The term 'box-to-box midfielder' has become a commonplace in commentary, articles, and discussions. There has been a resurgence in the demand for this type of midfielder, especially in the complex formations adopted today.
There are essentially three types of midfielders if seen from a general perspective - the defensive midfielder, the play-maker, and the attacking midfielder.
All these roles require different abilities with very few overlapping skills.
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However, a box-to-box midfielder could combine several aspects of each role. There are some players who lean more towards an attacking role while others are more comfortable with the defensive aspects of the game.
Also, different people could have a slightly different meaning for the term and might not attribute certain players as box-to-box midfielders, whereas others might. Whether a certain player is a box-to-box midfielder or not, is a highly debatable topic.
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What is a box-to-box midfielder?
Generally speaking, a box-to-box midfielder is a player who is able to cover the field from his own penalty area, the 18-yard box, to the opponent's penalty area. Hence the term - box-to-box midfielder.
With respect to attributes, this type of midfielder usually possesses high stamina, endurance and vision with an uncanny ability to follow the ball wherever it goes.
On the defensive side, they are able to intercept passes, make tackles and disrupt the flow of the opposition. From an attacking perspective, they are able to distribute the ball well from defense and midfield and often link the defense to the attack.
They tend to arrive late in the box to take a shot or support the attack since their natural tendency is not to lead the attack but to support it.
Bringing high energy to the game, box-to-box midfielders usually cover the most distance during the game and combine several aspects of defense and attack.
Some of the greatest box-to-box midfielders of the past decade have been Michael Essien, Steven Gerrard, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard among others.
These players are some of the biggest names in football and some of the greatest midfielders to have played in their respective leagues as well as the Champions League.
Importance in modern football
Due to their tenacity, high energy and versatility, box-to-box midfielders are in great demand today. There are teams that deploy more than one box-to-box midfielder.
For example, Germany during the 2014 world cup used Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the first team allowing Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil to take on the play making responsibilities.
The presence of such midfielders allows other players to fully concentrate on a particular role due to which the box-to-box midfielder's role could be described as being 'dirty work'.
However, it is the sheer versatility of such players that warrants their place in the team as they can easily switch from defense to attack or one role to the other.
Works well with play-makers
It is important to have balance in a team. One can't include all play-makers or all defensive midfielders in a team.
Of course, we do see cases where managers are forced to play someone out of position or are forced to include many of the same types of players in the team due to injuries or certain game situations.
But under normal circumstances, balance is the key and it is ideal to have at least one play-maker and one box-to-box midfielder in the team. This way, both are allowed to do what they do best without being restricted in any way.
In some cases, managers choose to install a defensive midfielder, the so-called 'Makelele role'.
However, that position is starting to become less and less prominent due to the recent decline in the use of the 4-3-3 formation, deployed successfully by the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea during the last 10 years.
Some of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game today
All top teams in Europe have at least one box-to-box midfielder in the side. In a lot of cases, managers opt to use two such midfielders instead of a defensive midfielder, whereby providing more mobility and versatility in midfield.
Juventus are known to deploy both Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira in the same team with Pogba being the primary attacking midfielder.
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan, Real Madrid's Toni Kroos, Manchester City's Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, AS Roma's Radja Nainggolan and Bayern Munich's Arturo Vidal are just few of the high profile examples.
Paris Saint-Germain often deploy three box-to-box midfielders with Marco Veratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi being the preferred midfield three. In this case, wingers Lucas Moura and Angel di Maria often take up play making roles in addition to wing play.
Often, people would characterize these players as defensive midfielders due to their endurance, intercepting and tackling abilities.
However, they also possess great passing and shooting ability with the likes of Nainggolan and Matuidi being good at dribbling as well, one of the key attributes of a play maker.
Heart of the team
The above mentioned players are just a handful of box-to-box midfielders that play today.
Big teams are always scrambling to get their hands on the best box-to-box midfielders. Chelsea have been in a chase for the signature of Nainggolan, whereas Gundogan has been linked with a move to the Etihad stadium in the summer.
These players are the engine and heart of the team and the performance of the team depends largely on the performance of these players.
Expect them to play a major role in the coming years.
Has a box-to-box midfielder become crucial to a team's success? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!