5 reasons why the defensive midfielder is the most important player on the pitch
N'Golo Kante is on course to win the PFA Player of the Year accolade - why is the defensive midfield role so important in modern football?
As with the rest of the world, football is also witnessing the effects of information explosion – minute by minute analysis of player positions, heat maps, chances created and a flurry of other cutting edge stats that ensure no action/contribution is missed out. The players who used to be unsung heroes in the past are celebrated more than ever – it is no longer fashionable to hail Eden Hazard as Chelsea's key man while the "underrated" N'Golo Kante is around.
Not just Kante, there is a case to argue that the defensive midfielder is the most important player in every top-6 team in the Premier League. Jordan Henderson continues to lead the league in number of passes even after missing so many matches. Tottenham simply don't look the same without Moussa Dembele and Arsenal still have no idea how to replace Santi Cazorla.
Guardiola once said that if a team has three Fernandinho's, they would be champions, while Ander Herrera has been a revelation in the new look Manchester United midfield.
So why is the defensive midfielder so important?
#1 Avoiding the gap between the midfield and the defence
Alongside the gap between the centre back and the full-backs, the gap between the midfield and defence is the most commonly exploited aspect of a suspect defence. Especially in the later stages of a game when the defence drops deep to protect the lead or plays high up while chasing, it is crucial that the midfield accordingly adjusts its position.
A defensive midfielder is crucial in this aspect – ensuring that the area in front of the defence is covered, the edge of the box is sufficiently patrolled to block long-range attempts and help defenders in aerial duels against giant centre forwards.
A centre back like John Terry managed to lead a title-winning defence at 34 years of age (in 2014-15) because of the presence of the formidable Nemanja Matic in front of him.