A ranking of 10 of the best holding midfielders in the world currently

A ranking of 10 of the best holding midfielders in the world currently

Ciku Njuguna
updated at December 15, 2023 at 11:03 AM
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Holding midfielders are defensive players whose roles as playmakers and tacklers are crucial to a team. Some of the best footballers of all time include legendary players such as Jorginho, Xavi and Thomas Müller. Dig in to discover all the current holding defensive midfielders around the world.

The best holding midfielders
Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes plays during a UEFA Champions League match against Associazione Calcio Milan at St. James's Park in Newcastle on December 13, 2023. Photo by MI News/NurPhoto.
Source: Getty Images

What is the role of the holding midfielder? Unlike central and wide midfielders, these players hold positions to defend their goal better, just as their name suggests. Scroll down for a comprehensive list of football players who have honed holding midfielder tactics.

What makes the best holding midfielders?

The world’s finest holding defence players remain close to their own goal to neutralise attacks and enhance defence. Athletes in this list of elite soccer stars are masters of all trades, playing as midfield two, three, or box-to-box players.

What is the role of a holding defensive midfielder?
Former Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets was in action during a Santander match against RCD Mallorca at Camp Nou on May 28, 2023, in Spain. Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images.
Source: Getty Images

Who are the best holding midfielders currently?

Sports Brief has used data from reputable sports sites and official team websites such as Transfermarkt to give details of the best-holding midfielders in the world and their stats. Here is a summary of some of the most notable holding midfielders in 2022/23.

10. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg

Danish CDM Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has accrued over 480 career tackles with a 60% tackle success rate. A March report by FOX Sports referred to the number 5 player who had become a dependable holding defence player for Tottenham Hotspur. Additionally, Adrian Clarke's analysis ranks him among the best-holding midfielders in Europe, with a record of 2.48 tackles won per 90 minutes and 8.29 duels won per match.

What is the difference between a holding midfielder and a deep lying playmaker?
Hotspur's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was in action during a match against Aston Villa at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on November 26, 2023, in London, England. Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media.
Source: Getty Images

9. João Palhinha

Palinha is a Portuguese football player who wears the number 26 jersey for Fulham FC. His performance for the Premier League team can not be understated. He led in season stats in the 2021/22 season with 147 tackles. According to Stats24, in his last six matches of the 2022/23 season, he generated 28 tackles with ten interceptions and boasts an overall pass success rate of 84.2%.

What is the difference between a holding midfielder and a deep lying playmaker?
Fulham FC's João Palhinha celebrates after scoring the second goal during a Premier League match against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on August 26, 2023 in London, England. Photo by Paul Harding.
Source: Getty Images

8. Aurélien Tchouaméni

French football player Aurélien Djani Tchouaméni joins the ranks of top defensive players of 2022/23. The number 18 defence player has distinguished himself as one of the best players for La Liga's Real Madrid CF. At the time of writing, he had 14 tackles, winning eight and losing six.

During his first season with Real, the tenacious defender made 43 appearances, winning 47 tackles out of 74 total generated with 56 clearances and 53 interceptions. Records of his most recent performance reveal that the right-footed player generated and won three tackles, allowing his team to prevail against Getafe by two goals to one.

Is a holding midfielder a DM?
Real Madrid's Aurélien Tchouaméni controls the ball against SSC Napoli at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on October 3, 2023, in Naples, Italy. Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images.
Source: Getty Images

7. Joshua Kimmich

Bundesliga’s top defensive midfielder, Joshua Walter Kimmich, earned the name Mr Versatile for his impressive abilities on the field. He has played in almost all football positions except for the goalkeeping and forward positions.

Based on an analysis by Coaches Voices, he can create plays from deep positions while defending the team. In addition, he is an aggressive dueller and tackler with the ability to adjust to different defensive needs on the field.

What is a holding midfielder?
Germany's Joshua Kimmich (left) battles against Turkey's Yusuf Yazici (right) during a match at Olympiastadion on November 18, 2023, in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Thomas Eisenhuth/GES Sportfoto.
Source: Getty Images

6. Enzo Fernández

At 22 years of age (as of December 2023), Enzo Jeremías Fernández has recorded significant success as a footballer, winning various records, including the 2022 World Cup. The versatile defensive player at Chelsea FC has become an excellent pass-master and playmaker who can play as a box-to-box, single pivot and deep-lying player. He leads the list of the best defensive midfielders, with the highest passing accuracy of 76.7% and holds the number 1 Premier League rank for the most successful long passes (8.08).

Who is the best defensive midfielder in EPL this season?
Chelsea's Enzo Fernández was in action during a UEFA Champions League match against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2023, in London, United Kingdom. Photo by Soccrates.
Source: Getty Images

5. Declan Rice

24-year-old (at the time of writing) Declan Rice is the number 41 player for Arsenal FC who plays in the midfield position. The versatile defenseman plays in various positions as a box-to-box and a central defensive midfielder.

Upon his transfer to Arsenal in June 2023, former goalkeeper Asmir Begovic hailed Arsenal for acquiring the English football player. Speaking to the BBC, he said,

"Declan Rice is one of the best, if not the best, holding midfielders in the world."
Top 20 best holding midfielders in the world
Arsenal FC's Declan Rice was in action during a Premier League match against Everton FC at Goodison Park on September 17, 2023, in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus.
Source: Getty Images

4. Casemiro

Manchester United’s number 18, Carlos Henrique Casimiro, has cemented his position as the team’s best line of defence and surprise scorer. In his own words, he described his role after leading Man U to a 2-1 win against Reading, saying,

"My primary job is to give more balance to the defence, help my teammates, give more quality to the build-up, but to score is also important and satisfying."

An analysis of Man United’s top-flight record by the Premier League revealed that in the 2022/2023 season, the team won 2.1 more points with Casemiro than without (1.7). He is also the second-best midfielder in the Premier League to record the most tackles (1.95) and duels (7.86) per 90 minutes.

Who is the best defensive midfielder in 2023?
Manchester United's Casemiro took a penalty kick during a game against Arsenal at MetLife Stadium on July 22, 2023, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo by Howard Smith/ISI Photos.
Source: Getty Images

3. Rodri

Spanish professional soccer player Rodrigo Hernández Cascante is Man City's holding midfielder. English pundit Adrian Clarke's ranking placed him second among the best-holding midfielders in the Premier League. At the time of writing, he has made the most passes in the opposition half (1,217), possessions per 90 minutes (9.75), and touches in the Premier League in the 2022/23 season.

Who is the best defensive midfielder in EPL this season?
Spain's Rodri Hernandez plays during a match against Cyprus at the Nuevo Los Carmenes Stadium on September 12, 2023, in Granada, Spain. Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates.
Source: Getty Images

2. Thomas Partey

In March 2023, Ghanaian midfielder and right backer Thomas Partey was ranked as the best-holding midfielder in the EPL. With top speeds of 34.5km/hr, he plays a pivotal role on the Arsenal roster as a defensive midfielder.

Speaking to Rio Ferdinand through Goal, his teammate, Oleksandr Zinchenko, showered Party with praises, calling him the best holding midfielder he has ever played with. Zinchenko compared Partey’s talent to Casemiro, Fernandinho and Rodri, saying,

“Casemiro is a world-class football player. But if I had to choose, it would be Partey. I had the debate in my head, who is the best holding midfielder I have ever played with – it was between Fernandinho, Rodri and Partey. ”
Who are the most promising defensive midfielders?
Thomas Partey controls the ball during a La Liga match between Atletico de Madrid and Granada CF on February 08, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Rubén de la Fuente Pérez/NurPhoto.
Source: Getty Images

1. N'Golo Kante

Kante is a versatile, multi-talented football player who has occupied various roles for his teams. While playing for Chelsea, he became known as one of the best box-to-box midfielders.

In addition to topping holding midfielder lists, he has also excelled as a deep-lying player. Over the years, Kante’s talent has been described as the best defensive ability in global football.

What is the difference between holding midfielder and defensive midfielder?
Former Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante was in action during a UEFA match against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2023, in London, England. Photo by Harriet Lander/Chelsea FC.
Source: Getty Images

Who are the best holding midfielders ever?

Over the years, this gatekeeping position has been occupied by some of the world's best football players of all time. Here is a list of defence players who held and excelled in the position at one point in their careers.

  1. Claude Makelele
  2. Sergio Busquets
  3. Yaya Touré
  4. Michael Essien
  5. Granit Xhaka
  6. Xabi Alonso
  7. Marco Tardelli
  8. Bruno Guimarães
  9. Roméo Lavia
  10. Moisés Caicedo
The best holding midfielder in the world
Brighton's Moisés Caicedo lines up a shot during a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at American Express Community Stadium on April 29, 2023, in Brighton, England. Photo by Charlie Crowhurst.
Source: Getty Images

Final word

The best holding midfielders are unsung heroes who hold their team's defensive lines, even launching attacks against the opposing team. Although the role of defence in a football team is not solely placed upon holding midfielders, their contribution can not be understated.

READ MORE: Top 30 best defensive midfielders in the world as of 2023 ranked

Sports Brief published an article ranking the world's best defensive midfielders. The report covers thirty of the best football players whose primary role is to shield the team from opponents' attacks. Click the link above to discover the best DMs of all time and the most promising players in the position.

Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.