We are officially inside the final week of preparations for the new Premier League season, with just six days to go until the opening match of the new 2019/20 campaign.
With 6 days standing in the way of now and the new season, we take a look at how the Premier League has led the charge for the meteoric rise of the modern number 6 and is experiencing a golden age for the defensive midfielder. To make the argument that the current iteration of the defensive midfielder is the most important position in modern football, one simply has to look at the makeup of the Premier League over the last five years.
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Just this summer, in fact, Manchester City – the defending league champions – broke its club transfer record bringing in a new defensive midfielder in Rodri. With 34-year-old Fernandinho‘s occasional absence last season exposing the two-time Premier League champions, Pep Guardiola identified a position of need and filled it with a bang.
After Fernandinho made his way to the Premier League with his title-winning physicality and passing precision, N’Golo Kante engineered one of the most spectacular underdog stories of this generation, leading Leicester City to the title. One season later, he was shipped off to Chelsea and promptly saw the Blues to the top of the table, winning consecutive Premier League titles with two different teams.
Prior to Kante, Nemanja Matic helped Chelsea to the 2014/15 Premier League title, arriving from Benfica to patrol the Blues midfield and log over 3,000 league minutes in a season to remember.
As top-end Premier League teams look to play out from the back, the defensive midfielder is a critical component of the new style of domination football, but there’s more to it than that. The best defensive midfielders in the world possess an inate sense of the field that allows them to cover passing lanes and grab interceptions, turning possession back over to teams that want to possess the ball.
Taking a peek at the interception leaders in the Premier League last season, the top of the list is dominated by teams dominated in possession which gives them far more opportunities to cut out passes. Still, it proves teams up and down the table have begun employing a modern two-way defensive midfielder to cover the back line, with Watford’s Etienne Capoue leading the charge at a wonderful 2.6 interceptions per 90 minutes, followed by Huddersfield Town’s Jonathan Hogg and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye among the league leaders. Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi and Wolverhampton’s Ruben Neves both appear near the top, fitting as they both proved leaders of form for their clubs last season – where they go, the team goes. Lucas Torreira was a heralded signing at Arsenal and quickly proved he could help cover a struggling defensive side. Luka Milivojevic has become a vital part of Roy Hodgson‘s structure at Crystal Palace.
Aside from Pep Guardiola’s use of Rodri and Fernandinho at Manchester City as the club looks to transition from older to younger, one of the most interesting league storylines for the coming year is how Frank Lampard looks to make use of Kante one season removed from a change of scenery. Kantee took significant time to adjust after Maurizio Sarri yanked him from his best position and moved him higher up the pitch, with Jorginho slotted into the role. In the end Sarri was out after just one season and Lampard is left to pick up the pieces. A formerChelsea midfielder himself, Lampard has kept his cards close to his chest and Kante has seen zero playing time this preseason due to injury. Will the French international return to his favored defensive midfield role, or will Lampard continue Jorginho in that role as Sarri did to mixed success?
The new season is nearly upon us, and the modern game is very much alive in the growth, expansion, and dominance of the number 6.