The role of an attacking midfielder has evolved over the years. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the no.10 was the sole creator of a team’s attack. The role of Mesut Ozil in Mourinho’s Real Madrid was a classic no.10. But the position lost its charm when oppositions started countering it with double pivots in the middle.
Soon, attacking midfielders shifted to the midfield trio in search of spaces. However, the no.10 position has made a comeback in the recent past as players like Kai Havertz and Houssem Aouar have come to light.
Either way, an attacking midfielder’s most important quality is his creative ability and this season has been a very interesting season for these players, and as a result, we have seen several high-quality performers in this category.
Ever Banega (Sevilla)
Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)
Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)
Let’s dissect some of the best performers in this category.
10. Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
Marco Reus has had a very strange career. Despite being an amazing player for Borussia Dortmund over the years, he has always suffered a ton of injuries which have stopped him from taking the next big step in his career.
Even this season, he has only started 18 games (so far). But he has managed to put together a tally of 11 goals and 5 assists in that brief period. But these numbers may look skewed because he has also played the role of a Centre-Forward in this duration. He has managed 6 goals from the attacking midfield position.
At 30 years of age, he is recognized as a club legend at this stage. Whether he decides to end his career in Dortmund or take the next big step, it remains to be seen.
9. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Playing in an Aston Villa side that sits at 19th position in the Premier League table, Jack Grealish has managed to stand out and compete for the best playmaker in the Premier League.
His tally of 7 goals and 6 assists has been extremely impressive. But he’s probably known more for his undercut hair. Jack Grealish provides 2.7 key passes and 1.97 passes into the penalty area per 90.
Grealish is a gritty player. He fights for every ball and wins 65% of his ground duels. At just 24 years of age, he is Aston Villa’s captain and acts as a true warrior on the pitch. It’s his relentless nature that has made him a target for many big clubs.
After his impressive season in Premier League, he’s been heavily linked to Manchester United. And if Aston Villa ends up going down in the Championship, he might be available for cheap.
8. James Maddison (Leicester City)
James Maddison has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. He’s not just fighting with Jack Grealish for the best playmaker in the league, he is also fighting for a transfer to Manchester United. And considering how good both individuals are, they’ll probably be fighting for a spot in the national team, very soon.
If there is one thing going for James Maddison, it’s the fact that he is more consistent. He is strong on the ball; he doesn’t lose it very often and he can be a threat in multiple ways.
He is brilliant at set-pieces and delivers 2 accurate crosses per 90 at a 30% success rate. Maddison has scored 6 goals and created 7 big chances this season. Like his counterpart, he has also provided 2.7 key passes per 90.
With James Maddison and Jack Grealish up for grabs, it remains to be seen how their seasons pan out.
7. Santi Cazorla (Villareal)
“They told me, ‘If you get to walk again with your son in the garden, be satisfied,”
Santi Cazorla’s story is nothing short of a fairy tale. From suffering a career-threatening injury with the Gunners, Santi Cazorla has gone on to be a brilliant signing for the submarines. Returning to his childhood club on a free transfer and becoming their best player at 34 years of age, is the stuff of dreams.
This season Cazorla has scored 8 goals and provided 6 assists. Although, most of his goals have come from the penalty spot. Completing 7 passes into the final third and delivering 5 long-balls per 90, Santi has made his return a lot of fun for everyone.
His presentation ceremony at Villareal has to be one of the most iconic moments in sports history. With his contract coming to an end this season, he has hinted at rejoining Mikel Arteta in a coaching role at Arsenal.
6. Martin Ødegaard (Real Sociedad)
Martin Ødegaard has had a brilliant season with Real Sociedad. He has scored 4 goals and created 9 big chances in the league while providing 2.5 key passes per 90.
But more than anything else, it’s the Norwegian’s ability to read the pitch that makes him so interesting. He has been La Real’s engine in everything good that they have done in the attacking half.
He is one of the biggest reasons why Real Sociedad stand at 4th position in the LaLiga table. With his participation in the build-up, his ability to link up with his teammates and deliver creative passes to break down the defensive lines, he has been one of the revelations of this season.
5. Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
It will be fair to say that Christopher Nkunku has been one of the most exciting players this season. Playing in an attacking RB Leipzig system, Nkunku has been extremely impactful.
Although he has scored 4 goals, his creative ability is the most important aspect of his game. As a result, he has provided 12 assists and delivers 2.9 key passes. He also completes 2.42 crosses at an extremely impressive 41% accuracy per 90.
His versatile nature allows him to play all over the midfield and even in the front line. He is good on the ball but uses his teammates as a shield to get past defenders and to open up spaces. Just this season Leipzig signed him for 13 Million from PSG and it has already started to look like a daylight robbery.
4. Luis Alberto (Lazio)
Luis Alberto has not always been a star player. He is one of those late-bloomers, you may have heard of. He joined Lazio from Liverpool in the summer of 2016 after lack of game time and he has been on fire ever since.
This season, Luis Alberto has managed to bag in 4 goals and 12 assists, while creating 16 big chances. Alberto provides 3 key passes per game and averages 2.7 passes into the penalty area. This impressive performance has made him Lazio’s second-best player, after Ciro Immobile.
Liverpool may have made a mistake by letting Luis Alberto leave so early but it went on to be a great decision for him. He said,
“Leaving Liverpool was the best decision of my life”
Moreover, Liverpool has a 30% sell-on clause on him, so they were hoping to earn some cash if Luis Alberto decides to leave Lazio in the summer. But Alberto confirmed that he will sign a new contract at Lazio. He’s not a Liverpool fan, I reckon.
3. Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta)
Another Serie A player; Another late-bloomer. The 32-year-old got settled after he joined Atalanta in 2014. And his rise in kinda synchronized with Atalanta’s.
Papu Gomez has scored 6 goals and provided 10 league assists so far this season. He has created 11 big chances and provides 2.8 key passes per 90. He also completes 2.57 passes into the penalty area per 90.
Not only did Papu Gomez play an important role in helping Atalanta qualify for their first-ever Champions League campaign, but he has also scored 1 goal and provided 2 assists to help them proceed to the Quarter Finals of the competition.
2. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
Thomas Muller has to be one of the most under-appreciated footballers of this generation. What is a Thomas Muller? The answer is simple: Raumdeuter. Loosely translated to “Space interpreter”.
That one word perfectly defines everything that Thomas Muller does so well. This season he has scored 6 goals and bagged in 16 assists, which is the joint-highest in Europe’s top 5 leagues. He has created 24 big chances and provides 2.4 key passes per game.
Muller doesn’t play particularly attractive football. He isn’t a big dribbler of the ball. But it’s his understanding of open spaces that makes him world-class. Martí Perarnau puts it in his book (Pep Guardiola: The Evolution):
“Müller has lost more balls than any other Bayern player over the past two and a half years. He doesn’t dribble particularly well and he’s never been the fastest guy. His headers are unexceptional and he could use some work on his shooting. He loves to press but often does so with his head turned towards his team-mates. And yet this is a prodigiously talented footballer.”
(I did an in-depth analysis of Muller’s resurgence, you can find it here)
1. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
It is fair to say that Kevin de Bruyne has been the best Premier League player, this season. The Belgian has combined well with Pep Guardiola to become one of the most influential midfielders of this generation.
De Bruyne’s movements seem almost robotic – as you would expect in a Pep system. Everyone knows what he’s gonna do. But he still manages to pull it off with utmost perfection. He uses a wide player to drag the defence wide and makes a run into the space to pull out another defender and then plays the ball into the striker. Simple.
But that’s not all. He can also take on players and hit it from distance. That is why he has 8 goals and 16 assists in the Premier League. He has created 23 big chances and provides 3.7 key passes per 90. He plays 3.07 passes into the penalty area and completes 2.6 crosses per 90.
But now with Manchester City banned from the Champions League, it will be interesting to see how he decides to play out his career.