The Need for an Advanced Defensive Midfielder

If Jonathan Wilson’s bible of football, Inverting the Pyramid, taught me anything, it is that football tactics are a matter of action and reaction. A constantly changing and ever-evolving realm of innovation and countering. When one method of play appears to have taken over the world, defeating all that come before it, a coach will discover the tactic that nullifies the seemingly perfect system.

Since Jose Mourinho tore up the rulebook on the stereotypical English 4-4-2 by employing Claude Makelele as a defensive midfielder, sat in front of his centre backs, it seems that no team can be without one. Whilst other Premier League teams had defensive players in their midfield, none were as single-minded and as specialised as Makelele. His sole purpose in the team was to sit, break up attacks, and play simple passes to those in front of him. His inclusion in the team gave the more creative and attacking players the freedom they needed, and was the catalyst for the shift from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

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The Gradual and Inevitable Rise of The 3-3-1-3

Ever since I first read Inverting The Pyramid I was convinced that Jonathan Wilson had correctly predicted the future of football tactics. For those that haven’t read it, and I advise that you do, here is a brief synopsis. Wilson traces the tactics of football back through history, starting in the very early years whereby teams played with seven or eight strikers, through the sixties whereby four strikers were preferred, through the nineties where there was a front two, and on to present day.

As the name suggests, football tactics have slowly inverted. The emphasis has shifted and the original idea of having a small amount of defenders and large amount of strikers have now been reversed. Wilson goes on to predict that at some point in the future teams will learn to play with no strikers at all. The book completely changed my outlook on football, rather than viewing football in terms of who had the best players, I began to see football as who had the best system. It is tactics, and not players, that bring success. You need only to look at David Moyes struggling at Manchester United after inheriting Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, or Jose Mourinho’s repeated success at whatever club he moves too, Porto and Inter Milan’s Champions League victories in particular, to see that the real genius on the pitch, is actually the man off it, sat in the dugout. The final chapters of Inverting The Pyramid hypothesises that the future of football will be to play without a striker.

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