Certain positions can often determine the chance of a team's success
There is much said in football about the importance of certain positions to a team and how these positions can often determine the chance of success.
Good goalkeepers are said to be worth 10 points a season, reliable goalscorers are what clubs will spend big money on and commanding defenders are said to allow the attackers to do just that - attack. Whilst these are essential elements to any successful team, there is another position that is proving to be extremely important - the holding midfielder.
They often go under the radar but if you look at the best teams throughout the world they are more often than not those who have a complete player in the holding midfield role. In Europe both Barcelona and Real Madrid are thriving with the outstanding Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso respectively being deployed in this position whilst Manchester United's struggles correspond with a lack of this type of player.The days of players with limited technical ability but ball winning qualities being deployed in front of the defence appear to be numbered. The need for holding midfielders to be excellent passers of the ball has been demonstrated by the difficulties of both Manchester clubs in the Champions League.
Dominating the Premier League it came as a surprise, particularly in United's case, that neither were able to progress out of the group stages of the Champions League. City's need for this very player was highlighted in the away match against Napoli with United's shown most dramatically in their final group match against Basel. In these matches they both dominated possession but lost out to teams who were happy to sit behind the ball and frustrate their more fancied opponents and hit them on the break.
Both Napoli and Basel were able to do this as neither side have a holding midfielder that has the ability to hurt them from a deep position with their passing. If they did, Napoli and Basel would have been forced to come out to shut-down such a player therefore creating space players like Rooney to exploit. Rather, they were able to sit deep knowing that City and United were unable to cause them problems through the passing ability of their holding midfielder and could allow that player to gain possession and concentrate on stopping their more threatening players from receiving the ball in space.
The importance of a technically proficient player in the holding midfielder role has also been demonstrated in the A-League over this season and last with Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners. Both of these clubs have two outstanding players in this position, Erik Paartalu for Roar and Rostyn Griffiths for the Mariners. Far from simply being there to break up opponents' attacks these two players start attacks and are vital in keeping possession.
I spoke to Griffiths about the role he plays for the Mariners and what is expected of him by coach Graham Arnold.
"Arnie wants the defenders or anyone really to give me the ball as soon as possible so we can turn defence into attack as fast as we can," he said. "It is an important role in an attacking sense to start the play and always be the person that is behind the ball so we can always come out of areas and keep the ball."
For a holding midfielder to flourish, there is more than technical ability required. Griffiths said the Mariners spend countless hours working on building-up from the back through him and defending as a unit.
Griffiths added: "We work on tactics three days a week as there is no point in me being a defensive midfielder if the rest of the team doesn't really give me the ball.
"We work on a lot when we lose the ball for me to move across and cover the full-backs if they have gone forward so they know they can go forward and we won't be exposed."
With possession becomingly increasingly sought after and long hopeful balls forward far from seen as a means to winning matches the role of the holding midfielder will continue to grow in importance.
The good news for clubs is, in most cases, the player's ability to fill the role will be determined by tactics and technical ability two things that they can instil in their players, most effectively at a young age.
If they are able to develop this type of player, it may well be the key to their success.
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