Still, however they’re named, the footballing world is currently that of the regista. From Spain, where Xavi and Xabi Alonso work their magic, to Italy, where the cerebral Andrea Pirlo still rules the midfield, to the rising power of Germany and their bright young talents like Ilkay Gundogan and Nuri Sahin, deep-lying playmakers have occupied the hearts, minds and most importantly the midfields of millions of football fans across Europe.
Even the tactical backwaters of Britain have been somewhat turbulent with the splash the rise of the regista has caused in European football. Michael Carrick, a player maligned to the point of being scapegoated for losses, has been holding Manchester United’s midfield together for years now. This season, he’s finally got the recognition he deserves, with pundits and fans alike hailing his brilliant, commanding displays from the base of United’s midfield as they swept to their 20th league title. Even more encouragingly, he’s no longer part of a select group of registas holding out against the British prevalence of favouring energetic, muscular box-to-box jack-of-all-trades in midfield. Now, in addition to stalwarts like Carrick, clubmate Paul Scholes and Mikel Arteta, there is a huge upswell of players whose job it is to treasure possession and split defences from deep. Dots&Crosses takes a look at some of them, and considers who can lay claim to the title of ‘best in the Prem’.
Manchester United outplayed Everton to move 12 points into the lead in the Premier League with as many games remaining.
Sir Alex Ferguson shuffled his pack ahead of his midweek fixture with Real Madrid in the Champions League. Michael Carrick dropped out in favour of Phil Jones’ energy, Ryan Giggs replaced Nani, and captain Nemanja Vidic was back in place of Rio Ferdinand. United’s usual 4-2-3-1ish shape was warped – as it usually is when Giggs is deployed on the left – with Giggs playing narrow and Rooney drifting left of centre (even more than usual).
Everton played their regular 4-4-1-1 shape, and David Moyes made only one change. Phil Jagielka moved back to the centre of defence, where he was partnered by John Heitinga after Sylvain Distin’s injury in the pre-match warmup, and Phil Neville came in to fill the gap at right-back. Marouane Fellaini played the second striker role which has caused United so much trouble in the past two meetings between the sides, with Victor Anichebe continuing as the striker ahead of Nikica Jelavic.
Chelsea nicked a win against London rivals Arsenal in an entertaining game.
Rafa Benitez made two straight swaps to the team that drew at home to Southampton on Wednesday, in the same 4-2-3-1 formation he prefers. At the back, Branislav Ivanovic came in for David Luiz, and at the other end of the pitch Fernando Torres replaced Demba Ba. The rest of the team was as expected. Cesar Azpilicueta offered width on the right, with Ashley Cole more reserved on the left, and Oscar and Eden Hazard switched flanks around trequartista Juan Mata.
Arsenal fielded a somewhat different side to the one that lost a madcap game against Manchester City. Laurent Koscielny was banned after his red card in said game, so Per Mertesacker returned to the side alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Jack Wilshere was pushed forward from the pivot into attacking midfield, with Francis Coquelin filling his vacant spot, Santi Cazorla moving to a narrow left-sided position and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping out of the matchday squad entirely. Theo Walcott moved back to the right wing as Lukas Podolski was replaced by Olivier Giroud, who played up front. With Wilshere close to Giroud and Walcott and Cazorla both in advanced positions, Arsenal’s formation often looked more like a 4-4-2 or even a 4-2-4 in extreme cases.
Swansea clinically dispatched Stoke to put themselves four points off the European places.
Michael Laudrup shuffled his pack from last week’s away draw with Everton. Itay Shechter made a rare start as Michu dropped back into midfield, and Angel Rangel likewise moved back to right-back as Dwight Tiendalli came out of the team. Pablo Hernandez moved back to his favoured right-wing position from the centre, Garry Monk came in for Chico Flores at the back, and Nathan Dyer was replaced by Wayne Routledge on the left of midfield. Finally, Jonathan De Guzman replaced Kemy Augustien to line up alongside Ki Seung-Yueng in the double pivot.
Tony Pulis, on the other hand, maintained faith in the majority of the team who were destroyed by a mixture of Chelsea and Jonathan Walters in their last Prem game. There were only two changes, with Andy Wilkinson being replaced by Dean Whitehead at left-back and Peter Crouch replacing Kenwyne Jones as the lone striker.
Wigan succumbed to Sunderland in a five-goal thriller at the DW.
Wigan boss Roberto Martinez fielded much the same side as their draw away at Fulham. Jordi Gomez came in for David Jones, and Ronnie Stam replaced Ivan Ramis, meaning Emmerson Boyce moved into the centre. Franco Di Santo was supported by Gomez and Shaun Maloney up front, with the two James McCarthy and MacArthur playing as the double pivot in front of Wigan’s regular three-man defence.
Sunderland made one change to the side that beat West Ham 3-0, with winger James McClean dropping out of the side in favour of new signing Alfred N’Diaye, who anchored the midfield. As a result, Sunderland’s shape changed somewhat: instead of their regular 4-4-1-1 with Stephane Sessegnon playing just off Steven Fletcher in the centre and two holders in midfield, N’Diaye sat deep and allowed Sebastian Larsson and David Vaughan to link with Fletcher. Adam Johnson was on the left flank, rather than his favoured right.