The midfield is the spine of any football team. If the spine is not strong, the team is not safe and it will inevitably collapse. It is the department that's concerned with both protection and creativity and therefore, a midfield needs to be really well balanced to function efficiently.
Managers use various shapes and combinations in midfield. Some managers use a formation with two defensive midfielders and one attacking midfielder. Some use a 4-4-2 where a midfield duo or quartet is deployed whereas others stick to using a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 formation which also involves midfield trios.
Having a solid core is key to building a winning team. We've seen plenty of examples of this in the 21st century. Without further ado, let's take a look at five of the greatest midfield trios since the turn of the millennium.
#5 Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva (Manchester City)
One of the things that makes Pep Guardiola a great manager is how precise he is with the profiles he is looking for when building a team. Guardiola knows exactly what kind of players he needs in midfield for his side to be able to play his style of football.
Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva played together in Manchester City's midfield between 2015 and 2020. Fernandinho was the muscle behind the two midfield maestros, De Bruyne and Silva.
Fernandinho always gave his 100% and was an aggressive tackler who didn't mind absorbing a few bruises for the sake of his team. Silva provided the silk, easing past opponents with his deft touches and dictating play with his delightful passing.
Kevin De Bruyne was a monster of a box-to-box midfielder and his passing and ability to arrive late in the box made him a major threat. The Manchester City midfield trio dominated the Premier League under Guardiola's tutelage and won two successive league titles in the 2017-18 and the 2018-19 seasons.
#4 Michael Essien, Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Jose Mourinho took European football by storm when he guided Porto to Champions League glory in 2004. He took over as Chelsea's manager shortly after and led the Blues to the Premier League title in his debut season in England.
Backed heavily in the transfer window, Mourinho roped in Michael Essien from Lyon on a deal worth £34 million. He formed a lethal midfield trio alongside Frank Lampard and former Real Madrid outcast Claude Makelele.
The trio were massively influential as Chelsea won the Premier League for a second successive year. Makelele is one of the greatest defensive midfielders of all time. He was so good that the position he used to play (between the defence and midfield) is now known as the 'Makelele Role'.
Essien was an excellent box-to-box midfielder and in Lampard, Chelsea had one of the most prolific attacking midfielders of the modern era. In addition to the 2005-06 Premier League title, the trio also won the FA Cup and the League Cup in the 2006-07 season.
#3 Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
AC Milan were one of the most dominant teams in Europe in the first decade of the 21st century. Kaka, the absolute phenomenon that he was, stole the limelight during this time but people are too quick to overlook the contributions of AC Milan's actual midfield.
Kaka regularly played as an attacking midfielder with very limited defensive responsibilities. That's why he wasn't that big a hit at Real Madrid.
At AC Milan, the freedom to roam and take matters into his own hands was afforded to Kaka due to their solid midfield. That's down to the sheer excellence of Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo.
Gattuso is among the most intimidating midfielders we've ever seen. He was always ready for battle and had a temper problem as well. To put it simply, he was not one to mess with. Gattuso wasn't just the muscle though as he was also an intellligent footballer who possessed a great reading of the game.
He shared a great chemistry with Andrea Pirlo for both club and country. Pirlo is one of the best deep-lying playmakers of all time.
Seedorf, nicknamed “Il Professore” was a technically gifted midfielder who could produce some absolute scorchers from range.
Pirlo, Gattuso and Seedorf won two UEFA Champions League titles and two UEFA Super Cups together at AC Milan.
#2 Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi (Barcelona)
Pep Guardiola assembled one of the best club football teams of all time at Barcelona in is first ever managerial stint between 2008 and 2012. They won the Champions League twice and while Lionel Messi was the superstar of the group, the contributions of their midfield trio were just as important.
Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta dominated football like no other. The three La Masia graduates were incredible technicians who just couldn't be shaken off the ball. Busquets is one of the greatest defensive midfielders of all time.
Xavi and Iniesta's ability on the ball was unmatched and the duo's ability to steal the ball, pick a pass and produce jaw-dropping moments was simply unrivalled. The trio won three Champions League titles, five La Liga titles and three Copa del Rey titles with Barcelona.
They were also part of the Spanish national team that won the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012.
#1 Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have won five Champions League titles in the last eight seasons. But it's worth noting that Casemiro didn't play a huge role in Real Madrid's 2013-14 Champions League triumph. So, let's leave that out of the discussion for now.
The trio of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric have also won three La Liga titles and quite simply deserve to be at the top of the list for their sheer efficiency.
Casemiro is the one who does the dirty work for Real Madrid. After starting off as a purely defensive midfielder, he has since improved some of the technical aspects of his game. Casemiro now contributes much more to his side than just winning the ball back.
Kroos is one of the best passers of the modern era. He loves to pull the strings from midfield and is an absolute artist the way he goes about orchestrating play from deep. Modric is the engine of the side and is one of the most technically adept footballers on the planet.
The trio complement each other perfectly well. Casemiro, Kroos and Modric have truly attained the status of greatness after winning their third La Liga title and their fifth Champions League title this season.