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The 25 best attacking midfielders in world football – ranked

Attacking midfielders of the highest grade are like gold dust in modern football.

While systems around Europe are starting to phase out the classic attacking ten, there is still the need for creative midfielders to pull strings, whip in free kicks and score the odd banger from distance.

Here are the best 25 attacking midfielders in the world, ranked as part of our 2023 Welcome to World Class series.

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Pedro GoncalvesPedro Goncalves

Goncalves is a star at Sporting / Carlos Rodrigues/GettyImages

Pote, as he’s widely known, spearheaded Sporting CP’s first league title-winning campaign since 2002 in 2020/21 with 23 goals. He’s an output machine and has evolved into more of a creator.

Goncalves has drawn lazy comparisons to former Sporting star Bruno Fernandes but, while the pair did enjoy similar breakout seasons, their technical profiles do differ.

Pote isn’t the most aesthetic of playmakers and he’s instead a player who relies a ton on instinct and intuition. Still, he’s a menace in and around the box with his skill set being well-balanced.

Crucially, he is a player who doesn’t need many touches to have an impact on matches – an attribute some of the world’s best midfielders boast.

Morgan Gibbs-WhiteMorgan Gibbs-White

Quality player / Visionhaus/GettyImages

The main reason why Nottingham Forest are still a Premier League club right now, Morgan Gibbs-White has come into his own since taking the keys of their attack.

The 23-year-old is only getting better and better with each passing game.

Eberechi EzeEberechi Eze

Eze is brilliant / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

Is there a more entertaining player in the Premier League than Eze right now?

Probably not.

The England international is a joy to watch when in full flow.

Julian BrandtJulian Brandt

Brandt had a strong year with Dortmund / Maja Hitij/GettyImages

Julian Brandt has been a big name in the Bundesliga for a long time now and while some may have expected him to go onto slightly bigger things, the German is still an extremely impressive attacking midfielder.

Had Borussia Dortmund managed to deliver the German title on the final day of the 2022/23 season, Brandt would have been one of the players listed as crucial to the achievement.

Versatile enough to play almost anywhere in the midfield and attack, Brandt grabbed nine goals and eight assists last season.

Mohammed KudusMohammed Kudus

New signing / West Ham United FC/GettyImages

If Mohammed Kudus’ last game for Ajax – a game in which he bagged a hat trick – is anything to go by, it’s fair to say that West Ham have signed themselves a pretty damn good footballer.

Expect Kudus to provide West Ham with a new dynamism in their attack.

Nabil FekirNabil Fekir

Fekir almost joined Liverpool in 2018 / Fran Santiago/GettyImages

Nabil Fekir has had an unusual career but one that still has to be viewed as a success.

Many associate him with the failed move to Liverpool where he somehow didn’t end up joining the Premier League side due to fitness issues.

He had a tougher campaign in 2022/23 but his career overall still makes the France international worthy of his place in the top 20 and he seems to have found a home at Real Betis. He is a leader, extremely creative and, for a player who has always struggled with injuries, his output is very good.

Kai HavertzKai Havertz

Havertz has ditched the blue of Chelsea for the red of Arsenal / Alex Grimm/GettyImages

Kai Havertz made his name as an attacking midfielder in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, though Chelsea often shoehorned the German into their starting XI by playing him up front.

Havertz never looked like a great fit as the Blues’ striker and has since swapped Stamford Bridge for the Emirates in another exchange between the London giants.

Mikel Arteta will play to the Champions League winner’s strengths and he should only improve in the red of Arsenal.

Lorenzo PellegriniLorenzo Pellegrini

Pellegrini is a leader at Roma / Paolo Bruno/GettyImages

The standout domestic highlight of Jose Mourinho’s debut season with Roma was the Giallorossi’s 3-0 Derby della Capitale triumph over bitter rivals Lazio and it was skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini who led the way.

The Italian’s free-kick was one of the Serie A goals of the season and one of the many times Pellegrini has produced from a set piece. He’s much more than a dead ball merchant, however.

Pellegrini is a versatile midfielder who can play in a double pivot, a midfield three and the front three. Much of his best work of late has come in a more advanced role where he can wreak havoc between the lines, combine with teammates and create in and around the box.

Paulo DybalaPaulo Dybala

Dybala has thrived at Roma / Paolo Bruno/GettyImages

Injuries have hamstrung Paulo Dybala over the past two seasons months, but the Argentine is nothing short of joyous to watch in full cry.

The aptly named La Joya is a throwback playmaker who plays the game at his own pace. He likes to drift infield from the right and create with that wand of a left foot of his. However, Dybala is more of a goalscorer than he is a creator and despite suffering numerous injuries he still puts out good numbers.

His status as an outright superstar has been thrust into considerable doubt over the past few years and his move to Roma was an indication of his relative decline at the highest level.

For all his talent, Dybala simply isn’t a player that aligns with the ideals of progressive, modern-day managers. Perhaps he was born a generation too late.

Dani OlmoDani Olmo

Olmo is a Spain intenational / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

After starring in Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb, Dani Olmo joined RB Leipzig midway through the 2019/20 season and played a big role in Die Roten Bullen’s progression to the Champions League semi-finals under Julian Nagelsmann.

Olmo slotted into Nagelsmann’s vertical and fluid system seamlessly as he was used all over the pitch by the German manager.

The Spaniard has since become a prominent member of the national team, notably contributing at the both Euro 2022 and the Olympics.

Olmo is a sharpshooter who loves to beat players one-vs-one and create for his teammates in the final third.

Phil FodenPhil Foden

Foden stars for Guardiola’s City / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has hailed the England international’s “special quality” in the past and the Spaniard has done an excellent job of facilitating Foden’s rise at the Etihad. Foden glides across the pitch before exuding the utmost technical quality with the ball at his feet. He’s a player that you just can’t take your eye off at times, such is his virtuosity.

The two-time PFA Young Player of the Year is gritty and tenacious without the ball, while Pep has used him in a myriad of functions – all of which he performs to the highest level. Not many boast Foden’s positional flexibility.

Portugal v Bosnia Herzegovina: Group J - UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifying RoundPortugal v Bosnia Herzegovina: Group J - UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifying Round

Felix needs to crack on / Zed Jameson/MB Media/GettyImages

A player with a fairly ambiguous position, Joao Felix still retains enough quality and promise for a high ranking.

His loan at Chelsea did not quite work out in the way he, the club or Atletico Madrid would have wanted, however he has another chance to sign on loan at Barcelona this year.

Christopher NkunkuChristopher Nkunku

Nkunku has been in sparkling form / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

Julian Nagelsmann helped Christopher Nkunku hone his craft during his time at RB Leipzig and the Frenchman exploded in the wake of the German manager’s departure last summer.

Nkunku is a Swiss army knife. He’s so versatile but much of his production last season came when Domenico Tedesco deployed him in a second-striker position. The discarded PSG youth prospect loves to operate from the left half-space and Tedesco was able to facilitate the most productive season of his career thus far in 2021/22.

His form saw him called up to France’s squad for the very first time in March 2022 and Chelsea have since swooped in to take his talents to Stamford Bridge.

Florian WirtzFlorian Wirtz

Wirtz staring at a football / Jonathan Moscrop/GettyImages

When the Bundesliga pioneered the return of football in 2020 following a lengthy COVID-induced break, Peter Bosz’s Bayer Leverkusen were one of the sides desperate football lovers were keen to see. 

Kai Havertz was the name on the tip of everybody’s tongues but it was Florian Wirtz who raised an eyebrow or two. It took some time for the young German to produce regularly for Die Werkself but by the time he suffered a devastating ACL rupture in March 2022, Wirtz had established himself as one of the world’s best teenage talents.

He took the mantle from Havertz with both hands and quickly emerged as Leverkusen’s star attacking talent alongside winger Moussa Diaby. Wirtz can just about do it all and has all the makings of a world-class attacking midfielder.

Dominik SzoboszlaiDominik Szoboszlai

Szoboszlai has impressed at Anfield / Matt McNulty/GettyImages

Hungarian star Dominik Szoboszlai’s ball-striking is among the very best in the world and his knack for pulling off the spectacular could easily see him emerge as a compilation merchant.

However, the Hungarian sensation is much more than that.

Szoboszlai is an elegant playmaker who relishes the battle. His vision and technique mean he stands out from a playmaking perspective and he’s put up impressive assist numbers throughout his senior career thus far.

There’s plenty more to come from Szoboszlai but he’s already one of the most talented attacking midfielders in the world.

James MaddisonJames Maddison

Maddison is now at Spurs / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Leicester’s dismal 2022/23 season shouldn’t detract from just how good a footballer James Maddison, their former chief creator, is.

It wasn’t always plain sailing for Maddison at the King Power, with Brendan Rodgers happy to underutilise the Englishman due to his lack of defensive nous and sub-par work rate. However, he has evolved in these regards over the past couple of years to become one of the Premier League’s most efficient playmakers.

He’s a risk-taker in possession; a player that gets the crowd on their feet every time he receives possession in the attacking third. His new home is at Tottenham, who are crying out for some creative ingenuity, and Maddison seems is a perfect fit.

Xavi SimonsXavi Simons

Top class / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages

Having been exceptional for PSV Eindhoven, Xavi Simons earned himself a move PSG during the summer and then a loan move to RB Leipzig to test himself at a slightly higher level.

At said ‘slightly higher level’ Simons has excelled – to say the very least. He’s been the best player in the Bundesliga this season thus far.

Thomas MullerThomas Muller

The OG space interpreter / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

The original Raumdeuter. 

Thomas Muller’s proficiency at picking gaps meant an entirely new role was created in homage to the slippery German. Muller is a one-of-a-kind footballer.

He can finish off chances like a ruthless number nine, create for others with the utmost subtlety and interpret space akin to Galileo. Muller certainly isn’t the most aesthetic of attacking midfielders, nor does he excel technically, but he’s so incredibly effective at what he does.

Muller remains a crucial part of a dominant Bayern side and is one of the very few footballers to master an utterly unique function.

Pablo Martin Paez Gaviria 'Gavi'Pablo Martin Paez Gaviria 'Gavi'

Superb player / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/GettyImages

The 2022 Kopa Trophy winner is a simply brilliant and mature footballer already.

Gavi is a key creative member of Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona team – a team which looks set to be built around him for at least the next decade.

Julián ÁlvarezJulián Álvarez

Alvarez in action / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Signed as a backup striker to Erling Haaland, Julian Alavarez has been simply too good not to have in the starting lineup since joining.

Now, Pep Guardiola is utilising Alvarez as an attacking midfielder and, judging by his early season performances, that’s a position he is more than capable of thriving in.

Jamal MusialaJamal Musiala

Musiala is a special talent / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

England and Germany fought it out for the right to have this teenage sensation represent them on the international stage.

Jamal Musiala had played for the Three Lions at various youth levels but is German-born and quickly racked up over 20 appearances for Hansi Flick’s side at just 20 years of age.

The teenager has already established himself as a bona fide star in Munich with Bundesliga tyrants Bayern, scoring the goal that helped his side pip Borussia Dortmund to the title in 2022/23.

Musiala can perform multiple roles but excels in an attacking midfield position due to his instincts in and around the box. He’s an excellent dribbler, while his movement in the final third is Thomas Muller-esque.

Antoine GriezmannAntoine Griezmann

Griezmann is back at his best / Christian Liewig – Corbis/GettyImages

Antoine Griezmann’s all-round talent makes him a viable option to play anywhere in attack or midfield.

The Atletico Madrid and France star impressed with his defensive contributions during the 2022 World Cup and his attacking numbers have shot up again, hitting double digits for goals in La Liga in 2022/23 for the first time in two years.

Martin OdegaardMartin Odegaard

Odegaard captains Arsenal / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Former Real Madrid wonderkid Martin Odegaard has matured into quite the character. He is already the captain of Norway and was announced as Arsenal’s skipper before the start of the 2022/23 season.

Odegaard is blessed with a tidy left foot and is one of those players who boasts a wonderful ‘feel’ for the game. He understands timing and can pull off almost every pass in the book. His playmaking capacity has to be considered among the very best in the world

The Norwegian star is playing a key role in Mikel Arteta’s exciting project at Arsenal and has all the makings of a modern-day Gunners icon. He’s going from strength to strength, adding goals to his game in 2022/23.

Bruno FernandesBruno Fernandes

World class / Carlos Rodrigues/GettyImages

The pressure that comes with being a big-money Manchester United signing is unrivalled and so many before Bruno Fernandes succumbed under the spotlight.

The Portuguese creator, though, set the world alight during his first 18 months at the club. After signing in January 2020, Fernandes notched 15 Premier League goal contributions in 14 appearances during the second half of the season before scoring 18 times in the league the following campaign.

Fernandes has definitely suffered during some of United’s more depressing moments of the past few years, but his output since joining has been remarkable.

His ball-striking, vision and risk-taking are admirable traits, but there’s no doubt he can be woefully inefficient and infuriating to watch at times. But when you’re scoring heaps of goals, who cares?

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne has won it all with Man City / Nicolò Campo/GettyImages

Few players combine strength, power, creativity and technical ability like Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.

The Belgian playmaker is incredibly difficult to stop when all of City’s parts are moving with the precise synchronicity of a swan dance at the opera, showing devastating form during the second half of the 2022/23 season as they blitzed their way to the treble.

Give him too much space and De Bruyne will find the spare teammate at the back post. Close him down and he’ll work space for one of his unstoppable drives.

Defenders are clueless and that only adds to the former Chelsea midfielder’s aura.

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