Explaining the Midfield Maestro – Player Role Analysis

Embed from Getty Images

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 make-up. 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 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 evaluating performance.

Embed from Getty Images

Back when this process began in early April, 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 modern footballing trends. This series breaks down each of those roles, contextualizing the tasks, functions and job descriptions within each – that can allow us to better measure performance without solely relying on statistics.

Embed from Getty Images

Central midfielders may not always get the credit they deserve, even despite often fulfilling an imperative part in linking defense to attack, and shaping the entire organization of a team. That is precisely why a system like our Role Continuity Evaluation System works on so many levels, as we are able to 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 break down our central midfielders into four broad categories. We’ve already examined the first three – the possession-based ‘Tempo Setter’, the miraculously defensive ‘Shuttler’, and the more attack-minded ‘Box to Box Midfielder‘. The ‘Midfield Maestro’ runs as a close cousin to the ‘Box to Box Midfielder’, but someone who also happens to be more possession-based and talented in sparking magic on the ball rather than off of it. With that, today’s article is all about the ‘Midfield Maestro’.

JOB DESCRIPTION

Embed from Getty Images

When it comes to keeping hold of the ball, ‘Midfield Maestros’ are the absolute cream of the crop. They ooze class in possession like none other, dictating the tempo of the match through their sensational skill and box-to-box mobility wrapped up in one. Possessing the type of pizzazz to moonwalk their way around any opponent, these midfielders often act as game-breakers, lock-pickers and all around mavericks for their teams – whether they operate in a deeper midfield role or further forward as a ‘floating 8.’ They may enact moments of not only precise skill, but creativity in the final third, generating chances through their incisive eye for a pass. They therefore tend not only to be the most magically skillful, technically savvy of players, but some of the most intelligent with what they do in possession.

Embed from Getty Images

Falling on the line of being a more ‘attack-minded’ midfielder, ‘Midfield Maestros’ are not required to be overly defensive in their role, even if operating in deeper, almost holding roles for their teams. Instead of defensive numbers, they tend to spike in moments of progressive carrying, dribbling, key-passes, shot-creating actions and in receiving progressive passes. With this incredible skillset, they typically operate as either ‘8’s’ or ’10’s’, seamlessly transitioning between both roles. Bernardo Silva’s heatmap from 2021-22 provides useful information into the types of positions ‘Midfield Maestros’ gravitate toward. As you can see, they tend to float about the pitch as they please, but spike highest in advanced areas more than any other midfield player type – even the ‘Box to Box Midfielder‘.

In many ways, this is down to the importance they place on dribbling, and advancing the team up the pitch in more ways than one. They excel in the half-spaces to wide areas where they can combine with players up ahead, roaming away from congested channels in the centre of the park. This is therefore one of the few positions that transcends beyond just one orthodox position, with both dribbly ‘attacking midfielders’ and magic-making ‘central midfielders’ able to apply for the job.

Embed from Getty Images

So with that job description in mind, I’m sure you can already begin to fathom up the best of the art in 2022. Here’s our list of those that would best be deemed ‘quintessential’ within the role.

QUINTESSENTIAL MIDFIELD MAESTROS

Embed from Getty Images

When scanning the footballing world for ‘Midfield Maestros’, we’re searching for central or attacking midfielders that above all else, dominate the ball through close control and dynamism. They can be skillful, electric or magnificent technicians, but they must have that function in the team above any other possession-based, creative or defensive mentality.

Embed from Getty Images

Bernardo Silva immediately springs to mind, as a player who always dangles and finesses his way out of trouble in any position, and in any area of the pitch. He’s an exceptional dribbler, an excellent long switcher of play, and abundantly creative in the final third. As noted already, his ability to operate in the half-spaces as part of a midfield three also makes him an attractive ‘Maestro’ of note, as this player type tends to be the maverick of the midfield.

Embed from Getty Images

You can then have players with even greater mobility like Mattéo Guendouzi or Renato Sanches, who absolutely explode through the thirds via their aggressive carrying and running power. Bernardo Silva’s skill on the ball would be enough to dance around any defender, but when you add speed and dynamism into the equation, you also get a useful option to break lines through the middle.

Embed from Getty Images

This is what Mateo Kovacic has done so exceptionally well for Chelsea, particularly since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel. He’s never been a guaranteed starter despite his brilliance, but you know that every time he’s deployed, he will advance the team up the pitch through his dynamic dribbling through the thirds. In the Canadian Premier League, FC Edmonton’s Gabriel Bitar operates in a very similar manner, as Alan Koch’s key engine in progressive carrying, skillfully dancing his way past defenders, and exploding on the break.

The NWSL is blessed with a multitude of players in this mold, my favourite being OL Reign’s Rose Lavelle. Lavelle excels in breaking lines on the dribble, where her combination of speed and skill simply cannot be stopped.

Embed from Getty Images

She can dovetail as an inverted winger, ’10’ or ‘8’ in a midfield three, each of which she uses to get on the ball, run at the opposition’s defenders and scare them into oblivion before playing the incisive pass, or hammering home a finish of her own. Savannah DeMelo and Ashley Sanchez are relative newcomers to the division, but both perfectly exemplify the same kind of mentality of breaking lines through the centre of the pitch through their powerful running with the ball.

Savannah DeMelo’s heatmap in 2022, courtesy of SofaScore.

DeMelo’s heatmap perfectly showcases the kind of Bernardo Silva elegance that she possesses on the ball, where she wonderfully exposes half-spaces and drives her team on in transition.

Embed from Getty Images

The final type of ‘Midfield Maestro’ that can find their way into our player type is a more creative one, usually a former ’10’ who has now adopted a ‘number 8’ position in a different system (usually a midfield three). These players exist very much like the Christian Eriksen-esque ‘Tempo Setter’, but venture more box-to-box in those half-spaces, rather than exuding class out from the back and in play-making from deep.

Embed from Getty Images

The older heads down in Serie A like Luis Alberto, Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Giacomo Bonaventura serve as emblematic examples of the above description, using their skill on the ball for creativity in the final third, but in the half-spaces rather than closer to ‘Zone 14’ as a ‘Creative Ten’ would employ. This serves as one more example of why a ‘Midfield Maestro’ might be perfectly capable of playing in the ’10’ role, as in many cases, that was their former footballing life.

MEASURING MIDFIELD MAESTROS

Embed from Getty Images

Within our Role Continuity Player Evaluation System, players are first measured by what they are expected to do 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 contribute, and the success at which they create moments of magic for their team. So with that, here is how we measure our ‘Midfield Maestros’.

1. ATTACKING THREAT & IQ

Embed from Getty Images

Since we want our ‘Midfield Maestros’ to be capable of creating magic on the drop of a dime, they must be technically and tactically intelligent with their decisions, and constantly serve as a nuisance to the opposition. This includes how and when to venture forward into the attack, and the types of positions they adopt to positively contribute to attacking phases. It also extends to…

  • Decision making in the attacking half
  • Spatial awareness in the attacking third + progressive passes received
  • Decision making on dribbles, carries and forward thrusts (including dribble %)
  • Creation from set-pieces and crosses
  • Shot on target %
  • xG + xA

2. POSSESSION & DISTRIBUTION

Embed from Getty Images

While they must be ‘attack-minded’, ‘Midfield Maestros’ still must positively contribute to their team’s progression through the thirds, including all the way into build-up phases where they can work their magic to break lines and advance the team. Their ability to ‘set the tempo’ may not be as imperative as a true ‘Tempo Setter’, but they still hold an incredibly important role in keeping the game ticking and breaking up spells of possession with an added edge of incisiveness. This includes their…

  • Control (touches, miscontrols, dispossessed, passes received %)
  • Passing % + long passing %
  • Decision making in supporting the build-up and progression
  • Progressiveness (i.e. prog. passes and prog. carries)

3. ATTACKING CONTRIBUTION

Embed from Getty Images

Beyond just their ‘IQ’ score, we also want to ensure ‘Midfield Maestros’ contribute the volume of numbers that best resemble their role (including dribbles, carries, touches in the attacking third, etc.). Their decision making in these moments will always be more important, but sheer numbers help to establish the level of proactivity a ‘Midfield Maestro’ accomplished in creating moments of doubt for the opposition. This may include their total number of…

  • Dribbles + carries
  • Touches in the attacking third
  • Key passes + passes into the penalty area
  • Passes and carries into the final third
  • Goal and shot-creating-actions
  • Shots + shots on target
  • Fouls won + fouls won to fouls conceded percentage
  • Goal contributions (i.e. goals + assists)

Since we expect our ‘Maestros’ to always create positive moments of wonder and incisiveness in the final third, goals and assists are not an abnormality for them.

4. DEFENSIVE IQ

Embed from Getty Images

Since the vast majority operate as ‘number 8’s’, ‘Midfield Maestros’ must still contribute at the defensive end of the pitch. Even more imperative – they have to effectively time their decisions in the defensive end, and adequately time their runs back into a defensive stance. We measure timing and decision making in our broad umbrella of ‘Defensive IQ’, which includes the following facets:

  • 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)
Embed from Getty Images

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.

5. DEFENSIVE CONTRIBUTION

Embed from Getty Images

After we get IQ out of the way, sheer statistical numbers are still important to helping us assess player performance, especially given that we expect ‘Midfield Maestros’ to remain relatively engaged in defensive phases, and contribute at all ends of the pitch. This may include their number of…

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

6. ABNORMALITIES

Embed from Getty Images

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

  • 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 the five key evaluation metrics, let’s jump into what you’ve been waiting for – the very best ‘Midfield Maestros’ in the world of men’s football as of 2022.

TOP 20 MIDFIELD MAESTROS

Embed from Getty Images

When assessing ‘Midfield Maestros’, we’re searching for midfielders who perform an attack-minded role for their teams, particularly through technical and tactical brilliance. In the table below, we’ve chosen to include three essential statistical categories that bring to light some of the best at the art. It’s worth noting that this list does not encapsulate the players best at being ‘Midfield Maestros’; but instead, the best of those who fall under this category based on our evaluation.

So after scouring the databases, and scrutinizing over statistics from the 2021-22 season, these are the best of the best on the men’s side of the beautiful game.

Rank #Player TeamG+A Drb %Long P %
1Bernardo SilvaManchester City8+458.073.1
2Frenkie de JongFC Barcelona3+365.885.0
3Luka ModrićReal Madrid2+863.478.8
4Mateo KovačićChelsea2+579.576.5
5PedriFC Barcelona3+160.080.2
6Paul PogbaManchester United1+976.978.4
7Hakan ÇalhanoğluInter Milan7+1256.762.3
8Ismaël BennacerAC Milan2+184.872.0
9VitinhaFC Porto2+360.158.1
10Eduardo CamavingaReal Madrid2+165.688.6
11Luis AlbertoLazio5+956.854.3
12Renato SanchesLOSC Lille2+5 66.772.1
13Lucas PaquetáLyon9+667.062.7
14Ruslan MalinovskyiAtalanta6+556.153.6
15Philippe CoutinhoAston Villa7+362.963.3
16GaviFC Barcelona2+556.972.4
17Ruben Loftus-CheekChelsea0+266.084.0
18Mattéo GuendouziMarseille4+653.679.6
19Giacomo BonaventuraFiorentina4+460.969.1
20Jean LucasAS Monaco1+168.865.2

Helping us quantify some of the best ‘Midfield Maestros’, we’ve included long-passing percentage within our table, as it nicely showcases quality on the ball in spreading play about the pitch. Players under this category may be better known for their dribbling and carrying, but they would not qualify as a “Maestro” without that passing precision. The few that boast less impressive long passing records tend to play as an ‘8’ in a system that requires a three-man midfield, when they may be best served as more of a ’10’ in truth.

Embed from Getty Images

Bernardo Silva tops the list for his class and composure in possession, dangling his way around defenders at every turn. Bernardo can play on the wing, as the team’s ‘number 10’, in central midfield and even as a ‘false 9’, highlighting his vast skillset that extends beyond just brilliant technical precision, to an expert tactical understanding of how to move off the ball and serve the needs of his teammate. But typically playing in midfield, he perfectly exemplifies the type of player we’d want to replicate in the creation of our own robotic version of the ‘Midfield Maestro’.

PERFECT PROTOTYPES

Embed from Getty Images

Among the twenty names listed above, these are the ten most prototypical ‘Midfield Maestros’. To rank high on this list, a player should prioritize the attacking side of the game through a strong on-the-ball presence and finesse, whilst playing in a midfield role for their team. Let’s dive into the list!

Rank #Player TeamDrb. CProg C.Key P.
1Bernardo SilvaManchester City1.6110.81.70
2Lucas PaquetáLyon2.505.131.43
3Renato SanchesLOSC Lille1.868.582.08
4Ruben Loftus-CheekChelsea2.268.451.03
5Mateo KovačićChelsea1.797.281.50
6PedriFC Barcelona1.226.431.63
7Ismaël BennacerAC Milan2.316.451.18
8Philippe CoutinhoAston Villa1.918.191.32
9GaviFC Barcelona1.447.080.70
10Mattéo GuendouziMarseille0.868.661.03

As key evaluation metrics to assessing quintessential ‘Midfield Maestros’, we’ve analyzed ‘key passes’, dribbles completed and progressive carries. We want our ‘Maestros’ to dominate the ball, and so they should be sound in both skillful dribbling and forward passing. Those that test closer to being a ‘Tempo Setter’ or ‘Creative Ten’ have been eradicated from our list, with the obvious exceptions being Lucas Paquetá and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom showcase more moments of dribbling pizzazz than creative intent when deployed as the ’10’. We want players in this space to exist as creative outlets; but if they create chances in abundance, they would likely be more akin to a ‘Creative Ten’.

Embed from Getty Images

All of our prototypical ‘Midfield Maestros’ should then command the ball with a progressive mindset, easily escaping unwanted pressure. Bernardo Silva stands out in a league of his own in that regard, with 10.8 progressive carries per 90. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mattéo Guendouzi serve as two more excellent examples that you may not think of on first glance, through their powerful ability to beat any defender with a drop of a shoulder. So when studying what makes a ‘Midfield Maestro’ a unique player type worth having in your team, these are the players most worth scrutinizing over.

CONCLUSION

Embed from Getty Images

As the ball-dominant magic-wand sorcerers in central midfield, ‘Midfield Maestros’ accomplish feats that few other players would be capable of showcasing to the world. They ooze class every time they touch the ball, always looking dangerous as they dribble, carry or skillfully dance their way around the opposition. But beyond technical precision and pizzazz, ‘Midfield Maestros’ might be some of the most tactically adept out there, possessing the awareness of space that very few have mastered. This makes the role an incredibly useful one to deploy, as a key mechanism for breaking forward at speed, releasing the shackles of pressure, and creating chances in the final third. Bernardo Silva serves as a perfect emblem for the role, and the golden standard by which all ‘Midfield Maestros’ should aspire to be.


So there it is! Explaining our ‘Midfield Maestro’ within 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 Midfield Destroyer – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Anchor – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Deep-Lying Playmaker – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Shuttler – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Box to Box Midfielder – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Tempo Setter – Player Role Analysis

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY…

Explaining the Inverted Winger – Player Role Analysis

Unlike their name might imply, ‘Inverted Wingers’ are far more than just wingers that cut or drift inside. That is only one small part of an overarching role that prioritizes playmaking in the final third, and dynamically linking play between the other members of the front-line. The best of the art will often post high numbers in goals and assists, but ‘Inverted Wingers’ need to be so much more than just creative goal-scorers – generally tasked with creating space, rotating with teammates, and moving off the ball to exploit the half-spaces at the right moments.

Explaining the Creative Ten – Player Role Analysis

When we say ‘Creative Ten’, I’m sure you immediately conjure up an image of a classical painter of a player, who wonderfully creates art with their passing and incisiveness in the final third. But as has been well documented over the past few years, that type of player does not tend to exist in the modern game. The Mesut Ozil’s, David Silva’s and Cesc Fabregas’s of this world no longer tend to exist as they once did, or play in the same positions that they once held. Nowadays, ‘number ten’s’ must not only be capable contributors in the final third, but highly active in pressing from the front, and contributing to rotations that spread the width of the pitch.

Explaining the Tempo Setter – Player Role Analysis

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.

Explaining the Box to Box Midfielder – Player Role Analysis

As goal-contributors, defensive warriors and midfield engines all wrapped up in one modem, ‘Box to Box Midfielders’ end up being some of the most imperative members of their squads. Unlike other midfield player types, they consistently catch the eye for their attacking performances, even when deployed in a deeper, defensive, ‘number 8’ role. The likes of Conor Gallagher, Sergej Milinković-Savić and Georgia Stanway perfectly encapsulate the role, helping us to qualify and quantify more of these ‘Box-to-Box’ engines in the future.

3 thoughts on “Explaining the Midfield Maestro – Player Role Analysis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s