An Ode to The Midfielder
In a world where a soccer player’s value is often conflated with the number and frequency of goals they score, it’s easy for midfielders to be overlooked. There’s a reason that the last 6 Ballon d’Or winners have been forwards. Goals are fun. Goals are flashy. Goals are easily connected to helping teams win. Not so with stats such as distance covered or pass completion percentage. But efficient midfielders are vital to a soccer team’s success.
One of the most prolific goal scoring trios in the world is Barcelona’s MSN; consisting of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. The triumvirate scored 131 goals across all competitions in the 15/16 season. The three players are insanely talented but their goal output would be nowhere near as high without the stellar midfield of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and Andres Iniesta. For every SportsCenter Top-10 piece of individual skill, there’s an easy tap-in created by Iniesta. For every 45-yard solo dribble and score, there’s a tackle by Rakitic to regain possession. For every intricate backheel, there’s a calm pass by Busquets to evade pressure from the opposition. In short, while Barcelona’s trio of world-class forwards may get the headlines, it’s their midfield that’s the glue that holds everything together.
It’s not only the more technical La Liga where midfielders are lynchpins; the more physical Premier League teams also rely heavily on the men in the middle of the pitch. A prime example are Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s men are currently second in the table behind the scorching form of Merseyside’s own forward triumvirate of Coutinho, Firmino and Mane. Once again however, the midfield is still vitally important to the team’s success. Captain Jordan Henderson sits at the base of the midfield and is responsible for both shielding the back four and springing attacks from the back. He’s been tremendous so far this season, leading the Premier League with 1132 passes, completing them at an 88% clip. Fellow midfielder Adam Lallana has been out with injury for a few games and the difference in Liverpool’s play has been palpable. The loss of his pressing, the interrupted smooth flow of the ball from the midfield to the forwards, and the severe decrease in Cryuff turns can all be attributed Lallana’s absence. Once again, a goal-happy team that is absolutely dependent on their midfield players.
The midfield is often an overlooked part of a team. Kids don’t grow up pretending to be a central midfielder playing the safe pass back to the centerback. Playing in the midfield often means one’s day is filled with yeoman’s worked that more often than not goes unheralded. But without a solid midfield, a team has almost no chance of success.