wrong side XI: left mid

this is part X in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Mata

my shortlist for left mid compiles players from all over the world: argentina, wales, belgium, portugal and spain.

At long last… we finally reach the front three of my hypothetical team. It’s been a long time coming, considering that this series was originally intended to wrap up prior to the end of Summer 2011. And while I’ve spent roughly the last 10 months (occasionally) working on this project, debating relatively boring positions, we’ve now crossed the threshold into the so-called “glamour” positions.

Whether you want to call this player a forward, an outside midfielder, or a winger, he’s almost exclusively an attacking player. Sure, my formation defines this position as one of the five in the 4-5-1. But in practice, it’s a position that behaves much more like one of the forward three in a 4-3-3.

In general, I expect these players to attempt to receive the ball high and wide on the touchline. From there, they can do what they like: drive further forward on the flank, cut into the middle, or drive in a cross. In fact, I expect a large majority of my attacks to funnel through the left or right mid’s feet as I would instruct my players to look to the wings as option #1. Defensively, I just want them to high pressure when the ball is near, and track back whenever the other side breaks.

The job of picking this player, as you might expect, isn’t very easy. The primary reason for this is the cornucopia of wide attacking players that I enjoy watching. The second is because many modern wingers are becoming more and more ambidextrous in their wing of preference. But I’ve got a good set of contenders in mind that I doubt many would argue with… jump past the break to see if you would or not.

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wrong side XI: offensive center mid

this is part IX in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

this collection of mighty mites will do battle for the honor of my starting offensive midfield spot.

Off all the positional choices for the wrong side XI series that I compiled since the beginning of the summer, my offensive mid selection has probably fluctuated more than any of the others. Of the five “lucky” men that managed to make this shortlist, all of them have occupied the top spot at least once or twice since I began work on this project. So as you might have guessed, making my final selection has been very, very difficult.

Complicating the issue is that all five of these players has been in phenomenal form over the last 18 months. They’re often one of the first names on their respective club’s teamsheets each match day, and are by far some of the most visible players on the field during those matches. Each is the central creative force for their club, and their play often dictates the fate of the outcome of the matches in which they take part.

Part of me wishes I could just pick them all. Hell, if I were to abandon the game plan I lined out in the first post in this series, and instead replaced it with a system akin to Barcelona’s interchangeable top four, I almost could have.

Unfortunately for no one but me, that’s not how I want to run my imaginary team. so we’ll have to narrow this down to just one midfield wizard… follow my thought process after the jump.

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wrong side XI: defensive center mid

this is part VIII in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

these fine gentleman face off for my defensive midfield starting spot.

You probably thought I had forgotten about these Wrong Side XI posts, didn’t you? Admittedly, I haven’t been cranking out these posts nearly as fast I originally promised. And yet here we are, with summer in the rearview mirror and my summer post series is still dragging on. You can see my excuse on the site’s Facebook page if you’re really interested in hearing the reason for the delay.

Anyway, it’s high time we get back to it, and we’ll do so by narrowing down my selections for defensive midfield. I’m guessing due to the wait I put you all through to get to this point, I you’re probably not interested in a further wait, so let’s dive right into my #5 choice…

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wrong side XI: holding center mid

this is part VII in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

three spaniards, a turk and an italian battle it out for my midfield maestro role.

Since we’ve already talked about the two positions I’ve played for most of my life (wing back and center back), I figured it would be best to start off the midfield lists with the position I always wanted to play growing up: holding central midfield.

Why did I want to be the holding mid? Because that player always seemed to be involved. Whether my team had the ball or not, they looked like they were in the run of play. I jokingly labeled the position “rover” because whoever played there appeared to be allowed to rove the entire pitch. I was always so jealous of that freedom and responsibility.

And though I classified this player as a “defensive” central midfielder in my initial post in this series, it’s important to note that the holding center mid is at times a very offensively minded player. Ignoring his defensive responsibilities for the moment, this player’s sole purpose on the pitch is the crucial role of linking the play between the forwards and the defenders. Of course this means that he must be extremely strong in possession as well as a tactically adept passer.

And to be completely honest, in the system I’ve chosen to implement in this team, this player is much more of an offensive player than a defensive.

But the defense role isn’t to be completely ignored with this position, and I’ve left offensively solid holding mids off this list because they’re defensive skills are lacking (Joey Barton or Jack Wilshire for example). Clogging up the passing lanes and stifling counterattacks before they start in the offensive third are typical tasks that this player will be assigned.

So who’s good enough going both directions to lay claim to this spot? Read on…

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wrong side XI: center back

this is part VI in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

gerard pique, ledley king, neven subotic, nemanja vidic, and giorgio chiellini

one of these big men will anchor my defensive line.

After what’s seemed like about ten years, I figured it might be worth getting back to making my picks for my wrong side of the pond XI. It’s been at least a month since my last post in this series, which didn’t seem that horrible until I remembered that I was trying to make this a weekly ritual. So it’s without saying that it’s time to get back on track… no promises of increased frequency quite yet though.

Diving in to the task at hand, let’s pick back up by selecting the last of the defenders in my starting line up: the other centerback. Unlike his libero counterpart from the last post, this centerback tends to be the defensive linchpin of his side. Rarely straying from his back line, he’s the rock on which the rest of the team is built. In most cases, he’s like a general that leads by example.

And it’s those qualities that make this pick such an important one. A player without the adequate skill, intelligence, conviction or personality can cause the rest of the team to crumble around him, like removing a keystone from an arch. Witness Arsenal, a side rich with attacking talent, but unable to scale the highest heights because they lack the strong presence in the heart of defense. Conversely, part of the reason that Manchester United and Chelsea have had such success over the half decade is due to the strong leadership that comes from their primary centerback (Rio and Terry respectively). It’s hardly surprising to see this player wearing the armband for most sides.

So who’s the man I chose to lead my team from the back? Read on…

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wrong side XI: center back (libero)

this is part V in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

david luiz, per mertesacker, thiago silva, daniel agger and thomas vermaelen

the libero: the defenders who can't quite give up their aspirations to be offensive stars.

Once upon a time, in between stints of playing in my favored left back spot, I often took up residence as a centerback. I was never particularly fond of it, much because playing the position made me feel like i had a leash around my neck that was tied to the penalty box. But as often as possible, I would break my invisible chain and make forays into the attack. Much to the chagrin of my coach, of course.

And though I didn’t know it at the time, the style with which I played the position actually had a name: libero. When I first learned that factoid, the defensive volleyball position of the same name came to mind. And for those familiar with both sports, it’s a perfect description for this type of player: a player who defense starts the offense. However, let’s also keep in mind what I wrote in the first post about this position:

“the more offensive oriented back will be free to occasionally make a run into the attack”

Generally though, these occasional flights into the offensive half should coincide with the launch of counter attacks. That’s not to say that the libero can’t join in an offensive passing movement from time to time, but his primary concern regardless of how the attack is flowing is to make sure if he goes forward that someone is stepping in to plug his hole (quit laughing).

Defensively, the role of the libero and the normal center back is practically indistinguishable. Organize the defense, keep an eye on the striker(s) and prevent the other team from scoring. Simple as pie, right?

Surprisingly, what I came to find when it was time to decide who would be considered for my libero spot, is that there really aren’t that many players that are solely classified as liberos. Everyone is just classified as center backs, center halves, or sweepers. Ultimately, that means that I have the freedom to go out and choose whomever I want, because no one is really classified as one.

So who did I classify as a libero? Read on my friends…

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wrong side XI: right back

this is part IV in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

best XI right back: rafael, sergio ramos, dani alves, maicon and lahm

rafael, sergio ramos, dani alves, maicon and lahm do battle for my starting right back slot.

Welcome back to the very exciting selection of my imaginary team! In today’s part IV of the wrong side XI series, we’ll be picking the back on right flank.

If you read my last post, you got to hear all about my love for my favorite position, left back. And though today’s position is essentially the exact same position, my afinity for it is not near as high. Maybe it’s because I’m left footed, maybe it’s because I rarely played there growing up (though as i’ve played it more, I do enjoy getting to cut inside to my left). But I just don’t feel the same way that I do about right back as I do with it’s left sided counterpart.

Regardless, picking a right back wasn’t actually a very difficult task. Strategically, I’m looking for the same type of player that would play on the left. He will need to be an attacking style wing back, who will get forward and provide offensive support and service, as well as being able to shut down the other team’s offensive threats. So, lucky me, there’s no need to go into specifics again.

So perhaps we should get into it, right? And just as a preliminary F.Y.I.: Alan Hutton will definitively not be allowed within 30 feet of this list.

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wrong side XI: left back

this is part III in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

benoit assou-ekotto of tottenham, patrice evra of manchester united, marcelo of real madrid, ashley cole of chelsea, gareth bale of tottenham

which one of these fine defenders will receive the honor of making my squad?

Regardless of whether you want to call the spot a left “wingback”, “full back”, or the rarely-used-on-this-side-of-the-pond “outside half”, I love this position more than any other.

Of course, that may have less to do with my mastery of the position, but more to do with the old adage of “put your worst player at the place they’re least likely to hurt you.” (I might have just fabricated that adage, but it seems like something my youth team coaches would have done.)

Whatever the reason, left back is by and far away my favorite position to play on the field. A big portion of why I even chose the 4-5-1 as my formation for this imaginary team is to allow the backs to play as I like to play, getting into the attack down the wings. The choice to go with two defensive center mids instead of just one gives them even more freedom to move forward, as a the extra man in the midfield can always provide quick cover.

So as you might expect, the players that I considered for this spot must have a good attacking acumen, particularly with taking on players and being able to serve a good ball in from the flank. But let’s not ignore the fact that this is a defensive position, and that it’s primary responsibility is still to neutralize the opponents attacking threats down the wings. In short, this player must be able to attack and defend at a world class level. Slouches need not apply.

So who was considered and who made the grade?

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wrong side XI: goalkeeper

this is part II in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

reina, casillas, hart, lloris and howard all make my shortlist.

There was a position that I didn’t address in my first post, but let’s be honest… it’s the only position on the pitch that is never really affected by formation changes. I’m talking about the man at the back guarding the sticks: the goalkeeper.

When I first started the project of picking my first XI, I thought that picking a goalkeeper would be one of the hardest spots in my line up to fill.  It’s not like picking for your marking backs, where if you like two players about the same, you can pretty much start them both. After all, only one keeper plays at a time.

On top of the difficult task of selecting a single man to fill this spot, you also have to be cognizant of the reliability and mental strength of the player you end up selecting. Keepers face monumental amounts of pressure, often facing complete blame for conceded goals that should rightly be blamed on the poor defending in front of them. And while everyone makes mistakes from time to time (england will forgive you, Robert Green), your goalie should be able to bounce back from his mistakes and learn from them.

So who makes the cut? Listed below are the candidates that i considered to fill my number one.

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wrong side XI

A fellow fan of the beautiful game and I had a colorful discussion today regarding who we both considered to currently be the best left back in the world. The two of us argued the merits and flaws of this player and that for longer than what our manager at work would have liked, yet we weren’t actually able to anoint one player as the supreme left back on the planet.

if you could pick any team you wanted, who would you pick?

After I got over the shock of not being able to “win” a soccer argument, I came to a realization…. it’s not a bad thing that we weren’t able to name just one.

Instead, I figured out that in order to actually answer a very subjective question such as “who is the best player in this position?”, we must first define a specific formation and system into which this prospective player would be inserted.

For example, it wouldn’t make any sense to place a wingback such as Ashley Cole — known for hiw swashbuckling, long runs into the attack — into a defensively-conservative system like that of Tony Pulis’ Stoke City. Similarly, an extremely skilled player like Robinho plays very well as a striker in the hole in a counter-attacking culture that’s prevalent in Italy, but didn’t fill the role well in England because he didn’t defend as much as is required by a Premier League midfielder. See what I mean?

And then it struck me: the brainchild of that conversation should be the basis for a new series of posts on wrong side of the pond. Here’s the scenario:

  • I am given the managerial reigns at a super-rich club, such as a Real Madrid or Manchester City.
  • I have an unlimited transfer budget at my disposal for transfers and wages.
  • I am free to pursue whatever transfer targets I like, regardless of price or availability.
  • All players desire to play for my club, and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules don’t exist (though this may be the case anyway, seeing how most teams will still find loopholes).
  • I can choose whatever formation I want, and place the players in it in whatever way I feel fits the system the best.

So with the rules now defined, you’re probably wondering just who I would pick for my starting eleven. And if you’ve asked yourself that, then you totally understand the format for my newest blog series. If you don’t, I’m picking my very own wrong side of the pond XI. Each week, we’ll cover a single position on the pitch, who I would choose, and why. And this week lay the foundation for the weeks to follow by choosing my side’s formation and tactics. Jump past the break to see how I intend to shape my imaginary squad.

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