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The offensive midfielder is a rare breed of player and one of the bravest out there. When your team is down in the final minutes of a must-win game, and you have one last chance to forge a decisive chance, only one person is asked to carry that burden.
The man who can be consistently exceptional and exceptionally consistent. As you may well imagine, there aren’t many of these world-class talents out there, but we at 90min they have been able to narrow them down to a short list of 10 elite players at this position.
But who are they? Let’s see who’s in dispute as our Welcome to World Class series draws to a close.
Club: SS Lazio
Liverpool fans would never have expected to see Luis Alberto’s name on this list, given the miserable three-year span he endured in England. The Spaniard was out of reach and not cut out for the big leagues, but to be fair, he was extremely young and raw at the time. A few years later, the man is a superstar.
The 28-year-old’s move to SS Lazio in 2016 couldn’t have been better. He has found a loving home where his flamboyance and willingness to take risks with the ball is appreciated. Alberto, Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are three peas in a pod at Stadio Olimpico, and they are helping the Eagles soar to new heights.
We were probably lucky enough to have seen the best (so far) of Philippe Coutinho off the British shores. The Brazilian star flourished in Liverpool, becoming the key creator on its brilliant front line, before trading Anfield for Camp Nou in 2018. Since then, the 28-year-old’s career has not progressed in the way he would have hoped. .
But, despite his problems, we all know what Coutinho can do. That terrifying long-range punch with the right boot, the stroked and chopped passes to teammates, those unstoppable curlers in the top corner. Everything is waiting to be unlocked once again.
Club: Manchester City
Kevin De Bruyne is one of the most complete footballers the Premier League has ever seen. Manchester City have been blessed with the Belgian star’s presence for five years, and he has grown to become the most important cog in a team of expensively assembled superstars.
The 29-year-old’s eye for a pass is unrivaled in the English top flight, and he can produce precise assists the rest of us can only marvel at. Without a doubt, De Bruyne is one of the sweetest forwards on the ball in Premier League history, and his 20/20 vision and ruthless execution make him a feast to behold.
Juventus star Paulo Dybala may not have lived up to all the high expectations thus far, but the fact that he has still been included in this list tells us how intense those demands are. The diminutive, left-handed Argentine immediately drew comparisons to one Lionel Messi, and his double against Barcelona in 2017 put those theories into overdrive.
The 27-year-old’s career has stalled since then, but there is no question that in his day, he can turn a game around in the blink of an eye. The grace, ghostly glide, and sheer technique are very much comparable to his fellow national, and he still has time to hit those peaks more consistently.
Club: Manchester United
How often can a player truly transform the fortunes of a club, much less one the size of Manchester United? Well, since arriving from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has done exactly that. The Portuguese midfielder is a true leader, an uncharacteristic trait of someone in his position, but he exudes calm and quality, while demanding the same from his teammates.
Fernandes lives on a different wavelength than most players, something that has become apparent when trying to bond with the less talented stars of the Red Devils. But it helps Man Utd operate at higher levels, and it could be the catalyst to bring Old Trafford back to glory.
Club: Aston Villa
Jack Grealish might not have been on this list 12 months ago, but the Aston Villa man has become one of the best attacking midfielders in world football with his childhood club. The 25-year-old performed well on a struggling Villans team last season, scoring eight goals and providing six assists to help them avoid relegation on the final day of the campaign.
Villa has gone from strength to strength since that day, as has his captain and talisman. Grealish is the lynchpin of this new attacking team, which has already scored five goals and eight assists this year. His performances have led many to call for his name to be one of the first on England’s roster and as his meteoric rise continues, it seems like no one is stopping him.
Forget the initial troubles in the Premier League, Kai Havertz is a star in the making. The elegant 21-year-old swept the Bundesliga during his four seasons with Bayer Leverkusen, standing out from an early age that he managed to mix with the greats.
It may not quite go according to plan for Havertz and Chelsea yet, but the star is weeks away from exploding in life. And when he’s on his feet, both he and the Blues will stop. Brace yourself, England, you have a football prodigy on your hands.
Thomas Muller’s reputation as an elite attacking midfielder has certainly suffered over the years, mainly because many of us have not understood exactly what he does. The Bayern player is not a creative midfielder who divides defenses with wicked passes from deep, nor can he pass players with the ball at his feet.
However, the 31-year-old is more of a ghost when it comes to positioning. Muller is known in Germany as a ‘space interpreter’, occupying the areas of the field that other players do not intend to use. His awareness, understanding of the game and anticipation put him one step ahead of his opponent, and this leads him to pocket a large number of goals and assists, completely unmarked.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Make no mistake, in the face of all the injuries and setbacks, Marco Reus was a phenomenon. The German star stood out as a prolific scorer and provider at Borussia Monchengladbach, scoring 18 goals in his final season at the club.
Reus’ next four years at Borussia Dortmund were an undeniable success, scoring 49 goals and providing 16 assists. Unfortunately, injury hampered the couple of years that followed, and he suffered the heartbreak of missing Germany’s successful 2014 World Cup adventure. However, he is now fit and shooting, and ready to make up for lost time.
Club: Real Sociedad
Genuine world class is hard to replace, just ask Man City. You can throw all the money in the world at your problem, but in the end, there is only one David Silva. The Spaniard arrived in England in 2010 and spent the next decade turning citizens into the powerhouses of British football.
The appreciation of such an agile, intelligent, and graceful musician grew over the seasons, and people began to see him for what he is: an orchestrator, a conductor, a man who can think that in a split second faster than others. How could Guardiola do with a first-rate Silva right now.