June 10, 2023

The ongoing World Cup has been termed as the most even festival of football in recent memory. The argument given is that there is not one stand-out team that seems to be calling the shots. While there are numerous reasons being discussed – mid-season World Cup being one of them – the lack of ‘a complete midfield’ in any of the teams is probably a bigger factor.
While the attackers corner the glory, the midfield is the actual engine-room of a football team. An ideal midfield set-up should have three positions – the defensive midfielder, the holding midfielder and the attacking midfielder – of equal class and quality. There are teams like Brazil in this World Cup, who prefer playing with two holding midfielders and three out and out attackers along with a striker up top.

But it sometimes creates an imbalance that can be cashed in, especially on the defensive front, by quality opposition. Of the four teams that have already made the quarterfinals, Argentina are probably the weakest in the midfield department. Rodrigo de Paul is bringing his physicality to the fore, working as the defensive shield, but he isn’t exactly elite class. Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister is a workhorse, but he, too, lacks the class while Enzo Fernandez is promising but is still learning the ropes. It is Leo Messi’s brilliance that is papering over the cracks, but the true Argentina fan would know their World Cup begins now.
Argentina’s quarterfinal opponent, Netherlands, play a 5-man midfield with Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries and Ajax’s Daley Blind playing as the two wing back/half. It allows more creativity down the flanks which was evident in their game against USA, but there could be spaces behind them to exploit for Messi & Co.
The real work for Netherlands happens through the wily Frenkie de Jong of Barcelona. He works as the bridge between the defence and attack and it is his intelligence and quality that will hold key to Netherlands’ chances against Argentina. France, the third quarterfinalist in the equation, are somewhat in the same boat as Argentina. Though Aurelien Tchouameni is considered elite as the defensive midfielder, he lacks experience. Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot as the central midfielder has been good till now his heading abilities inside the box an added advantage but the Frenchman isn’t exactly Paul Pogba class. Antoine Griezmann, in an attacking midfielder’s role, did a fine job against Poland, but he is coming to the quadrennial showpiece on the back of two wretched club seasons. There are limitations to his game which can be seriously exposed against better opposition.
The fourth team making the cut on Sunday night, England, are probably the most balanced when it comes to midfield. While Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and the brilliant Jude Bellingham played on Sunday, they have top-class back-up for each position. The likes of Eric Dier, Jack Grealish, who come in as substitutes, are more than capable, while Harry Kane, playing as a bit of a link-up between midfield and attack, is really making England look potent.
Another team that has unbelievable quality in midfield is Spain, who will play their quarterfinal against Morocco on Tuesday. The Barca trio of Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Pedri complement each other in every way possible, but it is to be seen how their attack matches up to sturdy opposition towards the business end.


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