We can talk about formations until we’re blue in the face, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and even 3-5-2 but it’s not easy to be definitive with numerical formations in a game that is constantly flowing, with its players constantly moving into different patterns depending on which team has the ball.
What is certain though, in the various shapes that teams like to play – both in and out of possession – is the place in the team for modern football’s holding midfielder: the pivot, even referred to at times as the teams ” Quarterback “.
These players dictate tempo, retain the ball well, dictate how his team attacks and dictates when his team attacks, he also regularly breaks up the oppositions play and wins his team possession of the ball more than any other player on the pitch in general.
So who is that man for England ?
In my view it should be, and should have been consistently for the last 5 or so years, Michael Carrick.
But Carrick has constantly been overlooked at international level and even recently went into international retirement before being asked to reconsider by Roy Hodgson in August 2012.
Aside from Carrick, a variety of players have been looked at in that role for England, including Gareth Barry, even Steven Gerrard in recent times. Other players have been mentioned as potentially viable for the role, like Tom Huddlestone, Mark Noble and even Phil Jones possibly, a player who nobody seems to know where his best position actually is.
The debates can go on forever both for and against each player, so lets look at the numbers so far in the 13/14 season for an indication as to who is doing what.
Interesting to note that two of the players compared don’t play for teams outside of those who regularly dominate the top 4, and those two players aren’t likely to get a sniff at the FIFA 2014 World Cup Squad, despite what you’re about to look at.
Ball Retention, a key aspect within international football and especially for a holding central midfielder.
It’s interesting to see that Huddlestone and Noble pass the ball forward more with a higher % of their passes than the other players, yet have the two lowest pass completion percentages too, with Huddlestone’s being much lower in fact.
Those numbers coincide perfectly with Tom Cleverley’s numbers, Cleverley has the highest pass completion % but the lowest amount of forward passes.
Possession, both winning it and losing it:
Again, Huddlestone and Noble have the most losses of possession per minute which can be attributed to them playing a higher % of forward passes than the other players.
Both players fair well with winning the ball however, with Noble winning possession every 10 minutes which is joint best alongside Michael Carrick.
It’s Huddlestone and Noble again that lead the way, both creating a chance per half (every 40 and 44 minutes respectively) and it must be noted that both are key players for their clubs where set pieces are concerned.
Conclusion: There isn’t one definitively, and there are even more names that could be added to the possibilities including Jordan Henderson. The holding midfield role is a crucial role in modern football, and especially so at international level and it would be key for any team to have an expert in that position.
Unfortunately, it is an area that England are lacking in, with the absence of a guaranteed first choice holding midfielder, as shown with us even contemplating writing this article.
We may even see a player who has barely been mentioned in this article playing in the role in Brazil next summer, Steven Gerrard, captain of his country and one of the first names on the team sheet.
But going forward? I personally feel Mr Hodgson could do a lot worse than make some more trips to East London and Humberside, and I think these numbers confirm that.