Andrea Pirlo (Juventus and Italy) 17 games, 4 goals ***
The air in Turin clearly agrees with Andrea Pirlo. Since moving to Juve in the summer of 2011 he has been reinvigorated and renewed, staking his claim again as the best central midfielder in the world. Certainly nobody can touch him in terms of elegance, or in the efficacy of his perfectly weighted chipped passes. Scandalously omitted from the Ballon d’Or’s final three, another Serie A title will be fit recompense for the Italian maestro.
Xavi (Barcelona and Spain) 18 games, 5 goals ***
At the Christmas break in La Liga Xavi not only possessed a pass completion ratio of over 95% but he made over 100 passes a game on average. That, in a nutshell, is why he remains the greatest regulating midfielder in the history of the game and arguably the most important defensive player in world football. That level of control, along with the goals of Lionel Messi, has been the route of Barca’s success over the last five years and with a new contract penned until 2016 Xavi will be racking up countless more passes in the future.
Arturo Vidal (Juventus and Chile) 15 games, 5 goals **
While other clubs may rival Juventus for quality, none possesses the complete range of talents that La Vecchia Signora enjoys, nor blends them together so well. Nowhere is that more apparent than in central midfield where the grace of Pirlo, the timing of Marchisio and, notably, the industry of Vidal come together. The Chilean possesses an armoury of abilities and has a fair claim to be the most complete box to box midfielder in world football.
Marouane Fellaini (Everton and Belgium) 16 games, 8 goals **
Aside from his despicable head butt on Ryan Shawcross recently and the consequent three match ban, this has been a tremendous season for Fellaini. His robust physicality is normally a major virtue and he was superb against Manchester United early in the season to set the tone for Everton’s great start. Given the Toffees’ habitual improvement in the second half of the year we can expect Fellaini to be again to the fore in the remainder of the campaign.
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk and Brazil) 16 games, 1 goal **
The driving force in Shakhtar's midfield Fernandinho was outstanding in the autumn's Champions League campaign. Possessing an innate sense of where to position himself, the presence of Tomas Hubschman allows the Brazilian to surge forward on occasion and utilise his technical ability in advanced areas of the pitch. With an excellent shot and competent with both feet Fernandinho illustrates the wealth of options Brazil have at their disposal.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich and Germany) 16 games, 4 goals **
An injury to Schweinsteiger midway through the 2011-12 season did immeasurable damage to Bayern Munich's domestic campaign. For while the team can rely on numerous match winners the German star remains the driving force in midfield and provides remarkable authority which seems lacking in his absence. So far this year he has probably not been at his very best but his continued presence will be vital for the club to avoid a similar decline.
Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain and France) 18 games, 3 goals *
Much of the focus around PSG this season has naturally been directed towards their expensive summer signings. One player who has deserved greater attention has been Matuidi whose performances in the centre of midfield have been the basis of so much that is good about the Parisians. A hive of energy, the Frenchman drives the team forward but possesses the work ethic to cover for his more adventurous colleagues.
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid and Spain) 17 games, 0 goals *
Despite the many challenges that Real Madrid have faced this season, one man who has continued to dictate the tempo of their game has been Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard has had to cope with the arrival of Luka Modric and the absence of Sami Khedira, but has maintained the rhythm of his passing and kept Madrid ticking. Alonso is yet to sign a contract extension at the Bernabeu but won't be short of offers if he were to decide to leave.
Steed Malbranque (Lyon and France) 16 games, 2 goals *
Few could have believed at the start of the season that Steed Malbranque would be among the stars of Le Championnat. After a spell with St Etienne during the last term was hugely underwhelming he has enjoyed probably the best form of his career as Lyon have mounted an unexpected title challenge. Nimble on the ball and with excellent distribution, he’s given a fantastic new weapon to coach Remi Garde.
Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 13 games, 1 goal *
A revelation last time around Gundogan has been even better so far this term. An exceptional short passer, his intelligent distribution and willingness to receive the ball means that Dortmund always have an option under pressure. This season has seen him show his considerable talents on the Champions League stage and he now looks set to grow into one of the continent's finest midfielders.
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal and Spain) 20 games, 4 goals *
Other players have certainly grabbed more headlines for Arsenal this season but Mikel Arteta has been the man who had steadily provided the ammunition to to the damage. The accuracy of his passing and his ability to find space to make himself available for a pass is among the best in the league. With Jack Wilshere now back and fit some of the onus may have been lifted from the Spaniard's shoulders, but expect him to continue to boss a midfield in which Arteta is the centre-piece.
David Pizarro (Fiorentina and Chile) 15 games, 1 goal *
Pizarro barely got a kick when on loan at Manchester City last season, but this term he has shown quite what a fine midfield playmaker he is. Fiorentina's midfield boasts a wealth of similarly minded player and the team have surprised many with the strides they have made up the table. Certainly the availability of Pizarro is of tremendous help given his depth of experience during previous title challenges with Roma.
Aaron Hunt (Werder Bremen and Germany) 15 games, 6 goals *
Werder Bremen have not made the best of starts to their Bundesliga campaign but Hunt has been a bright light during a mediocre winter. Not afraid to have a pop at goal, Hunt has been in prolific form with six already in the league, as well as turning creator on occasion as well. Germany have a wealth of options in the centre of midfield but if he continues to play as he has Hunt may well force himself into contention as a worthy alternative.
Borja Valero (Fiorentina and Spain) 19 games, 1 goal *
No team have benefitted from the relegation of Villarreal quite like Fiorentina. Having signed Gonzalo Rodriguez and Borja Valero in the summer, the Viola now look set to pounce for striker Giuseppe Rossi. Valero has been one of the year's best acquisitions with his calm and measured passing setting the tone for Fiorentina's charge up the Serie A table. Few can match the Spaniard for his ball retention and the ability to pick the right pass under pressure.
Remy Cabella (Montpellier and France) 19 games, 5 goals *
Montpellier's title victory last season was an enormous shock, but the extent of their decline this time round has been almost as surprising. While many of the team's leading lights have failed to reproduce their form from last year Cabella has been even better as he pulls the strings in the heart of midfield. According to L'Equipe only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has performed better in Ligue 1 which indicates quite what level the Montpellier man has reached.
Sebastian Rode (Eintracht Frankfurt and Germany) 17 games, o goals *
This season has seen Rode come on leaps and bounds as he has made the step up to play in the top flight. The youngster has already proven his ability throughout German youth teams but few expected him to make quite such a big impact in the Bundesliga. Neat and tidy in possession, he and Pirmin Schwegler have formed an excellent partnership and provided a strong central base for Frankfurt. That control in midfield has been a vital part of hugely impressive season.