The world boasts plenty of incredible midfielders right now. All top 7 leagues in Europe contain rosters of visionary, playmaking midfielders with incredible skill on the ball. It was near impossible but I was able to make a list of 5 players that are a cut above the rest in this game right now. 1 Premier League, 2 Bundesliga, 1 La Liga, and 1 Serie A player made on the list (sorry Ligue 1), with Kroos, Keita and De Bruyne just missing out. So without further ado here’s The Early Sub’s Top 5 Midfielders in the world.
5. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
DO NOT BELIEVE THE HYPE. That’s right, don’t believe it. The hype for Pogba is that he’s turning out to be an 89.3 million pound flop. And the even more popular belief that his first season was a complete and utter disappointment. But look at the numbers. Pogba has and still is one of the most dominant box to box midfielders in the world. His foul numbers may have gone up due to the faster pace of the Premier League but his concentration was still undeniable. The man made Michael Carrick look like a world class holding midfielder, and it was near impossible to rip the Frenchman off the ball. IF you can pin him down after he unloads his arsenal of skill, he’s still a tall, strong, physical man. Already a 4 time league winner with Juventus and a Champions League silver medalist. Pogba was still able to secure two trophies with his new/old club, Man United, winning the Europa League and a League Cup. His wonderful performances on Thursday nights has punched a backdoor ticket into the most prestigious tournament in Europe, the Champions League. Superb shots from distance, dribbling and through balls made him the driving engine for United all season. His goal numbers may have dropped but that’s due to two reasons and neither pertain to Pogba having a down year. United finished this season with the most missed chances in the Premier League, so of course Pogba’s numbers are going to drop. Zlatan proved that he could play in England, even at his age, but he wasn’t the Zlatan of old. Other then Zlatan was Martial (wasn’t at top form), Lingard (wasn’t in top form) and Rashford who’s inexperienced and is going to miss his fair share of chances (Mbappe does it too). Rashford, Martial and Lingard will all grow and become more poised in front of the net, all the while United pursue a top class striker for next season. His rating this season was the 2nd highest of his career (only behind 2016), and only being 24, he has plenty of room to grow. Already a world class midfielder, he’s only going to get better.
4. Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig)
I absolutely believe that it’s a crime that Forsberg hasn’t received more global recognition. The Swede has all the numbers to show that he’s one of the top playmakers on Earth. Lack of play in Europe is what keeps him in the shadow but one thing is for sure. No player in Europe was able to put up more assists then Emil Forsberg. Bear in mind that the Bundesliga only plays 34 games whilst most leagues play 38. 4 games less and he still tops the continent, that’s a dangerous man. He also averaged the 2nd most key passes per game among the top 5 leagues in Europe. He’ll have his chance to prove his lethality next season when RB Leipzig competes in the Champions League next season. With Naby Keita holding down the middle of the field, Forsberg was given the freedom to get forward and create, whether it was down the middle of the pitch or off wide to the left. He proved week after week that he was one of the Europe’s best, racking up the 7th most Man of the Match awards in the top 5 European Leagues for 2017 and earned a spot on the Bundesliga Team of the Season. Still 25, Forsberg has just entered his prime and will be looking to reach the top of this list in years to come. For now he’ll have to settle for 4th and still look to pass Thiago Alcantara as the Bundesliga’s best midfielder. He possesses the ultimate offensive toolset, and could be the prolific midfielder that many of Europe’s top teams crave. And with links to Milan, Arsenal and Liverpool, he could be looking to test himself elsewhere. The Swede has replaced Zlatan on Sweden’s throne of top footballer and he’s Europe’s current playmaking king.
3. Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta)
Oh yes, a real obscure pick at number 3, Papu was a monster this past season. Although he spent 16 games at striker for Atalanta, he played a majority of his games in the attacking playmaker position (like Forsberg), so he gets on here. The 29 Argentinian has won a U-20 World Cup (so has Casemiro and Pogba) and easily had the season of his life last year. 10 goals and 4 assists in 19 games in the midfield, Papu was always on the attack and most times was the singular driving, attacking threat. He was able to get Atalanta to a top 5 finish in Serie A and even managed to get a cap for Argentina. He may not boast an impressive trophy cabinet like others on this list, but his individual performance this season is what gets him here. 16 goals and 10 assists makes him 1 of 8 players (Piatti, Hamsik, Callejon, Salah, Sanchez, Suarez, and Neymar) to reach double digits in goals and assists in Europe’s top 5 leagues. He can do it all offensively, whether it’s being a predator in the box, to goal seeking missiles from distance. He wowed this season in Italy, and will be looking to do it again on Thursday nights for the black and blue of Atalanta. He earned this club their first qualification for Europe in their history and topped both Milan clubs to do it. Papu was a one man tank this past season, and although it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to repeat it. He had a magical season in 2017 and blew up to become one of the world’s best midfielders. Even if it means for just one season.
2. Casemiro (Real Madrid)
Although it was tough to leave Kroos off the list, it’s deservedly Casemiro who should be on this list. I’m sure plenty of my picks on this list could spark plenty of debate, but I feel like the statistics back these picks up, and the same goes for the Brazilian. Already the winner of 3 Champions League titles and a La Liga with Real Madrid. He single handedly kept James Rodriguez and Isco off the starting XI because Zidane knew the defensive midfield battle couldn’t be handled by only Modric and Kroos. They needed an engine at the middle of the park, they needed their Makalele. Of course it’s N’Golo Kante that’s earned the name “Makalele,” but the Brazilian is one of the world’s best tacklers, and he loved proving it in the Champions League. His wondrous performances mid-week earned him a spot on the Champions League Team of the Season. The 5th best tackler in the world statistically, Casemiro makes it so difficult for teams to reach the Real back 4 past Casemiro. He arguably was the biggest reason for Madrid’s 1st La Liga title since 2012 and was the ultimate big game player, taking a direct part in goals against Napoli, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Juventus. The Champions League Round of 16, Quarterfinals and Finals, plus El Clasico in one season from the holding midfield position. He did it all and it’s time to start recognizing him as one of the top 10 players on Earth.
1. Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
This is the best midfielder patrolling the middle third on Earth right now. Thiago was the single constant for Carlo Ancelotti in his first season in Bavaria. The former Barcelona man was brought through to the Catalan first team by Pep Guardiola, and was later taken with Pep to Bayern in 2013. Guardiola had clearly seen the enormous load of talent that the Brazilian born Spanish international possessed. Although he has been relegated to the bench for much of his Bayern career, it was Ancelotti this year who gave Thiago the keys to the lineup, as he was given the task of becoming Bayern’s main playmaker, while tidying up the middle of the pitch as well. Not only did he perform this role well, but Thiago has come out and emerged as Bayern’s best player and the 3rd best player in the world. Don’t think he’s that good? I think the numbers from this past season could attest to his wondrous form. The first and foremost stat is Thiago’s 4 straight Bundesliga title, making it his 8th overall league title (the only year of his career where he didn’t secure a league title was in 2012 when Barca lost out to Mourinho’s Real Madrid). His passing was astronomical as he averaged the 2nd most passes per game in all of Europe and still averaged a pass success of over 90 percent which makes him one of the most accurate passers in Europe. Thiago’s 6 goals and 5 assists won’t blow you away but his individual performancesfrom the middle of the park will. Thiago managed two games where he won the Man of the Match Award without recording a goal or an assist in the game, string puller. He also put on a perfect 10 performance against the likes of: RB Leipzig, Arsenal and Augsburg. His defense was nothing to be ignored either as the energizer bunny of a defender was at the top of the charts in Europe for most interceptions per game. His incredible concentration and reading of the game, enables him to cut out attacks, which leaves the game wide open for the lightning quick, Bayern attack. He’s a proven tough tackler as well, despite his reputation as a flarey, prototypical, Barca midfielder. He won just under 3 tackles a game as Bayern’s main playmaker and fouled players half the amount of tackles he’d win (1.4 fouls per game). His tackling numbers would improve in the Champions League, as he averaged over 3 tackles a game in Europe, and fouled players even less (1.3 fouls per game). He may not win tackles like Casemiro, but if you run into the Spaniard at the middle of the park, you’re going to have issues going forward. The most well rounded player on Earth, Thiago is the driving engine of this Bayern squad, the 3rd best player on planet Earth and the best midfielder that world football has to offer.