Deadline day approaches before the transfer window proverbially “SLAMS” shut. With over 250 transfers (ins and outs) in the EPL this year, it’s been one of the busiest transfer windows of all time. And focusing on the top 4 teams, there are a lot of names being bandied about before the window closes. The skirmishes between PL fans have begun with people taking pointless swipes at the rival clubs. However, one thing seems to have struck me the most. There is a lot of talk about ‘creativity’ and the creative central midfielder. Allow me to deliberate my chain of thoughts out loud.
Football was a very simple game in the EPL. Most teams were satisfied playing the 4-4-2 and little variations of it to suit each team’s strengths and weaknesses. It was in 2004 when Rafa Benitez first debuted, in the EPL, things got a complicated. Tactics were no longer a simple swap of one physical player with a speed demon or announcing to the team that they should attack; they were far more intricate, with formations and new positions being born for the first time in England. The emergence of the 4-2-3-1 formation saw the birth of a trequarista and that of two holding central midfielders, one the tackler and the other the creator. Now, I know Benitez has a large monkey on his back due a rather dull few years but none can deny the tactical genius of the person, atleast when he first arrived on English shores. His tactical approach immediately called for change up and down the Premier League. All the teams and managers learnt subtle ways of handling opposition, no matter their size. The big teams spent big bucks on shaping the team the right way and have enough depth to adapt to more than 1 kind of formation. Yes, it Rafa did infact bring a tactical revolution to England. But, can he be credited with the ‘creative midfielder’ idea? Is it a concept that is so important to teams for them to succeed? Im afraid that’s not the case.
The creative player who lays the sword through the heart of the opposition, the one who can split the defense wide open, a man who has the key to all the locks, the brain… well you get the picture. Traditionally we have seen this player play through the middle in a 4-4-2 formation and this continued in the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 and this has led people to the conclusion that creativity originates there. Patrick Vieira, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Xabi Alonso, Michael Carrick, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Petit etc The wingers were traditionally pacey or tricky players who could power themselves into the box or to whip in a good cross. Somewhere down the noughties the managers decided they should explore options of creativity in other areas of the pitch and see how it plays out. Now, I know a lot of people think its hit and miss. I know people feel the central midfielder is the lynchpin of creativity but this is no longer the case. The EPL is now rife with players, who can play up-front and on the wings, who are abound with creativity. The sheer no.of defense splitting passes we have seen from the wings is a testament to this. So what is lacking in the fast paced PL and what is causing the EPL clubs to fall short in the Champions League in recent seasons? Why are they suddenly losing significant footing they had 3-4 years back.
In my opinion, creativity is not the problem at all. Like I mentioned, as long as you have a creative spark in your team and you can maneuver the tactics to play to their strengths, the club can carry on making those defence splitting passes. What the EPL clubs are now in dire need of is players who thrive on transitional play.
Every single central midfielder I mentioned earlier were not simply creators, they were passers and most importantly – dictators of the tempo of the game. While a game hinges on end to end action, it relies on players like these to slow it down and speed it up. Look at clubs like Barcelona, Dortmund or Bayern from last year and you will see how all teams changed the pace of their game. This can only be done from the central midfield and it can only be done by players who are aware of the game and how it is going. When the opposition are throwing attack after attack when you are leading by a goal, the tendency would be to go on a counter attack to try to lay the game to the rest, but the transitional players see the opportunity of slowing the game down and taking the adrenalin off the opposition. This is what players transitional players do best.
The PL currently has an overwhelming number of players who are pacey, fast and powerful. They pretty much run the game ragged over 90 mins and we are treated to end to end action. The players on the other hand struggle to get the bearings in place. This is what I think the EPL is currently really lacking. And my belief is that which top club gets this player first, can guarantee them the title; and a handsome finish in the UCL.