The next great DM? 25 to watch
Using data, here are 25 defensive midfielders to keep an eye on, including Ricedo
Arsenal’s midfield is undergoing a full rebuild. Whether supporters get their wish and the club lands Ricedo, or whether Arsenal are forced to go in a completely different direction, there are a number of midfielders whose performances this season inspire some confidence.
Like most, I am team Rice and Caicedo, and I hope that’s what Arsenal ultimately do. And given the likelihood that Arsenal close one or (fingers crossed) both of those deals early in the window, I thought I’d start with a summer ranking of deeper-lying midfielders.
Some notes before I get started, as usual:
This list is created relying fully on statistics from the 2022-2023 season. I always encourage a healthy dose of the eye test before forming a final opinion on any player, so consume responsibly.
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that these midfielders are not all number 6s per se. But they do have traits I’ve identified as potentially good in that role.
That said, I’m happy with my formula (specially overhauled for this piece!) and its ability to identify midfielders who progress the ball, resist the press via dribbling and passing, secure and retain possession, and defend well in space. If you can do all of the above, you’re going to do well.
All scores are subject to an adjustment according to league strength, so you shouldn’t have to mentally raise or lower rankings to make it more “fair.”
There you have it! Let’s just jump right in with the name who popped to the top of my list…
This really shouldn’t be a surprise. I think most would consider Rodri the — or one of the — best number 6 midfielders on the planet. He progresses the ball, is reliable in possession, and wins duels. Ideal.
More controversial now…
United’s big money man came in second! There was a solid gap behind Rodri, and I didn’t account for cards accumulated, but there’s little wiggle room around what was a very good Casemiro season.
I don’t know if the chatter around Tchouameni backs this up, but his performances in the league were encouraging. He continues to be a destroyer off the ball and a good ball progressor in possession. At 23, he looks like a good potential future 6 for Real Madrid. Speaking of which…
Toni Kroos! He’s not especially a number 6, but he did end up in that midfield with Modric and Fede Valverde somewhat often. The formula spit out the aging German, whose age caught up with him in the Champions League, in fourth.
And while he faded late, Thomas Partey was simply wonderful for so much of the season. Reliable on the ball, a goal threat, a duel winner, press-resistant. His legs seemed to abandon him in the stretch run, and hopefully a summer of rest brings him back to full strength for next season, as I expect he’ll be sitting deep quite a bit for Arsenal once again.
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