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    Friday, 4 August 2017

    Compared: the last signing in central midfield made by every top-six Premier League manager

    There is arguably no other position on the football pitch that encapsulates a coaches philosophy or tactical style as much as in central midfield.
    In the modern game, the position has been compartmentalised to such an extent that virtually every central midfielder is regarded as a specialist at one or two things rather than a master of everything.
    Taking that into consideration, how important are each of the Premier League’s top six clubs last central midfield signings to their particular sides and what do their specific roles say about their manager’s style?

    Chelsea (Tiemoue Bakayoko)
    How much did he cost? £39.7m from Monaco.
    What role will he play? Not so much an individual role as part of a formidably strong partnership alongside N’Golo Kante at the base of Chelsea’s midfield.
    Importance: 7/10 
    Antonio Conte took the brave decision to break up his title-winning midfield by offloading Nemanja Matic in favour of bringing in Monaco’s powerhouse Tiemoue Bakayoko.
    Compared to many of his Monaco teammates, Bakayoko rarely received the credit his commanding midfield displays warranted as he played a fundamental role in their Ligue 1 win and Champions League run.
    In an attack-minded team that contained two flying full-backs, Bakayoko and Fabinho had to cleverly fill in gaps that emerged in midfield in order to give adequate protection to the defence.
    Bakayoko won 56 tackles and made 54 interceptions in Ligue 1 last season which highlights his defensive qualities but a take on success rate of 54/80 (68%) suggests he will have a greater license to move forward with the ball than Kante.
    Tottenham (Victor Wanyama)
    How much did he cost? £11m from Southampton (2016).
    What role does he play? Protector of the defence. Wanyama patrols the centre circle purposefully making tackles and interceptions before recycling the ball resourcefully and simply.
    Importance: 9/10
    Pochettino has bought Victor Wanyama twice in the space of three years (at Southampton in 2103 and again at Tottenham in 2016) which shows just how highly he rates the Kenyan’s talents.
    There is nothing particularly flashy about Wanyama’s game. He is there to provide a physical presence in Spurs’ midfield and unsettle opposition teams through his physicality and defensive prowess.
    Nevertheless, he is a vital cog in the side as shown by the fact that he started all but three of Spurs’ games last season and ranked top in their squad for tackles won (63) and second for passes made (1,933).
    Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, all created havoc in the final third for Spurs last season but they would not have had room to do so without Wanyama mopping up behind them.
    Manchester City (Ilkay Gundogan)
    How much did he cost? £20m from Borussia Dortmund (2016).
    What role will he play?Advanced playmaker, tasked with setting moves in motion and providing goalscoring support high up the pitch.
    Importance: 7/10
    For most clubs, Ilkay Gundogan would be the key man in midfield but such is the wealth of options that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal the German international may struggle to get regular game time when he returns from injury.
    Guardiola tended to deploy three central midfielders in his side last season regardless of the tactical configuration he settled upon with a destroyer (Fernandinho) being flanked by a deep-lying playmaker (David Silva) and a withdrawn attacking midfielder (Kevin De Bruyne).
    At the start of his City career, Gundogan was largely used in the same role as De Bruyne and he did it extremely well too, completing 92% of his passes and scoring three times from his ten Premier League matches.
    Unfortunately, as has often been the case with Gundogan, injuries disrupted his rhythm and he will miss the start of the season as he recovers from a cruciate ligament injury sustained last December.
    Liverpool (Georginio Wijnaldum)
    How much did he cost?£25m from Newcastle United (2016).
    What role will he play?High pressing, box-to-box midfielder who breaks forward to apply pressure on opposition defences and arrive late in the penalty area to offer a goalscoring threat.
    Importance: 7.5/10
    During his single season at Newcastle United, Georginio Wijnaldum predominantly operated as an attacking midfielder playing off a central striker but his role was significantly different at Liverpool.
    Lacking the creativity of Philippe Coutinho, the passing range and ball retention skills of Jordan Henderson or the guile of Adam Lallana, Wijnaldum was Jurgen Klopp’s multi-purpose midfielder springing from one box to another.

    Much of what the Dutchman does perhaps go unnoticed, he is the silent star of the Liverpool engine room, but his athleticism is nevertheless crucial to Liverpool’s high-pressing style of play.
    He’s a man for the big occasion too, scoring goals against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City last season as well as Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, but Liverpool’s interest in Naby Keita this summer perhaps hints his place isn’t as secure as some of his teammates.
    Arsenal (Granit Xhaka)
    How much did he cost?£35m from Borussia Monchengladbach (2016).
    What role will he play?Tempo-setter. The Swiss international is being primed to become Arsenal’s deep-lying playmaker with Santi Cazorla often unavailable through injury.
    Importance? 8.5/10
    When Granit Xhaka was signed it was assumed that he had been bought to be the long-term heir to Santi Cazorla as Arsenal’s primary playmaker from deep.
    It has since become clear that he isn’t a natural successor to Cazorla as he doesn’t possess the nimble footwork or agility that the Spaniard does but he does bring other qualities to the role.

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    Xhaka’s expansive passing range is up there with the very best in the Premier League, he recycles the ball intelligently and purposefully around the pitch. Last season, Xhaka created 34 chances and completed 90% of his passes with 65% of those going forward.
    Unquestionably, Arsenal’s change to a 3-4-2-1 formation at the back end of last season has seen Xhaka come to the fore. It suits him perfectly as there are sufficient bodies around him to compensate for his lack of pace, while there is always an option when he has possession.
    Manchester United (Nemanja Matic)
    How much did he cost?£40m from Chelsea.
    What role will he play?Defensive midfield. Matic has been signed to act as a double pivot alongside Ander Herrera in a move to free Paul Pogba higher up the pitch.
    Importance: 8/10
    Like Wanyama to Pochettino, Nemanja Matic knows that he has the full trust of his manager with Jose Mourinho having signed him twice in his career for Chelsea and now the Red Devils.
    The Serbian may not be the kind of marquee name that United fans have come to expect in the Ed Woodward era but he could prove to be an extremely smart addition in the medium term.
    After all, Matic has been a pivotal member of two title-winning teams in his three full seasons in English football and besides his experience and pedigree is a well-rounded player who will provide a good balance to United’s midfield.
    Essentially, Matic has been brought in to form a double pivot alongside Ander Herrera in central midfield to allow Paul Pogba the platform to flourish higher up the pitch and that is a role he is perfectly suited to carrying out.

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