Football Features

Ranked: The Champions League’s best midfield trios

By Squawka News

Published: 12:48, 18 September 2021

The Champions League is back and, with it, some of the best midfield trios on the planet.

The world’s most prestigious club trophy, the Champions League obviously features sensational middlemen, from supreme passers to devastating destroyers.

While a midfield three is the preferred choice nowadays, not all sides line up that way, with the likes of Chelsea and Villarreal (to name a couple) favouring a partnership in order to bolster numbers elsewhere. Others play such a fluid system, it’s hard to really call it a ‘midfield trio’, Thomas Muller’s roaming between the lines being a good example.

But there’s no denying these sides are among the minority. So, with that in mind, at Squawka we’ve undertaken the task of ranking the top five midfield trios in this season’s Champions League.

Disagree with any of our picks? Be sure to give us your suggestions on social media!

5. Hakan Calhanoglu, Marcelo Brozovic & Nicolo Barella (Inter)

Being honest, fifth spot was a real battle, with Liverpool’s trio of Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho capable of outplaying any midfield on their day. Of course, the loss of Georginio Wijnaldum to PSG is a big one. And, so, Inter Milan got the nod having poached Turkish playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu from rivals AC Milan, placing him alongside the already very impressive Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella.

While Calhanoglu gets to work splitting open the opposing defence and whipping in deadly set-pieces — he managed 31 Serie A assists during his four years with Milan — Barella makes dynamic supporting runs to help unsettle the opposing defence. All the while, Brozovic is the shield, mopping up behind and tackling with tenacity. Barella’s relentless energy also helps here and he’s already joint-seventh in Serie A this season for tackles (nine) while Brozovic is only two back on seven.

Adding to this trio, Stefano Sensi has played an attacking role just behind the main striker so far in Serie A this season and could just as easily be slotted into a three.

4. Rodrigo De Paul, Koke & Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid)

Marcos Llorente has spent a lot of time shifting positions over the last couple of years but even when deployed on the right, he has a habit of drifting inside to give Atletico Madrid plenty of strength through the middle. Last season alone, he notched 12 goals and 11 assists in La Liga.

He and Rodrigo De Paul’s influence in the final third will be key for Diego Simeone, especially following the departure of Saul Niguez to Chelsea. But it helps that they’re protected by Koke, who has already made nine tackles in La Liga this season while providing real possession security with an 87% pass completion rate.

And should Simone decide to rotate or move Llorente across, Thomas Lemar already has a goal and an assist this season and has looked much improved during the early stages.


2021/22 Champions League outright odds with William Hill…

  • PSG – 10/3
  • Man City – 9/2
  • Bayern Munich – 6/1
  • Chelsea – 7/1
  • Liverpool – 9/1

18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing (15:30, 15/09/2021).


3. Pedri, Sergio Busquets & Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Sergio Busquets is ageing and slowing down, yet calls upon his vast wealth of experience to be in the right place at the right time, so you don’t really notice it. And he can pass out of pressure like few else on the planet.

Pedri is really, really young, but is so damn slick on the ball. The teenager is almost impossible to dispossess and unlock defensive doors like a special-ops agent with laser-guided passing.

Frenkie de Jong is in the middle of the two age-wise, but has the slippery press resistance of Busquets, the energy of Pedri and the passing range of both.

Together, they combine to make one of the best midfield in Europe which is lucky, because the rest of the Barcelona side is pretty average at best.

2. Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri & Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Pep Guardiola absolutely loves a midfield trio. After all, it was he that put together arguably the greatest of all time during his Barca days in Busquets, Xavi and Andreas Iniesta. And at Man City, he’s not too far off being equally blessed.

Rodri does all the heavy lifting at the base of the trio, mopping up defensively, shutting down counter-attacks — not always legally — and recycling possession. This season alone, the Spaniard has a 94% pass completion rate.

Ilkay Gundogan is the box-to-box engine, helping out defensively, driving the ball forward and, as we saw last year with 13 Premier League goals, making late runs into the box.


2021/22 Champions League Golden Boot odds with William Hill…

  • Robert Lewandowski – 3/1
  • Erling Haaland – 11/2
  • Romelu Lukaku – 7/1
  • Lionel Messi – 8/1
  • Cristiano Ronaldo – 8/1

18+ only. BeGambleAware. Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing (15:30, 15/09/2021).


And what to say about Kevin De Bruyne? When fully fit, he’s the greatest creative player on the planet who will slice open your backline from literally any angle on the pitch. It’s just the keeping him fit part that’s an issue.

But even if the Belgian maestro does go down, the likes of Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish could all be great alternatives in that position in their own right. In fact, between Gundogan (9) and Silva (3), the pair in front of Rodri has created a combined 12 chances so far this season, covering well for De Bruyne’s absence.

1. Toni Kroos, Casemiro & Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Ask anyone what the key to success is and one of the most frequent answers you’ll get is ‘experience’. Real Madrid have that in abundance, especially in midfield.

Casemiro continues to be a truly colossal defensive presence and, this season alone, has made 11 tackles in La Liga. Meanwhile, Luka Modric has one assist in his opening two appearances and as his performances at Euro 2020 showed, is showing no signs of slowing down despite now being 36 years old. The Croatian is still so slick on the ball and could turn a jackknifed HGV out of trouble if he had to.

And then there’s the passing brilliance of Toni Kroos. With the German injured, Fede Valverde and Isco have done a fine job keeping Real Madrid secure on the ball, posting pass completion rates of 91% and 90%, respectively. But when he returns, Kroos will be the starter and with good reason having provided 12 assists and completed 94% of his passes in La Liga alone last season.

Between them, this trio has won no fewer than 43 trophies with Los Blancos, including a combined 11 Champions League titles. How’s that for pedigree?