Thrown a Lifeline: The Deep-Lying Midfielder

4 11 2010

With football formations changing and developing all the time, the deep-lying midfielder role is one of the most important in modern football. Joe Nicholls from FM Fanboys reveals all.

In the last decade or so, the anchorman position was often regarded as the unsung hero of positions, players like Claude Makalele and Gilberto Silva went about their game with little appreciation of their worth from the media.

The exact opposite can be said of Football’s new hero, the deep-lying playmaker.

The modern game, as we know it, is an extremely technical game, where every aspect of the opposition is scrutinised before and after every match. The transitional period between defending and attacking is now so quick that it takes a certain type of player to fill this role. The position demands intelligence, quick thinking and, to some degree the commentators favourite, a photographic memory.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the deep-lying midfielder role was often referred to as the anchorman, the hard man, the enforcer. This type of player would break up an attack with a crunching tackle and look to pass the ball on to a more technically gifted team-mate, but the deep-lying playmaker is a totally different composition of player. Sitting deep in the midfield just in front of the defensive line, the deep-lying playmaker will look to collect the ball from his defenders and will instantly look for that killer pass that will cut the opposition’s defence in half. If the pass isn’t on he will look to start an attack, often looking for opposition players that are out of position.

Personally, I think we owe the emergence of the modern day deep-lying playmaker to current Chelsea boss, Carlo Ancelotti. Back in 2001 Ancelotti saw something in Pirlo, namely his ability to make a difficult pass look simple, and made the decision to convert Andrea Pirlo from a creative attacking midfielder to a deep-lying playmaker, something that has served A.C Milan well, having won two Champions League titles and one Scudetto, with Pirlo playing a monumental part in Milan’s success.

The success of Milan and the emergence of Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker made managers take note. Identified as the quarterback role, many teams started to employ this position in their tactics. One team in particular, Liverpool, bought Xabi Alonso to the club in 2004 and was played in this very role. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool won the Champions League the following year and even less of a coincidence that Liverpool are struggling without him in the team.

The deep-lying playmaker position is now opening up options for managers and giving attack minded players a lifeline in which to continue their game. The most notable player in the position at present is Manchester United’s Paul Scholes. As a youngster Scholes played as an attacking midfielder, often playing behind the striker, but as he has aged Sir Alex has moulded him into the deep-lying playmaker every club is searching for. Scholes is the epitome of a deep-lying playmaker and as you will have seen, the media are giving him the plaudits he deserves. Other players following in Scholes’ footsteps are players like Marcos Senna, Michael Ballack and David Beckham, this new role will give them a few extra seasons in the game they love.

We are now seeing managers trying to create “younger” models for this position, Ancelotti is at it again with John Obi Mikel, who he has turned from an enforcer to a playmaker and we’ve got a couple of Englishmen deployed in this position with Tom Huddlestone and Gareth Barry playing the holding role for their attack minded clubs.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more excellent articles by Joe over at Football Manager Fanboys.


21/09/2010 – Tuesday’s Paper Round-Up

21 09 2010

Roma want Manchester City keeper Shay Given – and Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has encouraged him to consider a move to Serie A.

Meanwhile, Ferguson could bring Aston Villa centre-back Ciaran Clark to Old Trafford as part of a deal involving United striker Michael Owen moving to the West Midlands outfit.

Nigeria striker Victor Obinna wants to make his loan move from Inter Milan to West Ham permanent because he likes the style of Premier League football.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=tom+huddlestone&iid=9793881″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”288″ /] Manchester United are considering a move for Tottenham’s Tom Huddlestone (left) in the January transfer window. Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson is thought to be a big fan of the £16m-rated midfielder.

Fulham centre-back Brede Hangeland and Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg could be on their way to Arsenal in a £22m double swoop in January.

Manchester United want to give a trial to Brazilian youngster Andrigo, who plays for Internacional. Barcelona have also invited the 15-year-old forward for a trial at the Nou Camp.

Liverpool pair Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres could be on their way out of Anfield as co-owner Tom Hicks plots a £280m buyout of partner George Gillett’s shares in the club.

Slimmed-down West Ham striker Benni McCarthy says he is ready to play in Tuesday’s Carling Cup clash with Sunderland after been fined by the Hammers for exceeding his target weight.

Danish defender Daniel Agger has become the first Liverpool player to openly challenge Roy Hodgson’s authority after claiming he will not fall in line with the manager’s long-ball mantra.

Former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has made a lively start to the new season at Hamburg in Germany by scoring six goals in five games, admits he could bring an end to his glittering career at the end of the season.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle has revealed that Brian Laws, boss of Coyle’s former club Burnley, sent him a text message saying simply “ouch” when the the two clubs were paired together for Tuesday’s Carling Cup tie at Turf Moor.

Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov has revealed the reason for his superb form so far this season – running six miles a day in the summer in between watching World Cup matches as a fan.

Norwich director and noted intellectual Stephen Fry got some football facts, regarding 1940s Wolves striker Dennis Westcott, slightly wrong on the first programme in a new series of his television quiz show QI. Fry claimed Wolves manager Major Frank Buckley experimented with injecting monkey glands to improve his team’s fitness, leading to a goal spree by Westcott. However, Westcott’s run of 38 goals in 35 games was in 1946-47, Buckley left Wolves in 1944 and the monkey glands controversy was in 1938.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.

Dirk’s Double Does the Damage – Match Report

22 01 2010

Liverpool’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night gave everyone at the club a much needed boost following the FA Cup 3rd round defeat to Reading. This said, it was the third win in four in the league which has helped lift the Reds to within one point of fourth placed Tottenham. Dirk Kuyt’s sixth minute opener gave the injury-ravished Liverpool a deserved lead after finishing well from Alberto Aquilani’s lay off. Injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres meant that the likes of Kuyt and Aquilani really had to step up to the plate on Wednesday, which they duly did.

Kuyt firing his first goal of the game

Chances were few and far between in the first 45 minutes, with Tottenham’s first chance coming just before Kuyt gave Liverpool the lead when Pepe Reina did well to smother the ball away from Niko Krancjar and Jermain Defoe. The visitor’s best chance came just before half time when Wilson Palacios slid a ball through to Luka Modric but Reina stood big and did well to deny the little Croatian. Liverpool’s only other first half chances came late from Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. The Liverpool versus Tottenham fixture is normally one of the better ones in a Premier League campaign but neither side really managed to claim the ascendency in the early parts of this one.

The beginning of the second half saw Liverpool lose concentration which nearly, and perhaps should have seen Tottenham equalise through who else but Jermain Defoe. A lack of concentration and subsequent mix-up from Kyrgiakos and Reina led to Defoe pinching the ball from Reina’s feet and slotting home into an empty net, only for the Kop to breathe a huge sigh of relief when the referee’s assistant adjudged Defoe as being offside. Replays suggest it was a somewhat fortuitous decision. This was the wake-up call that Liverpool were lucky to get but the next chance fell to the hosts as Philipp Degen’s run and cross was met by the head of Albert Riera whose header rattled Heurelho Gomes’ crossbar. It was desperately unlucky and left the Anfield faithful wondering whether it was a chance that would later be rued. Philipp Degen was to be involved again shortly after Riera’s chance when he flicked on a cross to Dirk Kuyt who blazed over from close range.

Jermaine Jenas then went close after about 65 minutes but Pepe Reina was in inspired form to palm the ball away to safety. Liverpool really should have put the match to bed after that when Kuyt’s high work-rate was rewarded as he stole possession on the halfway line before feeding Philipp Degen who wasted a golden opportunity. Manager Rafa Benitez had some special praise for Kuyt’s contribution in his post-match press conference where he said, “he was working very hard and maybe he could have scored four today,” Benitez told reporters. “His commitment is always 100 per cent, so we are pleased for him”. Spectacular efforts were next to follow from Albert Riera and then Alan Hutton for Spurs but neither goalkeeper was called into action on these occasions. This was to be the last chance for the visitors who lacked creativity in the final third with Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon both sidelined through injury.

Benitez must take credit for some inspiring substitutions in this game as the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez and David N’Gog sparked Liverpool back into life and commanding centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos went close seven minutes from time but his left footed half-volley was beaten away by Gomes in the Tottenham goal. It seemed as if Rafa was content to take the 1-0 victory as he introduced Stephen Darby to the right side of midfield in a bid to shore things up but it was fellow substitute David N’Gog whose lively play helped wrap up the points. He first turned delightfully on the edge of the box to force a smart save from Gomes before getting Sebastian Bassong in a mess as the Cameroonian defender felled the France under-21 international just inside the penalty area to give Dirk Kuyt the chance for his and Liverpool’s second. Kuyt smashed home the penalty only for Howard Webb to demand a retake after encroaching from Lucas Leiva among others. At the second time of asking, Kuyt switched sides and cooly slotted home his eighth goal of the season.

Kuyt and Lucas acknowledge the fans after Kuyt doubles the lead

After the match Rafa Benitez not only had praise for Kuyt, but the whole team including fringe players Philipp Degen, Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos who have equipped themselves well in the last two league games. Kyrgiakos reminds me of Sami Hyypia and this was demonstrated well in his handling of Mamady Sidibie against Stoke City and Degen looked full of running against Stoke and Tottenham whilst providing good defensive protection to Jamie Carragher at full-back. After the game, Benitez said “it is difficult to stop Crouch and Defoe, so I think the combination of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel did well,” before adding, “I said before, the squad is not as bad as people have said. Today we were without six players, but the rest of the squad showed character. We have to be pleased because everyone was working hard and the players who have not played too many games did well.” Without wishing to bemoan our bad luck with injuries too much, I do agree with Rafa. Everyone is keen to remind us that we are having a terrible season, yet we are now just one point behind Tottenham who are said to be having a fantastic season so things cannot be all bad.

To conclude, I think the addition of Maxi Rodriguez will turn out to be a shrewd piece of business, but it is the fitness of Benayoun, Gerrard and Torres that will be the key if we are to make the top four this season. Any team would miss Gerrard and Torres as they are pure and simply world-class, but the Tottenham game has shown that the squad is not overly-reliant on two players and it is now imperative that we kick on; starting away to Wolves.

Mark Jepson.

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