Football News: Midfielders - Part 2

 

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Midfielders - Part 2
Image from: sportssessionplanner.com

Midfielders - Part 2

For this second part I am going to examine the true central midfielders, the ones who actually do play in the middle of the park, rather than just sitting in front of the centre backs. In this position players, in the main, have a lot more freedom to get themselves forward, in theory at least. In practice the modern game is much more regimented and often the central midfield is stifled, with players that very rarely break into the box ala Frank Lampard, who was himself a rarity, a throwback even.


The first type is the ball winner, the one whose main job is to win the ball back and give it to the better players but who are not limited to sitting and protecting the defence. They can be of the extremely limited snarling type, such as Lee Cattermole, or the hard grafting being everywhere at once type like N'Golo Kante. The snarly type are often reckless and prone to picking up silly cards, which can see them ruled out at key times during the season, which is why so many teams have moved away from them. A player that cannot be trusted to be available at key points of the season is never going to be a favourite of a manager.

They will look to get all over the pitch, winning the ball higher up the pitch than a pure defensive midfielder would, though they are usually just as limited on the ball. Their job is not that of the creative hub, but, similar to a holding midfielder, win it and give it to the better players, especially playmakers.



Speaking of playmakers, there are normally a couple of different types in this area of the pitch. There is the roaming playmaker, who just goes where they wants and does what they want, with little in the way of restriction when the team is in possession. Out of possession they sit in central midfield and look to fill a gap in the formation, the Cesc Fabregas role at Chelsea, for instance. Little real defensive responsibility, as he is not good at the defensive side of the game, but he will just get into a position and it forces the opposition to play around him. When the team is in possession, he just goes where he sees spaces and time to operate in. He might drop back one second and then wander forward the next.

The advanced playmaker is very similar, but he wants to push forward when his team is in possession, into that little pocket between the midfield and attack, to get the ball and control attacks from there. That is, to a degree, the role Kevin De Bruyne is playing for Manchester City. On those few minutes of a match they are not in control of the ball, De Bruyne drops into central midfield to take up a position, once they regain it, he usually joins David Silva in behind the attackers.


There is the all rounder, old-fashioned central midfielder who does everything, depending on the opposition and tactics his team are employing. He is expected to help protect the defence, to get forward when he can, to look for passes, sometimes he will drift out wide to cross the ball or get in the box to get on the end of a cross. He is expected to be able to do everything to a reasonable standard and adapt to the situation of the game. Due to the increase in managers who want full tactical control of their players, like they are chess pieces, these players are rare. Players mostly specialise in a role and are unsuited to playing multiple ways these days. In the past though, this was the most common player of all in the centre of midfield.



Having said that, Naby Keita and Arturo Vidal are amongst a small number that could be considered to play this role, though Radja Nainggolan is right now the best example. If Kante continues to improve at the rate he has done recently, then he would have to be considered one too, so maybe, thinking about it, they are actually coming back into fashion. These type of players are usually fairly close to complete, as they have to be able to do everything.


The box-to-box midfielder is also seemingly out of fashion in the main now, the David Platts who specialise in getting into the box to try and get on the end of something. They are not particularly creative or skilful, defensively they get back and fill in gaps, but their whole game is built around breaking into the box and trying to get on the end of a cross or through ball. Tim Cahill made a career out of charging into the box late and using his momentum to leap high and win a header over much taller men that were not moving at speed like he was.

These days the box-to-box midfielder tends to stop short of actually getting into the box, as teams no longer look to get the ball to a winger to whip in, while flooding the box with bodies looking to get on the end of the cross. At one time a winger would get the ball out wide and he would have two forwards, a box-to-box midfielder all looking to get on the end of it and the winger on the other side lurking just inside the far side of the box in case it was overhit. Nowadays, even though it is usually a fullback getting forward who receives it in a position to cross, they are lucky if they have anything other than one forward to pick out.

Nowadays the thinking is to have the midfield around the edge of the box to pick up loose balls and to maintain possession, which makes sense in a lot of ways. There are still a few around, Georginio Wijnaldum is a possible example, though he does not make enough forward runs, nor score enough, to really make his mark as one.


Football has evolved in recent years, with less teams looking to midfielders to provide a goal threat inside the box. With the improvement in the quality of the pitches there is less need to play percentages to score a goal. You can keep control of the ball in midfield without worrying about it hitting a patch of mud and taking an odd bounce. That has changed the role of a midfielder massively, now they need to be involved in the play, it is very rare the ball misses out the midfield, though it will often go straight to the bit I will talk about in Part 3 - the attacking midfield, so teams can build from there.

Written by Tris Burke



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