Liverpool and Manchester City were guilty last season losing to smaller teams due to not having enough cover in midfield for the defence
Liverpool lost to Burnley, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, Palace and Bournemouth.
Liverpool suffered last season against the smaller teams after not playing with two holding midfielders
Emre Can was often the only holding midfielder Jurgen Klopp adopted to start
Not a roll call to be proud of for a team that had title aspirations. They, like City, bossed possession in all those games.
And what was the common theme in these defeats for each club?
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They didn’t play two holding midfielders. They had all the ball but couldn’t score and got done on the break.
This season I expect all the top teams to play with two holding midfielders to sit in front of the defence.
The reason it has become a must in the modern game is because teams rely on full-backs to provide their width.
This is because of the trend for inverted wingers: right-footers on the left and left-footers on the right who cut in on their favoured foot.
Fernandinho often starts for Pep Guardiola as their first choice defensive midfielder
Yaya Toure fell out of favour under the former Barcelona boss last season
Think Eden Hazard at Chelsea, who often plays on the left but is right-footed, ditto Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez when he is not playing up top and Christian Eriksen at Spurs. The list goes on.
This in-ducking means full-backs need to get up to give width, get crosses in or get to the byline to provide cut-backs. It gives the opposing full-back a real problem. Do I go with the winger as he cuts in or track the full-back as he flies down the touchline?
That indecision buys the winger time.
And both full-backs go. Not just one at a time.
When I was at Stoke, when one full-back pushed on, the other would sit and join the centre-halves. But that was not just with us – even the teams at the top of the table would do it.
Now, the game is so fast and the ball is moved so quickly from side to side, teams like to have both full-backs on the attack at once. So, now the job of the defensive midfielders is to provide the cover.
Chelsea star NGolo Kante is arguable the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League
Manchester United bolstered their midfield this summer after they signed Nemanja Matic from the Blues
Some will argue that playing two holding midfielders is negative, defensive or boring. I beg to differ.
Look at the pitch map which shows Tottenham’s average position in their match against Hull last season. The two holding midfielders, Victor Wanyama (No 12) and Eric Dier (No 15), kept their discipline brilliantly.
And the score? 7-1 to Spurs! Hardly negative.
I think all the big teams will play that way this season.
You can do it with a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or with the system used by Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs occasionally: 3-4-3.
Tottenham Hotspur star Eric Dier has established himself as one of the best midfielders in the top-tier
Former Southampton ace Victor Wanyama starred in his debut season for Spurs last season
It is more important for the bigger clubs to play with two holding midfielders than the so-called smaller clubs — because the smaller clubs will naturally sit deep and adopt a defensive mindset. They won’t get done on the break.
Interestingly, Arsenal’s winner against Chelsea in the FA Cup final was scored by a holding midfielder, Aaron Ramsey, when he pushed on.
When Arsenal had four at the back and Ramsey pushing on — plus the full-backs — they got caught out on the break, a reason Arsene Wenger switched formation.
But with three or four at the back, watch how the big teams will all adopt two holding midfielders this season as they fight for the crown.
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