Why Claudio Marchisio Is World Football's Best Midfield Shuttler
As football becomes more and more specialized, it's impossible to brand someone simply "a forward" in 2013—what type of forward are they? An inside forward, pure striker, trequartista, old-school No. 7 or false-nine?
The same applies to the term "midfielder," which has developed a certifiable number of breeds over the past 20 years.
Thanks to Walter Mazzarri's work on the three-man defence with Napoli in Serie A, the 3-5-2 formation is back with a bang in Italy. The home of defending has perfected it, and with the three-man system comes a need for other roles.
One of those is a midfield shuttler—a vital role in the heart of a three-man central midfield. Claudio Marchisio is the best shuttler in world football, and here's why.
Many 3-5-2 formations have a deep-lying midfielder to anchor the system. That can either be a regista (Andrea Pirlo) or a someone less glamorous but just as important (David Pizarro).
They're not always the most mobile of defenders, and they're often playmakers first, defenders second. They alone cannot orchestrate proceedings (although some do a fine job of trying it), and to move forward as a team you need players with vertical ability alongside them.
This is where the midfield shuttler comes in. Some teams use one, some teams use two, and their job is to run the midfield channels either side of the deep-lying playmaker to drag their team up the field and into attacking positions.
They must be capable with and without the ball, and an endless motor is a key attribute.
It's an important job, and without a functioning shuttler you could be stuck in your own half all game as the opposition hem you in.
Marchisio the king
There are several fine midfield shuttlers in world football, and some will have their favourites and argue their points. Yaya Toure is wonderful but rarely gets played in a pure box-to-box role, while Arturo Vidal—who lines up opposite Marchisio—is also a fine exponent.
But Marchisio has the qualities to usurp all, and perhaps playing for his boyhood club Juventus helps him hit that extra gear.
Antonio Conte plays a 3-5-2 formation with Juve, and starts his "MVP"—Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo—triumvirate whenever humanly possible.
Pirlo acts as the regista, while Marchisio and Vidal act as shuttlers. They maraud the channels on either side of the Italian playmaker, giving him a short option in the pass and occupying markers to stop Pirlo from being overcrowded.
What sets Marchisio apart, however, is his ability going forward and in particular what he does in the wide areas.
He was the subject of a 4-4-2 midfield diamond experiment in which he played on the left side, and this allowed him to hone his instincts when he ventured near the touchline.
His link-up play with left-wing-back Kwadwo Asamoah is top-notch, and he's just as comfortable on the left-hand touchline than in front of his own penalty box.
It's rare you'll find a player so brilliant in so many different locations, and it's rare you'll find a midfielder so calm at finishing inside the opposition's box.
But it's not all about attacking, and as stated, the anchor midfielder in a 3-5-2 is often more of a creator or metronome style player than a Claude Makelele. That means on the counter they're required to tackle, and if they fail, it's all on the defence.
You cannot be a shuttler without a seriously explosive pair of legs and what both Marchisio and Vidal do with regularity, which is cover 90 yards in 11 seconds to get back and help.
An all-round complete player and fan favourite, Marchisio is well on the way to becoming an all-time legend with the Old Lady and rightly so.
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