With the recent advance of tactics and formations, a more traditional role in the middle of midfield has been overlooked as everyone obsesses over the 'Makelele role', 'enganches' and 'deep-lying playmakers'.
The fact is that the most important player in a midfield always has been the box-to-box man. He’s the one driving the team forward and the first one tracking back. His pressing, interceptions and tackles are essential to the defensive effort while he will be expected to hold on to the ball as well as create and score goals for his team.
Here we outline the five best box-to-box players currently plying their trade in Europe’s Top 5 Leagues.
Considered by many as the best of his ilk, Juventus star Vidal has been the cornerstone of Antonio Conte’s side’s success over the past few seasons. The Chilean won 109 tackles last season - at a rate of 71%. He showed just what a good all-round midfielder he is with 45 interceptions and 49 clearances in 31 games. As well as these impressive defensive stats he managed 10 goals and eight assists in 29 Serie A starts. With his brilliant work-rate Vidal covers a lot of ground but he also boasts impressive passing statistics – an 86% pass accuracy rate and 55 key passes last season.
Bayern Munich's Schweinsteiger has played in a whole host of positions throughout his career, including on the wing. However, his best position is where he plays now - as a box-to-box player. He is tidy in possession, averaging 88% pass accuracy last season; he also completed 1,741 passes, the most in the Bundesliga, despite only playing in 29 of 34 league games. After playing an integral role in Bayern Munich’s treble-winning side last season, the German is set to reach 100 international caps later this season.
As recently as this weekend in the derby, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure demonstrated just how good he can be; a dominant force in midfield, no player looks forward to playing against Toure. His physical stature leads many to believe the strongest area of his game would be tackles and headed duels. However, he completed 2,196 passes last season at an 89% accuracy rate, the third highest in the Premier League, displaying his technical attributes. Toure has started this season in the same manner, with the most successful passes (352) and best pass accuracy (90%) in the Premier League as well as five goals in seven appearances for City this season.
At just 22, Gundogan was arguably Borussia Dortmund’s best player last season. Without excelling in any particular area, Gundogan's strengths lie in his consistency and all-round quality. He completed 1,383 passes, 15 key passes and notched up three assists last season in 28 Bundesliga games. Winning 80% of his tackles (51) and being successful in 64% of his take-ons (58), Gundogan showed just how well-rounded a midfielder he really is. With his contract having less than two years to run and no sign of talks progressing, every top European club will have one eye on the situation.
Lars Bender, subject of a summer bid from Arsenal, is a real monster in midfield. He topped the Bundesliga tackling charts last season with 109 successful tackles. A more defensive minded box-to-box player, Bender netted just three league goals and a respectable six assists. He intercepted 84 times and his style has been likened to Aaron Ramsey. It seems the Gunners may have saved a few quid with Ramsey’s recent form showing he is capable of reaching such heights. Nevertheless, at just 24 and with 15 international caps to his name, expect to hear a lot more about the Bayer Leverkusen man.