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RANKED! – Top 10 defensive midfielders in women’s football

6 mins read
RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football

The role of a defensive midfielder has many layers to it. However, in the women’s game, where players are more versatile, able to switch positions in play and perform different roles within the same game, it becomes even more difficult to evaluate them.

Previously, the role demanded players who excelled at going in for a meaty tackle, while today it’s more possession-based where players with technical proficiency are preferred. Thus, it is no surprise that someone like Keira Walsh commanded a world-record fee as part of her transfer from Manchester City to Barcelona.

So, without further ado, I present to you my top 10 defensive midfielders in women’s football right now.

Also read: Ranked: 10 best women’s club football teams in the world right now

#10 Ingrid Syrstad Engen

24 years old • Norway • Barcelona Femení

RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football
#10 Ingrid Syrstad Engen

The 24-year-old Norwegian joined German giants VfL Wolfsburg at the age of 21 following a breakthrough stint with Norwegian club LSK Kvinner. However, following her second season with Wolfsburg, Barça came calling for Engen’s services.

Predominantly someone who breaks up play, Engen has certainly taken her some time to adjust to Barça’s more possession-based approach. Moreover, the injury to Alexia Putellas has also resulted in the Norwegian getting more game time. Despite this, Engen remains behind the likes of Keira Walsh and Patri Guijarro in the pecking order. Thus, it remains to be seen whether she can ever realise her full potential in the stacked Barça midfield.

#9 Sarah Zadrazil

29 years old • Austria • Bayern Munich Frauen

RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football
#9 Sarah Zadrazil

Bayern Munich’s #25 has had an excellent 2022 on an individual level, producing consistent performances for both club and country. The Austria international is one of the most accomplished midfielders in the game. Playing at the base of the Bavarian club’s midfield, Zadrazil is the complete package who also excels in 1v1 situations, while adding creativity further up the pitch when needed.

Zadrazil was important to Austria’s cause at the Women’s Euros as they made it to the last eight before losing out to Germany. Besides, the 29-year-old has also signed a contract extension with Bayern, keeping her at the club for a further two seasons. 

#8 Sam Coffey

24 years old • USA • Portland Thorns

#8 Sam Coffey

Sam Coffey was the 12th overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft and turned out to be an essential pick for the Portland Thorns, playing a pivotal role in her side winning their third NWSL Championship title. In her first full season, Coffey has already exhibited her excellent defensive abilities, and, while being a strong passer of the ball, her ability in dead-ball situations only adds more strings to her bow.

Moreover, Coffey’s emergence as a solid defensive shield and a metronome could turn out to be a long-term solution for the US national women’s team. With a glaring hole in the heart of the US midfield, Coffey can make a claim for herself, with the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup just around the corner.

#7 Erin Cuthbert

24 years old • Scotland • Chelsea Women

#7 Erin Cuthbert

Erin Cuthbert is undoubtedly playing the best football of her career, particularly for Chelsea. While there aren’t many positions on the pitch where she hasn’t played, it is the holding position, at the base of the midfield, where she excels the most.

This season, alongside Sophie Ingle, Cuthbert has been predominantly used both as a defensive midfielder as well as a number eight, which has resulted in the Scotland international scoring more worldies from the edge of the 18-yard box.

Having joined Chelsea at the age of 18, Cuthbert is already into her seventh season. The two parties have also signed a long-term contract, which will keep Cuthbert in west London for at least two more seasons. Besides, alongside her long-range shooting ability, Cuthbert also has a tireless engine and is someone who never shies away from a meaty challenge.

#6 Lena Lattwein

22 years old • Germany • VfL Wolfsburg Women

RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football
#6 Lena Lattwein

Wolfsburg’s Lena Lattwein is a versatile midfielder who can play both as a defensive midfielder and further up the pitch. She joined Wolfsburg in the summer of 2021 and seamlessly bedded into their midfield set-up alongside Lena Oberdorf. The 22-year-old scored seven goals in 19 league appearances last season, being the more advanced of the two midfielders.

In a star-studded midfield, Lattwein was quick to win over manager Tommy Stroot’s confidence, as she has gone on to start more than 90% of Wolfsburg’s games since making her club debut. Although Lattwein is yet to receive a national call-up, there is plenty of time and development before she bridges that gap as well.

#5 Sophie Ingle

31 years old • Wales • Chelsea Women

RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football
#5 Sophie Ingle

Chelsea’s 31-year-old defensive midfielder has been an integral part of their overall success as the Wales national team captain continues to marshal Chelsea’s midfield, with much of their success resting on her ability to pull the strings.

One of Ingle’s standout characteristics is her calmness both on and off the ball, while being an excellent reader of the game. She can either drop back or attack further up the pitch depending on what the team need, highlighting both her defensive and offensive abilities. However, more recently, Ingle has been acting as the defensive shield in front of the backline for both Chelsea and Wales.

#4 Lia Wälti

29 years old • Switzerland • Arsenal Women

#4 Lia Wälti

Like so many defensive midfielders, Lia Wälti’s performances have gone unnoticed compared to some of her attacking teammates. Besides, the 29-year-old is also known for her low centre of gravity and ability to pass with both feet, making her the metronome at the base of Arsenal’s midfield.

When we look at her pass completion rate and progressive passes, Wälti regularly tops the charts. Now in her fifth season with Arsenal, she will be hoping to play a big role in her side’s push for silverware, with her two-footedness proving essential to how they play due to her excellent ball circulation and reading of the game.

#3 Patricia Guijarro

24 years old • Spain • Barcelona Femení

#3 Patricia Guijarro

Since joining the Catalan club at the age of 17, Patricia Guijarro has played many roles, from a centre-back to an offensive-thinking number eight in Alexia Putellas’ absence. However, it is in the holding midfielder role where she truly excels. In her eight seasons with Barcelona, Guijarro has slowly gone on to establish herself as one of the best pivots currently in the game. Her ability to read games and play passes that no one else can is simply unmatched.

The 24-year-old is superb technically and someone who is press resistant. She ended last season with nine assists in the league and is well on course to repeat that with two goals and five assists already this season. While Guijarro is an offensive powerhouse from the base of the midfield, she doesn’t shy away from doing the dirty bit as well. The Spain international ranks highly for both tackles and duels won among defensive midfielders, which is a testament to her all-round game. 

#2 Keira Walsh

25 years old • England • Barcelona Femení

RANKED! - Top 10  Defensive Midfielders In Women’s Football
#2 Keira Walsh

Keira Walsh left her childhood club Manchester City for a world-record fee in women’s football to join Spanish giants Barcelona in the summer of 2022. And her stock has only risen since winning the Women’s Euro 2022, where she was arguably England’s best player. There are few who can dictate play quite like she does, and her assist for Ella Toone’s opener in the final of the Euros was exactly the kind of vision and technical ability she possesses when put into action.

Moreover, as she settles into life at Barça, it will be intriguing to see how Walsh develops her game further in Spain. In her 12 league appearances for the Blaugrana so far, the 25-year-old has occupied the base of the midfield, recycling possession and dictating the tempo of most games.

#1 Lena Oberdorf

21 years old • Germany • VfL Wolfsburg Women

#1 Lena Oberdorf

Being named the Best Young Player at the 2022 Euros and finishing fourth in the Ballon d’Or overall standings at the age of 21 is a dream very few have ever lived. It is frightening to see the pace at which Lena Oberdorf has developed, and how much better she can go on to become, given she has already established herself as one of the best in her position. The 21-year-old all-action midfielder showcased her ability during the summer for Germany as they made it to the final before losing to England.

A physically strong asset for both club and country, Oberdorf is also a fantastic reader of the game. Not afraid to make a meaty tackle, Oberdorf is essential for her team in breaking down the play, while she also possesses the technical ability to impact games on the other end of the pitch as well. At just 21, she looks set to star for both club and country for many years to come.

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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