Defensive Midfield is a position made famous by the likes of Pep Guardiola, Patrick Viera, Claude Makalele, and Sergio Busquets. It’s withing the midfield, specifically in the back, where this position breaks up plays like a jackhammer on concrete. Throughout the years, tall, muscular, and hard hitting players with a touch of technique have taken that spot. Within the last six years an evolution of the spot has allowed small and technical players to take these spots away from the Vieras of the sport. I’m not saying that brute strength has left the sport. Physicality has transcended to a more technical style of contact.
A nimble DM will draw fouls and intercept passes with good positioning. Lionel Messi, while playing a different position, is able to draw fouls with his dribbles. It’s two distinct positions that follow the same concept. You slide in for a tackle to win the ball, and then what? That ball has to be passed forward to be distributed by the rest of the midfield. A DM not only wins the ball back, but has to be the eyes of the team. A quick pass or a long cross to the winger cutting inside can make a counter attack from a turnover. If not, at least you keep possession for your team.
What about the defensive in defensive midfielder Daniel? I’m only two paragraphs in and nowhere close to ending this post. In a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation, your defensive players pushing up to congest the midfield leave gaps. This results due to midfielders pushing up to increase the attacking options. You have two centerbacks attempting to cover the back line. When this occurs, the DM moves down and adds another body to the defensive line. When their team is defending, the DM is a shield for the back four. He is the first line of resistance to prevent a goal from bombarding the net. This will either be enough to recover the ball or give the defense enough time to organize themselves.
A DM is an essential cog in any of the popular tactics used today. I believe that having a midfielder stay behind the half line is the only way to achieve balance in modern football. Real Madrid has committed the mistake of selling their DM twice, and both times they have been left with an abundance of attacking players in the front, without a link to start transitions. These DM’s are an engine that is felt on all sides of the pitch. They are the one brick that makes a wall structurally sound. The wall collapses if it’s taken out.