With the winter transfer window fast approaching, managers will already be eyeing up possible players who could improve their squads and earmarking funds for potential transfers.
January will mark the halfway stage of the Premier League season, which means managers have now had five months to work with, and assess, their current crop – at least those who survived the unforgiving managerial merry-go-round – so they will know if reinforcements are required.
One position that is so often overlooked in favour of splurging out on attacking talent, is a central defensive midfielder, but it has often been considered the nucleus of most great footballing sides – Sergio Busquets at Barcelona is the obvious exemplar.
That said, there are some fantastic CDMs knocking about at the minute, Lucas Torreira and Fabinho are two that immediately spring to mind, but what of those who are perhaps under the radar and out of the spotlight? Here are nine, and the PL clubs who should sign them in January.
Who should sign him? Wolverhampton Wanderers
There is a reason Lille are currently sitting second in Ligue 1. Yes, Nicolas Pepe has been brilliant – but also because of Christophe Galtier’s well-drilled and industrious midfield; Xeka embodies that tenacious approach, and he would add serious bite to a Wolves’ midfield which has become too reliant on their dynamic duo. Leander Dendoncker has also been a massive flop, so the possibility of a Portuguese trident consisting of Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Xeka is a mouthwatering prospect.
Key stat: Only two central midfielders have attempted more tackles in Ligue 1 than Xeka (69) this season.
Danilo Pereira (Porto)
Who should sign him? Manchester City
Anyone who watched Man City edge past Leicester in the League Cup quarter-final will know just how desperate the club are for a back-up defensive midfielder. John Stones was entrusted with the anchorman role, but looked awkward playing in unfamiliar territory. Pereira would certainly offer the required level of composure and assurance reminiscent of the ever-reliant Fernandinho, the man for whom he will be back up.
Key stat: Only two central midfielders have blocked more shots than Danilo Pereira (four) in the Champions League this season.
Marvelous Nakamba (Club Brugge)
Who should sign him? West Ham United
West Ham have been crying out for a proficient ball-winning midfielder for years now; Declan Rice has alleviated that concern this season, but with Carlos Sanchez still out on the sidelines, Manuel Pellegrini will certainly have an eye firmly fixed on viable defensive midfield suitors next month. Nakamba would be a massive coup for the club, and would take the Hammers midfield to another level, such is his aggressiveness and insatiable energy.
Key stat: Marvelous Nakamba has blocked the joint second-most passes of any player in the Champions League this season (12).
Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors)
Who should sign him? Manchester United
Jose Mourinho has just been sacked, but his cry for a “mad dog” still runs deep in the core of United’s current midfield assortment. At 5ft 7in, Uruguayan, and 22, Nandez is a carbon copy of compatriot Lucas Torreira; combining tenacity and vigour with creativity and invention – his performance at the Copa Libertadores final was sensational and it would have alerted a number of Europe’s elite clubs.
Key stat: Only River Plater left-back Milton Casco managed more successful tackles (six) than Nahitan Nandez (five) in the Copa Libertadores final second-leg.
Ljubomir Fejsa (Benfica)
Who should sign him? Everton
Idrissa Gueye may be the most underrated player in the Premier League but who could step in during his absence? Morgan Schneiderlin has been underwhelming since relocating to Merseyside, and against Man City, Marco Silva opted to deploy no midfielder enforcer. Well, Fejsa would be the optimum destroyer should Everton want to bolster their CDM options – the Serb is an experienced, physically-imposing, no-nonsense midfielder.
Key stat: No central midfielder has blocked more passes than Ljubomir Fejsa in the Champions League this season (13).
Thiago Mendes (Lille)
Who should sign him? Chelsea
The Blues are replete with midfield options, but Danny Drinkwater is surplus to requirements and Cesc Fabregas looks likely to leave for AC Milan, which means Maurizio Sarri may be tempted to explore the market. Mendes is an all-round CDM, which fits the Italian’s philosophy down to a T. He has been one of the catalysts of Lille’s success this season, and would be an excellent addition in west London.
Key stat: Thiago Mendes has successfully blocked the second-most crosses of any central midfielder in Ligue 1 this season (five).
Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors)
Who should sign him? Newcastle United
If Newcastle can pull out all the stops – which is unlikely given the current regime – then Barrios would be a punt worth taking. The Colombian is hot-headed and reckless at times – the World Cup headbutt on Jordan Henderson and red card in the Copa Libertadores final are still fresh in the memory – but there are few more ferocious and relentless in world football – Rafa Benitez needs warriors and Barrios is that in a nutshell.
Key stat: Wilmar Barrios has made more tackles per game (4.2) than any other Boca Juniors player in the league this season.
Philip Billing (Huddersfield)
Who should sign him? Tottenham Hotspur
Billing has come of age this season and continues to go from strength-to-strength, proving indispensable to David Wagner, while forming a key role in the Terriers’ quest for safety. The mountainous midfielder is more than just a physical specimen, he has proven adept at driving forward, and has proficient ball-playing ability.
He is nowhere near the finished article just yet, but his game would improve twofold under the tutelage of a manager like Mauricio Pochettino, who also happens to need a CDM.
Key stat: No central midfielder has blocked more shots than Philip Billing in the Premier League this season (12).
Leandro Paredes (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Who should sign him? Arsenal
With Aaron Ramsey set to leave, and question marks still surrounding Granit Xhaka – despite a positive start to the season – Unai Emery could go in search of midfield reinforcements – a Torreira/Paredes acquaintanceship would be impenetrable and one of the league’s most devastating midfield duos should it come to fruition.
Key stat: No Zenit player has completed more passes than Leandro Paredes in the league this season (915).