Attacking midfielders are more valuable now than they have ever been. As the game changes, so too must its players.
Soccer is becoming more about speed and less about strength. As this transition has occurred, attacking midfielders have had to adopt a set of skills that includes blistering speed, dribbling proficiency, ability to pick out teammates on runs and the ability to score frequently.
The attacking midfielder is truly a jack of all trades. It is one of the most difficult positions to play, and for that reason many attacking midfielders are considered to be the best players in the world.
The following is a list of the best attacking midfielders in the world this season.
20. Jérémy Menez
Team: Paris St. Germain
Jérémy Menez has had a solid start this season at PSG. Menez is a lightning-fast attacking midfielder that uses his dribbling skill and excellent vision to open channels for his teammates.
Recently, Menez has had success for both PSG and the French national team. He has been instrumental in both teams’ successes this season.
When discussing their win over Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti said, “Menez was the key. He was very dangerous and played well with Ibrahimović and Pastore” (via ESPN).
Menez has been able to dribble through defenses that must focus their attention on Ibrahimović and Pastore.
Look for Menez to continue to thrive at a PSG team that is on the rise.
19. Arda Turan
Team: Atletico Madrid
The Athletico Madrid midfielder has recently earned a rather flattering nickname—the “Turkish Messi”.
Turan has helped Athletico Madrid to reach the top of the table in La Liga. After seven games, Athletico Madrid sits atop the standings with Barcelona. They have yet to lose a game.
Turan’s excellent play has drawn the attention of EPL teams such as Liverpool. If Turan continues to play at this elevated level, do not be surprised if EPL teams come calling for his services.
18. Szabolcs Huszti
Team: Hannover 96
Szabolcs Huszti’s amazing play has pushed Hannover up to fifth in the Bundesliga table.
Huszti has been incredibly efficient. His three goals come off just nine shots and his seven assists come in just six games.
Huszti has been involved in the majority of Hannover’s goals as both a scorer and playmaker.
If Hannover is to keep up with the best of the Bundesliga in the coming months, Huszti will need to keep his form at this level.
17. Yaya Touré
Team: Manchester City
Yaya Touré has long been a symbol of consistency for Manchester City.
Touré has the ability to play both attacking and holding midfield for Roberto Mancini.
This season, Touré has been all over the pitch. He has tackled well and gotten forward more than last season.
Touré will look to continue his form for the Ivory Coast as they enter the African Cup of Nations.
16. Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey has more than justified his $9.5 million transfer fee.
Dempsey has provided the Spurs with yet another striking option. He is an invaluable player that will thrive as an attacking midfielder at White Hart Lane.
Dempsey has also had a great run with the U.S. national team. Dempsey scored two goals in the United States' crucial World Cup qualifying match win against Guatemala.
As Dempsey continues to settle into Tottenham, look for him to thrive in André Villas Boas attacking system.
15. Lucas Moura
Team: Sao Paolo
Lucas Moura’s time at Sao Paolo is almost over.
This summer, Moura agreed to a transfer to PSG that will be completed this January.
Thus far this season, Moura has made the most of his remaining time in Brazil’s Série A.
Moura has shown that he is clearly in a league of his own. He has incredible speed and dribbling prowess. At just 20 years old, his future is incredibly bright.
When January rolls around, Moura will look to continue his good form as he establishes himself at PSG.
14. Rafael Van Der Vaart
Team: Hamburg SV
This summer, Dutch midfielder Rafael Van Der Vaart moved from Tottenham to his old side, German side Hamburg SV.
Van Der Vaart has had a great homecoming. He has asserted himself as a member of Hamburg’s squad.
The Dutch international has reigned in Hamburgs attack and has provided leadership and maturity to a team that needed both.
He has been a valuable asset to both club and country.
Hamburg has had a lot of success this season, having only dropped one game since Van Der Vaart joined the team.
Van Der Vaart also scored in Netherland’s defeat of Romania, as they attempt to qualify for the World Cup.
13. Nathan Dyer
Team: Swansea City
Swansea City has had an impressive start to their season. They currently sit near the middle of the table, but they certainly have the potential to move up as the season continues.
Much of Swansea’s success this season stems from the impressive play of physical attacking midfielder Nathan Dyer.
Dyer has benefited greatly from manager Michael Laudrup’s more attack-oriented game plan.
Look for Dyer to elevate his game further to help Swansea attract better talent in January and this summer.
12. Christian Eriksen
Ajax attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen is likely in his last season with the club. The 20-year-old Danish prodigy has been targeted by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.
Eriksen views his time at Ajax as an opportunity to improve his skills before he moves to a bigger club.
He recently told Ajax Life, “I feel that at Ajax I can still become a much better player. I do not want to be judged on what I can achieve, but based on my current performances. I still have plenty to learn at Ajax”.
Eriksen’s two goals this season, in addition to his great play for the Danish national team, have him in a good position to move in the next couple transfer windows.
11. Santi Cazorla
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla has been a revelation for his new side.
The former Malaga midfielder has stepped into the void left by Cesc Fàbregas when he left to join Barcelona.
Cazorla’s great play for Arsenal has allowed the Gunners to sit comfortably towards the top of the table.
His great form has earned him a spot in Spain’s national team for the World Cup qualifiers.
Arsène Wenger will count on Cazorla to continue his incredible play in key fixtures against FC Shalke and QPR.
10. Moussa Dembélé
Moussa Dembélé moved from Fulham to Tottenham this summer. Since that time, he has proven that he fits into manager André Villas Boas' new attacking system.
Dembélé is uniquely strong and skillful. While he is the more offensive minded member of Tottenham’s midfield, he is also strong enough to tackle and make interceptions.
Look for Dembélé to continue to improve his form under AVB.
The Spurs will need him to play his best in their coming matchups with Chelsea and Manchester United.
9. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard is playing to the form that is expected of him as one of the best midfielders in the EPL.
Gerrard has been one of the lone bright spots on a Liverpool team that is currently 14th in the table.
Gerrard has also asserted himself as a valuable member and captain of the English national team.
If Liverpool is to rebound this season, they will need Gerrard to continue to produce great stats and provide solid leadership.
8. Marouane Fellaini
Marouane Fellaini has broken out this season. He has used his strength, size and speed to run all over defenses.
Fellaini’s fantastic play this season has drawn the attention of teams such as Chelsea and Arsenal.
Fellaini has been responsible for Everton’s fantastic start to the season. They are currently ranked fourth in the EPL.
The Belgian national featured prominently in Everton’s defeat of Manchester United. He ran rampant all over Manchester United’s defense.
His value can be measured in the urgency in which Everton are now trying to replace him during his short-term injury and for the long term after his inevitable transfer.
One thing is for sure: If Everton hope to remain in contention for Champions League qualification, they will need to retain the talented Fellaini past the January transfer window.
7. Mario Götze
Team: Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund’s twenty-year-old Mario Götze has the potential to be one of the greatest players of his generation.
Thus far this season, though, Götze and Borussia Dortmund have been less than stellar. After seven games, Dortmund currently trail Bayern by nine points.
Götze, however, is not concerned over this deficit.
"Bayern have a significant lead, but we can still catch up with them. They're not unassailable yet,” he said (via goal.com).
Götze will need to step up as a leader if Dortmund is to come together as a cohesive group.
If Götze can continue his great form, he will bring Dortmund back to the top of the table and become known as a world-class player in the process.
6. Andrea Pirlo
Even at age 33, Andrea Pirlo continues to provide solid play in midfield for Juventus.
Pirlo leads a Juventus team that has not lost a match since May of 2011.
Pirlo is the cog that turns the wheel that is Juventus, and many believe that the Italian club has become too dependent on their playmaker. This speaks to the quality that he brings to each and every match.
Pirlo also had a great summer with the Italian national team. He was instrumental in their march to the Euro Cup final.
If Pirlo can continue his great form, Juventus will likely win the league championship again this season.
5. Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard has lived up to his incredible £32 million price tag.
He has invigorated a Chelsea side that now sits atop the EPL table.
Hazard has forged an excellent partnership with Juan Mata and Oscar. This trio of attackers is incredibly dangerous, especially considering that Fernando Torres plays in front of them as well.
Hazard will look to continue his excellent form in upcoming fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester United. If he can keep playing this well, Chelsea will have to be the favorite to win the EPL this year.
4. Toni Kroos
Team: Bayern Munich
Toni Kroos has solidified his position as Bayern’s top attacking midfielder. His ability as a playmaker has always been phenomenal.
Recently, however, Kroos has had success scoring goals as well.
This season, Kroos has already scored four goals in all competitions.
Kroos has effectively taken the starting attacking midfield position from teammate Thomas Müller.
Kroos will look to continue his great play so that he can move into the starting squad for the German national team.
Xavi will go down as one of the greatest attacking midfielders of all time.
The 32-year-old Spaniard has yet to see his play diminish, and this season has been no different for the great midfielder.
He has passed efficiently and has led Barcelona to the top of La Liga. As always, his stats are not jaw dropping. He just does the little things that allow Barcelona to win game after game.
As ESPN recently wrote, there will likely never be another Xavi.
2. Shinji Kagawa
Team: Manchester United
Shinji Kagawa has been one of the most consistent members of Manchester United’s squad this season.
Kagawa has made the transition to EPL soccer with incredible grace. He has made lightning-fast cuts through defenses and has picked out passes that have surprised defenses and fans alike.
More importantly, Kagawa has built a solid relationship with both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
Manchester United will need Kagawa to continue setting up their impressive striking core as they continue their quest to reclaim the league championship.
1. Juan Mata
Juan Mata has been one of the best players in the world this season.
He has benefited greatly from his move to the middle of the formation this season. With the additions of Oscar and Hazard on the outside and the presence of Fernando Torres up top, Mata has nothing but options as he slices through defenses.
Mata is one of the main reasons that Chelsea are the pace-setters in the EPL.
Mata can continue to sit back and let the game come to him. He has numerous options surrounding him.
If Mata can continue his pace of play, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Chelsea do not win the league.