suitable replacement.
Spurs will face another busy season during this campaign.
Alongside their 38 Premier League matches they’ll hope for deep cup runs, aiming to end their trophy draught in the FA or Carabao Cup.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s side also enter the new UEFA Europa Conference League in the play-off round; those ties are on 19 & 26 August.
Whether it’s alongside Tanguy Ndombele, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso or a new arrival, Højbjerg will surely be a central figure again at Spurs this season.
3) Fabinho- Liverpool & Brazil
Fabinho has, without a shadow of a doubt, been a key man in Liverpool’s recent success.
In 2018, the Brazilian joined the Reds after five seasons at Monaco in which they won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals.
In his first season on Merseyside, they won the Champions League with Fabinho starting all the knockout phase matches, including the final.
Then, in 2019/20, the Reds won the Super Cup, Club World Cup and, of course, the Premier League, ending their 30 year wait to win a league title.
Last season wasn’t so good for Jürgen Klopp’s side but they still snuck into a top four place on the final day.
Due to their defensive injury crisis, 24 of Fabinho’s 42 appearance last season were at centre-back (57%) with the rest in his more natural position of defensive midfield.
Even so, from a number point of view, he ranked 12th for passes completed in the Premier League last season.
Fabinho was also 19th for passes attempted; 91.1% of his passes found their intended recipient.
Hopefully, from a Liverpool point of view, they won’t need to move him around as much.
Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joël Matip should be back to fitness for the start of the season and Ibrahima Konaté has joined from RB Leipzig.
However, with Georginio Wijnaldum having left for Paris Saint-Germain, there’s uncertainty about the midfield area of the team.
Whoever plays in midfield, and wherever he’s shifted about to, Liverpool and rely on Fabinho to be a steady, impressive performer.
2) Wilfred Ndidi- Leicester City & Nigeria
Leicester City’s most integral player?
When Wilfred Ndidi joined the then reigning Premier League champions from K.R.C. Genk in January 2017, very few knew who he was.
Since then, he’s become a crucial player in Brendan Rodgers’ overachieving side.
The Foxes have finished fifth in each of the last two seasons, missing out on the Champions League on the final day both times.
But, 2020/21 will always be fondly remembered by all Leicester fans as they won the FA Cup for the very first time, beating Chelsea 1-0 in the final.
Ndidi featured in all six FA Cup games, starting five of them, and his importance to Leicester is highlighted by this statistic.
Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Leicester’s points-per-game with Ndidi in the side is 1.83 and without him is 1.22.
This is a massive drop-off given that he only missed 18 of 76 games.
In the Premier League last season, Ndidi ranked third for tackles with 108 and first for tackles in the middle third 49.
With the arrival for Boubakary Soumaré from Ligue 1 Champions Lille, he could have a new midfield partner, fighting for a place with Youri Tielemans.
1) N’Golo Kanté- Chelsea & France
Does anybody do it better than N’Golo Kanté?
In his glittering career, so far, the 30 year old has won back-to-back Premier League titles with different clubs as well as the FA Cup, Europa League and now Champions League.
Also, in 2018, he was an integral figure as France won the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
This makes him one of just 60 players who’ve won both the World Cup and UEFA Champions League.
During his time at Chelsea, he’s amassed 328 tackles which have resulted in his side regaining possession, the most of anybody in this time.
Last season, Kanté was fifth for interceptions and ninth for tackles and, surprisingly, was successful with 76.3% of 38 dribbles.
For his national team, he’s still never lost when starting alongside Paul Pogba (excluding shootouts).
He remains an integral figure in Thomas Tuhcel’s side and will be for the defending European Champions this season too.