Dribbling midfielders

Ahead of the North London derby, we look at the key roles of Mousa Dembele and Jack Wilshere.

Last Updated: 01/03/13 at 12:35

Jack Wilshere: Driving runs from midfield provide another dimension

Jack Wilshere: Driving runs from midfield provide another dimension

The 1990 World Cup was marred by negative tactics and the lowest goals-per-game average in the history of the tournament. Exactly half of the knockout matches went to extra time and the defensive nature of much of the football played its part in FIFA's subsequent introduction of the backpass rule.

And yet, in England the competition is still venerated. Of course, the Three Lions reached the semi final - their best finish since 1966 - and went down in plucky fashion to those dastardly Germans. But they also had Paul Gascoigne. Gazza. The midfielder embarked on 56 dribbles at Italia '90 - twenty more than any other player. And the verve of his performance stays in the memory.

There are lots of ways a midfielder can influence a football match. And England have had plenty of good ones. For example, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard boast impressive goalscoring records from midfield with their astonishing proficiency from distance. But that is still reliant on time and space from the opposition.

Then there are the playmakers with their ability to carve open a defence with a brilliant pass. Whether it is Andrea Pirlo and Xavi operating from deep or Wesley Sneijder and Francesco Totti picking the opposition lock from an advanced position, it can be devastating. But that is still reliant on movement from team-mates.

Central

Dembele: Enjoys passing and dribbling

It is the dribbling central midfielder who makes a mockery of the best-laid defensive plans. If the opposition sit back and defend a tight perimeter, the coach feels there is no way through. If the opposition play a pressing game, the coach fears a misplaced pass or a loss of possession due to poor control. But a skilful dribbler can open up a game even against a solid set-up.

Hence the Gazza-like excitement surrounding Jack Wilshere. "He can play everywhere - he can defend and attack," points out his Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. "He has got back his burst with the ball so I used him closer to the strikers and he was always dangerous. A complete midfielder can defend and attack and Jack can also dribble and give a final ball so the closer players like him are to the goal the better it is for them."

Just down the road at White Hart Lane there is another midfielder doing it too. He's not British so perhaps he is receiving a little less Premier League attention, but Mousa Dembele is enjoying a fine season with Tottenham. "Dembele is probably the best player on the ball I've ever seen," said his former Fulham boss Martin Jol last year. And it's that ball-playing ability that sets Dembele apart. As the man himself told the Daily Mail: "I just like to play, to pass the ball and dribble."


Dribbles - PL 2012/13  
Player NameTeamNumber per game
Adel TaarabtQPR3.2
Luis SuarezLiverpool2.9
Jack WilshereArsenal2.6
Santi CazorlaArsenal2.3
Mohamed DiameWest Ham2.2
Gareth BaleTottenham2.2
Sergio AgueroMan City2.0
Raheem SterlingLiverpool2.0
Mousa DembeleTottenham2.0


The statistics indicate that these two players do offer something genuinely different. A look at the list of top dribblers in the Premier League shows that the vast majority are taking on the opposition in advanced positions or in one-on-one battles on the flank. Only Mohamed Diame is a fellow central midfielder and he has been criticised for eschewing passes in favour of reckless dribbling. Forwards, attacking midfielders or out-and-out wingers are given freedom to risk losing the ball. Wilshere and Dembele are the anomalies with their thrusting from the centre of the pitch.

Quality

Both men can sway and swerve their way past opponents from deep and then, crucially, play quality passes on the move. They each rank in the top 16 players in the Premier League for key passes per game, an achievement aided by their ability to brush off the first challenge in order to find space. The opposition midfield can effectively be bypassed.

Each man is essentially operating as a playmaker with added mobility. While the deep-lying variety is often compared to the role of quarterback in American football, Wilshere and Dembele offer an alternative to the ambitious Hail Mary pass - they are the equivalent of the rushing quarterback, driving with the ball before picking out a team-mate.

Defensive nous is required too. In this respect, Dembele leads the way as he ranks at No.23 among Premier League players in terms of number of tackles per game. But Wilshere has a combative side too - one that could be in evidence when the two players come up against each other for the first time on Sunday.

There has rarely been more at stake in the North London derby in recent seasons with the rivals seemingly battling for UEFA Champions League qualification, so a tense affair could be expected. But when both teams have a player who can stride through the middle no matter how solidly the opposition are set-up, it makes for a particularly intriguing midfield contest.

Related News

Most Commented

Readers' Comments

I

think that puts all doubts over Benteke's quality to bed. Can he do it after receiving the ball to feet, in the box, totally unmarked, on a warm, sunny afternoon in Swindon? Oh yes he can! This year is definitely Liverpool's year. YNWA.

rationalmanc
WATCH: Benteke's debut screamer

A

ll very well selling all midfield and strikers but unless we bring anyone in that is better than what we had then it will be a terrible transfer window in my view. Sorted out the defense but our midfield and striker options look very light.

bigo
Spurs Halfway To The Perfect Summer

L

ove it when Jose accuses others of being defensive, cynical and playing to win. If I was Wenger, I'd get that quote laminated and framed - surely the biggest compliment he's ever received from Mourinho. You've got him riled Arsene - you're relevant again!

suarez_blind
Jose rues pitch and weather after defeat

Footer 365

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has 'difficult questions'

Arsenal centre-half Per Mertesacker says manager Arsene Wenger has a lot of "difficult questions" to answer.

West Ham forward Enner Valencia ruled out for up to 12 weeks

West Ham forward Enner Valencia has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks with a leg injury.

Jordy Clasie says he'd have rejected move to Man United in order to join Southampton

Jordy Clasie claims he'd have rejected Man United to sign for Southampton - saying it's "better to start lower and finish higher".

Mail Box

There's A Lot Of Anger About TV...

...and how much you have to pay - largely for games you don't actually want to watch. Many of you are forced to go illegal. We also have mails on Chelsea, Angel di Maria and...

Not Just A Friendly. This Had Meaning...

Arsenal fans are very excited about beating Chelsea (don't remind them about last year), while there is criticism for BT and a football fan tired of being screwed by TV...

© 2015 Sky Ltd. All Rights Reserved A Sky Sports Digital Media company