Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Rise of the Deep Lying Playmaker

England's Humiliation. Germany's incredible performances. Spain's World Cup victory. Man United's somewhat lacklustre season (in comparison to the past few seasons). Inter Milan's Champions League victory as well as Bayern Munich's Bundesliga dominance. All down to one thing in my opinion, the playmaker in the centre of midfield who sits just in front of the defence, otherwise known as a deep lying playmaker.

Think Michael Essien, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso and Xavi, Makelele of Chelsea old, Esteban Cambiasso, Sami Khedira and perhaps greatest of them all, Franz Beckenbauer. All of them are or were great players who dictate the game with their passing ability, great vision and technical skill, such as seeing that killer pass from the halfway line to the striker to set him for a chance on goal. Not only does the Deep Lying playmaker sit deep, dictating play, but he'll surge forward to bolster attacks, knock crosses into the box from deep or even have a pop at goal near the edge of the box.

This position in football is still an early phenomenon in Football, especially in English Football. Look at the England squad that went to South Africa. Our best attempt at the type of player who can dictate play from such a deep position as well as get forward when necessary, was Gareth Barry. A man who struggled to take control in all of England's matches in the World Cup, especially against Germany. Granted he had just come back from a bad injury but his passing ability was poor regardless of this, and Barry showed little imagination going forward and didn't look capable of bossing the midfield, unlike Bastian Schweinsteiger who dominated the central midfield.

It's fair to say that the English game will create more of this type of player eventually. The Premier League now has strong examples such as Darren Fletcher of United, Paul Scholes has developed into the role as well. Michael Essien is obviously the strong example named earlier. Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone looks to be developing into this role as well, although when backed up by the like of Niko Kranjcar and Wilson Palacios in the midfield, the attacking duties are left to the more experienced/better players. Then there's Everton's Jack Rodwell who has been remarkable for Everton this season (who unsurprisingly have made it their top priority to keep the gifted youngster), showing not only great ability and strength in midfield, as well as great composure going forward and in front of goal.

Despite the emergence of players in this position, it's easy to confuse the Deep Lying Playmaker with the more familiar role of Defensive Midfielder. It's the Liverpool squad of the 08/09 season that shows us the greatest contrast between these two very different roles, with perhaps the experts of each job showcasing the different attributes required.

The 08/09 season was a very entertaining one, not only because Liverpool did well, but because for once it wasn't a two horse race between United and Chelsea but the race for the title for once, was better then the relegation and "the race for fourth." There was also some really good football on display as well.

Man United had become clinical with their style of play, Tevez and Rooney like six yard box hitmen, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo was the gifted Winger who battered the goal nets every game he played. Then there's Ryan Giggs, the silver fox of the Premier League, who proved Footballers are like fine wines that season, getting better with age.

Chelsea, aggressive but still defensively sound but no more grinding of results, one route football straight down the middle, but not to be confused with the route one football of Long balls into the box. Drogba was like a beast, smashing past the defence and smashing the ball in the net by one of those free-kicks.

Then there was Liverpool, a team that every year the fans get excited. Too excited. Every year Liverpool are going to win the League. Every year Liverpool are "unlucky". That season though, Liverpool were unlucky and pushed United all the way for the Championship. Playing good, fluid, attacking football. The whole team attacking as a team and defending as a team, Jamie Carragher playing the ball forward from defence, Gerrard playing in the hole between opposition defence and the midfield and Fernando Torres. Oh Torres. Single handily destroying Premier League defences, making the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand look like overweight Sunday leaguers and for the first time in awhile, a Liverpool striker bags 20 Prem goals.

But I've digressed. Liverpool had an excellent season for numerous reason but one was surely key man Xabi Alonso, Liverpool's original Deep Lying playmaker, either seeking Gerrard or making those killer through balls that go straight past defenders and are caught by Torres. Next to Xabi Alonso however, was Liverpool's next important player, Javier Mascherano. Purely in the midfield to regain possession, holding up play to give Alonso space for the ball or more frequently putting in the tackle against the opposition to win back the ball. These two players have to work in tandem with one another and at Liverpool they did, throw in talents like Gerrard and Torres, who both have a nose for goal, and you've got a winning combination. It's unfortunate that we let Xabi go then and that's perhaps one of the reasons why Mascherano is currently unhappy at Liverpool.

The point here however is the importance that this type of player can have. Jose Mourinho's teams revolve around the Deep Lying playmaker's abilities, the current norm for international teams employs usually one or two of this type of player. Man United has four players who can play this role; Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher and Hargreaves, one is a permanent visitor in the specialists clinic, one has lost all form, one is getting on and the last one has no-one going forward to help him out.

In a few years to come, the Deep Lying Playmaker will become one of the necessities in the route to success for the bigger teams, particularly in continental competition. How long it takes for England to really develop this type of player however is anyone's guess, but currently our youth system doesn't really develop these types of players, fortunately this is where the clubs can step in and mould youngsters into their visage.

Whatever the case may be, Football will only get better with the development of players prepared to go from defence to attack with a simply pass of the ball.

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