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Best Premier League Defensive Midfielders of All Time

Tue 08 June 2021 | 16:30

Nowadays for any team that wants to be successful, having a great defensive midfielder is almost as important as having a great goal scorer. So let’s see who are the players that revolutionized the position in the PL and are considered the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time:

The role of a defensive midfielder has evolved quite a bit in the past two decades. Premier League has played a huge role in that evolution since its high octane and fast-paced football demands much from defensive midfielders. Apart from doing the defensive work, Premier League defensive midfielders usually instigate the build up to attacks as well, which makes them one of the most essential players for any team that aspires to be successful.

Aside from being effective in attack and especially in defense, the

best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time

have usually been tactically well-versed. These players often dictate and maintain the overall shape of their teams on the pitch, which allows the more attack-minded players to roam freely. Although the unglamorous role of a defensive midfielder usually goes unnoticed, you’d be hard-pressed to find any successful team in Premier League’s history that didn’t have at least one great defensive midfielder. So without further ado, let’s see who are these players:

Best Premier League Defensive Midfielders

As with any position in football, the defensive midfielder role could also be broken down into several specialties. From the more traditionally defensive midfielders or sweepers to holding midfielders and even deep-lying midfielders. So let’s see what kind of specialist these best Premier League defensive midfielders were?!

Michael Carrick (Manchester United)

We start off with an unsung hero of Manchester United in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Michael Carrick that helped United dominate the Premier League, and eventually Europe. Carrick, who made a name for himself playing for the London sides, West Ham and Tottenham, was brought to

Manchester United

in 2006 as a replacement for the newly departed Roy Keane and while he was never on the same level as Roy Keane was, Carrick’s achievements at Manchester United was impressive nonetheless.

A holding midfielder who could also play as a box-to-box midfielder due to his considerable amount of talent and creativity, Michael Carrick gave impressive displays in both roles at

West Ham United

and

Tottenham

. but it was at Manchester United where he truly came to his own. Partnered with the great Paul Scholes, Carrick tended to screen opposition’s attack, break down their play and then distribute the ball to Scholes or any of his other creative teammates. A seemingly simple role which proved vital in Manchester United’s success in the final years of Ferguson’s reign as the Red Devils’ manager.

While Carrick failed to win any trophies at West Ham and Tottenham, during the 12 seasons he spent at Manchester United he was able to win 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, an FA Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League title. Carrick also managed to score 24 goals in the 481 Premier League matches he played.

Although he was usually overlooked in favor of more glamorous players like Gerrard, Lampard or Scholes, Michael Carrick was undoubtedly one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time, a fact that could easily be proven by a quick glance at his career achievements!

Claude Makelele (Chelsea)

Touted as the player that revolutionized the role of a defensive midfielder in the Premier League, Claude Makelele joined Chelsea from Real Madrid in 2003. Makelele who had already won league titles with Nantes and Real Madrid in France and Spain respectively and was even a Champions League winner with

Real Madrid

, brought his much needed winning mentality as well as his incredible defensive talents to Chelsea and helped the Blues to their first Premier League trophy under their newly appointed owner, Roman Abramovic.

As a player, Claude Makelele was a type of defensive midfielder that was called a “destroyer” as he liked to disrupt opposition’s play by reading their attack, marking attackers and eventually making hard tackles to win the ball back. His stamina, work-rate and speed made up for his small stature at a time when most destroyers were considerably stronger or taller than him. But perhaps Makelele’s most important talent was the way he dictated the tempo of the game with his short passes.

With Makelele covering for more attack-minded players like Frank Lampard and Damian Duff, these players were able to roam forward freely and thus make Chelsea flourish in attack and achieve great success by winning 2 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups and an FA Cup during Makelele’s 5-year stint with the Blues. Makelele’s style of playing, laid the blueprint for players like N’Golo Kante and Fernandinho, who are also on our list, to follow and that’s why he is considered to be one of the

best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time

.

Xabi Alonso (Liverpool)

One of the greatest Spanish players of all time, Xabi Alonso, is the next player on our list. Alonso, who made a name for himself playing for Real Sociedad, joined Liverpool in 2004 and there he established himself as one of the

best Premier League defensive midfielders

as well as being one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. at Liverpool, Alonso partnered with Steven Gerrard to make one of the best midfield duos in Europe and the pair helped Liverpool reach 2 Champions League finals.

Xabi Alonso’s long-range passing ability, long distance shots, vision, tackling and composure on the ball made him the perfect player to play alongside Steven Gerrard who was freed by the defensive responsibilities that Alonso took on. He performed the same role in Spain’s national team as well as he let players like Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas more freedom to attack. But he wasn’t only concerned with the defensive part of the game as he’d often venture forward and either create chances or take one of his famous long-range shots, with him sometimes scoring even from the halfway line!

Xabi Alonso spent 5 seasons at Liverpool, playing in 210 matches and scoring 19 times. Perhaps his most crucial goal was the one he scored from a deflected penalty spot in the Champions League final of the 2004-05 season, where they drew 3-3 with AC Milan and went on to eventually win it in the penalty shoot-outs. His Champions League trophy coupled with the FA Cup they won a year later was enough for the 2 times Euro and 2010 World Cup winner to become one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time.

Micheal Essien (Chelsea)

Arguably the best Ghanaian player of all time and one of the best midfielders of his generation, Micheal Essien was almost as important to the beginning of Chelsea’s dominance in the Premier League as Frank Lampard. The Ghanaian midfielder had everything, power, speed and technique, all of which he had displayed at Lyon prior to joining Chelsea in 2005 by becoming the 2004-05 Ligue 1 Player of the Season. but he took that a step even further at Chelsea and became one of the greatest 

Premier League defensive midfielders

.

A machine of a player at his peak, Essien was rarely matched by anyone when it came to physical strength but it was his intelligence and tactical awareness that gave him the edge over other physically strong defensive midfielders of his era. He knew exactly when to attack and when to defend, which abled players like Frank Lampard to roam freely and this in turn led to Chelsea’s domestic dominance in the years he was part of the club. Apart from his defensive abilities, Essien was also capable of incredible long-range efforts, often resulting in goals that earned him Chelsea’s Goal of the Season award twice.

During the 9 seasons he spent at Chelsea, one of which was out on loan to Real Madrid, Michael Essien managed to play in 256 matches and score 25 goals. He became an integral part of a Chelsea side that won 2 Premier League titles, 4 FA cup and 1 League Cup trophies as well as a Champions League title.

Essien was even named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in the 2006-07 season. A legend of the 

Chelsea Football Club

, Michael Essien became an inspiration to players like Thomas Partey and his influence is still felt today which is why he is considered to be one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time.

Gilberto Silva (Arsenal)

During the first 10 years of Arsene Wenger's tenure as the Arsenal manager, the club had a plethora of great defensive midfielders, the likes of Emanuele Petit and Edu, all of whom could've easily been amongst our list of best premier league defensive midfielders, but in the end we had to go with Gilberto Silva. The Brazilian joined the Gunners immediately after he had won the 2002 World Cup and went on to form one of the most memorable midfield partnerships in Premier League history with Patrick Vieira and eventually become an integral part of the famous Invincibles.

Like many of his fellow Invincibles, Gilberto was both technically gifted and physically strong but the thing that made him unique was his ability to sit while his more attack-minded teammates ventured forward. Gilberto's great tactical intelligence allowed him to read the opposition's play with ease before disrupting their attack and distributing the ball to more creative players. He also had the technical ability to drive the ball forward himself and start dangerous counter attacks.

Gilberto Silva spent 6 seasons at Arsenal, playing 170 times and scoring 17 goals in the Premier League. the Brazilian also helped Arsenal win the Premier League once and the FA Cup twice. He was part of the

Arsenal

team that reached the Champions League final and lost to Barcelona in 2006. Later he became the first goal scorer of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and led a younger generation of Arsenal players as captain until his departure in 2010. He is considered by many to be one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time and is still a beloved figure amongst Arsenal fans.

Fernandinho (Manchester City)

A lot has been said about Manchester City’s incredible attacking prowess in these past few years but in truth Fernandinho is the player that makes Man City’s style of playing work. The Brazilian defensive midfielder has been one of the pillars of Pep Guardiola’s success with the Cityzens so much so that Man City always struggle to keep their defensive shape whenever Fernandinho is absent. With numerous titles and trophies, all of which he played a big part in, Fernandinho is definitely one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders.

But the Brazilian is not just a defensive midfielder because he has also played as a center back at times when City has had an injury crisis in that position. Fernandinho is a competent carrier of the ball as wel and possesses a fair bit of attacking talent, mainly shooting and creative passing. But his main job at City is to be the shield in front of the defense that stops the team from being counter attacked.

In fact, in the most recent Champions League final, Chelsea exploited Fernandinho’s absence from the starting line-up brilliantly by constantly counter attacking in the first half and finally successding in one of those attempts by scoring from yet another counter attack near the end of the first half. By the time Fernandinho was subbed-in, it was already too late for Man City and he came on only to do damage control.

But Fernandinho’s career at

Manchester City

isn’t defined by a loss as the Brazilian has won 4 Premier League titles and 6 League Cups since he joined from

Shakhtar Donetsk

in 2013. Much like his countryman, Gilberto Silva, Fernandinho’s job at a hyper-attacking side that wants to play Total Football has been to bring stability in the back and he has been damn good at his job as well, becoming one of the

best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time

in the process.

N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)

At 30, N'Golo Kante is already one of the greatest defensive midfielders of all time. That's how impressive the Frenchman has been in the 10 years since he has started his professional career. Kante, who recently led Chelsea to a Champions League title, is the only player in EPL history to win 2 consecutive Premier League titles with 2 different teams and one of the few players amongst our best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time to have won the Player of the Season award as well as the World Cup.

As a defensive midfielder, Kante doesn't do anything special or unique except for the fact that he executes everything that he does perfectly. Eden Hazard perhaps described Kante the best, when he said that he feels like there are two of him on the pitch at all times. A fact that is due to Kante's incredible work-rate and stamina that sees him covering the pitch almost incessantly. But despite his role as a defensive midfielder and a destroyer, Kante isn’t very aggressive when it comes to closing down attackers and doing his defensive duties.

Surprisingly though there aren’t any defensive midfielders or destroyers more efficient than Kante in marking attackers or stealing the ball. Kante is also known to venture forward occasionally, as he is somewhat technically gifted and can blend that technique with his speed and deliver devastating counter attacks from time to time. The 2020-21 Champions League final, where Kante put on a Man of the Match display and delivered the title to Chelsea, is perhaps the best display of Kante’s defensive and attacking capabilities.

N’Golo Kante joined a struggling

Leicester City

in the summer of 2015 and led them to their first ever league title in his debut season. he then transferred to Chelsea in the following season where he once again won the Premier League in his debut season as well as the PFA Player of the Season award and since then he has won the 2018 World Cup, 2018 FA Cup, 2019 Europa League and 2021 Champions League. Kante is not only one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time but he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best defensive midfielders of all time in the years to come.

Roy Keane (Manchester United)

A Manchester United legend and a Premier League Hall of Famer, Roy Keane is the perfect example of an old-school “destroyer”. Highly energetic, fast and aggressive, Keane reveled in taking down attackers but at the same time he had the quality to carry the ball forward as well and assist in the attack whenever needed. Although there are few Premier League defensive midfielders who were as good a footballer as Keane, none have displayed the leadership qualities that he had, as he was possibly the greatest ever Premier League captain.

When recently asked about his partnership with Paul Scholes and how they decided to attack, Keane replied by saying: “it’s simple, whenever I went, Paul would sit and whenever he attacked, I would.” And perhaps simplicity was Keane’s key to greatness, as he wasn’t one to put on a show. Unless it was a show about violence, because Keane had a knack for making hard tackles, causing scenes and picking up cards, with his rivalry with Patrick Vieira and the incident with Alf-Inge Haaland still being talked today!

Although no amount of violence could tarnish Keane’s impressive career as he is the most decorated Irish player of all time, having played all of his Premier League career at Manchester United (with the exception of a season at

Nottingham Forest

). Keane has won 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, an Intercontinental Cup and a Champions League that came at the end of a Treble winning season.

Although a lot has been said about Keane’s attitude and leadership qualities, it must be said that when it came to doing his job as a defensive midfielder, Keane was as good or even better than players like Kante. He shielded United’s defense at all costs and then drove his team forward when they had the ball and that is why he is one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time.

Patrick Vieira (Arsenal)

Last but certainly not least is the Gunners’ legend Patrick Vieira. The French midfielder joined the Gunners in 1996 and stayed with them for nearly a decade, helping Arsenal win numerous trophies under Arsene Wenger while at the same time winning everything there was with the France National Team. Vieira’s unique blend of physicality while defending mixed with flair and technique going forward has been the blueprint for players like Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure and it’s the reason why he is still remembered as one of the best Premier League defensive midfielders even today.

At first glance, Vieira was your typical defensive midfielder, tall and strong and good in the air who could make mean tackles and organize the defense pretty comfortably. But when the ball was at his feet, Vieira changed completely and could rival even the best attackers when it came to tricks and dribbles or even scoring outrageous goals which made him perhaps one of the most complete players in EPL history.

During his time in PL with Arsenal, Vieira had several partners in midfield like Petit, Edu and Gilberto all of whom were great midfielders and defensive midfielders in their own right. But his partnership with Gilberto in particular was exceptional as the two had an almost telepathic connection. While both were holding midfielders, to accommodate for the many attack-minded players on that Arsenal side, they could both venture forward as well and eventually led Arsenal to achieve the amazing feat of not losing a single match during a PL campaign and becoming Invincibles.

Aside from being one of the Invincibles, Vieira is only the second player among our list of best Premier League defensive midfielders of all time to have won the Player of the Season award and the only player to have been named 6 times in the Team of the Season. He also helped Arsenal win 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups, leaving a legacy at Arsenal and Premier League that’ll be hard for anyone to surpass.

 

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source: SportMob

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