The brilliance of defensive midfielders are often the reason why a handful of teams are currently at the top of the pile.
If you take a good look at teams who have dominated European football for decades, one thing is common; and that is a defensive midfielder.
These set of players are actually the most important part of any team. Take it or not, it is a fact.
The workrate of a defensive midfielder is second to none.
These players spend the entire 90 minutes making sure the opposition is unsettled.
They are very obedient servants of the team who take the fall to stay behind and let the more prominent attackers take all the glory.
Defensive midfielders are midfield players whose sole focus is to protect their team’s goal.
These hardworkers are athletic, strong, and fit enough to perform more than three tasks in a given match.
The defensive midfielders derive joy in making life hell for the opposition attackers throughout the entire 90 minutes.
They do this by either sitting back to defend the zone infront of the goal, or by man-marking him, and making life hard for him.
As part of their tirelessness and versatility, defensive midfielders also comfortably fit into other parts of the team to provide support.
They provide cover for the full-back or center-back positions when these players move forward to join the attack.
Sergio Busquets in his prime was a perfect example of a selfless defensive midfielder.
The Spaniard described himself by saying: “The coach knows that I am an obedient player who likes to help out.
And if I have to run to the wing to cover someone’s position, great.”
A world-class defensive midfielder needs a lot of things to help him stand out on the pitch.
Since attackers are naturally cunning and trained to be quick, skillful and unpredictable, so is a defensive midfielder meant to be smart enough to keep him at bay.
From good positional awareness, to anticipation of opponent’s tactics, marking, tackling, interceptions, passing and supernatural stamina and strength.
All these are just a few things a quality defensive midfielder should possess; or his team would be swallowed whole by the opposition.
WHY SO UNDERAPPRECIATED?
The first and last defensive midfielder who won the Ballon d’Or is former Dortmund powerhouse Matthias Sammer.
Sammer won that coveted trophy in 1996; that is more than 24 years ago.
The currently retired German footballer was terribly shocked when the organizers of the award handed him the trophy.
What shocked him most is the fact that the Ballon d’Or was never given to defensive midfielders.
What was even more shocking was that he beat the almighty Ronaldo and a sensational Alan Shearer to that prize.
The German international enjoyed a fine season with Dortmund and the national team, but nobody ever thought he could win the Ballon d’Or.
The importance defensive midfielders are generally underappreciated, even though they always work tirelessly all through the game.
While everyone is looking at Ronaldo’s goals and Messi’s mesmerizing runs, not many fans see what defensive midfielders do.
Just like American football where the quarterback is the backbone of the team, so is the defensive midfielder the most important player on the pitch.
JOB DESCRIPTION OF A DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
A lot of fans would tell you that defensive midfieldersare rough, aggressive, rash, stack up too many yellow cards, etc…
Yes! They may have one or two imperfections, BUT a defensive midfielder holds the keys to the success of the team.
These lads act as an additional shield to the defense and goalkeeper, lunging into tackles and unsettling the opposition.
Since they are the bridge between the defense and the midfield, a lot of attacks start from their feet.
A reason why I decided to write this article was due to the sheer brilliance of Fabinho all through the record breaking Liverpool campaign last season.
Time and time again he was always at the right place and on time to make important blocks, interceptions and tackles.
Please take the effort to watch Liverpool’s Fabinho in the video below:
Liverpool will only get better with their forwards knowing they can dance away at the opposition with someone behind to secure the goals they score.
This is basically what a traditional defensive midfielder brings to the table. Security!
He has to always be at the right place at the right time and cannot afford to give the opponents a hair length of space.
He is the oil that greases the machine and makes sure there is a smooth run of play between the defenders behind him, and the attackers in front.
There are many reasons why we can comfortably say the central defensive midfielder is the heart of the team.
With his primary objective set to breaking up the opponent’s play, there are many things he must do to accomplish this.
Firstly, he has to be highly intelligent in his ability to read the game well to be in the perfect place to make a tackle.
No matter how good a team’s defenders are, they need someone who can ease the workload on them.
It’s no news that a solid defense is key to any team’s title aspirations.
Therefore, a solid pair of capable defenders who are further protected by an N’golo Kante will most probably be right up there among the elites.
The defensive midfielder must perform all these duties or else the team will suffer.
Now, this is where most fans would say the DM’s are rough, and they concede too many fouls, plus their style of play is so crude.
A defensive midfielder commits a foul for the sake of the team.
So many promising attacks which could lead to a goal can are read by the DM’s.
And this is why they prefer to concede that foul than to lose three points.
A defensive midfielder MUST have positional awareness, stamina and workrate.
When a DM lacks this, the defense behind him are often taken by surprise, especially on the counter.
The job of a defensive midfielder is too numerous, and they are mostly underappreciated by fans.
PERFECT EXAMPLES OF EXCELLENT TEAMS WITH GOOD DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS
It’s certainly not a coincidence that the sale of a teams DM immediately leads to a decline in the team’s performance.
And a good example of this fact is N’Golo Kanté.
After a sensational season for the Foxes in 2016 where he won his first Premier League title, Kanté joined Chelsea the next year.
Leicester have not won any other major trophy since 2016, and have struggled to prevent goals from pouring into their net.
Leicester have once again started challenging for major trophies and Leicester’s steady improvements have coincided with the emergence of Wilfred Ndidi.
The Nigerian’s rise has provided Leicester with some much needed steel.
Liverpool is another case of how vital the contributions of a defensive midfielder are.
Ever since the purchase of Fabinho, The Reds’ have made their name as arguably the best team in the World.
The Brazilian has been a rock in the middle for Liverpool, and has helped them win the Champions League, Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and a Premier League title after 30 years.
Every championship winning team always had a defensive midfielder who worked tirelessly for the team.
Madrid’s three successive Champions League trophies came as a result of Casemiro being the best at what he does.
In the same manner, we see Sergio Bousquets, who is a well decorated midfielder who has won the World Cup with Spain.
This just goes to show that no matter the array of skill a team boasts of, it is not complete without the presence of a tireless defensive midfielder.
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