Football Features

FM 2019: The best defensive midfielders to sign

By Ben Green

Published: 15:10, 20 June 2019

In many footballing philosophies the defensive midfielder is often the most influential player on the pitch; the one who dictates play, sets the tempo, and perhaps most fundamentally, protects the defence.

In years gone by we have seen the position transition from humble anchorman to, effectively, a deep-lying No 10, a role revolutionised by the esteemed practitioners of Dutch Total Football, but perhaps best symbolised in Louis van Gaal’s trailblazing 3-4-3 Ajax system of the 90s, with Frank Rijkaard the emblematic player at the base of midfield.

More recently, the likes of Andrea Pirlo have flourished as the luxurious axis, with the Italian genius making the position his own at Juventus, while Sergio Busquets has done a similarly brilliant job for Barcelona, consistently demonstrating his unique blend of technical brilliance with an innate capacity to break down play.

But whether you choose to deploy an elegant deep-lying playmaker, a Gennaro Gattuso-esque hatchetman, or reinvent a forward-thinking midfielder – a la Thiago Alcantara – most formations on Football Manager will have a defensive midfield player.

If you are unsure which of the above best suits your style of play or way of thinking, fear not, we have you covered. From the new Pirlo on the block to a Ukrainian Gattuso, read on to learn about the FM19 defensive midfielders you must sign.

It should be noted that the obvious options such as Casemiro and Fernandinho, as well as the more unattainable ones in Declan Rice have been omitted from the 10 below.

Sandro Tonali

Club: Brescia

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker

Already earmarked as the new Pirlo, Tonali is not only reminiscent of the playmaker grandmaster in terms of build, hairstyle and nationality, but also due to his similar playing style. The teenage prodigy is blessed with key attributes in passing, technique, composure, vision, first touch and balance – all the hallmarks of Pirlo’s midfield composition – but also tackling, showing he has a Busquets-esque manner of procuring the ball and breaking up play. Not only that, he can be picked up exceptionally cheap from Serie B and transformed into one of the game’s most outstanding players if cultivated correctly. Expect that to change in next year’s edition given that Brescia have been promoted to Serie A.

Jonas Hector

Club: FC Koln

Best role: Defensive Midfielder/Deep Lying Playmaker

Nominally a left-back, the versatile Germany international is capable playing in defensive midfield, either as an enforcer or deep-lying dictator. Much like Tonali, the Billy Goat midfielder-cum-defender plies his trade in Germany’s second division (although Koln have now been promoted) and so, can be plundered from FC Koln’s ranks for around £15m, an absolute snip for a player in the prime of his career and one who also has 42 caps for Die Mannschaft.

Thiago Maia

Club: Lille OSC

Best role: Segundo Volante/Half Back/Anchor Man/Defensive Midfielder

If you’re seeking a more tenacious and workmanlike player to beef up your midfield, then look no further than Lille destroyer Maia – an anchorman who stimulated the middle of the park for the Great Danes across 2018/19, culminating in a Ligue 1 runners-up position. With strong stats in tackling, marking, passing, strength and stamina, the 22-year-old is an all-round defensive midfielder ready to add serious bite to your squad.

Kristoffer Ajer

Club: Celtic

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker

A centre-back by trade, Ajer’s best position on FM19 is at the base of midfield, adding both creativity and a defensive edge to the centre of the pitch. The young Norwegian can be tempted away from Glasgow for a modest fee and developed into an elite level player – plus, being both accomplished at the back and in midfield, he would add significant depth to your ranks.

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Thomas Partey

Club: Atletico Madrid

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker

It seems too obvious that a regular starter at the Wanda Metropolitano would make this list, but with a buyout clause of £28.5m, the Ghanaian is a MUST signing on FM19. With excellent traits in Football Manager’s statistical trinity of technical, mental and physical, the transfer of Partey is a no brainer for any heavyweight club.

Remo Freuler

Club: Atalanta

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker/Segundo Volante

One of the fulcrums in the Goddess’ historic third-place Serie A finish, Freuler can be meticulously signed on a free transfer from Atalanta, though you would have to wait a season. His contract expires in the summer of 2019 so he can enter negotiations with foreign clubs on January 1, and for any elite club, his energetic and combative services will seriously enhance their midfield, be it as a box-to-box midfielder, or further back as a Segundo Volante.

Taras Stepanenko

Club: Shakhtar Donetsk

Best role: Ball Winning Midfielder

The Miners midfielder has never left the comforts of his Ukrainian homeland, but you can be the first to prise him away. His signature will cost around the £20m mark, but for any first division side, that figure would be seen as a real snip. With exceptional defensive midfield attributes, Stepanenko is one of the best on the game in that position, not to mention he also has a sensational work rate, leadership skills and a formidable teamwork ethic.

Arne Maier

Club: Hertha BSC

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker

One of FM19’s most promising wonderkids, if you can manage to convince Die Alte Dame to sell their prized asset, you will have your hands on a phenomenal young talent. With prodigious technique, passing, vision and composure, the Germany Under-21 international can mature into one of his nation’s best defensive midfield players.

Lassana Diarra

Club: Free agent

Best role: Ball Winning Midfielder

Diarra has now retired in real life, but for his final season the former France international can be secured on a free contract and will add the requisite experience, tactical knowhow and aggression to improve your midfield, going out with a real bang and one last hurrah – plus it was only a few months ago that he was still playing for Paris Saint-Germain.

Gustavo Cuellar

Club: Flamengo

Best role: Deep Lying Playmaker

The 26-year-old has enjoyed stellar form with Flamengo in recent times, which has seen his name associated with a move to Europe, well you can move ahead of the pack by signing Cuellar from the Brazilian outfit for a figure between £10m to £15m. With a brilliant passing range, and a hard-hitting tackling ability, the Colombia international is capable of operating in a number of midfield roles.