Home » Articles

Defensive Mids In Naturena

22 August 2012 Thomas Monyepao

20121005-220719.jpgA few weeks back, I wrote that Chiefs will rue the day they let Tinashe Nengomashe go. I said this is because they have no other defensive midfielder with good passing ability, and secondly, this means that Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane now has to be put in a deep-lying position instead of using his excellent passing ability in an advanced position. Many feel that I was off the mark with that view, many more claim that the role of a classic defensive midfielder is dead. I’m standing my ground.
The use and importance of a defensive midfielder largely depends on a team’s system of play. Teams that use counterattacking system in particular benefit greatly from the use of one, and sometimes even two defensive midfielders. English club, Tottenham Hotspur for example still use Scott Parker and/or the young Brazilian, Sandro, as the shield to their defence. These two players pretty much fit the description of your standard defensive midfield (DM). Putting in the tackles, making crucial interceptions and passing the ball on to the more creative players in the team (Gareth Bale, Aarron Lennon, and Luka Modric) to work their magic further up in the field. English club, Chelsea – who happen to be the current champions of Europe – have John Obi Mikel sitting in the hole between defence and the more attacking members of the team. Mikel dishes out his sideways passes (these passes contribute to him having one of the highest pass-success ratios in the League) while the other midfielders provide the magic and creativity to unlock defences. Another example, Real Madrid, sometimes play with both Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira (granted Alonso is an excellent passer of the ball) as the shield for their defence – even Pepe has occasionally been used by Jose Morinho as a destroyer. Most of the Madrid goals and assists come from the attacking quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mezut Ozil, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain.
Other English examples include Manchester City, the English Premier League champs, the have Gareth Barry in the DM position with Nigel De Jong and now Jack Rodwell as backup defensive midfielders. Liverpool also have Lucas as a specialist defensive midfielder. There are many other examples of teams using the defensive midfielder although, unlike in years gone by, the DM role is now more about “anticipation and reading the game” rather than tough, bone-crunching tackles.
I hear some pointing to Barcelona. Well, Barcelona operate on different level than most teams – this is a team who could play a UEFA Champions League league semifinal with a 3-3-4 formation. The Barcelona coach at times even prefers to field a team without a specialist striker for goodness sake! Their excellent use of the pressing strategy diminishes the need for a specialist defensive midfielder. Manchester United don not have a classic defensive midfielder in their preferred stating line-up, and this strategy clearly works for them (domestically) as they narrowly missed out on winning the English Premier League (EPL) last season. The same goes for Italy, Euro 2012 finalists.

But this is what makes football such a great game. Different systems playing one beautiful game: bad versus evil, sexy football versus parking the bus (just ask Arsene Wenger about Stoke City), Brazil vs Italy (1970), Holland (the 2010 version which used not one but 2 midfield destroyers) versus world champions, Spain.
In time the classic DM may become redundant but at the moment, just like the classic target man, if a particular team’s system and players are suited to it, the use of a midfield destroyer can work to great effect.
Football has drifted from a 4-4-2 formation towards 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 systems, both of which broadly feature three central midfielders. With this system there is an extra midfield place available, and the “destroyer-creator” 4-4-2 system now includes a “passer” in between. I mentioned that Chiefs should have kept Nengomasha as this would give them a central midfield three of Nengomasha (destroyer), Yeye (passer) and Nkosi (who was once touted as the next Doctor Khumalo, as “creator”), thereby allowing Simphiwe Tshabalala to lay in what I feel is his best position, left wing.
Players like Yeye and Andile Jali who can manage put in the tackles and make important interceptions in midfield while still managing to display great attacking qualities are a rare breed at similarly high level are a rare breed in the PSL. These are players that a coach can build their team around. At the time of writing (based on the two competitive matches that Chiefs have played), Kaizer Chiefs coach, Stuart Baxter seems to have decided to adopt a similar approach to Pirates in as far has having a specialist defensive midfielder goes. Unlike Orlando Pirates, however, Chiefs does not have a similarly talented player to fill in for Yeye should he get an injury during the course of the season while Pirates has Manti Moholo, Clifford Ngobei (remember him?) and 22-year old Thandani Ntshumayelo as some of the first names that spring to mind.

It may not be essential to have a defensive midfielder but I believe that the defensive midfielder role still has a place in modern football. Stuart Baxter has decided against having a specialist defensive midfielder. Will his preferred system of play bring success and trophies to Naturena? Time will tell…