Football Features

Under-the-radar CDMs around Europe – and the Premier League clubs who should target them

By Steve Jennings

Published: 12:07, 24 May 2019

Every side needs a midfielder able to sit deep and protect the back four.

Some of the most acclaimed players in the world – the likes of Sergio Busquets and Fernandinho – are defensive midfielders, primarily tasked with sweeping up in front of the back line.

But what about the lesser-known figures in this position? Indeed, there are several unheralded stars across Europe who could do a job for a number of Premier League clubs.

We’ve picked out seven under-the-radar CDMs and suggested which clubs in the English top-flight should be targeting them.

Otavio (Bordeaux)

Who should sign him? Newcastle

Newcastle fans will probably shudder whenever they see their club linked with a relatively unknown midfielder from Ligue 1. The Magpies have signed a number of players from the French top flight in recent years, and most have been flops. But while Mike Ashley remains at the club, Ligue 1 will be an affordable market, and Brazilian midfielder Otavia would add a battling presence to Newcastle’s XI, allowing other midfielders to be more expressive.

Key stat: Otavia made 71 tackles in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other midfielder.

Thiago Mendes (Lille)

Who should sign him? Chelsea

Chelsea have been linked with Lille midfielder Thiago Mendes lately, and it’s not difficult to see why. The second Brazilian on our list played a crucial role in helping Lille finish second in Ligue 1 this season, about as well as any club can expect with PSG’s dominance. Mendes would add depth to Chelsea’s midfield and would be able to protect the back four with more authority than his countryman, Jorginho, giving Maurizio Sarri alternative options against different opponents.

Key stat: Only two midfielders made more interceptions than Mendes (66) in Ligue 1 across 2018/19.

Rani Khedira (Augsburg)

Who should sign him? Norwich

The brother of Germany World Cup-winner Sami Khedira, Augsburg midfielder Rani Khedira has had a less accomplished career than his sibling, but he has quietly gone about his business as a useful Bundesliga player. Norwich manager Daniel Farke, another German, may look to his homeland for midfield reinforcements in order to make his promoted side more solid for next season, and Khedira would provide a suitable basis to do exactly that.

Key stat: Khedira made more interceptions (80) and blocks (21) than any other Bundesliga midfielder last season.

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Florian Grillitsch (Hoffenheim)

Who should sign him? Tottenham

Despite reaching the Champions League final, Spurs are desperate for reinforcements in midfield. They finished the semi-final second leg against Ajax with Moussa Sissoko making up a one-man midfield, with Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier all struggling for fitness this term. Hoffenheim’s Florian Grillitsch won’t be playing Champions League next football unless he moves on, and Spurs will be an enticing prospect for the 23-year-old Austrian.

Key stat: Only Rani Khedira made more interceptions than Grillitsch (72) in the Bundesliga this season.

Remo Freuler (Atalanta)

Who should sign him? Arsenal

One of the key figures behind Atalanta’s push for Champions League football – which will be sealed with a win on the final day of the season – has been midfielder Remo Freuler. The 27-year-old may have to sacrifice playing in Europe’s elite competition if he wants to join Arsenal, unless the Gunners win the Europa League final. But Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four will improve if they sign a midfielder of Freuler’s quality to compete with their current options.

Key stat: Only two midfielders – Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic (2,177) and Napoli’s Allan (1,957) – have made more successful passes than Freuler (1,879) in Serie A this season.

Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe)

Who should sign him? Bournemouth

Valencia allowed Nemanja Maksimovic to leave last summer after just a year at the club. And despite the fact Valencia pipped Maksimovic’s new club Getafe to fourth place this season, it’s undeniable the Serbian has massively improved Getafe in the middle of the park. Only relegated Fulham and Huddersfield conceded more goals than Bournemouth (70) in the Premier League this season, so Eddie Howe could do with some added metal in midfield.

Key stat: Maksimovic made 71 interceptions in La Liga this season; Sergio Busquets (54) was the closest midfielder to matching him.

Philip Billing (Huddersfield)

Who should sign him? Everton

It might seem strange to urge a club to sign a player who turned out for one of the Premier League’s worst ever teams this term, but Philip Billing’s performances for Huddersfield – particularly in the first half of the season – have surely caught the eye of the sides just outside the top six, such as Everton. His inevitable exit has seen him left out of the team towards the end of the campaign, and the Toffees are likely to be among the clubs chasing the Dane.

Key stat: Only five Premier League midfielders won more duels than Billing (211) this season despite the fact he only played 27 times.