Thiago, Kalvin Phillips And The Premier League ‘Quarterbacks’ Pulling The Strings

There's a new name for dominant midfield playmakers
13:00, 24 Sep 2020

Thanks for reaching out. You do the math. My bad. Americanisms, you gotta love ‘em.

We’ve all been guilty of letting one or two slip into our everyday chat. But our sporting world has largely been left untouched. Until now. For this is the season of the ‘quarterback’. Yes, that most American of sporting labels has started to be used in our beloved game of soccer (a step too far, sorry!) We’ve noticed commentators, pundits and fans refer to playmakers as ‘quarterbacks’, a new way to describe some of the best who play the beautiful game.

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Initially sceptical, since change can be challenging, we’re actually bang on board with the term now. Period. In American football, the quarterback role is integral. He sits deep and patiently purveys the pitch and options in front of him, before controlling and launching all of the possession and attacks. He is the main conductor of everything in the team and makes them tick. New Liverpool signing Thiago will play the exact same role for Jurgen Klopp this season, if the evidence on show at Stamford Bridge on Sunday is anything to go by.

With a quick scan of the field and a deft swing of the boot, Thiago set the Reds on their way again and again. The Spanish international pulled all of the strings during the 2-0 win over Chelsea and defined the role of a footballing quarterback. Here’s more on Thiago and four other Premier League quarterbacks….

Thiago Alcantara - Liverpool

With great vision, exemplary control and an exquisite range of passing from deep, Thiago dictated play with ease against Chelsea. Signed from Bayern Munich having started his career with Barcelona, everyone knows of the Spain international’s quality and it showed on Sunday.

A half-time substitute, the 29-year-old completed 75 passes, more than any Chelsea player managed in the entire match. It’s the most for any player who has played a half of football since passing data was first recorded at the start of the 2003-04 season.With the fearsome trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino buzzing around upfront and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson marauding down the wings, Thiago picked off passes at will and knitted everything together for a comprehensive and commanding victory.

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Kalvin Phillips - Leeds

Affectionately dubbed The Yorkshire Pirlo by the Leeds faithful, Phillips has been a Premier League player in all but name for a few seasons now. Having helped haul his hometown club back up to the promised land last season after 16 years away, the 24-year-old is everywhere and key to Marcelo Bielsa’s all action set-up. Phillips is a busy and effective midfielder, using his physicality to dominate the centre of the park and he is always in the right place at the right time. Just as importantly, he is always there to pick the right pass too. Snuffing out danger, he snaps into action, wins the ball back and has his head up instantly, ready to get the Leeds machine moving again. Already this season, he has made 145 touches and played 24 forward passes to help his team score seven goals in two games against champions Liverpool and Fulham.

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Kevin De Bruyne - Manchester City

The Belgian playmaker has an incredible 66 Premier League assists to his name and is capable of picking out a team-mate from the tightest, most impossible of angles. Coming deep to spray balls wide or pulling short to ensure City keep a tight grip on the game, he is everywhere. De Bruyne is just two months younger than Thiago and, like the new Liverpool midfielder, will modify his game as he enters the autumn of his career. Following the departure of David Silva after a decade at the Etihad, the City talisman will take on even more responsibility in midfield, being a driving force behind everything Pep Guardiola’s men do, both offensively and defensively. However, his key aim will still be to pick out sublime passes at will.

Ruben Neves - Wolves

The combative, industrious Portuguese boasts a tenacious drive on the ball. Poise and control are what he’s about, and a two-man axis with compatriot Joao Moutinho has seen Nuno Espirito Santo’s side impress in the Premier League. Sitting deep, he hunts for the ball, demands it even. Then, Wolves are on their way again, marching up the pitch thanks to Neves orchestrating.

“He has quality and talent. He practises and there’s a lot of repetition in the movement of the ball. It really helped us to break the game. It put us in a good momentum,” said his manager last year.After thumping home a pearler for Wolves as they won promotion back in 2018, he pointed to his temple in reference to Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography ‘I Think Therefore I Play’ with the Italian an inspiration for Neves during his earlier years. Pirlo isn’t a bad player to base your game on.

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James Rodriguez - Everton

The Toffees have basically played with a cheat in their opening two games such has been Rodriguez’s influence on the game. Adapting to the Premier League with ease following his arrival from Real Madrid, Rodriguez plays further forward than a typical quarterback but is still the man everything goes through at Goodison Park. A focal point on the ball, he has been a constant supply to Everton’s left side, slicing the West Brom defence open with a laser-like through ball to Lucas Digne before lifting an excellent pass in to Richarlison who played in Calvert-Lewin to slide it home.

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“The quality of James makes him play easy,” said manager Carlo Ancelotti. “When he gets space he likes to use his quality on passes and when he has no space and is under pressure he tries to play simple.” None of the passes from James’ left boot are easy, but boy does he make it look oh so simple.