The box-to-box midfielder like many roles in the classic football vocabulary was in danger of becoming a product of a bygone era. However, with physicality returning as one of the most important traits in the modern game, the role continues to be utilized by numerous preeminent teams across the world.
Today we are looking at just what kind of central midfielders qualify for the role, who the most effective box-to-box midfielders of all time are, and who the greatest players in this role are in 2021.
What is a Box-to-Box midfielder?
What does box to box midfielder mean? The box-to-box midfielder, as the name suggests, is a central midfielder that operates equally in the team’s defense, as in the attack. They are characterized by their endless work rate. These footballers are also vital to the success team’s tactics. This is the reason why they must integrate seamlessly into the manager’s plans, getting into opportunities where they can score goals, as well as being able to provide crucial tackles.
Essentially, the box-to-box midfielder will be tasked with doing the of two players. The role was heavily utilized in the classic 4-4-2 formation, one that is rarely seen today. Modern formations, such as the 4-2-3-1, utilize two defensive midfielders. One of these is, often and ideally, a box-to-box player.
The box-to-box midfielder will be the first to add additional pressure on the attacking players of the opposition. Unlike a regista or a deep playmaker, once possession is one back, the ball is not merely recycled to a teammate. (In football what is the term in Italian for the box to box midfielder? The term usually used is mezzala) The box-to-box midfielder will be expected to charge into attack. Once possession is lost, they need to have the stamina to track back and return into their default defensive position.
Because of the nature of the role, box-to-box midfielders are often very entertaining to watch, and, often rank among their club’s leaders. English box-to-box midfielders, for example, Steven Gerrard, Roy Keane, or Frank Lampard, are ranked as some of the best players to have worn the shirts of their clubs.
What the best box-to-box midfielders have in common
For a while, it did look like the box-to-box midfielder had fallen out of favor with managers. Why so? The role was heavily associated with the 4-4-2 formation. While this was the default setup for many years, the mobility of modern formations made managers opt for different kinds of central midfielders (two defensive pivots, or mobile playmakers).
What roles competed with the box-to-box for the managers’ affection? Modern tacticians set their sights on players on mobile, quick, technical, and strong players. Pep Guardiola’s “playmaking number 8s” for example were and remain highly in vogue. Also, strictly defensive midfielders capable of breaking down attacks were also called upon.
Football, however, has returned to a high degree became physicality. These demands brought the box-to-box back in vogue. Players are expected to have better stamina and strength than ever before and to execute highly difficult technical maneuvers at the drop of a hat. Because of this the box-to-box role returned and has become a priceless commodity. Simply put, there are not many players that are able to have such a wide range of actions while playing in one of the top football leagues.
Top 10 box-to-box midfielders 2021
Let’s take a look now at the best box-to-box midfielders at present. We will take into account tactics, as well as fantasy football statistics. These players are all available in FootballCoin as NFTs or free cards. All of them should help users in creating a winning draft in the game.
Scott McTominay – Manchester United
Often playing alongside Fred or Nemnja Matic, it is easy to view Scott McTominay as solely a defensive midfielder. While certainly capable of doing the team’s dirty work, the Scottsman has proven extremely effective in attack in recent years. His pace and ability to shoot from distance help make McSauce a great box-to-box midfielder in the vein of United’s great Roy Keane.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a box-to-box midfielder in the classic sense of the term. The Serbian is Lazio’s midfield director. However, the player’s focus is only on providing beautiful passes. Milinkovic-Savic is known to get involved in important tackles and evens ave the oddball of the line when called upon to do so.
Franck Kessié – AC Milan
Franck Kessié epitomizes AC Milan’s pursuit of returning to their former glories. Kessie has been affectionately nicknamed The Tank by Rossoneri supporters. It’s easy to see why. He is a player that posses the strength to win back posession, but also the skill to distribute passes brilliantly towards his teammates.
Saul Niguez – Athletico Madrid
Saul Niguez is one of the most sought-after players in the world and for good reason. Niguez was instrumental in helping Atletico Madrid win the La Liga title ahead of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Here’s a player that has always been capable of acting as the team’s last line of defense. However, his stamina and skill on the ball allow him to transition easily into the team’s attack.
Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich
Joshua Kimmich is another all-around great footballer. It needs to be noted that when it comes to midfielder position, differences between roles can be minute. For example, a deep-lying playmaker or a regista may be used indiscriminately across the world. Kimmich, however, is unique in that he is one of the best players today in two very distinct positions. Kimmich was signed to Bayern to play as a right-back, a role in which he excelled. However, since then he has transitioned brilliantly to the box-to-box midfielder, winning the Champions League and Bundesliga titles, mainly, from this position.
Casemiro – Real Madrid
Casemiro has been absolutely crucial in the way that Real Madrid plays. His performance also helps showcase the importance of utilizing the skill of a box-to-box midfielder. The player can be used in a variety of positions, including as a center-back. However, it’s his incredible stamina and positioning that recommend him for the role of box-to-box. Casemiro often likes to play deep, between the lines, and take possession of the opposition’s defensive areas. The Brazilian will also, often be tasked with providing defensive cover to the team’s full-backs. The player has enjoyed tremendous success at Real Madrid, and his work rate is in large part to account for this.
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Paul Pogba is another player who is not always associated with the box-to-box midfielder position. This is for a couple of reasons. First of all, Pogba is incredibly versatile and experienced. Secondly, in recent times, Ole Gunna Solskjaer has opted to move the Frenchman around in his tactical plan. This is done, perhaps, to ensure that Pogba’s skill is put to use, even if he is used less often in his preferred position. Still, Paul Pogba’s greatest success came playing as a box-to-box midfielder. Is Pogba a box to box midfielder? The player’s physicality and speed aid him in fulfilling this role. He shines, particularly, when given the freedom to be creative. Whether tasked with providing the attacking threat or an important defensive tackle, the French midfielder is up to the task.
Arturo Vidal – Inter Milan
A classic toughman of the game, Arturo Vidal has accumulated an enviable resume. The Chilean has played and won trophies with the likes Juventus, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munchen, and Inter Milan. His popularity owes a lot to his skillset. Vidal works hard, is ready to do the team’s dirty work, but can also accommodate the creative spark when required. Having recently helped Inter to a historic Scudetto win, Vidal has proven to still warrant to be considered one of the best in the world in his position.
Naby Keita – Liverpool
Naby Keita is one of Liverpool’s most underrated players. It is true, this is a generation that includes plenty of stars. It is also true that Keita has not always had an easy time stepping into Jurgen Klopp’s first team. His form may have oscillated, but it is clear why the Premier League side sought his services. The Guinean midfielder has an aggressive playing style. He likes to play direct passes to the team’s forwards, or move the ball into areas where defenders are challenged to respond quickly. Keita is, also, able to switch positions and provide additional support to wider players. Furthermore, he is a highly athletic player, a requirement in order to fit into Klopp’s physically demanding gengepressing strategy.
Tomas Soucek – West Ham United
Is Tomas Soucek a box-to-box midfielder? According to Jamie Carragher, he is the greatest player of this kind, in the Premier League, at the moment. While it is true that the Czech serves, primarily, a defensive role at West Ham he is known to drift upfront for the opportunity to shoot on target. Last year, by all measurements, he was one of the very best players in the EPL. Soucek is quickly turning into a folk hero to the Hammers’ supporters.
Who’s missing from the list and why? Is N’Golo Kante a box-to-box midfielder? While Kante is one of the best central midfielders in football period, his tasks don’t often suit this particular role. The Frenchman usually fulfills the role described by some of “midfield destroyer“, or what some have affectionately titled “The Makelele Role“. The same can be said of players like Wilfred Ndidi or of Fred.
Best central midfielders of all time who played as box-to-box role
The history of football includes plenty of star players who played in a box-to-box midfielder role. As previously mentioned, this owes a lot to the preferred 4-4-2 formation. In this, one central midfielder was usually tasked with tirelessly covering both attack and defensive duties. The other midfielder was, usually, used in a classic number 10 role, and given more tactical freedom.
Some of the best box-to-box midfielders ever include:
Steven Gerrard – Liverpool
The box-to-box role is often associated with a high degree of responsibility. It’s no wonder then, that many of the best players in this role, ended up captaining their sides. Steven Gerrard was one of Liverpool’s most famous captains and one of their most lauded players. Was Gerrard a box to box midfielder? Gerrard loved to take do the difficult work for his team. He, also, had a repertoire of skills that allowed him to play out wide, centrally, or between the lines. He is best remembered though as a player capable of making challenges and then using possession to set up his teammates for scoring chances.
Frank Lampard – Chelsea
Frank Lampard, in many ways, mirrored Steven Gerrard’s style. They were both part of what was dubbed England’s Golder Generation. And, oftentimes, managers struggled to find room for both to start. Similar to Gerrard, Lampard was blessed with great passing and shooting skill. He complimented all of these with a great work rate. At Chelsea, Lampard often played alongside a ball-winning midfielder that would quickly recycle the ball towards him. Lampard is, perhaps, one of the most efficient players offensively-minded players to have had this role. In his career, he managed to score nearly 200 goals in total.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munchen
At his best, Bastian Schweinsteiger was one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world. Primarily a defensive minded midfielder, Schweinsteiger won almost all team accolades with Bayern Munchen and Germany. In his heyday, the player appeared to be everywhere on the pitch at once. The midfielder was excellent in winning back possession. He also had a tremendous work rate and tactical intelligence shifting to central defense, or on the wings to offer support. His technique was also excellent, capable of picking great passes or shooting from range.
Roy Keane – Manchester United
There have been debates over Roy Keane‘s best role during his career as a player. His most famous manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, however, is clear about his intention in utilizing Keane. “Roy has always been a box-to-box player. He depended on running ability and power. He is obviously a tremendous player in terms of passing the ball and tackles, he is good in the air, quick to see things and read the game – but you cannot keep on doing that,” Ferguson said of his captain.
Roy Keane was one of the most successful players of the Premier League era. He was known for his aggressiveness, as well as his great technical ability. His determination brought the best out in his teammates, but would also, often, get him into trouble. Some might argue that Manchester United has struggled to find a suitable replacement ever since his departure from the club.
Patrick Vieira – Arsenal
Patrick Vieira was a player possessing similar attributes to Roy Keane and one of his greatest rivals. The Frenchman was a silent leader, providing consistency and discipline for the teams in which he played. Vieira was a master of balancing between defensive duties and attacking responsibilities. He was an integral part of what some argue was the best Arsenal and France sides of all time. And, the moment he was no longer a member of those squads, his absence was felt immediately.
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