Explaining the Tempo Setter – 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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Central 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 central midfielders into four broad categories. Three of those player types fall under the same umbrella of the ‘Box to Box Midfielder‘. One ends up being a more attack-minded, skillful engine in the ‘Midfield Maestro’, and the other a defensively-minded ‘Shuttler’. The ‘Tempo Setter’ then stands out as a standalone player type for central midfielders to employ, operating as a possession-oriented pass-master. Today’s topic is all about those ‘Tempo Setters’, and the best of the art fulfilling the role in 2022. Here is everything you need to know about the modern day ‘Tempo Setter.’

JOB DESCRIPTION

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As the name implies, the ‘Tempo Setter’ is responsible for dictating the speed of play, the direction of possession, and the level of control their team imposes on the opposition. Holding roots within the ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ persona, the ‘Tempo Setter’ is a possession-oriented orchestrator, who unlike the ‘DLP’, typically plays as a ‘number 8’. Whilst the ‘Jorginho type’ tends to stay central in functioning as a build-up to progression creator, ‘Tempo’s’ tend to operate in half-spaces, and may even receive in more advanced areas of the pitch.

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Within the grander scheme of their function, they tend to be the more adventurous midfielder in double-pivot, often times linking up with a ‘Midfield Destroyer’. But they can also be a versatile play-making ‘number 6’, who lacks the same kind of playmaking panache and brilliance out from the back as a true ‘DLP’. Some would be capable of playing in the ‘DLP’ role, but most offer more ability to venture box-to-box or operate smoothly in the half-spaces, and therefore fulfill that ‘number 8’ slot instead. Nevertheless, we must also differentiate between ‘Tempo’s’ and ‘B2B Midfielders’.

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While they may venture up and down those half-spaces in a box-to-box fashion, they generally lack the type of mobility associated with a true ‘Box-to-Box Midfielder’, instead moving into space through intelligence and precision. Essentially, in the debate between elegance and power, they fall firmly on the side of elegance – possessing extraordinary class and composure rather than raw running power and speed.

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The aim of the ‘Tempo’ player is therefore to progress play up the pitch at the right moments, whilst helping their team circulate the ball and maintain possession. They want to get involved in every phase of possession, even if not operating as the deepest of midfielders in their line. You would expect the best of the art to excel in a broad range of passing statistics, including long passes over the top, switches of play, and passes under pressure. Putting up positive defensive numbers would be seen as slightly less important, due to their possession-based role.

Youri Tielemans’ heatmap in 2021-22, courtesy of SofaScore.

Youri Tielemans’ heatmap provides a nice indication of the types of areas ‘Tempo Setters’ generally envelop. Tielemans is a wondrous player in many respects, possessing both a box-to-box and game ticking mentality. He can therefore venture in the right-half-spaces to receive the ball anywhere he deems fit, with the defensively solid Wilfred Ndidi cleaning up all the messes in behind. His ventures frequently stop just shy of the eighteen yard-box, but his brilliance on the ball will mean he often takes set-pieces for his team, including corner kicks. In his own third, Tielemans is still key to build-up phases, even dropping into his own box at times. But playing alongside Ndidi, he’s infrequently the deepest midfielder deployed in build-up phases.

Ruben Neves’ heatmap in 2021-22 for Wolves, courtesy of SofaScore.

Like many ‘Shuttlers’, our ‘Tempo Setters’ may even excellently cover ground laterally from side to side. But their main function is to be a game ticker when possession changes hands. Even in lower-possession teams like Brentford, Wolves and Southampton, ‘Tempo Setters’ can thrive as pass masters for their teams, whilst accumulating a lower number of defensive actions. But, the vast majority operate in teams that already keep over 50% possession, and magnificently float in the half-spaces as an orchestrator of moves from anywhere on the pitch.

With this job description in mind, I’m sure you can already begin to think about those that would constitute as ‘quintessential’ ‘Tempo Setters’. So before jumping into our copy of the report, why don’t you name a player that you think perfectly fits the mold.

QUINTESSENTIAL TEMPO SETTERS

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Do you control the tempo of a football match, oozing class and composure as you float about the pitch? Do you play in the ‘number 8’ position and thrive in half-spaces? Are you somewhat limited in your ability to play a defensive or advanced role? If you answered yes to any of these questions and more than you are most likely what we would call a ‘Tempo Setter’!

Think ex-Barcelona extraordinaire Ivan Rakitić. The Croatian midfielder lacks the proper engine to go box-to-box, and facilitates much of his team’s in-possession moments through poise and precision.

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Typically operating on the right or left of a midfield-three, Rakitić is at his best when he’s afforded time and space to see the world at his fingertips. He’s a wonderful example of a ‘Tempo Setter’ that typically holds his position in the centre of the park, but also pops up with surprising moments of attacking brilliance and combustion. The same could be said of James Ward-Prowse and Maximilian Arnold, two more ‘Tempo Setting’ phenoms who love to strike from distance and work fun moments of magic in the final third.

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You also have ‘Tempo Setters’ who could even be considered more or less ‘Box-to-Box’, ranging from Youri Tielemans to Jordan Henderson all the way to Real Madrid newboy Aurélien Tchouaméni. This sector of ‘Tempo’s’ may receive more progressive passes than a player who sits and facilitates from deeper positions, like Rodrigo Bentancur or Christian Eriksen. But their role remains less about speeding from one end to the other, and more about oozing class with every waking touch on the ball.

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So when finding true ‘Tempo Setters’ we want to find players who accumulate a lower amount of defensive actions and creative actions, sticking to a possession-oriented game. This means that even players like Chicago Red Stars’ Yūki Nagasato can still be classified as a ‘Tempo Setter’, despite often playing in an advanced role. But as already noted, this does not mean our ‘Tempo Setters’ are the bottom of the barrel central midfielders who couldn’t dare be talented enough to hamburger the bun in any other player type. At its bare necessities, we are looking for a player who excels in possession of the football, plays in a ‘number 8’ position, and holds a high importance for their team in those moments of possession and circulation.

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So while he’s incredibly brilliant in a multitude of different facets to life in football, this is the best way of summing up Thiago’s current role at Liverpool, and the incredible skill of someone like Mahmoud Dahoud. Yes, they have other interests that extend beyond orchestrating possession, but that is the main function of their role on the pitch, and the key reason for their continued inclusion for their teams.

MEASURING TEMPO SETTERS

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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 keep their teams ticking along. So with that, let’s unveil how we measure ‘Tempo Setters’.

1. POSSESSION & DISTRIBUTION

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Since the ‘Tempo’s’ primary task is to dictate and direct play from left to right, they must maintain a sense of composure and control on the ball, standing out 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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As possession-oriented players, they may also venture into realms of creativity and incisiveness in the final third, contributing positively to their team’s attacking play. Most hold a reserved position that requires constant support in defensive phases, but they must first be thinking about how they can contribute to the attack. This may include…

  • 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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In spite of their high influence in possession, ‘Tempo Setters’ still must maintain a positive and influential defensive role for their teams. They typically operate in a more reserved role than other midfield types, and that only amplifies their importance to defending in transition and putting up positive defensive numbers.

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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. In total it includes…

  • 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)

4. ATTACKING CONTRIBUTION

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‘Tempo Setters’ 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. This goes beyond just their ‘threat’ and ‘IQ’ to actual number-based data to evaluate their level of influence and control. Those numbers 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

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 ‘Tempo Setters’ to be switched on in defensive phases, and contribute when most appropriate. This may include their number of…

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

6. ABNORMALITIES

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‘Tempo Setters’ 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 our 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 TEMPO SETTERS

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When assessing ‘Tempo Setters’, we’re scouring the markets for central midfielders that operate as key figureheads in possession of the ball. We can then analyze possession statistics and aspects of distribution first and foremost, and work our way down from there (as detailed above). With that, we have done exactly that, in the quest to find the very best of the art in 2022. Here are the cream of the crop when it comes to ‘Tempo Setters’ in 2022.

Rank #Player TeamLong P %Pass F 1/3Pass Press
1Thiago AlcantaraLiverpool82.711.712.6
2Aurélien TchouaméniAS Monaco78.45.2010.2
3Jordan HendersonLiverpool69.86.4710.4
4Youri TielemansLeicester City60.15.6211.6
5KokeAtletico Madrid 60.25.918.17
6Rodrigo De PaulAtletico Madrid59.86.4010.9
7Rodrigo BentancurTottenham Hotspur79.65.718.61
8Mahmoud DahoudBorussia Dortmund57.44.5711.0
9Granit XhakaArsenal77.96.187.45
10Ruben NevesWolves73.86.6210.9
11Christian EriksenBrentford60.97.216.35
12Teun KoopmeinersAtalanta57.55.048.98
13Pascal GroßBrighton52.43.587.21
14Ivan RakiticSevilla69.75.797.11
15Remo FreulerAtalanta70.15.897.38
16James Ward-ProwseSouthampton44.54.597.09
17Maximilian ArnoldVFL Wolfsburg59.34.417.87
18Corentin TolissoBayern Munich 77.99.7411.9
19Joao MoutinhoWolves71.64.4810.2
20Tyler AdamsRB Leipzig72.34.9310.1
=Pablo RosarioOGC Nice76.94.599.77
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As you can see from the list, ‘Tempo Setters’ cover a broad range of midfielders. Many are capable of playing in the ‘number six’ position as a ‘DLP’; and the likes of Ruben Neves, Granit Xhaka and Pablo Rosario already fulfill that role, even if they push up into attacking phases and contribute positively in half-spaces. Then you have a range of ‘box-to-box’-esque midfielders like Youri Tielemans and Pascal Groß, who are just lacking that cutting edge mobility to truly be quantified within that mold.

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So while the list covers a nice range of talents, some ‘Tempo Setters’ evidently fit the mold better than others. We nearly classified Thiago as a ‘Midfield Maestro’ due to his bag of tricks in possession of the ball. Even then, in a system that for whatever reason restricted his on-the-ball presence, he would likely fulfill the role of a ‘Shuttler’ due to his intense defensive style. Ruben Neves provides another example of a player who could feature in a countless number of these Player Role Analyses, particularly for his importance in screening and shuffling at the base of Wolves’ midfield. He’s just an excellent passer of the ball, and it’s hard to ignore that when looking at his defensive numbers. But keeping this in mind, we’ve now cut the list in half – highlighting only those that perfectly fit the mold.

PERFECT PROTOTYPES

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To rank high on this list, a player should boast a high influence in build-up to progression, particularly in a ‘number 8’ role, where they contribute more to attacking phases and half-space progression than what would be expected of a ‘number 6’. 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 space expediting adventures. Here’s the list!

Rank #Player TeamTouch.Prog. PDis.
1James Ward-ProwseSouthampton68.73.780.76
2Jordan HendersonLiverpool83.16.090.45
3Maximilian ArnoldVFL Wolfsburg62.64.240.69
4Ivan RakiticSevilla76.44.300.71
5Remo FreulerAtalanta74.06.251.02
6Rodrigo BentancurTottenham Hotspur74.04.431.29
7Christian EriksenBrentford71.46.250.96
8Teun KoopmeinersAtalanta72.75.311.36
9Youri TielemansLeicester City71.45.621.23
10KokeAtletico Madrid 70.94.821.00
=Corentin TolissoBayern Munich 82.89.420.58
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Our list narrows to include players that are perhaps more limited in their in-possession approach to life in football. But that doesn’t mean the above names are anything short of amazing footballers. The vast majority of our list find themselves dispossessed under 1 time per match, which completely allows them to maintain control in the centre of the park. As part of this ‘prototypical’ process, many players that feature for sides less dominant in possession still make our list, showcasing a high influence in aspects like total touches and progressive passes.

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We’ve decided to go for James Ward-Prowse as the ‘Tempo Setter’ best fitting the footballing dictionary’s description, due mainly to his test scores across other ‘player types’. Without oversimplifying his ability, he perfectly fits the mold when it comes to his possession panache, without being overly adventurous, creatively skillful or defensively-minded. Corentin Tolisso features at the back-end of the list having accomplished everything we’re looking for to greater edges of extreme, even despite often featuring slightly more ‘box-to-box’ for Bayern Munich.

So when analyzing the ‘Tempo Setters’ of the game, or finding one to perfectly transition into your club, these are the names most worth scrutinizing over.

CONCLUSION

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The ‘Tempo Setter’ is a unique player type to our system, taking into account the possession-based players that operate in a ‘number 8’ position, and thrive when given the ball in the half-spaces. Youri Tielemans, Christian Eriksen and Jordan Henderson feature as some of the best within the role from an emblematic perspective, perfectly exuding the cucumber coolness required. But the likes of Thiago and Tchouaméni also stake a claim despite their extreme exceptionalities on the ball, due to the high influence they present in keeping the game moving along from a withdrawn position. Beyond the streamlined skill of Thiago, they tend not to be the flashiest of players in their teams. But ‘Tempo Setters’ are key to setting the tone of a football match, and conducting the orchestra from start to finish. Quite simply, without their class and composure in possession, the whole entire musical production could crumble.


So there it is! Explaining the ‘Tempo Setter’, 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
-> Explaining the Deep-Lying Playmaker – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Box to Box Midfielder – Player Role Analysis

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