Welcome back to the Bundesliga Preview for 2023/24, where we will be going position by position and ranking the top players that the league has to offer. With the transfer window wrapped up, we resume our rankings, now moving to the middle of the park with a look at the league’s best defensive midfielders.
20. Dejan Ljubičić (FC Köln)
Köln have got a pretty solid ball playing defensive midfielder in their hands in Ljubičić, although admittedly they had a far better player last season.
19. Yannik Keitel (SC Freiburg)
Freiburg’s deputy in defensive midfield is a more than capable option.
18. Christoph Kramer (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
He may be well beyond his best years but Kramer is still a solid defensive midfielder, still approaching all the basic functions of his role with a workmanlike attitude.
17. Alex Král (Union Berlin)
Part of Union’s latest and most adventurous foray into the transfer market, Král has been labelled for big things and could well continue his previously stagnated upward journey with some European football in Berlin.
16. Florian Grillitsch (TSG Hoffenheim)
After a short sabbatical in Amsterdam that went poorly, Grillitsch returns to Hoffenheim with a chip on his shoulder.
15. Niklas Dorsch (FC Augsburg)
The Bayern academy product is a proper hard man in the No. 6 role, never hesitating before making the hard decisions off the ball and providing himself as a threat from deep on the ball.
14. Diadie Samassékou (TSG Hoffenheim)
Another player who took a short sabbatical away from Hoffenheim, Samassékou returns to Hoffenheim with a decent year on loan at Olympiacos under his belt but it remains to be seen how he will re-acclimatise to life in Germany.
13. Lucas Tousart (Union Berlin)
Crossing the lines of Berlin, former Olympique Lyon man Tousart has been an active ball winner as well as a talented player in possession, and will be an asset to Union’s midfield.
12. Julian Weigl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Gladbach’s vice-captain (and currently captain in Jonas Omlin’s absence) is a solid defensive midfield option, although he is yet to reach the heights in Germany which he did with Benfica a couple years ago.
11. Salih Özcan (Borussia Dortmund)
A little out of his depth in a team like Dortmund, Özcan is best employed as a ball winning aggressor in midfield for a team that looks to sit low and break on the counter, but Edin Terzić has still found occasional use for the Turkish international.
10. Rani Khedira (Union Berlin)
Khedira has been the rock of Union’s midfield, doing all the dirty work in the middle that sets the base for Union’s ‘1% chance, 99% faith’ approach to football. A pure hard worker.
9. Kristijan Jakić (Eintracht Frankfurt)
A versatile squad option, Jakić has found himself playing right-back, centre-back and in midfield for Frankfurt, but his best position is as a defensive midfielder. Jakić’s ability to read the game goes under the radar due to his lowkey profile.
8. Noah Mbamba (Bayer Leverkusen)
A player burdened with a massive destiny, Mbamba has all the tools to be a world class defensive midfielder in the future. Can’t wait to see how his physical and off the ball qualities are complemented by Xabi Alonso’s coaching in the possession and technical aspects.
7. Emre Can (Borussia Dortmund)
Dortmund’s new captain is a rough around the edges but consistent player, with some great reading of the game and bravery in putting himself in dangerous situations to help the team.
6. Anton Stach (Hoffenheim)
Hoffenheim’s third entry in this list, Stach is a top player who enjoyed a fantastic season in several roles for Mainz last year, but his best role is by far as a defensive minded midfielder. Stach’s ability to win the ball both deep and when stepping up is amongst the best in Europe, and is paired with a relentless forward-thinking mindset when the ball is won.
5. Nicolas Höfler (SC Freiburg)
One of the best defensive midfielders in Germany for a few years now, Höfler may well have used up all the gas in his tank. Make no mistake however, Höfler is still a top class defensive midfielder, complementing Freiburg’s back three and back four systems in equal measure.
4. Xaver Schlager (RB Leipzig)
Leipzig’s system under Marco Rose simply does not function with Schlager’s relentless pressing, harassing and screening off the ball. One of the smartest players in Europe, Schlager’s ability to read and react to situations in the middle third of the pitch is a joy to watch.
3. Ellyes Skhiri (Frankfurt)
A massive loss for Köln, Skhiri is an elite ball winner who is also capable of providing fantastic solutions after the ball is won. Skhiri’s reading of the game is unparalleled in the league, surpassing even the two players above him on this list and while his offensive game is ace too, it is a few notches below the players ahead of him which keeps him to third.
2. Granit Xhaka (Bayer Leverkusen)
Leverkusen’s new top midfielder is a world class one. After a career renaissance under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, Xhaka has returned to the Bundesliga and already looks at home under Xabi Alonso’s wing. We all know his play already, the relentless harassment, the cannon of a left foot, and the unforgiving temperament. A true midfield general.
1. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
It had to be him.
Like it or not, with Bayern Munich’s failure to capture João Palhinha from Fulham means that Kimmich will likely be in a more defensive minded role than Thomas Tuchel would like him to be for the foreseeable future.
Is there anything about him that hasn’t been raved about a million times? The defensive resilience, the unimaginable work-rate, the rocket of a right foot, the safety in possession, and of course, the very best forward passing in the world. No player in any continent on this planet can pass the ball like Kimmich. Whether that’s smart sideways and diagonal passes, those delightful driven balls between defenders to Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies or the gorgeous floated balls over the top to Leroy Sané and Thomas Müller, Kimmich does it all, and does it all to a degree beyond any other currently active player.