The Midfield Maestro Receipe

This Tactical Note is an attempt to determine what it takes for a midfielder to orchestrate his team’s display when retaining possession. We will call a player successfully able to do so a Maestro. 

What’s a midfield “Maestro”?

Dumb to ask but still needs to get a proper definition.

A midfield maestro organizes the team and works as the central piece of possession play situations. A mix of vision, accuracy and dribbles form a perfect Maestro able to control a game’s tempo, breaking the oppositions cadence by reducing it or increasing it to apply pressure. This profile of players is the dream of any manager. A tactically disciplined lad and, more often than not, technically gifted. 

A maestro needs certain caracteristics to do his magic, we’ve summarized it for you in one picture:

1-Vision:

Undoubtedly the most important attribute. The ability to spot a pass comes mostly from the awareness of both teammates and opponents’ positioning. Knowing where the spaces are allows the maestro to visualize the pitch entirely and thus make the right decision.

Let’s analyze a real situation to get a better grasp of how they do it:

In the first 5 seconds, Xavi executes his signature move “Pirouette”. A 360° turn around the ball that allows him to have a look around all sides of the pitch while also getting rid of the pressing on him.

Now that he has a visual of the positioning situation, he can move the ball to the right wing where he spoted space, before making a forward run in the back of the defender. His run offers a solution to Messi in the middle and allow him to switch the play after using Xavi as a support.

If you look closer at this point, once he gives the pass to Messi, Xavi’s first reaction is to look once again around him, walk… And he’s completely free in the final third. A space he had spotted 15 seconds earlier when he first received the ball.

A perfect example of vision where Xavi also showed anticipation, calm and technique.

2-Anticipation and reading of the game:

A midifielder will by default participate both in the attacking and defensive plays. However, it is the offensive style of said midfielder that makes him a “Maestro”, or no. Through the use of his vision and “sixth sense”, the Maestro will anticipate the defensive behavior of the opponent. Once done, making the decision of playing a short pass, launching a through ball or keeping the ball longer becomes easier to make.

3- Creativity and Technique:

The maestro is that guy that always has a solution. He is that key that cracks any lock. So when space is not available, he needs to find his way out of trouble. Be it a dribble in confined space of a pass no one else saw, his creativity will unlock a seemingly lost situation. I could try to explain this for ages but I couldn’t be more meaningful than Sergio Busquets on this video:

4-Calm:

As we just saw in the previous video, being able to execute his moves properly is conditioned by the player’s ability to remain calm and composed. In fact, his calm enables him to optimize his decision making, thus making him a trustworthy element on the team. As a result, he will receive more balls and see himself get more touches than any other player on his team.

Side note:

Before moving on to the playmaking part of this article, it is important to mention that the Maestro profile is not a tactical role used by a manager. We are describing a way to play, a player profile that scouts look for. Managers will use a Maestro differently according to their tactics.

Also, it is not limited to one of the three positions in midfield (defending, central and attacking), a Maestro’s work rate varies from one to another. Busquets for example has high defensive and low attacking work rates as opposed to Pirlo, but they would still both be considered Maestros.

The Playmaking Role

The high number of touches he gets makes him automatically the go-to destination of any player that lost his way and risks losing the ball. In this situation, the opposing defender will most likely try to press harder in order to regain possession; upon receiving the ball the Maestro will have a short period of time to turn the situation into his team’s advantage. A perfect move would then be a change of tempo.

Given that the defender has decided to go to the front, the Maestro will either increase the tempo by playing the ball quickly forward, or hold up/pass back in order to decrease the tempo. In both cases, he will get the advantage over the defender. 

But how is it a win-win anyways?

Holding up the ball or passing back will kill the defender’s will to regain the ball. A decrease in tempo will most likely result in the defender’s attempt being a waste of energy. On the other hand, by playing the ball forward he will make use of the space left empty by the defender at the moment he decided to challenge for the ball (find out more about defending decision making here).

And this is just one of many ways a Maestro controls the game.

While retaining the ball around, what seems like back and forth passes from him to his other teammates is in fact him doing what he does best: setting the tempo.

This exchange of passes allows him to test the defensive block and move the ball while waiting to spot an opportunity. The speed of execution and range of passes is what makes the distincition between a high and low tempo. And when he does it well, it becomes a symphony played in a stadium that becomes a theater of which he is the entertainer, organizer and central piece. The MAESTRO.