The very best in the world will be on show this season in Champions League with the goal of raising the big-eared trophy at the end of the season. These are the cream of the crop, the 10 best midfielders of that bunch.
Koke - Atletico Madrid
Koke is the ultra-modern man. It’s tough to define what kind of midfielder Koke is, because to try and define him is to put him in a box. Koke is whatever you need him to be. Need a deep-lying playmaker? You have a Koke. Need a box-to-box midfielder? Get your Koke here. Wide-midfielder-playmaker-defensive-midfielder-whatever-you-need-I-got-it. Smooth as velvet but with a touch of the Atletico Madrid nastiness, Diego Simeone’s golden boy embodies all of that team’s best qualities.
Getty ImagesBoris Streubel
Arturo Vidal - Bayern Munich
Arturo Vidal’s Chilean teammate Gary Medel is nicknamed The Pitbull because of his squat frame and dangerous reputation, but if footballers were dogs, Vidal would be a best in show pittie. A ball of muscle and boundless energy, Vidal’s nearly indestructible but doesn’t have a vicious bone in his body. A ferocious tackler, he can be painfully over-exuberant, but the 29-year-old Chilean is one of the most complete players in the game today. A real dog in midfield.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesAlex Grimm
Andres Iniesta - Barcelona
Andres Iniesta looks like the main character in a Freaky Friday remake where a famous athlete gets switched into a software engineer’s body. He just doesn’t make sense. The ball’s right there. It’s there. And then it’s gone. Whisked away by means of a tiny blank-faced man who majestically floats around the soccer field like some sort of unassuming but ominously overpowered metahuman in Barcelona silks. Something’s not right about that man.
Getty ImagesAitor Alcalde
Luka Modric - Real Madrid
Rumor has it Luka Modric got kicked out of The Durmstrang Institute for a completely nonviolent magical offense and chose to live the rest of his life with us muggles, torturing humans while wearing the colors of Real Madrid. Modric hasn’t just mastered the ball, he uses his dark arts to trick it by, around, right through defenders. Watch him play next time and tell me there isn’t some sort of sorcery at work.
Real Madrid via Getty ImagesAngel Martinez
Kevin De Bruyne - Manchester City
Kevin De Bruyne may look like the kid on every single cover of every single college brochure ever, but in reality he’s an absurdly talented soccer player who makes the game look increasingly easier every time he steps on the field. He’s two-footed, deceptively quick, and surgical with both his passing and shooting. And he does it all while keeping up with his Organic Chemistry homework.
Getty ImagesStu Forster
Miralem Pjanic - Juventus
Juventus made noise at the beginning of the summer by neatly plucking Pjanic from Roma due to (in light of today’s market) an absurdly low release clause, signing him for a third of Paul Pogba’s sale price. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison with those two players, but Pogba’s departure overshadowed what a phenomenal addition Pjanic was. His incredible vision and deft touch is accompanied by surprising industry and a willingness to work for the team. A real game-changer.
AFP/Getty ImagesMARCO BERTORELLO
Mesut Ozil - Arsenal
Mesut Ozil has two speeds: Nonchalant and “wait, rewind it, what’d he just do?” Where his Germany teammate Toni Kroos’s passes are engineered in a pristine lab, Ozil’s been producing carefully curated locally sourced artisanal passes since 2006. Every single pass is different and special in its own way. When sampling the Ozil menu, it’s impossible to pass up the delectable dribbling options as well, specifically of the nutmeg variety.
Getty ImagesClive Rose
David Silva - Manchester City
There are whispers that David Silva was formed from a strand of Andres Iniesta’s DNA, but all inquiries about the matter have been swiftly and firmly rebuffed by the Spanish government. Silva’s got the same impossibly shifty movement, 360 degree vision and Nobel Prize-level of soccer understanding as his older Spanish teammate, he just does it with his left foot. There’s something strange going on here, I’m telling you.
Getty ImagesStu Forster
Toni Kroos - Real Madrid
Play a game next time you watch Toni Kroos play. See if you can spot his shinguards. They’re TINY. Also, try a second one: See if you can get to two hands when counting misplaced passes. MASSIVE SPOILERS: You Probably Won’t. Toni Kroos passes the ball like each interception takes a year off his life. Kroos knocks the pill like every completed pass donates a dollar to cancer prevention research. Even when he scores goals it’s like he’s passing to a specific hexagon in the net. It’s unreal.
Getty ImagesDenis Doyle
Thiago Alcantara - Bayern Munich
If you listen closely, you can hear samba music playing every time Thiago gets the ball at his feet. The 25-year-old may represent Spain, but his style is all an ode to his father’s Brazilian roots. Thiago’s full of flicks and lightning quick tricks, and he was voted Most Likely To Embarrass You In Front Of Your Whole Family in grade school. He was groomed in two of the best finishing schools in the world coming from Barcelona to Bayern, and he’s now coming into his own as one of Europe’s best midfielders. Ivan Rakitic, Marco Verratti, Sergio Busquets and a couple other fellas all deserve at least a mention here, but Thiago gets the nod due to his extreme sauciness.