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Derby County: Holding role in midfield is evolving

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 07, 2014

By Steve Nicholson

CRUCIAL ROLE TO PLAY ... Will Hughes has to both create and defend from his position as midfield anchorman.

CRUCIAL ROLE TO PLAY ... Will Hughes has to both create and defend from his position as midfield anchorman.

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FOOTBALL's wind of change blows constantly.

Managers come and go at clubs, as do players, and coaches adjust formations in the search of blend and results.

The holding role in midfield has been the talking point of the summer among Derby County fans.

Derby played a patient game to land George Thorne from West Bromwich Albion for the position in which he impressed during a loan spell last season.

Unfortunately, a serious knee injury has sidelined the 21-year-old for up to nine months.

Who would step into the "Thorne" role?

Would it be the experienced John Eustace, who is 34, or 19-year-old Will Hughes?

Hughes played the role confidently against Rangers at the weekend and now highly-rated Real Madrid youngster Omar Mascarell has been added to the mix.

Mascarell is 21, a Spanish youth international, comfortable on the ball, as you would expect, and possesses a good range of passing.

So, are the characteristics of the "shield" in front of the back four changing?

Are we now looking at more of a controller than an enforcer?

When you hear the term "anchorman in midfield" in the Championship you tend to think of players like Keith Andrews, now at Watford, and Karl Henry, the ex-Wolves man at QPR.

Both could be tagged "enforcers", both being more defensively-minded in the role.

Eustace is similar, as was Kalifa Cisse in his few appearances last season.

The know-how Eustace displayed in the position was invaluable and absolutely crucial before Thorne arrived and took over for the last dozen games.

Thorne is capable of doing a bit of both – enforcer and controller – as he showed.

McClaren also believes Hughes or Mascarell can fill the role, and both are seen more as controllers, players who can take the ball off the back four and start moves.

A No.10 playing deeper, if you like. Lothar Matthaus did it expertly for Germany.

This also negates the need for defenders to attempt to hit passes in order to spark moves.

The controller is a more continental approach, possibly, and also a sign maybe of the experiences and influences head coach Steve McClaren collated during his time working abroad in Holland and Germany.

Hughes, as we know, and Mascarell, as we are being told, are at their best when in possession.

It is, however, important for teams to defend as a unit when not in possession.

There will be times when Derby will find themselves under the cosh and this is when the "shield" has to be strong, has to get a foot in, has to protect the back four.

It is not Hughes' natural game, but he is capable of doing it although his talent when used further up the pitch can damage opponents.

Mascarell has a bit of physical presence as he is around 6ft tall.

What is important to remember when discussing Hughes and Mascarell is that good footballers adapt.

And maybe the style of play in the Championship is evolving.

It is far from tippy-tappy, agreed, and some teams can become more "agricultural" at times but the three relegated sides (Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham) will look to play as will the three promoted sides (Wolves, Brentford and Rotherham).

Other teams in the division prefer to get the ball down and play – Watford, Bournemouth, Reading and Wigan.

And Derby are very much one of those teams.

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