Vieira, Keane, Kante: Who Is The Premier League's Greatest Defensive Midfielder?

These are the men you want in your midfield
07:00, 16 Feb 2024

Defensive midfield has become an increasingly important function of the modern game. It is hard to poinpoint the last team to win the Premier League without a truly special player fulfilling the role. This means that we had plenty of choices to sift through when coming up with our list of the five best to ever do it. Here is The Sportsman's greatest defensive midfielders in Premier League history.


 The 36-year-old was a stellar figure in midfield for the reigning champions since his arrival in the north west back in 2013. He has claimed five Premier League titles, six League Cups and one FA Cup over the course of his decade with the club. Fernandinho established himself as one of the best and most consistent defensive midfielders in the game. 

His game awareness and intelligence in particular allowed him to excel in that position. He read the game extremely well, with few able to rival hispositional awareness. He was able to snuff out any counter-attack that threatened his side. Fernandinho's ability on the ball was quite impressive too, as he never shied away from carrying it forward to kick-start an attack for his side.

Roy Keane

One of football’s loveable pundits for his no-nonsense attitude, this all stemmed from Keane’s personality on the pitch as a player. A Manchester United legend, Keane epitomised the old school way of playing this role, effectively as a ball-winner who was always quick to let his opponent know he was there. 

Although there was a sweet simplicity to the Irishman’s game, he doesn't get the credit he deserves for his footballing ability. He struck up a formidable partnership with Paul Scholes as that one of them would know to sit if the other pushed forward and that helped Keane become the legendary player that we all remember. He established himself as a great leader, and his attitude allowed him to command a dressing room, especially when he became captain. His success at Old Trafford saw him become the most-decorated Irish footballer of all time as he won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and one Champions League. 


N’Golo Kante

The first time Kante stepped into the spotlight was during Leicester City’s historic Premier League title win in 2015-16.

As a complete unknown, Kante’s incredible fitness was something to behold. He was simply everywhere. He would chase every ball and he was always in great positions to intercept opposition attacks. Leicester City wouldn’t have won the Premier League without him. Those attributes carried over to west London when he joined Chelsea, where he won a Premier League and an FA Cup with the Blues. Arguably his recent European success, which includes a Europa League, a Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup and a Club World Cup - to go alongside his World Cup winners medal - sets him apart from others on this list. 

Claude Makelele

Another Chelsea hero makes the list and he is the one who redefined how to play the position, laying the blueprint for current stars Fernandinho and Kante to follow. When he arrived at Stamford Bridge he was already decorated in success, having won titles with Nantes and Real Madrid.

Like Kante and Fernandinho, Makelele appeared to be everywhere and he was excellent at reading play to break up counter-attacks and he never shied-away from a strong tackle. But his role in Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3 meant he was a vital part of one of the greatest teams in Premier League history, as Chelsea conceded just 15 goals in 2004/05. His ability with the ball was second to none while his excellent short passing skills also allowed him to set the tempo in matches as he dictated play. He won everything there was to win domestically in England, including two Premier League titles.

Patrick Vieira

Famously remembered as Roy Keane’s rival on the field, the Frenchman was also an immensely talented defensive midfielder. He was instrumental to Arsenal’s Premier League success under Arsene Wenger and he was able to thrive alongside several different midfield partners. He particularly struck up a great relationship alongside Gilberto Silva at the heart of the Invincibles’ midfield, and while the Brazilian is also a worthy contender of this list, Vieira’s leadership and towering personality sets him apart. 

Vieira was integral to that famous Invincibles season and has been the only player to be named in the Team of the Season on six occasions. He won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups at Arsenal and left behind a legacy that many will struggle to eclipse.

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