Last season in particular, we saw a number of clubs implement an adapted version of the 4-3-3 formation. This usually includes one striker, two attacking wingers, and three midfielders. Teams towards the top of the table tended to use this strategy, not only to give them extra pace and threat on the attack, but flexibility to fall into a 4-5-1 when necessary. It appeared to work well, but incurred a fine line between moving as a unit and isolating the front-man.
In a counter attacking manor, the attacking wingers can expose opposition full-backs and drag their defence around. Chelsea utilised this, particularly at the start of the season, with Malouda being the key influence, Anelka adding to the pace and power from the other side and Drogba providing the lethal touch in front of goal. This was finely balanced by the midfield work of the likes of Essien, Mikel and Ramires, who stabilised the centre and could be there to win the ball.
Manchester United also used this kind of approach to good effect, where they essentially play five midfielders and can manufacture a good balance between defence and attack. Rooney is always tracking back and dropping deep and looking to dictate the game, but as long as other players are willing to support in the hunt for a goal like Valencia, Park, Nani and Giggs, then this can be effective, especially with an additional striker.
Arsenal, with their flowing and easy on the eye style of football, took the option of one front-man and used their abundance of creative and holding midfielders to complement their swift play. I thought that Chamakh started off the campaign by leading the line very well, and was not only able to convert chances but also caused big problems for defenders with his movement. It was unfortunate for him that Van Persie came back from injury into such good form.
If we look at Manchester City, at times they were accused of playing boring football because they just didn’t go with enough attacking gusto. For all the talent they have, Tevez was sometimes left frustrated on his own up-front while Barry, Yaya Toure, de Jong and co were busy locking up the defensive third. When Toure moved into a more attacking role, City looked like a more threatening force, and if they can adapt themselves to efficiently accommodate the likes of Silva, Johnson and any newcomers into their attacks surely they can have added impetus at the other end of the pitch.
They have a very solid back line as it is with Kompany / Toure / Lescott, without needing the protection of more defensive midfielders. If City can get their own style working next season, then I think they could be a stronger force because they have the sturdy back line which allows them more creative freedom further up the pitch if they want it.
With the seemingly large influx of midfielders into the premiership, whether they be attacking or defensive, it does seem to me that sometimes managers adapt their starting 11 to work around this and accommodate them afterwards, shifting them around to fit them all in. Few of the Premier League’s well-known midfielders have shone this past season, possibly because of having to take on slightly new roles or fit into a different shape.
Although struggling with injury somewhat, Gerrard and Lampard along with Fabregas haven’t seen the limelight nearly as much, and a lot of the time look overshadowed and like they don’t have the same opportunity or inspiration to turn games in their favour or run the show like we have seen in the past.
However, players such as Ashley Young and Rafael van der Vaart stood out for their teams, mainly in a role just behind the striker. Scott Parker was a prime example of a midfielder who did exactly what was required of him and performed above expectations. To stand out last season, you appeared to have to do more than hold the middle of the park in a standard 4-4-2, but orchestrate attacks, score goals or genuinely protect the back line breaking up the play, making tackles and winning balls. In a game where the role of a midfielder is becoming ever more complicated, adaptability could become a valuable characteristic in a modern midfield maestro and a crucial one to a successful team.
Let us know which midfielders you think will shine next season.
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