Immediately, I want to get the meaning of the “deep-lying playmaker” out of the way. For me, a deep-lying playmaker is exactly this sentence from Wikipedia (out of all places): ” A deep-lying playmaker is a holding midfielder who specialises in ball skills such as passing, rather than defensive skills like tackling. When this player has the ball, they may attempt longer or more complex passes than other holding players.” If you think it’s an attacking midfielder played in midfield next to two other midfielders then they’re just a creative midfielder, not a deep-lying playmaker.
So now we know what one actually is, lets get onto this article’s main point. Are they important? For me the important reply for that question is: “What team are you talking about? If you’re in a team like Arsenal or Bayern Munich, whose play is hinged on intricate passing football, having a deep-lying playmaker is almost pivotal in a match.”
I want to use two case studies in this article about how pivotal a deep lying playmaker can be in stopping counter attacks. The first one is from Liverpool vs Burnley for Gray’s goal in the first half. In midfield Henderson was Liverpool’s deepest player who had the responsibility to defend the counter attack along with the two centre backs. The problem is, Henderson is a box to box and doesn’t have the typical knowledge a holding midfielder with good passing ability should have as he’s at least 5 yards ahead of where he should be. If he isn’t in that space he should be going for the ball or buying time for his midfield partner to regroup. The thing is, in Klopp’s team he’s typically never really used a deep-lying playmaker. Bender wasn’t a specialist in passing at Dortmund and Gündoğan is more of a box to box midfielder (huh, I forgot to properly mention him in my last article. Oops!). He wanted players who were adept at tackling and pressing teams’ midfields hence the lack. But his problem became noted when teams could set up in a way that exploited the space that those midfielders would leave chasing other players around the pitch as well as using their limited passing ranges to their advantages.
Compare this to my second case study; The New Dortmund. Tuchel reset the midfield by adding Weigl; a deep-lying playmaker, into it and it instantly changed Dortmund into a different type of pressing based football team. It allowed them to get the ball back by Gündoğan who would then proceed to pass to Weigl who would get the ball forward. It meant that Dortmund could easily press teams using Gündoğan and Weigl but also build from the base of midfield and have a holding player breaking up play in a sense that isn’t just running around after players. For me the easiest way of describing it is that Klopp’s press is to be quick about it, press high up the field then launch a quick attack. (Hence his “heavy metal” comments about his style in a match vs Arsenal). Whereas Tuchel is more press to get possession then use constructive passing methods to score a goal.
This is the importance of the deep-lying playmaker, they’re pretty misunderstood. People think by having a deep-lying playmaker (or DLP for short) you sacrifice physicality and quality tackling for a player who can pass. While on the surface this is true, it’s a much more complicated role than just a passing player from deep. For example Granit Xhaka with Arsenal and Switzerland will occupy a space in which players will eventually avoid passing/moving into. Just because he chooses not to tackle doesn’t mean he doesn’t break up play. Xabi Alonso once said that the mindset in England is that a defensive midfielder’s main responsibilities should be to tackle and this is said by arguably one of the greatest ever deep-lying playmakers ever to play the game.
I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat them however, as DLPs do have their problems. One of them is that you lose energy in midfield which is a common trait for a team like Arsenal if the partner isn’t energy based. The DLP usually sacrifices energy to get into the right position to receive the ball from the back/around them or to break up play. This is why if you follow me on Twitter that I’m so against Coquelin being a starter for Arsenal. However I’m also against Xhaka and Cazorla in midfield because you’re playing two types of the same player and have no energy in midfield. Therefore you have to balance the team like Dortmund, Bayern and now Man City have. Having an energetic midfielder, A DLP and a creative midfielder as a midfield set up is vital to many team’s sucesses and it’s why almost every “big team” have a set up along these lines. For example Bayern’s midfield is: Alonso, Vidal and one of Muller/Thiago. Balanced and very hard to beat.
So in the end of this, I hope people start to appreciate how good Weigl, Xhaka, Hojbjerg and Kroos can become. These players will be/are vital to their teams and probably will be for a while (I included Hojbjerg on this list as he’s an important player for people to watch out for at Southampton) as players like these don’t grow on trees.