The holding midfield role is one of the most important positions on the pitch. You expect your holding midfielder to dictate the game and pull the strings to your side’s benefit. Someone who can read the game expertly, seek out dangerous attacks and cut them out at source, before starting your attack. If you look at the great Premier League teams at their heart has been a robust central midfielder who set the tempo for the players around them to flourish. Manchester United had Roy Keane, Arsenal had Patrick Viera and Chelsea had Claude Makelele. These were prominent players whose absence weakened their sides noticeably.
Now these 3 sides have new heirs to the midfield throne. Francis Coquelin, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Matic have been pivotal to their team’s midfields this season, but who has contributed the most to their side. Each player occupies the same position on the park, but does so in their own style. Michael Carrick, a Premier League veteran enjoying his golden years at the heart of the Man United midfield. Nemanja Matic, the returning hero shunned by Chelsea in his early years only to be brought back to play guard between midfield and defence. Francis Coquelin, the young Frenchman loaned to Charlton in November only to be recalled due to an injury crisis and establish himself as a key member of Arsenal’s title push.
Francis Coquelin was recalled from his loan in December 2014, since then he has appeared in 17 games for Arsenal picking up 43 points with 14 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. Prior to his return Arsenal were in 6th place, 4 points off the Champions League spots, they are now second in the league (at time of writing). Michael Carrick’s season has been disrupted with injuries, yet he has still made 17 appearances for the Red Devils picking up 12 wins, 3 draws and 2 losses. Without Carrick on the pitch United have only managed 6 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses showing the positive impact the veteran Englishman has on Van Gaal’s side. Nemanja Matic has only missed two games for Chelsea in the league this season, completing 90 minutes in in 26 of 28 appearances for Mourinho’s side this season. Of the 70 points Chelsea have amassed to far this season Matic has been involved in securing 67 of them.
Michael Carrick has always been known for his pin-point passing range, it is what made him a target for Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield. It should be no surprise that Carrick’s pass completion rate is 89% when Coquelin’s and Matic’s is, respectively, 83% and 87%. Not extremely inferior figures but when coupled with the fact that Carrick’s average pass length is 20m while Matic’s is 18.07m and Coquelin’s is a 14.33. It displays the differing style between the players in their position. Carrick is capable of opting for longer, riskier pass for United. Coquelin on the other hand is a lot more cautious in his approach, trusting other members of the midfield to attempt the riskier passes. This is highlighted by Carrick’s higher average total of forward passes than the other two. Coquelin’s stats for total forward passes (28.50) is just over half of what Carrick (42.59) and Matic (42.39) achieve.
Where Coquelin’s real strengths are is his defensive approach to the game. On average the young Frenchman wins more tackles (2.94) than both Matic (2.71) and Carrick (1.06). Furthermore, Coquelin’s average interception’s per game (3.31) is also superior than his Chelsea (2.07) and Man United (1.59) counter-parts. This makes sense considering this is where Arsenal need help. Whereas Carrick will be expected to contribute creatively to Man United’s attacks, Coquelin and Matic don’t have a much an onus on them in this department, because their sides are riddled with attacking talent expected to break down defences. This allows both of them the opportunity to focus on their defensive duties more and arguably is why Coquelin creates the least chances (0.19) out of him, Matic (0.75) and Carrick (0.47), as he is charged with winning the ball and getting it to the players who create the chances.
What sets Nemanja Matic apart is that he seems to be an all-rounder. Perhaps, he is like an amalgam of the two. His physical presence and defensive capabilities are complemented with a certain grace and skill on the ball that makes him a threat creatively also. It is no doubt that each of these sides would severely miss the contributions these 3 players are currently making to their sides. Carrick has just been rewarded with a new 1 year extension, Coquelin was granted a new long-term contract with his old deal up in the summer and without Matic arguably Chelsea’s side would be too lightweight beyond their defence and their title charge wouldn’t have been what it is.
Francis Coquelin has youth on his side to develop into a top holding midfielder. Michael Carrick is performing like a Rolls Royce engine in United’s midfield seemingly improving with age. Nemanja Matic has nearly secured himself a spot as one of the best players in his position on the planet and since he is only 26 years old I think it’s likely he will establish himself as the very best.