The modern footballing world likes to follow the labelling trend of the “defensive midfielder”. The importance of those who sit in front of the defence as a protection is becoming increasingly apparent. I take a look at some of the top examples who prove that midfielders are just as important to a team’s defence as the back four (note this is not a comparison – more of a look at how they contribute to their teams).
Michael Carrick has had an important role in the Manchester United team for a number of years. His tackling and strive to get back and defend forcefully can be seen as a fundamental part of United’s success, where he cements this role as a defensive midfielder essential. Taking examples from last season, Carrick started 34 games, only being second to their star man Van Persie, starting 35. Winning 28 of these 35 is impressive in itself, and Carrick’s contribution in terms of defending is a highlighted factor: 13 of the 35 games he played, he won all of his attempted tackles. Although United have a more than safe defence including Evans (last season), Vidic and Ferdinand, Carrick was involved in making a total of 55 clearances throughout the 2012/13 season- an all important clearance from a shot on the edge of the penalty area, may be the difference between them one-nil wins that win you the League, and the one all draws that make you second.
Lucas Leiva has had a tough time trying to get the Liverpool fans onside since his arrival in 2007, although he is now a firm favourite. He again has worked hard to determine that defensive midfielder role in the centre of Liverpool’s defence. Scoring only 6 goals in 217 appearances for the Reds, it has become obvious that his outstanding talent is not further up the field. However, defensively, he has come into his own in the last couple of seasons. Although being absent for some months of the season through injury, Lucas won 90 out of his 123 attempted tackles in the 2012/13 season alone. In terms of getting involved in ground duels, he was successful on average every 13 minutes in games, suggesting that, in most cases, the protection being provided by these defensive midfielders are bringing opposition attacks to a stop, before even reaching the back four.
Being known as a midfielder with so much energy, you could be forgiven for seeing Ramires as an attacking midfielder, especially with so many important goals he has provided. However, his defensive play is impressive to say the least. Being involved in 11 of Chelsea’s 14 clean sheets in the 2012/13 season is an indication of how important he is in terms of defending. Like Lucas, being in this position meant that goals scored did come at a minimum, however, winning a total of 76% of his tackles for that season and winning more than half of his attempted 335 ground duels, Chelsea’s defence did have an added defensive dimension when Ramires was involved.
Having just made his transfer from Wigan to Everton, James McCarthy is known for breaking up play and lifting the pressure off of the back four. For Wigan last season, McCarthy made a total of 19 blocks and 61 clearances, with tackling stats just as impressive, winning 75% off the 99 attempted. After Everton conceded
a total of 40 goals last season, the Blues’ fans will be looking forward to McCarthy as an added defence, but also with an eye for a long pass, he does definitely look like one to watch for the new season.
There will be different opinions, however, on how the excitement of the game is sapped, with the defensive overload being a contributing factor to the recent Man United- Chelsea “bore draw”. Although, my personal opinion favours the use and positioning of these defensive midfielders; as the stats prove, they have a positive impact in being the first line of defence in their teams.