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|Euro 2012 Special: Nani & Moutinho vs Xavi & Iniesta - Which midfield engine roars loudest?|
SoccerAnchor will be analysisng both Portugal and Spain in detail, and Saikat Chatterjee takes a look at the midfield...
A tournament in which majority of the star performers have been midfielders, speaks volumes about the way the modern game has evolved. ‘Keep the ball’ has been the fundamental principle of all top class teams around Europe. Thus, it’s not surprising to see a whopping number of midfielders achieve considerable success at the highest stage in the recent years.
The elemental obligation of a midfielder is to create and control. With all the diversifications in the modern game, the midfield is classified into three particular roles. There are certain types of midfielders who are obligated with the role of breaking up the play and winning back the possession, there’s another type that keeps the game ticking by weaving webs of passes and the third category of midfielders are responsible for opening up spaces with flair and movement.
Every big side has shifted its focus towards the midfield rather than the other departments. Midfields are packed with mercurial talents nowadays. Teams with weaker midfield are more likely to get overrun by their superior counterparts. World class coaches believe, the best way to beat your opposition is to starve them of possession. Drain the life out of the opposition; keep passing the ball until the opposition tire themselves out and stops coming at you.
A battle to conquer the midfield is likely to be fought when the Iberian siblings face off in a crunch semi-final clash. The one that manages to vanquish the other shall prevail in their quest for the Holy Grail and take one step closer to European glory.Both Portugal and Spain are likely to continue with their usual three man midfield in a flexible 4-3-3 formation. Portugal will look up to the likes of Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho to do their bidding at the heart of the midfield with charismatic skipper Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Nani adding some width and penetration to their play. Spain will look to do the same with their formidable midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso well supported by the dazzling Andres Iniesta and the radiant David Silva on either side.
THE DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS – ALONSO & BUSQUETS VERSUS VELOSO & MEIRELES
The duo of Veloso and Meireles has had a decent tournament so far and has done well to provide some considerable cover to their back line so far in the tournament. However, Paulo Bento will be expecting more calmness and composure from his midfield pair, while asking for some notable improvements in their play.
Tough tackling and a lot of energy has been the key characteristic of the midfield pair. However, questions can be raised about their wastefulness. Both the Portuguese midfielders have been shockingly mediocre when it comes to pass completion. Misplaced passes will be a concern for Portugal and is likely to cause abundant anxieties when they come up against, arguably the best midfield in the world.
Veloso averages a respectable 2.5 tackles every game with Meireles commanding a meagre 0.8 tackles per game. The pair also averages 1.5 and 1.3 successful interceptions respectively. The shocking part however, is their passing accuracy. Veloso has a mediocre pass completion rate of 83% whereas, Chelsea man, Raul Meireles has an atrocious pass completion of 79% for a playmaker.
Constant loss of possession will prove to be very crucial when the Portuguese come up against a miserly Spanish side that likes to retain as much possession possible and will thrive at their opponent’s consistent gifting of the ball.
On the other hand, the Spanish duo of Alonso and Busquets has had an exceptional campaign so far. Intelligent positioning, brilliant interceptions and pin point passing has been the highlight of their play.
Barcelona anchor-man, Sergio Busquets averages a respectable 2.8 tackles per game along with a similar number of interceptions. The La Masia graduate, who is touted as one of the best players of the world in his position commands an extraordinary passing accuracy of 93% while also managing to shell out a handsome 2.3 key passes per game.
Partnering the Catalan midfielder at the heart of the midfield is Real Madrid midfielder; Xabi Alonso who has had a brilliant tournament so far and has helped his team make it to the semi-finals with a well taken brace on the day of his 100th cap for his country. The Madrid playmaker averages a brilliant 3.3 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game. The former Liverpool midfielder has also managed to dish out 0.8 key passes per game and has an incredible pass completion rate of 91.5%.
Not only have the Spanish midfielders have had a better tournament, but they are head and shoulders above their adversaries as well. Stats and performances clearly show that the Portuguese duo will have to make massive improvements to their game should they hope to stand a chance against the mercurial Spanish midfield.
THE PLAYMAKERS – XAVI VERSUS MOUTINHO
Porto playmaker, Joao Moutinho has had a really good tournament so far for the Portuguese and has been one of their better performers thus claiming a couple of assists in the process. The Porto man has excelled with his crucial final balls and has also managed to retain good amount of possession while dictating the pace of the game with his composed and accurate passing.
Moutinho averages a decent 47.5 passes per game with an accuracy of 88.4%. The Portugal playmaker has also managed to deliver 8 key passes for his teammates so far on an average of 2.0 per game. The young Portuguese will be a key man as the likes of Almeida, Ronaldo and Nani will depend on his crucial passes against an inspired Spanish side.
However, Moutinho’s competitor in the midfield is too big a challenge for any player in the world. Xavi Hernandez, arguably the best central midfielder of the decade has been wowing the fans with exactly the kind of bravura that is expected from him.
The Barcelona playmaker has had an exceptional tournament so far and is undoubtedly the best midfielder of the tournament so far. With an accuracy of 92.1%, Xavi averages a stunning 107.8 passes per game which is more than double of his Portugal counterpart. The Catalan maestro also holds the joint tally of maximum number of key passes (18) with German midfielder Mesut Ozil.
Despite failing to claim a single assist so far in the tournament, Xavi’s contribution to the team as well as the game in general remains unrivalled.
THE WIDE MEN/INSIDE FORWARDS – INIESTA & SILVA VERSUS RONALDO & NANI
Both teams will have enjoyed the optimum use of their width, with the wide midfielders having an excellent tournament so far.
Manchester City midfielder, David Silva has carried his sparkling club form on to the international stage as he remains at the top of assists chart in the tournament so far. Silva has had an exceptional tournament so far as his incisive passing, trickery and brilliant movement constantly troubled defences throughout the competition so far. The Premier League winner has 3 assists to his name along with a well taken goal. Silva also averages 2.3 key passes along with 0.8 dribbles on an average.
Fellow compatriot, Andres Iniesta has also enjoyed a similarly good tournament so far. Considered as one of the best players in the world, Iniesta has been in a good vein of form as he looks to guide his side on to the finals of the tournament and help them defend their European crown successfully.
Despite being heavily overloaded in the tournament, Iniesta has found spaces to hurt the opposition with his unmatched talent. The Catalan midfielder averages 2.3 dribbles per game and has had no problems skipping past his markers on a consistent basis. Iniesta has also chipped in with 5 key passes so far in the tournament along with a match winning assist against Croatia.
The Portuguese wide men have also had spectacular tournaments with their inspirational captain, Cristiano Ronaldo leading from the front. The Real Madrid forward started the tournament in a disappointing fashion, but got into his groove quickly as he raced to the top of the scoring charts with 3 goals to his name.
The former Manchester United man will consider himself unlucky to have hit the crossbar a few times in the tournament. However, he will be feeling nothing short of pure ecstasy having led his team this far. Ronaldo will look to maintain his stunning form and drag his side over the line once again just as he has in the past on countless occasions.
Ronaldo’s former Manchester United teammate, Luis Nani has also had an inspiring campaign so far and has made some valuable contributions to his team’s journey to the semi-finals. The Manchester United winger averages a brilliant 3.3 key passes per game and is second on the assists chart with 2.
Fair to say that Spanish team are likely to outplay their Iberian rivals in every department of the midfield with their unmatched resources and unrivalled talent. However, with Ronaldo in the kind of form he is in, who are we to write off the Portuguese.