Explaining the Deep-Lying Playmaker – Player Role Analysis

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When it comes to achieving footballing success, each player on a team must work in harmony, co-existing to bring out the best in one another. The task of any manager is then to not only create an environment in which players feel that they belong within a greater scheme, but to give each and every player a clearly defined role that suits their assets. A player’s role can change by the match to suit the opposition or the particular game-plan, but modern day footballers will each have their own over-arching style of play and role within a team that suits their strengths, or even in many cases, erases their weaknesses. This is where our brand new Role Continuity Evaluation System enters the scene, identifying the various roles that players adopt on the pitch, and using that as a key metric to evaluate performance.

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Back when this process began, we identified thirty-two different roles that a footballer could adopt over the course of a football match, working to develop a more accurate system for assessing performance and over-arching team tactics, rather than utilizing a pure statistical approach. We have since updated that list to a narrowed-down twenty-six unique player types that best describe the modern trends of football. This series breaks down each of those roles, contextualizing the tasks, function and job description within each – that can allow us to better measure their performance, without solely relying on statistics.

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Defensive midfielders are not always the flashiest of players, nor do they garner the greatest attention, even despite their importance to structuring and shaping the entire organization of the team. That is precisely why a system like our Role Continuity Evaluation System works on so many levels, as we are able to adequately assess the important characteristics to a player’s performance, while minimizing the scrutinization over less important facets of the player’s game. Within the system, we separate our defensive midfielders into three broad categories: the well-known ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker‘, the antithesis to that in our ‘Midfield Destroyer‘ type, and a solid mix between the two within our ‘Anchor‘ persona. Today’s topic is all about the classy ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’, the ones who are responsible for pulling the strings from deep, and advancing their team up the pitch from build up to creation. Here is everything you need to know about the modern day ‘DLP.’

JOB DESCRIPTION

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The ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ is one of the already attributed player types that we have adopted within our system. Also known by its Italian name ‘Regista’, the ‘DLP’ is tasked with setting the tempo of the match from build up to progression, all the way to creation. They sit in front of the defensive line as an ‘Anchor’, but hold a more offensive, progressive and possession-oriented role than the other two ‘number 6’ types within our ‘Anchor’ persona. Their role is in both helping create space between the lines, and then breaking lines, recycling play, or even changing the point of attack upon receiving the ball, so that their team can advance up the pitch, beat an opposition’s press and seek spaces closer to goal.

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As a result of their key responsibilities, the ‘DLP’ must be a sound ball-player, capable of spraying an array of short and long passes, from simple backwards passes to a goalkeeper all the way to diagonal switches and incisive clips over the top of an opposition defense. They are key in kickstarting attacks, recycling, switching play, and adding that cutting edge to break down an opposition defense. We all know how outstanding Jorginho is out from the back, both in finding space to receive, finding passes to advance his team, and wiggling his way out of tight spaces. But the fact that he can also create the odd moment of brilliance in attack also remains an essential part of his game, and an essential task of the ‘DLP’.

When we measure ‘DLP’s’ we are therefore looking for players who not only ooze class on the ball, but who are incredibly active in receiving and orchestrating sequences of possession for their team. As other players breakthrough a low-block through positional play or brute force, our ‘DLP’s’ do so with a touch of class, an elegance to their play that arrives from both an astute awareness of space, and an immaculate technical quality backed by years of training under some of the best coaches in the world.

The best at the art, playing in the most tiki taka possession-based sides, will accumulate heatmaps the look like this:

Jorginho’s heatmap for Chelsea in 2021-22.

The red spots cover the entire central and half-spaces of the pitch, roaming about the pitch to always come to the side of the ball, receive, and keep the game ticking along. They may make the odd touch in their own penalty area, but their hard work stops just inside the final third. They may however have responsibilities of taking set-pieces (such as Jorginho’s precision penalty kicks or Kyle Bekker’s whipped free kicks), due to the confidence and class they exude.

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‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ in teams that operate with slightly less possession will still splotch red in the same keynoted areas, particularly in receiving in zones that allow them to prioritize their strong foot. This is an example of Samantha Coffey’s heatmap, which showcases the same splotches of red – all the way into the penalty area to receive the ball, and then all the way up to her corner kick responsibilities.

Samantha Coffey’s heatmap in the 2022 NWSL.

Beyond being brilliant in possession of the ball, ‘DLP’s’ are then tasked with remaining ready to defend in transition – often as the first line of defense. As ‘defensive midfielders’, they must be defensively aware, sound and strong in the tackle, and capable of ‘anchoring’ a midfield unit that may incorporate other more attack-minded players, such as Busquets at Barcelona or Jorginho at Chelsea. So with that, I’m sure you can already begin to ponder about some of the quintessential ‘DLP’s’ in the modern game.

QUINTESSENTIAL DEEP-LYING PLAYMAKERS

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More than any other player type we’ve analyzed so far, the ‘DLP’ is stacked with quality. Many of the best defensive midfielders in modern football operate in the role, in large part due to the high-possession focus of many top sides. Rodri for example could be seen as an excellent ‘Anchor’, but he’s far too outstanding on the ball, far too progressive, and excessively involved in build-up to creation to simply be restricted to just that ‘Anchor’ typology.

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Joshua Kimmich could be seen as a ‘box-to-box’ midfielder for the way he advances his team up the pitch and seeks space in the attacking third, but his main duty is to progress his team out from the back, sit in front of the defense, and spray beautiful long passes to unlock the opposition’s defensive stance. Then you have a player like Sergio Busquets, who is one of the top tacklers and interceptors in the world, yet can’t possibly be considered anything else other than a ‘DLP’ due to the absolute class he possesses on the ball, even in reinventing La Pausa in a way that every youth footballer should study relentlessly to understand how to receive on the half-turn and work magic in tight spaces.

Among the best defensive midfielders in the world, only a select handful have been qualified in other player types within our system – the most obvious being Casemiro (Midfield Destroyer), and Fabinho (Anchor). But the discrepancies between the depth of quality in ‘DLP’s’ is quite fascinating. You have ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ who excel on the turn, with precision control to wiggle their way out of any situation. These are typically smaller players who have an exceptional centre of gravity, love to play extravagantly, such as with the outside of their boot, and rarely ever find themselves dispossessed. Keira Walsh is one of my favourite examples of a player who fits this mold, for her unbelievable ability to twist out of trouble and create half a yard of space for herself before playing that killer pass.

Similarly to Jorginho, Walsh is the type of player who may not accumulate all that many assists, but she will always be crucial in creating chances, and even delivering the pass that unlocks the potential for the assist. But we have to remember Walsh’s starting point as a ‘number 6’ in her team, often the deepest midfielder in build-up phases, and the one that play is often funnelled toward in search of a route through the thirds. Kevin Kampl would be an example of a Keira Walsh prototype on the men’s side – a neat and tidy footballer who excels in dribbling the ball side to side to unlock avenues for passes, who can also spray beauty long passes and unveil pockets of space that nobody else would recognize.

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Then there is the ‘DLP’s’ who excel in all facets of build-up, but are particularly outstanding in spraying long passes and switching play. Rodri is again an obvious example for the class and composure he exudes when changing the point of attack to find Man City’s outstretched wingers down the line. Marcelo Brozovic is maybe a less obvious example but one that hits long passes and touches of class to the same extent as the Spaniard.

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Brozovic holds down the gauntlet for both Croatia and Inter Milan in allowing other players to express themselves further forward, but he never disallows himself the opportunity to take risks and express himself all on his own – completing 12.7 long passes per game last season with an 86.8% accuracy. Joshua Kimmich meanwhile assisted 11 goals and created over 3 chances per 90 last season through his incredible vision and precision passing. Even if not as successful on percentages as Rodri and Brozovic, Kimmich’s risky long passing always reaches extraordinary heights, and he’s an impeccable line-breaker in all metrics of progressiveness.

The exemplary Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson serves as one of the best examples in the Canadian Premier League, often times dropping into a back-three to receive the ball and spray long passes forward. He’s spent most of the season now firmly as a centre-back (and excels to extreme heights in defensive phases too), so we’ve re-quantified him more as a ‘BPCH‘ or ‘Anchor‘. Instead, there’s a variety of tempo-setting midfielders in the CPL that could be considered to exude the ‘DLP’ mindset, even if not firmly deployed in the ‘number 6’ position. One of them happens to be Jönsson’s teammate Kyle Bekker, who sits low in Forge’s 3-2-5 creation to switch play and direct passes into the final third. Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, who we briefly mentioned in our discussion of Andre Rampersad as an ‘Anchor’, also exudes absolute class on the ball, and loves to take a risk with a long pass into a serious channel of space to create a chance. In the NWSL, Sam Coffey serves as the gold standard, exuding an uncanny ability to play under pressure and pick out the exact right pass even in the most difficult of circumstances.

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Closing out the section, we must give air time to the ‘DLP’s’ that cannot be stopped on the dribble, gallivanting box-to-box without any worry. Their role may still be about keeping the game ticking along out from the back and unlocking an opposition defense with their precision passing, but they accomplish more variety in their play than the stationary ‘sixes’ like Kroos or Jorginho.

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This includes the fantastic Declan Rice, who could realistically operate in any of our midfield player types to unstoppable heights. While he’s exceptional in defensive phases and even higher up the pitch, he’s also the one driving the Hammers on out from the back. Alongside a ‘Shuttler’ in Tomas Soucek, the West Ham captain pulls all the strings with his expert control, long passing precision and phenomenal perceptions of space via his never-ending scanning of the field. Perhaps more controversially, we’ve also gone for Marco Verratti under this player type, even despite his extraordinary box-to-box qualities. Verratti is better under pressure than any player in the modern game (if you don’t believe us, you can ask FBRef to back that up), and it’s no mystery why his team look to funnel play into his path at every opportunity. If he could ever just stay fit for an entire season, Verratti would likely be looked at as one of the best midfielders to exist in this space throughout the past few decades.

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He has many box-to-box midfielders in his player prototype similar comparison robot-informed categorization, but Jorginho and Maxence Caqueret also pop up, which aids in our quest to prioritize him as an obscene ‘DLP’ that wants to get on the ball at every opportunity and work magic for his team from a deeper position. So with that, let’s now evaluate how to measure ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’, and fully quantify those that exist within the space.

MEASURING DEEP-LYING PLAYMAKERS

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Within our Role Continuity Player Evaluation System, players are first measured by the expectations thrust upon them in their position and role first, accompanied by a secondary role. We utilize statistics to help measure performance, but go far beyond that to incorporate the eye test in analyzing player IQ, awareness and tactical understanding. We can then congregate data to more adequately assess their player positioning and movement around the pitch, the areas in which they spray passes about the pitch, and the success at which they advance their team closer to goal. So with that, let’s unveil how we measure ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’.

1. POSSESSION & DISTRIBUTION

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Since the ‘DLP’s’ primary task is to set the tempo of possession and direct play from left to right, they must exude class on the ball and accumulate high numbers in all the necessary facets of possession in any given match. This includes…

  • Decision making in supporting the build-up and progression.
  • Involvement and composure in build-up to creation (touches, passes under pressure, decision making on the ball, number of times targeted with a pass)
  • Passing % + total number of passes
  • Long passing % + switches of play
  • Progressiveness (i.e. prog. passes and prog. carries).
  • Control (miscontrols, dispossessed, passes received %)

2. attacking threat & IQ

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The involvement of a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker may spike in the first and middle third, but their ability to seek space and unleash unbelievable feats in attack remains pivotal to their role. As we’ve discussed at length with our defensively-minded players, that’s more about their ability to seek space, time their decisions on the pitch and contribute in the space adventures, than in accumulating shockingly high attacking numbers. This category therefore includes…

  • Decision making in the attacking half
  • Spatial awareness in the attacking third + progressive passes received
  • Creation from set-pieces and crosses
  • Dribble %
  • Shot on target %
  • xG + xA

3. DEFENSIVE IQ

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There’s no denying that the main task of a ‘DLP’ is to advance the team up the pitch, and provide precision in possession of the ball. But ultimately, they are still ‘defensive midfielders’ for a reason; and must still maintain a net-positive defensive performance from back to front. They may be key in pressing, but more crucially from defensive transitions, and holding the midfield unit together in mid to low-blocks.

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We therefore measure ‘Defensive IQ’ as the third factor when evaluating performance. That extends beyond just sheer numbers, to include their timing of challenges, timing of movement, and how and when they cover spaces on the field to stunt forward momentum. This is particularly imperative for an ‘Anchor’ (which the DLP exists under), as their role is all about positioning and intelligence. Within ‘Defensive IQ’, we give a score in each of the following categories…

  • Tackle % and decision making when tackling
  • Pressure % and decision making when pressuring
  • Dominance in midfield battles + combined % of duels won across thirds
  • Positional awareness and positional discipline
  • Awareness of own strengths vs. strengths of teammates
  • Discipline (e.g. fouls, bookings, and positional discipline)
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From the above categories, you can see a mix of statistical metrics, and seemingly non-quantifiable metrics that may require bias and personal opinion. But it’s important to note that even the so-called ‘non-quantifiable metrics’ utilize statistics as a basis, helping to reduce bias where possible, without discouraging the use of the eye test to assess performance. A player is given a score out of 10 in each ‘IQ’ category, which is then averaged together to create an overall ‘IQ’ score.

4. ATTACKING CONTRIBUTION

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‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ do the bulk of their work from build-up to progression, but they must be capable of creating the odd chance in attack, and contributing to the team’s ability to advance toward goal. Since they hold somewhat of an ‘Anchoring’ role, this may not even be in the final third itself, but in pulling the strings again from a deeper position, like Jorginho or Brozovic. Nevertheless, the Joshua Kimmich’s of the world may rank higher for their uncanny ability to contribute to the attack in both meaningful and tangible ways. Those meaningful and tangible ways may include…

  • Touches in the attacking third
  • Key passes + passes into the penalty area
  • Passes and carries into the final third
  • Goal and shot-creating-actions
  • Dribbles + carries
  • Shots + shots on target
  • Fouls won + fouls won to fouls conceded percentage
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Again, the sheer number is often less important than the player’s success and/or timing of decision making when it comes to the attacking side of the game. In most cases, both are measured to better understand a player’s ‘IQ’ and ‘Contribution’ within the overall umbrella of ‘Attacking Threat’.

5. DEFENSIVE CONTRIBUTION

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After we get ‘Defensive IQ’ out of the way, sheer statistical numbers are still important to helping us assess player performance, especially given that we expect ‘DLP’s’ to be switched on in defensive phases, and contribute where and when necessary. This may include their number of…

  • Tackles
  • Interceptions
  • Blocks
  • Pressures
  • Recoveries
  • Aerial duels won
  • Clearances

6. ABNORMALITIES

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‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ may also be given additional boosts or retractions for any abnormalities that they perform in a match, including the following…

  • Goals
  • Assists
  • Defensive contributions leading to a goal (GCA-Def.)
  • Penalty kicks won, or given away
  • Errors leading to shots or goals
  • Own goals
  • Red cards

While these metrics may affect a player’s rating in a given match, they don’t tend to change a player’s score over the course of a season, unless repeatedly conducted.

So with that, based on lour six evaluation metrics, let’s jump into what you’ve been waiting for – the very best ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ in the world of men’s football as of 2022.

TOP 20 DEEP-LYING PLAYMAKERS

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When assessing ‘DLP’s’, we’re searching for defensive midfielders typically playing within the scope of a three-man midfield, who prioritize the “attacking” side of the game, particularly in keeping their team ticking along from build-up to progression. Those that accumulate higher spikes in all realms of possession, attack, and defense will hit higher notes in our rankings, since the ‘DLP’s’ function is a multi-faceted one.

Illustrating those that qualify as the ‘best of the art’, we’ve highlighted long passing percentage, passes into the final third, and passes under pressure as key metrics. All three are essential passing and possession categories for ‘DLP’s’ to both prioritize and ensure they are achieving success within, even if not the only facets considered in our ranking. So with that, here are the best ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ as of 2022, utilizing a range of statistics across the 2021-22 season.

Rank #Player TeamLong P %Pass F 1/3Pass Press
1Joshua KimmichBayern Munich67.47.9313.9
2RodriManchester City86.47.5614.5
3Declan RiceWest Ham United82.76.868.75
4Sergio BusquetsFC Barcelona78.47.3210.8
5Marco VerrattiParis Saint Germain81.48.0515.1
6Toni KroosReal Madrid79.411.58.12
7JorginhoChelsea71.66.3212.8
8Fabian Ruiz Napoli83.26.9112.0
9Marcelo BrozovicInter Milan86.86.819.17
10Manuel LocatelliJuventus 74.05.297.46
11Daniel Parejo Villarreal66.57.409.07
12Kevin KamplRB Leipzig77.15.5012.7
13Maxence CaqueretLyon77.55.529.69
14Kerem DemirbayBayer Leverkusen59.65.669.30
15Maxime Lopez Sassuolo80.66.849.23
16Cheick DoucoureRC Lens78.75.729.66
17Jordan FerriMontpellier 70.16.669.60
18Joan JordánSevilla80.95.209.75
19Stanislav LobotkaNapoli83.16.1511.1
20Nicolo RovellaGenoa55.83.5610.5
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Already, you can see the depth of quality that we mentioned before. Some of our ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ evidently have the skillsets to play further up the pitch, or even deeper. But the key to every single player listed is their excellence in kickstarting attacks from back to front, the confidence and importance they exude on the ball, and their astounding playmaking from a deeper position on the field. They typically do their best work from central areas to half-spaces rather than strictly in those ‘number 8’-esque half-space positions (like a Youri Tielemans or Joao Moutinho).

The top ten listed above can be particularly proud of their careers thus far, each exuding the class to make an argument for ‘best defensive midfielder in the world’ on their day. But not all would be the perfect prototype of a ‘DLP’, as already illustrated when discussing the box-to-box nature of players like Joshua Kimmich and Declan Rice. So with that, here are the undercover Jorginho’s, waiting in the winds to be crowned the quintessential ‘DLP’.

PERFECT PROTOTYPES

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Among the twenty names listed above, these are the most prototypical ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’. To rank high on this list, a player should boast a high influence in build-up to progression, in playmaking from deep, and sit in a more purified version of the ‘number 6’ position. They should generally test lower on the traits associated with other midfield personality types, such as creating chances in the final third for fun, reaching obscene heights of defensive numbers, or venturing box-to-box on a space expediting adventures.

Rank #Player TeamLong P.C.Switch.Touch.
1Toni KroosReal Madrid18.66.88103.5
2JorginhoChelsea5.690.8382.5
3Daniel ParejoVillarreal11.04.2078.9
4Marcelo BrozovicInter Milan12.73.3488.6
5Kevin KamplRB Leipzig 5.730.5778.4
6Stanislav LobotkaNapoli5.241.0783.7
7Jordan FerriMontpellier12.53.1386.9
8Maxime Lopez Sassuolo6.631.1088.5
9Fabian RuizNapoli10.53.4092.2
10Sergio BusquetsFC Barcelona11.52.9687.6
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As part of our assessment, we analyzed ‘long passes completed’, ‘switches of play’, and ‘touches’ all on a per 90 basis, uncovering results as to how players move the ball about the pitch, and their importance to their team’s build-up. These are not the only three facets to factor into our ranking, but each holds particular weight in establishing who quantifies as a ‘DLP’ and in what moments. As someone who sits in front of the defensive line and rarely ventures forward into the attack, Toni Kroos perfectly exemplifies the role of a ‘DLP’. Not only does he hold his position and remain ready in transition, he’s also one of the most progressive and exceptional long passers in the modern game.

CONCLUSION

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The ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ is a stacked role, that comprises some of the very best defensive midfielders in the game. But while they are ‘defensive’ midfielders by name, ‘DLP’s’ hold more importance in attacking phases, particularly in helping their teams play out from the back and break lines. The best of the art tend to exist in high-possession teams, where they can thrive in creating space for themselves to receive, and others to work their magic up ahead through their precision vision. Jorginho, Toni Kroos and Marcelo Brozovic exude all of the qualities we’re looking for in a quintessential ‘DLP’, for their ability to elegantly rummage around the pitch off and on the ball, without overstretching themselves in defensive phases or in venturing box to box. Evidently, the ‘DLP’ represents one of the greatest talent births in the modern game, and is an essential role to modern-day football.


So there it is! Explaining the ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’, as part of our Role Continuity Evaluation System. Be sure to check out more from this series as we detail all twenty-six roles, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

More in this series…
-> Explaining the Shot Stopper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Sweeper Keeper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Wide Warrior – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Inverted Fullback – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Wing-Back – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Ball-Playing-Centre-Half – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Stopper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Sweeper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Shuttler – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Midfield Destroyer – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Anchor – Player Role Analysis

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Explaining the Anchor – Player Role Analysis

Anchors tend to play at the base of a midfield three, holding the midfield together, and allowing others to work their magic up ahead. Their role is in both screening in front of the defense to disallow progressive passes forward, particularly into the opposition’s striker, and to ‘anchor’ the midfield by holding everything together as other members step out of position or drift into the half-spaces. Unlike the ‘Midfield Destroyer’ they do not need to be overly active in defensive phases on sheer statistical contributions, but should be equally active on the hard work done off the ball to shift, shuffle and slide with the play.

Explaining the Midfield Destroyer – Player Role Analysis

The ‘Midfield Destroyer’ continues to be alive and well in the modern game, and encapsulates some of the most highly regarded and sought after defensive midfielders on the planet. The ‘Destroyer’ is essential to defending in transition and stunting attacks before the opposition reach the final third, within the wider umbrella of ‘Anchoring’ the midfield and screening in front of the back-line. Casemiro and Yves Bissouma would qualify as some of the best around, with Óscar Valentín and Benjamin André performing as two other fantastic emblems of the fearless persona behind the ‘Midfield Destroyer’ player type.

Explaining the Shuttler – Player Role Analysis

Not all ‘Shuttlers’ get the credit they deserve, even despite being absolute engines and motorcyclists for their teams. They respond brilliantly at all ends of the pitch through that tireless energy and appetite for the game, whilst prioritizing a defensive approach to life in football. N’Golo Kante serves as a perfect reminder of what ‘Shuttlers’ should strive to be – a player who wonderfully goes box-to-box with ease and admiration, without mitigating their resolute defensive responsibilities.

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