Yohan Cabaye is dead. Well, not quite. He plays/ collects money in Ligue 1 now but for the 2 and a bit years he spent in the premier league he was a delight. A complete midfielder, able to pass, tackle and supply that little bit of magic with the odd wonder goal. But are players of his ilk a dying breed? A box to box midfielder, someone expected to get forward but also track back. Is such a player a liability in these days of individual tactical responsibility and the battle for possession in the midfield now crucial.
In the UK at least, the notion of a general surgeon is long outdated. Surgeons are specialised. They do the same operation everyday and get damn good at it. Why would I trust a surgeon who hasn’t done this job for a couple of weeks when I can go to someone who did two yesterday? This idea of restricted freedom and duty is slowly being transferred into the world of Premier league midfielders.
Most teams now play a 4-2-3-1 formation, or some variation thereof. A defensive pivot of two defensive midfielders, and a number 10/trequartista to sit behind the striker. Think Carrick and Phil Jones behind Wayne Rooney. Or Flamini and Wilshere behind Özil. Or Lampard and Ramires behind Oscar... I could go on. Responsibility is distributed. This is most starkly seen in the Chelsea team, where the starting are separated in a back 7 and a front 4. The goalkeeper, 4 defenders and two midfielders rarely get involved in attacks. Whilst the front four, consisting of 3 attacking midfielders and a striker are left to go and try and score.
These new roles go hand in hand with the redefining of the full back. The days of the safe full back (your Gary Nevilles and Grahame Le Sauxs) are on the way out. Full backs seem to have less defensive responsibility than ever before and free reign to get forward and get involved with the attack. This leaves just the two centre halves as defensive cover from a counter attack, so it is only natural for one of two midfielders to drop back to fill the gaps to leave the team balanced. This is displayed well by Southampton with Luke Shaw and Clyne/Chambers often seen joining the cause up top with Victor Wanyama or Morgan Schneiderlin able to drop in on each respective side of the pitch.
SEE. Go through the top teams. How many box to box midfielders can you name. Oh. You think you’ve got some? Who?
Yaya Toure is perhaps the closest at Man City; but Dietmer Hamann (and I) would argue that he is purely attacking force nowadays. He loves to bomb forward. And I certainly wouldn’t argue that he is a defensive box to attacking box player. Great at making strides forwards. Turning defence into attack. But he is actually a bit of a liability when it comes to tracking back; more often than not it is left up to his partner Fernandinho to sweep up and hold fort at the back.
This certainly is a changing of the landscape of the premier. Most of the great premiership teams of recent years have had a clichē box to box midfield. Patrick Viera at Arsenal was the epitomē of one. Strong and well timed tackles, powerful runs forwards and decisive actions in the final third. Jose’s original Chelsea could be argued to have had two in Frank Lampard and Michael Essien. Manchester United had Paul Scholes, although he was much maligned for his tackling he had an exquisite ability to pick a pass and has a more than respectable scoring record.
Whether this is a phase or a sign of things to come only time will tell. And in answer to your question; I do think of the title first and write an article to fit it.