10. Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
Injury problems have dogged Thiago throughout his career, but on raw talent alone there are very few midfielders who compare to the Bayern Munich man. The son of a Brazil international and a graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, the 27-year-old combines South America street-smartness and dribbling skills with Spanish control and passing ability.
Thiago is comfortable on the ball in tight spaces and can navigate his way out of sticky situations, but he also excels when given plenty of room to pick a pass. He’s in fine form right now and could (should, even) be approaching the peak of his powers.
9. Bernardo Silva (Man City)
What a year it’s been for the little Portuguese playmaker. He’d only started four Premier League games before Christmas in 2017/18, but eventually assumed a permanent role in Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking team and has been one of its standout components ever since.
The £43m signing from Monaco was snapped up as a wide player originally, but has been assumed an influential central role in the absence of an injured Kevin De Bruyne and thrived. “I love him” said Guardiola in February. “He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen, he can play three of four positions. Maybe this season he’s one of the two, three best players in the Premier League.”
8. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
New manager, new lease of life. Pogba was a frustrated central midfielder playing nowhere near the peak of his powers under Jose Mourinho, forced to occupy a deeper area that did nothing to bring out his best qualities.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, it’s all change. Pogba has finally looked like the £89m player that Manchester United signed in summer 2016, playing further forward with more midfield coverage in behind to great effect. In Solskjaer’s matches alone he’s netted nine goals and laid on another seven for team-mates, demonstrating the brilliance that helped France win a World Cup in 2018.
7. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
It’s now over a decade since Busquets broke into the Barcelona first team and helped Pep Guardiola’s side win the Treble in his debut season. The rangy defensive midfielder is now in his 30s and has racked up over 500 matches for the Blaugrana, but remains one of the world’s leading exponents of the No.6 position, with his reading of the game, reliability in possession and ability to resist an opposition press still up there with the very best.
Busquets has never been the most mobile and has shown signs of vulnerability in the last couple of years, but in the correct midfield make-up, the Spain international still has plenty to offer. There aren’t many like him – and even fewer who do his job better.
6. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
Real Madrid are being linked with a lot of players this summer after a season in which they’ve been way off the pace in La Liga and were dumped out of the Champions League by Ajax – and it’s no surprise that Juventus playmaker Pjanic is high on the potential list of targets.
The Bosnian is a glorious player who dictates the tempo of matches for the Bianconeri and has been one of Europe’s most quietly consistent players for quite some time. He’s won Serie A in both of his full seasons since signing from Roma in 2016, will win a third in 2018/19 – and could yet make it an unforgettable campaign with a Champions League winner’s medal too.