Real Madrid have Sami Khedira, Bayern Munich have Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manchester City have Yaya Toure, Arsenal have Aaron Ramsey, Juventus have Arturo Vidal - but why has the box-to-box midfielder become such a mainstay in today’s football world?
10-15 years ago, a box-to-box midfielder was only focused around the physical aspect of the role. They were players that had the stamina to get up and down the pitch, supporting the defenders and the strikers.
Box-to-box midfielders took a spell on the sidelines of football for a while, making way for the deep lying and advanced playmakers, players that wouldn’t be up and down the pitch but would took turns monopolising possession the ball. The most notable examples of this are Barcelona and their midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
But recently the box-to-box midfielder has enjoyed a resurgence and then some. The modern day box-to-box midfielder is the complete midfielder, a player that has the physical attributes of the previous advocates of the role but with matching technical ability. They’re a mixture of every central midfield role there is depending on what is required at different points of the game.
This resurgence can largely be attributed to the evolution of the 4-2-3-1 formation, with the box-to-box midfielder playing in a defensive midfielder pivot next to a more defensive-minded player that can work as an anchor (Nemanja Matic, Mathieu Flamini, Javi Martinez), organiser (Sergio Busquets, Ilkay Gundogan, Michael Carrick) or regista ( Andrea Pirlo, Xavi). This allows the box-to-box the freedom to float into all areas of the pitch.
One of the best defensive midfielder pivot partnerships is Pirlo and Vidal of Juventus. Vidal shields Pirlo defensively, allowing him to dictate from deep areas and then joining the attack when the ball gets high up the pitch.
A largely unproven Vidal joined from Bayern Levekusen in 2011 in a deal that has proved to be a bargain. Vidal has scored 28 goals in 90 appearances for the Italian giants, a massive improvement on 15 in 117 appearances for Leverkusen, including 18 in 32 appearances this season alone. This season he’s only registered one solitary defensive error whilst averaging 4.4 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game.
The modern day box-to-box midfielder is the crème de la crème of modern day midfielders, you have to excel mentally, physically and technically. The phrase “if you can’t handle the heat, get out the kitchen” is rarely used to describe a specific role in football but in this case it’s definitely apt.
In an age of football that now includes inside forwards/playmakers, enganches, false nines, shadow strikers, trequatistas and wide target men you can be sure players and roles will continue to grow and evolve and the box-to-box midfielder will continue to be a fascinating role to watch over the next 5-10 years.
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