The role of the central defensive midfielder is one of the most important for any team and it is also one which largely goes unnoticed during a game. They sit in the middle of the pitch, breaking up play at regular intervals and control the tempo of the game by dropping in deep to receive balls from their centre-backs, before going on to orchestrate play from well within their own half. A defensive midfielder has to be tactically astute besides being an intelligent player, and in today’s modern game, they have to slot in as a third centre-back at times when their full-backs have gone forward to join the attack.
Besides being a good tackler, they have to be an excellent reader of the game in order to intercept dangerous passes around their own penalty box. Many a time, a midfielder has to curtail his attacking instincts for the greater good of the team and stay behind to prevent their sides from being exposed by counter attacks.
In Patrick Viera’s own words: “As a defensive midfielder you must be tactically aware. You’re at the heart of the team so you have to hold everything together and allow other players to express themselves. To do this you need to talk a lot and use your brain, because quite often you have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to cover the gap between the midfield and the back four, cover the left and right full-backs when they go forward and the central defenders when they push further up the pitch.”
The top ten defensive midfielders from the 2013/14 season based on the stats provided by whoscored.com with the criteria of a minimum of 85 attempted tackles with the player featuring in at least half of his team’s matches over the course of the season.
1) Michael Jedinak (7.55 whoscored rating)
Jedinak was a key member of the Palace side that finished 11th. He made the highest number of tackles in the league with 133 winning close to 77% of those besides winning 168 duels aerial duels over the course of the season with an incredible win percentage of 71.19%.
He also had the league’s highest 139 interceptions and the 30-year-old Australian was involved in 304 ground duels, winning almost 60% of those. In short, he won 3.5 tackles and made 3.7 interceptions per game.
He started all 3 games for his country in the World Cup in Brazil as they put up dogged fights in their losses to Chile and Holland.
Jedinak has made a combined total of 66 more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the top flight (262).
He came close to playing every minute of the season for Crystal Palace before being forced out with a minor injury in the final game and was dribbled past by only 1.1 times per game receiving seven yellow cards in the process over the course of the season.
2) Morgan Schneiderlin (7.20 whoscored rating)
Morgan Schneiderlin has been a key member of the Southampton side since his arrival from Strasbourg six years ago and has feature over 200 times for the club although he is determined to join former manager Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane.
A mainstay of the Saints’ side since the dark days of League One, he has been a key member of the side that achieved successive promotions to the Premier League. His ability to break up play along with his eye to intercept a pass has made him a household name over the past couple of season.
Last season, he was involved in almost 300 ground duels as he attempted 113 tackles, winning 77% of those. He had an 89.3% passing accuracy and was dribbled past 1.2 times a game receiving 8 yellows in the process. He made 3.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game and is destined to become one of the leading defensive midfielders of the world.
3) James McCarthy (7.14 whoscored rating)
McCarthy played a quiet, tidy role for Roberto Martinez’s side with Arsenal just edging them out for the all important 4th place spot.
Amidst the attractive football played by Everton last season, McCarthy’s role went largely unnoticed as he only scored his first goal for the club on the last day of the season.
But where he did make an impression was in the centre of the park making 112 tackles winning 3/4 of those and getting involved in 288 ground duels. He had a pretty decent 87% passing accuracy and was dribbled past 1.2 times per game, receiving just the five yellows over the course of the season. On an average he made 3.3 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game.
4) Mark Noble (7.13 whoscored rating)
Mark Noble had a fantastic season with West Ham United as he started in all his side’s 38 games and was deservedly named as the ‘Hammer of the Season’. He made 111 tackles and was involved in 325 ground duels of which he won more than 57%.
He only competed in 22 aerial duels though and had a pass accuracy of close to 83% with 5.1 long balls per game.
He contributed to Sam Allardyce’s side with 2.9 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game and looks set to continue with his rich vein of form from last season.
5) Mikel Arteta (7.12 whoscored rating)
Arteta scored just the two penalties, providing zero assists during last season as he further matured into his much deeper role at the swashbuckling Arsenal side compared to the determined workhorse that Everton were under David Moyes, where he was their main creative influence.
Arteta completed 92.1 % of his passes, which was the highest for any midfielder as he helped Arsenal keep the ball ticking and retain possession.
He made 104 tackles in his 31 appearances and won over 67% of them. He made 69 interceptions in total and won possession 200 times over the course of the campaign.
He was the epitome of winning the ball back and recycling possession with 3.4 tackles and 2 interceptions per game.
6) Lucas Leiva (7.07 whoscored rating)
Lucas Leiva made an impressive 3.3 tackles per match but what may not be too apparent is his ability to compete for loose balls in the middle of the pitch. He attempted 90 aerial duels winning more than 60% of those.
He was accurate 90.8% of the times with his passing as helped his side to retain possession with 3.3 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game.
A couple of years back, he had the best tackles per match ratio but with the arrival of Emre Can and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s adaptation of the regista role, Lucas may be headed out of England having improved remarkably since his arrival as a 20-year-old from Brazilian club Gremio.
7) Steve Sidwell (7.03 whoscored rating)
Sidwell was one of the best players for Fulham during last season, being their top scorer with seven goals as he featured in all 38 games for the London club. Playing the role of a combative midfielder, he was involved in 355 ground duels which was second in this list. Sidwell was also took part in the second most aerial duels, with 123.
It is quite understandable though that he won only won just over half of those because of his short frame. Surprisingly enough, he did score a few goals form corners as teams tended not to focus on him while marking players. His passing percentage of 83 was down to his style of playing few too many long balls.
Unsurprisingly, Stoke swooped in for the 31-year-old who made 3.2 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game last season, following the expiration of his contract with Fulham who were relegated last season.
8) Youssuf Mulumbu (7.02 whoscored rating)
Mulumbu was second behind Jedinak in the interceptions per game with a 3.1 per game as he made 37 appearances for West Brom. He was heavily involved in middle of the pitch, competing in 354 duels, which is the third highest of this list. Also despite making the least number of tackles out of the ten players, he won close to 84% of those, which is the highest in this list.
In short, he comes out to be a selective tackler, but a very neat one in that. He was dribbled past just once a game, and he made 2.4 tackles per game.
9) Cheick Tiote (6.99 whoscored rating)
Cheick Tiote has been a regular fixture for Newcastle since his move from FC Twente in 2010. The Ivorian was involved in the highest number of ground duels for midfielders lasts season with 357 while winning 55% of those.
He wasn’t too effective in the air though as he won just about 45% of the 88 duels he competed in and despite having a pass accuracy of 87.2%, he was consistently undisciplined with his accumulation of ten yellow cards.
He did recover possession every ten minutes though, with 3.2 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game which is a very good showing.
10) Claudio Yacob (6.84 whoscored rating)
Claudio Yacob had the best tackle per game ratio in the league with 3.8. Even though he started just 22 games, he made 102 tackles and maybe because he played the least amount of time in this category, he won an astonishing 82.35% of his tackles.
This stat surely would have come down had he played more because of hamstring problems and was a regular starter under Pepe Mel, but it does not take away his ability to time tackles close to perfection.
He also made 1.7 interceptions per game, completing an impressive 87.2% of his passes though was dribbled past 1.7 times a game, getting booked seven times in 27 appearances.
Having arrived in 2012, the midfielder had an impressive debut campaign and has received interest from several clubs across Europe with Alan Irvine not ruling out the 27-year-old’s sale.