This episode finally saw a significant breakthrough in the psyche and mentality of the Eastern Tokyo Team. A huge part of the strategy to beat the Brazilian trio and Nagoya lies in the hands of Tsubaki, a player lacking in confidence and one that seems to do little right until this match. I must admit that I fully understand the reason to put Tsubaki in the starting lineup despite a lack of form. However, I cannot understand for the life of me why he is weirdly placed in a central midfield position. The answer is revealed in the last two episodes though.
What is it about him that makes him a central midfielder? Let’s have a good discussion on this.
The typical central midfielder (with offensive tendencies)
I am not going to discuss the holding midfielder, because that will be more of a defensive anchor. The offensive central midfielder usually fits into three molds. One is the passer type like Carrick and Pirlo. They do not really have exceptional physical or dribbling skills to move them away from the hassling midfield battle, but have great vision and passing range to distribute the ball to lightly marked areas in the opposition half. Think of that as the quarterback who needs his players to protect his weak ass.
The other type of central midfielder is a mobile player who is nippy and has a good dribble on him (I consider Deco and Iniesta to be such players). He might not have a great passing range as the passer type, but can break through the middle of the field through technical or physical dribbling, and attracts players to him by veering away off center before distributing it to the flanks or the strikers.
The last type is perhaps the most prized midfielder: The all-action box-to-box midfielder. As literally speaking as I can, they are the most dynamic all-round/complete midfielders, who provide both defensive and attacking prowess. The top players, like Lampard, Gerrard and Essien are such types. Generally clear with the boring explanation so far about the types of central midfielders? Good, let’s talk about Tsubaki.
Tsubaki, the central midfielder
Tsubaki is definitely not a playmaker by any means. This play maker role is played by Gino, also known as the Prince (did he get an animation upgrade or did he look more regal now?). He does not seem to possess the passing range, particularly long passing that is expected of a player in that mold. He does have a decent dribble in him but it is not physically imposing and he doesn’t have that many tricks in his feet to dance past players like Messi, Ronaldo or Eden Hazard.
In all truthfulness, I personally thought that Tsubaki will be best to play in a winger role, where his pace and willingness to run will be useful to stretch the play. However, I finally realize the reason to move him toward the center through the last episodes. It’s his mental attributes. In my opinion, if I have to align him with a real life superstar, he will be the Frank Lampard of ETO. Obviously, he does not have the long range striking prowess of Lampard, but essentially, they are very similar.
How so, you might ask? They both have very good awareness and positioning sense, and despite not having a crazy passing range has good and accurate passing that is useful for the team. They are also good defensive players. You will not see extremely excellent nut-crunching tackles from either two, but they know where to be at the right time in order to cut out a pass or stop a shot. They also know where to be in order to create space in a generally tight midfield area. This is evident from this episode where he appears in the empty space unmarked to leash in the opening goal. Only a player who has great awareness, vision (sadly without the passing range) and positioning sense can do that.
More importantly, he possesses something Lampard doesn’t really have: pace and stamina in abundance. Despite his lack of technical skills, he compensates by being able to reach areas that most central midfielders cannot reach due to his immense pace. That makes him very hard to pick as his acceleration and pace means he can run to pockets of space, creating all sorts of problems for the defense. He’s not really a player you want to deal with. All these combine to make a very compelling argument on why Tsubaki should be a central midfielder, rather than a forward or an inside winger. Do you agree or disagree? Give me your reasons. It will be nice to hear from everyone.