Very few players have had an impact as Claude Makelele in football. The Frenchman was a fierce tackler, a ferocious midfield terrier and above all an aggressive ball winner. Such were the former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder’s ball winning abilities, a special term was coined after him in the early 2000’s, ‘the Makelele role‘.
With the central defensive midfielder being one of the most crucial positions in any tactical setup today, we take a look at Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin and Manchester United’s summer signing Morgan Schneiderlin and compare the two Frenchmen based on stats.
I would like to state at first that Coquelin and Schneiderlin are not like to like players. The former is an effective defensive midfielder with limited passing range while the latter reads the game perfectly, puts in tackles more often, has an enviable passing array but isn’t a great interceptor in the middle of the park.
So why the comparison? Earlier tactical expert Michael Cox had written in ESPN that he feels Coquelin disrupts Arsenal’s fluidity and it might be better off if the 24 year old is replaced by club captain Mikel Arteta to enable the Gunners having a ball player in the middle. While I completely agree with Cox in this regard given Arsene Wenger’s selection dilemmas in accommodating Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla in the side, he fails to look at the bigger picture.
I cannot stress enough on Arsenal’s need of a defensive midfielder and the reasons have been well documented by many. Coquelin is like a modern day Makelele who reads the game well, has the most average interceptions in a game but fails to pick out his team mate lacking a dynamic passing range. This however doesn’t mean that he should be dropped with Arteta getting the nod. Firstly, the former Everton man is not a defensive midfielder but he rather morphed his passing ability to now become a holder but one who is shy on tackling.
Patrick Vieira too never had great passing ability but was the Invincibles’ Engine Room. Vieira was as fit as a butcher’s dog, could dictate the tempo of the game, score when forwards failed and above all created chances too being a box to box midfielder. This is exactly what Yaya Toure provides to Manchester City. It’s true that Coquelin doesn’t create enough like Ramsey or Cazorla, misplaces passes quite too often, so what? Makelele was also made the same mistakes yet achieved legendary status.
Arsene Wenger could easily shift to a 4-3-3 diamond if he is to solve the problems that Cox’s highlights. The trio of Ramsey, Cazorla and Coquelin could rotate in their positions with Mesut Ozil in the number ten role. Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott would pull the strings playing from the wings and then cut inside playing in advanced roles.
Schneiderlin on the other hand had his best season last term for Southampton alongside anchorman Victor Wanyama. He is more of a box to box player but rather than a defensive midfielder, he plays slightly further up the pitch (More like a modern day Fernando Redondo in that sense).
The Argentine (Redondo)who excelled playing for Real Madrid in the late 1990’s relied on his brilliant reading of the game, making crucial interceptions and then would initiate attacks with his crisp passing. Redondo could also play the deep lying playmaker role to perfection, the regista role which has been made famous by Italy’s Andrea Pirlo.
Stats are always open to interpretation but sometimes they don’t make a good read. Squawka suggests that Coquelin wins possession back more often than Schneiderlin and makes more interceptions despite having less tackles.
Thus taking a stance on who outweighs the other is tough. However, there is one point worth noting: every successful modern day teams have three well defined set of midfielders: the destroyer, the passer and the creator. It’s more like running a factory with more hands thus making the work light (the division of labour rule).
Rafa Benitez mastered the art with Liverpool having Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard but his Liverpool side narrowly missed out on the Premier League to another man who had learnt the rule too: Sir Alex Fergsuon, who deployed creator (Paul Scholes), the destroyer (Darren Fletcher) and the passer (Michael Carrick) in similar roles.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona too had Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta as the Camp Nou side revolutionised football through their tiki-taka philosophy. Thus the importance of having a destroyer and a passer is equally important to any side who go on to win trophies.
This season could well define who among Coquelin and Schneiderlin will have more impact but parameters would only be well defined if they play in similar positions. Apparently that’s not the case.