When a Midfielder is Not Just a Midfielder…

Last week we published a post comparing Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley, Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey and Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph asking the question of whether the later two should have been in the England squad at the expense of the United man. Following the post we received a number of comments, all discussing where Fabian Delph actually plays for Aston Villa. As the point of this blog is to provide valuable information to football enthusiasts all over the world, we decided to look specifically at the roles played by the three players mentioned in our first post.

From the outset it is important to note that when players are ‘assigned’ positions, it is usually for media purposes and does not give the full story. What we mean by this is as follows: look at Dani Alves of Brazil and Barcelona. By position title, he is a right back but in reality he moves up the field in attack just as much as any right sided midfielder. The point is more entrenched when looking at his counterpart on the left side of the field where Jordi Alba is more defensive minded and does not move up the field as much. So both players are classified as defenders but their styles and positions on the actual field could not be more different.

It is for this reason that we have decided to focus our attention on where the players actually spend most of their game time. Let’s start off with Tom Cleverley. Below you will find a heat map based on where he has played this season so far. As can be seen, he is the classic 50/50 midfielder who is involved in all aspects of the game. He does play a more centralized role in the team with no preference for the right or left being apparent.

When looking at Jonjo Shelvey, we can see that he is slightly more attacking minded than Cleverley but also likes to play in a central position with no identifiable preference for either left or right and is also a 50/50 midfielder.

Finally, when looking at Fabian Delph, we found that, as many of our readers pointed out, he spends double the time in defence than Jonjo Shelvey and slightly more than Tom Cleverley. That being said, the bulk of his play is in the same area as the other players. The only noticeable difference, in fact, is that Delph noticeably plays far more on the left side of the field than on the right.

Despite there being subtle differences, there is no doubt that all three players are box to box midfielders by definition and whilst they bring different qualities as players, they have, this season at least, played in similar positions.


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