Arturo Vidal (Juventus and Chile) 31 games, 10 goals ***
Although his first season in Turin was a superb one, Vidal was rarely quite as influential last time out as when he starred for Bayer Leverkusen. This year Vidal has increasingly taken on the mantle of Juventus’ most important player, scoring crucial goals and providing valuable assists as well as the vast range of other intangibles which make him arguably the world’s most complete central midfielder. It’s no real surprise that Real Madrid have apparently been tracking the Chilean, a player who would improve any team.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich and Germany) 28 games, 7 goals ***
Bayern Munich's star midfielder had to face the demons of failure last year after his crucial penalty miss in the Champions League shoot out. This season he was frequently excellent and sporadically exceptional though there were signs that his passing on occasion was not as crisp as it could be. Despite that anchoring the team to an historic treble was fitting reward for a sublime midfielder and allowed him to finally capture major silverware after so many near misses.
Andrea Pirlo (Juventus and Italy) 32 games, 5 goals **
After a sensation first season at Juve this year marked a marginal decline in the impact of Andrea Pirlo. That though should not take away from what, by almost any other player’s standards, was an excellent campaign. 10 goals across Serie A and the Champions League tell a story but the real measure of Pirlo’s significance to the Old Lady continues to be the measured control he displays in an increasingly busy midfield.
Xavi (Barcelona and Spain) 30 games, 5 goals **
Is it too early to say that Xavi is on the wane? The Barcelona legend completed more passes more accurately than any other player in Europe and yet there was a suspicion that his ability to influence play in the final third was showing signs of decline. Unquestionably he remains the game’s finest midfield metronome but as with a number of his team mates he needs to show more cutting edge in future seasons rather than simply relying on Messi for a moment of genius.
Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 28 games, 3 goals **
Last season saw Gundogan initially struggle to adjust to the task of replacing Nuri Sahin in the Dortmund midfield before, as the season wore on, he started to excel. This year that upward trajectory continued with the player of Turkish heritage demonstrating his ability in a series of excellent Champions League performances. Calm and collected in possession, a fine dribbler and intelligent passer he certainly has all the tools to establish himself as one of the best midfielders in world football. Now he needs to set about forcing his way into starting XI for the German national side.
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk and Brazil) 23 games, 2 goals *
Fernandinho’s continued absence from the Brazilian national squad remains an ongoing mystery. One of the most complete players available to Selecao manager Felipe Scolari, he would look a natural fit in the international team but has been overlooked along with the rest of the Ukraine based cohort. Extremely impressive in the Champions League run, Fernandinho was equally important to another domestic title that was won with ease.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus and Italy) 29 games, 6 goals *
Playing alongside Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo it can sometimes be easy for Marchisio to fly under the radar. That lack of profile though doesn’t reflect the contribution of the Italian international who adds drive and the desire to burst into the box to a stellar midfield. Extremely well rounded Marchisio is as adept defensively as he is in getting forward and his willingness to work back for the side has been a major feature of Juve’s success under Antonio Conte.
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid and Spain) 28 games, 0 goals *
Ultimately a rather disappointing season for Alonso concluded without a major trophy or a real sense that such a richly gifted group of players as those that grace the Bernabeu had fulfilled their potential. On a personal level the Spaniard was still hugely important in central midfield, again setting the rhythm that the team played to, but he rarely hit the same heights that he has enjoyed for La Roja. Quite what the departure of Jose Mourinho might mean for the former Liverpool man is unclear but while rumours of stalling contract discussions were widespread there are few players who would provide more than Alonso.
David Pizarro (Fiorentina and Chile) 29 games, 3 goals *
So cruelly wasted by Manchester City last season Pizarro made clear in Florence that he is one of the world’s best midfield orchestrators. At his best when he is the focal point of a side he excelled in a team committed to attractive possession play and who offered the movement to exploit his intricate passing. Seemingly set to move again in the summer the Chilean may be entering the last years of his career but given he has never relied on physicality there is no reason to write him off just yet.
Borja Valero (Fiorentina and Spain) 37 games, 1 goal *
As with Pizarro, Borja Valero has made the most of the opportunity to play alongside like minded figures in the Fiorentina team. So often responsible for the key final pass in the team he chipped in with 11 assists, only Francesco Totti and Marek Hamsik supplying more in Serie A. That epitomizes his value to the side and his combination with both the Chilean and Alberto Aquilani made Fiorentina arguably the best side to watch in the Italian top flight this year.
Joao Moutinho (Porto and Portugal) 27 games, 1 goal *
Long the subject of intense transfer speculation Moutinho has finally taken the plunge and departed Portugal. The only surprise in that he has opted for the French Ligue 1 and parvenus Monaco rather than one of the continent’s more established powers. A playmaker of exceptional vision and technical ability he started the season slowly but gradually worked himself back to peak form. Now he needs to focus on making Monaco a worthy rival to PSG.
Kevin de Bruyne (Werder Bremen and Belgium) 33 games, 10 goals *
An excellent loan spell in Bremen has done a lot for De Bruyne’s reputation. Signed by Chelsea last year but allowed to remain in Belgium, spending 12 months in Germany has shown that he is able to step up to the highest level. Whether that will be at Stamford Bridge or whether he might go on another high profile loan is unclear but regardless he needs first team football to show that he can step on again.
Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain and Italy) 27 games, 0 goals *
Widely regarded as the future of Italy’s midfield Verratti has the class on the ball and elegance in his play to suggest he could well be a worthy successor to Andrea Pirlo. For a player of his age to be handed such a crucial role for a side of PSG’s caliber certainly indicates a level of maturity that does not normally accompany tender years. Although the French champions wealthy backers may well back further purchases there should be no danger of Verratti being shown the door.
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal and Spain)
Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany)
Moussa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur and Belgium)
Aaron Hunt (Werder Bremen and Germany)
Gokhan Inler (Napoli and Switzerland)
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid and Germany)
David Luiz (Chelsea and Brazil)
Steed Malbranque (Lyon and France)
Ricardo Montolivo (AC Milan and Italy)
Roman Neustadter (Schalke and Germany)
Paul Pogba (Juventus and France)
Yaya Toure (Manchester City and Ivory Coast)