The central midfielder. They all occupy the same space on the field- in between the defenders and the forwards, in the middle longitudinal third of the pitch- however they come in many different shapes, sizes and styles. In recent years the position has been categorised and widely accepted as three denominations: CDM, CM and CAM. However, it is slightly more sophisticated than this.
“Regista”, the Italian word for ‘director’, is used to describe deep-lying playmakers. These players stay extremely deep, just in front of their defence, and use their superb vision and exquisite passing abilities to open up the opposition’s defence and create goals. The most famous regista of today is Andrea Pirlo, with Luka Modric and Steven Gerrard taking up this role in recent seasons. Pirlo himself explained his tendency to stay well away from the opponents 18-yard area by stating “If the sea’s deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him just under the surface, he’ll get by, but it’s not quite the same thing.”
Although Andrea Pirlo also has a sumptuous free-kick in his repertoire, registas are in the team for the assists and key passes. Steven Gerrard was the premier league’s top assist maker with 13 in the 2013/14 season and Andrea Pirlo averaging the joint-highest “key pass” maker in Serie A with an average of 3 per game in the 2012/13 season. The reason why registas score so highly in these kinds of statistics is that when the opposition defence drops off, they are left with enormous amounts of space in front of them to perform in. Juventus utilise this to the maximum by having up to six players ahead of Andrea Pirlo at a time looking to receive the ball and make penetrating runs in behind the opposition defence, this can be shown in the diagram below.
Another advantage of having a player stay deep is that if the ball is lost, they are in a position to track back to avoid becoming outnumbered and look for tackles and interceptions.
The Makélélé role
What has become known as the “Makélélé role” is a player in the number 6 position in front of the centre backs that is tasked with destroying or gobbling up any loose balls or promising attack. Javier Mascherano is often referred to as “pacman” in his home country of Argentina because of the way he ‘gobbles up’ anything that comes near him when he plays in this role for La Albiceleste. The role is named after former Chelsea and France midfielder Claude Makélélé who made this role his own during his time under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea from 2004-07. He is a symbol of the negativity in style that Mourinho is often criticised for as most sides would have settled for a central midfield partnership of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, which is what Chelsea had at the time, however Mourinho chose to add a defensive influence behind or in between these two players in a pragmatic 4-5-1 in the defensive phase becoming 4-1-4-1 in the attacking phase. Makélélé helped Chelsea to only concede 15 goals in the 38 matches of the 2004/05 Premier League season, the fewest ever conceded in a PL season. The assurance of having a sitting midfielder of this nature allows the full backs to attack or a ball-playing centre back to step out from the back while the number 6 covers. Today, break-up midfielders include Nigel De Jong for Holland and AC Milan and Daniele De Rossi for Italy and AS Roma.
I’m not sure about you but when the words “midfield powerhouse” are mentioned one name comes to mind, Patrick Vieira. The midfield powerhouse is synonymous with the idea of the centre of midfield being the ‘engine room’. These players are arguably the biggest all-rounders of the centre midfielders with their main task being shuttling runs on and off the ball to assert their physical presence on the opposition. If this is supplemented with hard tackling and a good passing ability then these midfielders can be the most valuable player to the team. This can be shown through Patrick Vieira’s 6 PFA team of the year inclusions, joint 2nd in the all-time list. “Powerhouses” of today include Yaya Touré and Paul Pogba. Both these midfielders terrorise opponents with their physical presence (at 6’3″ and 6’1″ respectively) which results in goals, 20 in 35 matches for Touré last season. Paul Pogba scored a 7.64 overall ‘whoscored.com’ rating in the 2013/14 season, second in Serie A. Pogba himself says that he aims to be better than Vieira and this is far from impossible considering his form in the past two seasons. He is certainly a top outside bet to be ‘Player of the Tournament’ this summer in the World Cup.
The box-to-box midfielder
This position is what it says on the tin. These are midfielders designed to make an impact at both ends of the pitch. The requirements for this role are stamina, speed, good tackling/defensive ability, and good final third creativity. The task of this midfielder overlaps to some extent with the powerhouse but it isn’t exclusive to 6ft+ monsters. Jordan Henderson has fulfilled this role superbly for Liverpool in recent times. His mobility is necessary in the defensive phase next to an aging Steven Gerrard who is not as dynamic as he once was. He is just as important when Liverpool have the ball with accurate passing and runs from deep into the final third. At Juventus, Arturo Vidal provides this cover for Andrea Pirlo. With the third most tackles of any player in Serie A in 2013/14 he does most of Pirlo’s dirty work but his darting runs forward pose opposing defences a different type of threat and overloads the opposition defence as shown in the diagram near the top of this article. Vidal’s all-round football ability has been best shown for Chile, where he has featured in almost every position for them in the last few years.
Also known as a No. 10, the advanced playmaker, the man in the ‘hole’ or the ‘enganche’ as it is known in Argentina, this position is the one behind the striker and ahead of the midfield directly translating as ‘third-quarter specialist’ from Italian. They are the hook between midfield and the forwards (‘enganche’ is the Spanish for “hook”). The key to their success in a side is staying in between the lines to be able to run at the defenders with the ball in a central area (more dangerous as defenders cannot send them one way as full backs do) or making it awkward for the opposition as to who is going to pick him up if the opposition are employing a man-to-man marking system. Originally the Trequartista was the only player in his ‘line’, for example Juan Roman Riquelme in the succesful Villareal side of 2005/06- the last of the slow but exceptionally skillful enganches. In more recent times, with the rise of the 4-2-3-1 the playmaker has been playing in an attacking midfield 3 however with only one striker to find instead of two. Today, Germany and Spain are well ahead of the rest in producing world-class playmakers with Mesut Özil + Mario Götze being two of many from Germany and Juan Mata + David Silva being the most comfortable Spaniards in that position. With the pace of European club football, No. 10s need to be quick both with their feet and with their head, nimble and more well rounded as a player as perfectly executing one specific role is no longer good enough for a player in the top European leagues. This need for versatility has been proven by players such as Luka Modric and Steven Gerrard dropping into a deeper passing role in midfield in recent years.
As I have already referred to, a small set of specific attributes in the modern game is rarely good enough and there have become many overlaps in the roles of players. Some players will play various different midfield roles over their career or even game-to-game for example Yaya Touré being used in a more attacking, enganche-like role in the second leg of Manchester City’s champions league tie vs Barcelona in the 2013/14 season as he was seen as too much of a defensive liability. Also, more types of midfielders are evolving with Andrés Iniesta and Jack Wilshere often being described as ‘dribbling midfielders’ and Wayne Rooney regularly playing what has become known as a ‘false 10’ where his base position is one of a number 10 but he drifts wide on the ball to support wingers. This is another product that has been supported by the rise of the 4-2-3-1.