BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WATERCARRIERS, I HEAR YOU CRY?
Ah the humble defensive midfielder. So rarely understood, yet so crucially important. Despite the wide acclaim placed in thinking circles upon Claude Makelele during the 'Galactico' era at Madrid, acclaim can be hard to come by for the defensive midfielder (indeed, Makelele himself, the forefather was sold to Chelsea.).
They don't win awards, they don't score many goals & they rarely get the biggest contracts. Integral to success though? They sure are. Anyway, I have ratings! And they have a component that lends itself to defining midfielders by their traits and pigeonholing them into defensive and attacking roles. As we are focusing on the defensive role, here is an explanation of their derivation:
The defensive element has been initially derived from 6 publically available metrics:
- Dribbled by
It aggregates, it summarises, it simplifies and it gives us lists. And I like lists.
Anyway, an ideal defensive midfielder will contribute a high level of tackles, interceptions or both, will be rarely dispossessed, turn the ball over or be run past by opposition players & will commit minimal fouls. It is appreciated that there are plenty of 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns', such as the value of positioning and organisation, that are hard to pick up within the measured attributes. At this stage we have to work with what we've got. As I suggested, the 'busier' a player is, the better they will probably rate.
These are particularly busy players, they often see more of the ball than anyone else on the pitch and include some of the prime 'tempo-setters' in the league. Midfield defensive work is not a place for the shirker or the superstar with an ego.
(Having learnt a bit about the folly of devising ratings recently (rubbish!) i've decided to focus on what I consider the strengths of my own & their ability to identify how 'busy' a player is, particularly the defensive component.)
The arbitrary cut off point for qualifying is 1000 minutes.
Watercarrier of the Year:
This is a special category. These guys do absolutely nothing except defensive work. As such I have ranked them in order of the least amount of attacking contribution. The average fan doesn't even know that they are on the pitch unless they have a silly hook like Fellaini's hair.
Nevertheless they are clearly vital as the man that tops the list is Javi Garcia, the unsung, ever-present defense marshaller of Man City's title-winning run in. So defensively orientated is he, that he even spent time at centre back but for his feats in covering for Fernandinho's diminishing fitness, he's a deserving winner.
Young Defensive Midfielder of the Year:
Shoring up a midfield is not a young man's game; indeed of the top 40 rated players only five are 23 or under. Presumably, defensive midfield is a position that requires learning; the enthusiasm and bullishness of youth are hard to harness to such a disciplined role. Or a spot that players who may have lost some of their zip gravitate towards, leaving a lack of vacancies. It's also a position that links up the team between attack and defence & is thus a role that often attracts leaders or influential types.
Here are the aspirant watercarriers:
Is Ramsey a defensive midfielder? Course not. Fact is he has had an exceptional year all round and scores well for everything; this is a rare feat.
All-round Midfielder of the Year
A rare feat indeed as this table shows:
- Ramsey: does everything well
- Cabaye: is a big loss to the league & PSG need to build around him if they're smart (maybe not?)
- Gerrard: has delivered in a reigned in role after looking well in decline the year before; much credit due & especially for putting in a ton of minutes too.
- Lampard: in c.15 years, to my mind Lampard has never looked like he does anything bar shoot quite accurately. Plug the numbers in and it turns out he's doing it all. I will never understand this.
Defensive Midfielder of the Year
You got the highest number of DP points, and by some margin? You deserve a prize Mile Jedinak, poster boy for statistical representations of defensive midfielders. He also deserves praise because of sheer consistancy in the face of wildly varying coaching & team performances. Under Holloway: great numbers, under Pulis: great numbers. Throughout the year Jedinak tackled and read passes, kept things simple & was the heart of the Palace side:
- Mikel seemed to be unfavoured by Mourinho & nobody expressed surprise when Matic was rehired, yet hits a strong number.
- Delph received a lot of plaudits for his Villa performances, yet his teammate Westwood outperformed him slightly in attack and entirely in defense.
- Cardiff's midfield was pretty dismal, but Medel was fine.
- Lucas ended up as kind of first rotation in a good Liverpool side & though he maybe didn't provide a good fit in a side with defensive cover from Henderson and Gerrard, when he did play he was solid.
As I suggested earlier, there aren't many young players in these roles. Here's a plot of the ages of the Top 40 DMs in the league:
The average age is a shade over 27 & that appears to be the optimum age, at least in this league, this year.
Frequency of clubs contributing to Top 40 players:
Arsenal have 3, thanks to Flamini deputising Arteta & showing the worth of his resigning & SuperRam. Chelsea also have three which is indicative of Mourinho's systems & the miracle of Flampard; but where's Ramires? He spent the year alongside variously Matic & Mikel, but his numbers were below average; he doesn't make the list & nor are his attacking numbers compensatory.
Man Utd played all year with two DMs and poor Cleverley and Fellaini, so variously dismissed as 'shit' and a 'failure' actually provided adequate and solid defensive midfield work. Somehow the wider media didn't realise that's what they'd been told to do, by Moyes, in Moyes' double 6 DM system. Poor lads.
Liverpool had Allen and Henderson bubbling under to go with Lucas & Gerrard, so no problems for them whilst Man City's vastly strong attacking midfield corps was ably assisted by just Fernandinho & Garcia; the relevance of these guys cannot be understated.
Not enough minutes:
Bridcutt, who arrived from Brighton in January has shown promise in limited minutes.
The Top 40 Defensive Midfielders in the league
Cos everyone likes looking at numbers? Am I right?
Thanks for reading!
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