Playmakers have always existed. They are the players fans pay to see—the skilful, creative geniuses of the attacking third.
As tactics, formations and positions have evolved, these players—once regarded as luxuries—are now vital to breaking down the opposition.
The influence of the playmaker has reached its zenith.
The Premier League’s attacking midfielders, “Trequartistas,” “Enganches” and playmakers are running riot. The league’s strong sides and some of those who have found early-season form have based their playing style around a creative midfielder.
This is a position of great importance. A playmaker acts as the chief creator in the side; a focal point, in charge of setting a tempo and linking together midfield and attack.
It is a highly specialised position and not one that can be played by anyone, hence why they can be the more difficult players to identify, develop or purchase.
They must have expert close control to operate “in the hole” between the opposition’s defensive line and midfield. They should be able to identify space, play the killer pass and dribble past opponents.
Although obviously dependent on other factors, the league table suggests that a quality creative force can equate to league position.
It is no coincidence that seven of the top-10 Premier League clubs have an outstanding creative midfielder integral to their style of play.
The best of these so far this season has undoubtedly been Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard has been instrumental in Chelsea’s excellent start, contributing a goal and seven assists in the Premier League so far, per Who Scored.
Fabregas’ fantastic range of passing allows him to dictate play for a more withdrawn deeper role. He can play piercing through balls from deep positions or break from position to join attacks.
With Nemanja Matic alongside him, Fabregas has licence to probe forward and link up with Chelsea’s array of attacking options.
Chelsea’s main competition in the title race is Manchester City, who also benefit from an outstanding creative source.
City, as ever, channel most of their attacking play through another Spanish midfielder, David Silva. Although Silva has not yet shown his best form, he acts as a beacon in midfield with most forward movement originating from his feet.
Silva has wonderful technique which allows him to operate in tight space in front of the opponent’s defence. He generally begins on the left-hand side, but drifts into gaps and is difficult to mark.
He has contributed two assists and averaged 2.5 key passes per game, according to Who Scored.
In third place behind Chelsea and Manchester City are Southampton. The Saints signed Serbian midfielder Dusan Tadic from FC Twente in the summer transfer window and he has so far proved to be a fantastic acquisition.
Like Silva, he is nominally a left-sided player in Southampton’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with the Saints generally deploying two defensive-minded midfielders in Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, he is afforded room to manoeuvre.
This tactical setup has so far been incredibly rewarding. Tadic has linked up well with centre-forward Graziano Pelle and allowed on-rushing midfielders space to make dangerous late runs into the box.
The 25-year-old, like Fabregas, has picked up one goal and seven assists, with four coming in a single game against Sunderland.
The tactical trend of allowing a creative player free reign can be seen elsewhere in the top half. Both Tottenham and Swansea play a 4-2-3-1 with creative emphasis on attacking midfielders Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson respectively.
Sigurdsson has flourished with a free role as the focal point in a central position. He has been able to vary his play as he pleases and has already provided a goal and six assists in the Premier League.
In contrast, a glance at the bottom half of the table indicates a different style—midfields based on rigidity rather than fluency.
A loss of creative spark can be detrimental. Everton were without Ross Barkley for the opening seven Premier League fixtures this season. They won just one game.
Whilst it was their leaky defence that was mainly at fault they also missed Barkley’s drive and creativity in advanced positions.
Similarly, Newcastle have continually struggled for creativity since Yohan Cabaye departed for PSG in January. Manager Alan Pardew tried to address this problem by signing Ajax’s Siem de Jong, but injury has hampered his involvement.
The Premier League has always been defined by the haves and have-nots. More than ever, the league table shows the true value of a playmaker.