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The Era of the Controlling Midfielder

James from 3 On 1 Counter talks about the importance of a controlling midfielder in modern foootball.

The key to international football is the controlling midfielder, once Spain mastered it, they dominated football. At Euro 2008 Marcos Senna filled the position and during the wins at the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012, Xabi Alonso & Sergio Busquets were responsible for the controlling nature of the Spaniards.

The rest of Europe have it sorted. In Italy Andrea Pirlo is set to pass the baton on to Marco Verratti. While in France, their solid midfield looks in safe hands with the  pairing of Geoffrey Kondogbia & Paul Pogba, something that will help bring back fond memories of the likes of Patrick Vieira.

In England, it has long been a problem. At Euro 2012, England were deservedly undone by Andrea Pirlo who drifted around and dictated the pace of the game in the Quarter-Final. In the game, he made 131 successful passes as England were played off the park.

England do have the players to keep the likes of Pirlo in check, but Michael Carrick has been largely forgotten about by past England managers. However, Roy Hodgson has began to see the importance of player like Carrick. His average pass percentage of 88.4% highlights the notion that he is the missing piece in the England squad. Carrick’s days as an England regular may be numbered and Euro 2016 may be the last tournament he can feature in but there are many young midfielders waiting in the wings. These are players who have been nurtured to control the game.

Chelsea have two youngsters on their books who fit the bill perfectly. Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah can be characterised by their dominating midfield nature. Both are renowned for precision passing and keeping the midfield shape. This season has been an excellent learning curve for the pair, Josh McEachran has enjoyed a successful loan at Middlesbrough and Chalobah has enjoyed a loan spell at Watford. Watford manager, Gianfranco Zola has made bold claims about Chalobah, touting him to be an ideal replacement for Frank Lampard: “He can certainly play in the position that Frank plays but his best, in my opinion, will come playing in front of the defence.” Chalobah like a lot of youngsters, makes little impact in terms of goalscoring, with 4 goals on loan at Watford. He can hardly be described in the realms of Lampard’s goalscoring prowess.

A player that could also grow into an ideal midfield dictator is Jordan Henderson. The former Sunderland player has found it difficult since moving to Liverpool. Last season was a disaster as he looked extremely out of his depth. This season has been somewhat different and he has developed his game since the arrival of Brendan Rodgers.

The style of Rodgers, seems to have suited Henderson perfectly. There is an element of hunger in his game now, and recently he insisted his aim is to improve further: “I’ve improved a lot since I came to the club, which is one of the main reasons I joined,” He continued to say: “I knew it would help me improve as a player and I think I’ve improved as a person as well on and off the pitch. I’ve just got to keep doing that and keep working hard on the training pitch and off it.”

Although vast improvements have been made to his game, he is still far from landing an England first-team spot. The UEFA Under 21 Championships could provide a perfect stepping stone for Henderson, who is the most experienced of the bunch. His presence as the key player, could indeed boost his confidence ahead of potentially being on the plane to Brazil.

This year will be massive for England, Hodgson needs to address the problem of being dominated in football matches. The world’s best international sides dictate the play and make the opposition make the decisions. England are still some way from that, in Montenegro they only stole the lion share of possession by 56 %. Against top sides, they struggle massively, at the Euros against France & Italy. They managed 40% and 37 %, alarmingly poor for a side who regard themselves highly in European football. The old guard has largely failed to live up to expectations, so a turn to youth may be in order. The importance of the England under-20s and England under-21s at the World Cup & Euros could not be more stressed. Both have a unique test, England under 20s face a trip to Turkey to take on Chile, Egypt and Iraq. An interesting challenge against rising football nations. The Under 21s face the task of carrying on their terrific form as they take on Israel, Norway & Italy.

Sport Is Everything. James.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.