Through the first 30 minutes of the 2016 MLS All-Star Game, there was an interesting contrast between the midfields of Arsenal and the MLS All-Stars. Andrea Pirlo anchored the setup for MLS, in tandem with Kyle Beckerman and Kaka, while Arsenal chose the strength of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to support Jack Wilshere.
The average age of the duel was 24 for Arsenal and 35 for MLS, but one couldn’t help but be in awe of the play of MLS’s old guard — particularly the sumptuous, metronomic style of Pirlo.
Wilshere and Coquelin are very much symbolic of today’s midfielder — robust in the tackle, able to cover vast areas of ground while prizing the ball from the opposition in the hopes of triggering a lethal counter.
They might be limited in individual brilliance, but they are key components to a collective philosophy. This kind of mentality might breed viewing mediocrity, but, hey, just look at the success of Portugal!
Look at the vigorous application of Leicester City and Atletico Madrid. Is the trend in football actually away from possession-based football? It’s not a new topic. When Juan Roman Riquelme retired, many declared it the beginning of the end for the deep-lying playmaker.
Similar players like Pirlo, Xabi Alonso and Michael Carrick will soon follow. The belief now is that club statistical analysts will use sabermetrics to eliminate the idea of a slow, tackle-shy, long ball specialist in the midfield.
But last night, while Coquelin threw himself into one awful tackle after another and Elneny scurried around like a dung beetle trying to feast on the droppings of Sacha Kljestan and Darlington Nagbe, it was obvious that the 37-year-old Pirlo was still in a different class. He was still the most viable outlet for a moment of magic on the pitch. Wilshere, the perennial hope for Arsenal come July, couldn’t get near him.
That flow. pic.twitter.com/tUH7F4LYvy— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 29, 2016
Pirlo’s considered one of the greatest Italian players of all time, a genius of his generation. So of course Arsenal can’t just reach out in the transfer market and find a midfielder of his quality, but are they really even looking in the right direction?
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