Are Defensive Midfielders Underappreciated?

“FW: Match Against Poverty – Hamburg – Germany 13/12/2011” by United Nations Development Programme is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The defensive midfield position is one that certainly mixes opinions.

In 2004 Jose Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge as the new manager of Chelsea.

The arrival of the Portuguese man saw a change in formation for the Blues. Mourinho would go on to develop a 4-3-3 formation like he played at Porto.

This would see Claude Makelele become the anchor of a three-man midfield playing in a slightly deeper and central role and in turn revolutionising the defensive midfield position.

More commonly known as the Makelele role, this position became a huge part of Mourinho’s success in London.

Although the extra sitting midfielder brings clear defensive solidity, this role has many attacking benefits. It creates an easy link from defence to midfield. It gives the other two central midfielders the freedom to push up the pitch and the player can also be used to cover an attacking run from either full back.

For this position to be performed to the highest ability, the player in the role would need to possess many attacking attributes as well as defensive ones.

This can also be a very tiring and demanding role with a large amount of running involved.

In more recent times, it feels that the defensive midfield position has become accustomed to a player who is strong, defensively sound, but maybe lacks that little bit extra quality or attacking ability.

It has definitely felt a lot more defensive throughout the years losing the attacking benefits that Makelele brought to the role.

In 2015, the Premier League would see the arrival of Frenchman N’Golo Kante.

Arriving from Caen in France, Kante showed similar attributes as the previously mentioned Makelele.

The midfielder enjoyed a fantastic start to his time in England winning the Premier League in Leicester’s shocking but incredible 2015/16 season.

The central midfielder would quickly move on at the end of the season with a move to London, signing for Chelsea under Antonio Conte.

Kante’s success would continue with another Premier League winning season making him the first player to win back-to-back titles in the top-flight of English football with two different teams since Eric Cantona.

Although Kante played primarily in a midfield two, rather than the three that was mentioned previously, the Frenchman has many similarities to Claude Makelele and his style of play, and many would suggest that he rejuvenated the Makelele role.

The defensive midfield position has many different adaptations these days. With some being more defensive based and others more attacking, or playmaking based.

In this current campaign, there has been a few standout performers in the role. The three players that have really shone this season for me are:

Wilfred Ndidi

In my opinion, the Nigerian powerhouse is the best defensive midfielder in the league right now, and at only 24 years of age I believe he can go all the way to the top.

Leicester’s squad is full of many talented attacking players with some terrific technical ability and often these are the players that get spoken about the most. However, I believe that Ndidi plays a key role in the Leicester squad and it seems Brendan Rodgers is getting the absolute best out of him.

As well as his fantastic tackling and determination to always win back the ball, Ndidi is in no way lacking in technical ability.

With the ball control, vision and passing you would expect to find in a number 10, when at his best, the tireless midfielder is unplayable. You also do not want to give him space at the edge of the box as he has proven on numerous occasions that he can fire the ball into the net from some way out.

Declan Rice

Next up for me is Declan Rice. At 22, Rice is one of the most promising English players around right now.

His maturity and leadership have been a key factor in West Ham’s excellent season so far. With Mark Noble not featuring much in the league these days, Rice has captained the club for the most part of this campaign and he has certainly not shied away from the role.

The ability to always seem to know where an attacker is going to go or what pass the opposition is going to play is a fantastic attribute. He is certainly one of the best readers of the game in the league.

What makes Rice stand out from the crowd is that once he has won back the ball his job is not done. His dribbling capability can really drive the Hammers forward and is often a huge part of the deadly counter-attack we have seen West Ham produce many times this season.

Douglas Luiz

Lastly, and maybe surprisingly, would have to be Douglas Luiz. After a tough first season at Villa, Luiz has really shown a different side to his game this year.

He was not lacking in doubters last year and it would have been easy for things to not work out in the Premier League for the Brazilian.

However, the determination to work on his game and improve, is a clear testament to his character.

This campaign the young Brazilian has shown real composure when on the ball alongside some great range of passing. As I have already mentioned, the player is an extremely determined midfielder and is relentless to win the ball when out of possession.

I am extremely excited to see where these three players are going to go in their career. They all have many years ahead of them and each possess real talent.

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