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.
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 knockout stages.
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5. Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka & Thomas Muller (Bayern)
Okay, this midfield trio is not like the others but that’s why we’ve put them in at number five. As they are the only 4-2-3-1 in this list, it’s hard to judge them against the other more orthodox midfield trios, but they’re definitely worth a mention.
When all three are fit and on the pitch, the trio of Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Thomas Muller work perfectly and are a big part of Bayern Munich’s successes. In Kimmich and Goretzka, Bayern have two deeper midfielders that both have good all-round abilities and can serve both sides of the game, protecting the defence together and starting the attacks. Kimmich in particular is an excellent passer, completing 87.86% of his passes in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season while also creating 53 chances and recording five assists. He’s also won possession in the middle third 72 times (3.67 per 90).
And the pièce de résistance is Assist King Muller. The German “space investigator” has already recorded 18 assists in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season in just 28 appearances, averaging 0.72 per 90 minutes. But he’s also scoring at a good rate too, just one away from hitting double figures in league and European action.
4. Hakan Calhanoglu, Marcelo Brozovic & Nicolo Barella (Inter)
After winning Serie A last season, Inter Milan did not want to rest on their laurels, strengthening their midfield by poaching 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 has made eight assists in Serie A and the Champions League so far this season — 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 made 35 tackles in Serie A this season while Brozovic is 11 ahead on 46.
3. Fabinho, Thiago & Naby Keita (Liverpool)
Injury issues means we haven’t seen as much of this specific midfield trio as we would have liked, but when everyone is fit for Liverpool you can believe Fabinho, Thiago and Naby Keita will be the men marshalling the middle of the pitch.
In Fabinho, Jurgen Klopp has the perfect man to just sit in front of the defence to both protect and attack, with the Brazilian completing 88% of his passes in the Premier League and Champions League this season while averaging 2.11 tackles per 90 minutes. Thiago is the pass-master extraordinaire and the man to help advance the ball further up the pitch once Fabinho has received it from the defence, but he’s not just a possession passer as some may believe. The Spaniard has attempted 27.83 passes in the final third per 90 minutes in the Premier League and Champions League this season, constantly looking to get Liverpool up the pitch.
And then there’s Keita. It’s taken some time but it finally looks like we’re getting RB Leipzig Naby Keita. To simply call him a box-to-box midfielder would be downplaying what an in-form Keita brings to the midfield but it is also a good way to describe him in layman terms. In the Premier League and Champions League so far this season, the Guinean has averaged a frightening 4.16 tackles per 90 minutes but he’s also creating 1.07 chances per 90, attempting 0.71 through balls completing 1.07 take-ons. Keita is here.
2021/22 Champions League outright odds with William Hill…
- Man City – 11/4
- Bayern Munich – 7/2
- Liverpool – 5/1
- Chelsea – 15/2
- PSG – 8/1
18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing (15:30, 14/02/2022).
2. Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri & Bernardo Silva (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 92.11% pass completion rate.
Bernardo Silva is the box-to-box engine, helping out defensively, driving the ball forward and, thanks to his ability having been a winger when Man City first signed him, making runs into the box.
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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 Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish could all be great alternatives in that position in their own right.
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 66 tackles in La Liga – with just two players managing more. Meanwhile, Luka Modric has created 23 chances in La Liga at an average of 1.6 per 90 minutes while also averaging 1.74 take-ons completed per 90. The Croatian is still so slick on the ball and could turn a jackknifed HGV out of trouble if he had to.
A perfectly balanced trio. ⚖️ pic.twitter.com/RpK0NVFJ3b
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 16, 2022
And then there’s the passing brilliance of Toni Kroos. The German has so far created 40 chances in La Liga with three assists to his name and a frankly ridiculous passing accuracy of 94.76%. In fact, Casemiro is the one letting this trio down when it comes to passing with a disgraceful accuracy of 85.44% and should be replaced straight away (we’re joking obviously), as Modric just about joins Kroos in the 90 club with 90.01% pass accuracy.
Between them, this trio has won no fewer than 46 trophies with Los Blancos, including a combined 11 Champions League titles. How’s that for pedigree?