The position of playmaker is very critical in football. Previously, when most of the teams played with two strikers, the playmaker usually operated from a deeper position. However, with the advent of 4-2-3-1, the playmaker, or the No. 10, usually operates in a more advanced position and also scores goals more frequently.
The likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Martin Ødegaard, Bruno Fernandes and Jamal Musiala usually play as the No. 10 for their respective club teams. As such, they find the net more often than the rest.
However, Pep Guardiola seems to have introduced a trend by making one of the full-backs play as a defensive midfielder, who can also function as a deep-lying playmaker at times. while the team is having possession. João Cancelo did it for Manchester City before being loaned to Bayern Munich. Nowadays, John Stones does it for them.
Mikel Arteta, who worked as Guardiola’s assistant before being appointed as the Arsenal manager, has made Oleksandr Zinchenko play as a deep-lying playmaker. Jurgen Klopp has followed suit by deploying Trent Alexander-Arnold in the central areas to take advantage of his passing abilities.
Giving the team’s attack a fresh impetus
It is not a bad idea to have two playmakers – one higher up the pitch and one staying deeper – for teams which dominate possession. Also, it is quite beneficial for the team to make use of a defender with good passing abilities.
The benefits were evident from the way Liverpool came back into the match against Arsenal. Alexander-Arnold played a lot of forward passes to Mohamed Salah from the central midfield. However, the cross he played for Liverpool’s equalizer still came from the right wing only.
Zinchenko has been a driving force from the central midfield for Arsenal in quite a few matches this season. Stones does not quite have the ball-skills possessed by Cancelo, Zinchenko or Alexander-Arnold, but he has done his bit from a central position nevertheless.
The defense might suffer at times
However, on the flip side, things might become a bit dodgy on the defensive side. Liverpool took advantage of a narrower three-man Arsenal defencse last Sunday, with Curtis Jones particularly active on the left flank. Jones and Diogo Jota even combined for Liverpool’s first goal. Then Alexander-Arnold nutmegged an exhausted Zinchenko to pave the way for Liverpool’s equalizer.
Hence, one can conclude that if the concerned full-back does not fall back into his original position in time, his team can suffer defensively. Therefore, it becomes essential for the other defensive midfielder to give cover by switching to the flank. Jordan Henderson does it regularly for Liverpool, likewise Granit Xhaka for Arsenal. Stones usually falls back into his position well on time, as Manchester City already have Rodri as a deep-lying playmaker.
Manchester United has not followed this tactic yet, but Luke Shaw has a tendency to shift inside and attack through the inside-left channel at times. Chelsea also does not operate with this tactic, as they rely heavily on the overlapping runs of full-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell.