Midfielders are pivotal to winning football games. They operate in and around the centre of the pitch, creating opportunities for the forwards while protecting the backline.
Midfielders are the most hardworking players in a football team. More often than not, their work rates are second to none. The job of midfielders may not be as flashy as that of the strikers', but a midfielder's ability on the ball is what makes a team click.
There have been legendary midfielders in the history of the game. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Andrea Pirlo, Zinedine Zidane, etc were in a league of their own and dominated the football world for years.
On that note, let us have a look at the top ten active midfielders in world football.
10. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus Midfielder)
Controlling the tempo of the game is quite easily the perfect definition of what Miralem Pjanic does on a football pitch. Keeping the game flowing, bringing his wide players into the game and acting as a shield to the back four are three of the most basic attributes of Pjanic.
A natural central midfielder, mere stats would not help you determine the quality of someone like Pjanic. The Bosnian international often bases his game on finding passes across the pitch with his brilliant accuracy, while also being a potent threat during set-pieces. With a pass completion rate of 89.8% and an average of two key passes per game in the league, it's safe to say that Pjanic is the glue that binds Juventus.
The 29-year-old goes under the radar because of his style of play. Pjanic is neither the fastest nor the strongest, but his qualities come handy when he has the ball. Probably the most creative player in Juventus' squad, Miralem Pjanic has consistently been a name that comes up during a discussion about the best midfielders in the world.
9. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool Midfielder)
Since Jurgen Klopp took over the helm at Liverpool four years ago, Adam Lallana, James Milner and Jordan Henderson are the only players to still be a part of the German tactician's squad.
Of the trio, only Jordan Henderson is still a regular starter in Klopp's XI. It is an evidence of the Englishman transforming his game to a different level amidst fierce competition from the likes of Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
Defeating his critics with sheer class, Henderson led his club to its sixth Champions League title last year. The midfielder has also played a key role in Liverpool's performances in the league this season. Liverpool sit 25 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City, waiting for the competition to resume.
8. Casemiro (Real Madrid Midfielder)
Casemiro is an unsung Real Madrid superstar. Unlike his flashier teammates, the 28-year-old is well and truly known as their silent hero, dominating everything and anything that comes in his way. An absolute workhorse, Casemiro pretty much relies on his brilliant game-reading skills and instincts to break up counter-attacks, protecting the back-line as well as providing a goalscoring threat if Real Madrid needs an extra man in the box.
The Brazilian midfielder averages 3.3 tackles per 90, one of the best in the league, while also making 2.1 interceptions per game. Although a central defensive midfielder by nature, Casemiro has scored three goals and set up two for his teammates in 25 appearances this season. It suggests that despite being such a key piece in Real Madrid's shield, the Brazilian does have some offensive abilities in his locker.
7. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa Midfielder)
Aston Villa's captain fantastic Jack Grealish is undoubtedly one of the best players in the EPL. From playing Championship football for three consecutive years since 2015, Jack Grealish led his side to secure promotion to the top division. The former Notts County player has registered seven goals and six assists in the Premier League this season, which is nearly twice more goal-contributions than any other Aston Villa player.
The 24-year-old is not only a fabulous goal-provider but is also very versatile. Grealish has been often deployed as a left-winger or central midfielder by Dean Smith. With 2.7 key passes, 2.2 dribbles and an average of 39.9 passes played per 90, Jack Grealish is without question one of the best midfielders across the globe at the moment.
6. Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid Midfielder)
The first thing you need from your defensive midfielder is the skill to break up plays, stop counter-attacks and limit penetration through the middle; Thomas Partey ticks all these boxes. The Ghanaian averaged 3.6 tackles per game in the Champions League, the best in the competition this season. He also registered 1.5 interceptions and 1.6 dribbles every game and has been key in leading Atletico Madrid into the quarter-finals of the Champions League at the expense of defending champions Liverpool.
Thomas Partey's performance in the Round of 16 first leg against Liverpool was arguably one of his best performances of the season. He made a total of 13 recoveries, won five tackles, two interceptions and played four accurate long balls throughout the game. The likes of Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum might have expected for an easier time on the pitch.
Partey is the world's best defensive midfielder at the moment and is arguably a key player in Atletico Madrid's squad.
5. Thiago Alcantra (Bayern Munich Midfielder)
When it comes to consistency with flair, there are only a couple of midfielders who can outperform Thiago Alcantara. Alcantara is not as impressive a tackler of the ball like Casemiro. But the Spaniard has the ability to control games from midfield, playing a role called the 'deep-lying playmaker.
Xabi Alonso and Pirlo are two examples of deep-lying playmakers. Because they play deep, they have a little more time on the ball when compared to attacking midfielders,and are able to make things happen. Thiago Alcantara played a similar role under Niko Kovac; Hans-Dieter Flick prefers him in the same position as well.
The 29-year old plays 0.9 key passes per 90 in the league, while completing three dribbles and two tackles. Alcantara's average passing accuracy of 90.8% is one of the best in the league. The former Barcelona man has found his feet at Bayern.
Although several clubs are keen on signing him considering he has only one year left on his contract, Thiago Alcantara is likely to stay put at Bayern Munich.
4. Santi Cazorla (Villareal Midfielder)
What can we say about Santi Cazorla that already hasn't been said? Cazorla gets into the top four for two reasons.
The Spaniard, at the age of 35, is La Liga's highest-scoring midfielder. The former Arsenal man has been a wizard in Villareal's side, leading his team to eighth place in the table, just seven points off a European spot after the club finished 14th last season.
Santi Cazorla averages a goal or assist every 135 minutes, which is only behind the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema. A world-class attacking player, Santi Cazorla has a work rate that is also among the best in the league.
He makes 0.5 interceptions and 1.6 tackles per 90 while having a passing accuracy of 86.4%. With eight goals and six assists in 21 appearances after being sidelined for nearly a year, Santi Cazorla has been an immense player for Villareal this term. This is a comeback story the streets won't forget.
3. Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea Midfielder)
Mateo Kovacic under Maurizio Sarri was a different player than the current version we have been witnessing. From being an unsettled player to one of Chelsea's most valuable in just a few months, the Croatian has turned the tables in his favour in some style.
The 25-year-old has found his feet in England. Kovacic has formed a robust partnership alongside Jorginho. In the absence of N'Golo Kante this term, Frank Lampard did not have to worry much about the midfield as Kovacic has been an immense revealing this season.
Unlike wingers, midfielders need to make quick decisions in the middle of the pitch, and this term, Kovacic has been excellent in this department. He has a passing accuracy of 89.8% in the most intense league in the world and completes 3.2 dribbles per 90.
Although it may be an unpopular opinion, Mateo Kovacic is the third best midfielder in the world as things stand.
2. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid Midfielder)
Is there a midfielder more consistent than Toni Kroos? Since making his switch to Real Madrid in 2014 for a bargain price of €25 million, Toni Kroos has become a legend at the Spanish capital club. The German is an epitome of unbelievable consistency and class.
Toni Kroos excels at having the best passing accuracy across the globe this season. This is despite the fact that he is the hub of Real Madrid's creativity, constantly playing long balls across the pitch and taking risks with the ball.
The German averages 2.1 key passes and 7 long balls per 90 in the league, with an astonishing 4.4 key passes per game in the Champions League. Having a passing accuracy of 93% in both competitions, he has been the best passer in the football world this season.
1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City Midfielder)
It is safe to say that Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the world by some distance. The Belgian currently holds the highest number of goal contributions in the Premier League, ahead of the likes of Jamie Vardy, Sergio Aguero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah, etc, despite being a midfielder.
Pep Guardiola deserves high praise for getting the best out of De Bruyne who is a great passer of the ball. The 28-year-old has got a fantastic goalscoring knack, often scoring absolute screamers either from free kicks or from outside the box.
A creative link for both Manchester City and Belgium, De Bruyne is one of the most advanced players in the game. His vision for passes while also being able to snap out a goal from nowhere indeed makes him the best midfielder in the world.
Kevin De Bruyne has assisted 17 goals in just 26 appearances for Manchester City in the league, while also scoring eight. The Belgian completes 57 passes per game on average, with a pass completion rate of 82%. To add the cherry on top of the cake, De Bruyne has created 25 big chances for his teammates, the best in the competition.
There won't be a paucity of suitors for the midfield maestro. The likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, etc would certainly keep an eye out for De Bruyne in case Manchester City lose out on Champions League football.
De Bruyne has a little over two years left in his contract, and sooner rather than later, Man City would like to lock their MVP down for a longer period.