The emergence of the pint-sized playmaker

There is absolutely nothing better than seeing a wee-man scuttle his way through the midfield with a fine bit of trickery before releasing the marauding front-man to tuck away with a superb finish. And while it may have been a rarity in the Premiership in seasons past, all of a sudden a crop of the technically brilliant play-makers has emerged to light up England’s top league.

In the past, fans of the fabled ‘number 10’ had to look towards a number of Europe’s major leagues; La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga were where the best of the best plied their trade, not only because of the significance of the respective divisions, but also because of the sheer physicality of the Premiership meant it was difficult for the certain type of player to succeed in England.

Not anymore however, in Italy they are labelled the Trequartista, or ‘three-quarters’, and some of the greats in the role include Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti. In Spain you only to have to look at both Barcelona and Real Madrid, both of which can rely on Andres Iniesta and Mesut Ozil, respectively, to fulfil the role while in Germany, young Mario Gotze, recently linked with Arsenal, has been hogging the headlines with a number of excellent displays that have thrust him into the limelight, winning 12 caps for the German national team despite only being 19-years-old.

Back within the confides of England, three players instantly spring to mind when the term ‘playmaker’ is mentioned; David Silva, Juan Mata and Luka Modric. The trio have all made sustained impacts for their clubs since the season began and it is hardly surprising to see Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, performing so well when the aforementioned three have been part of the starting XI.

Firstly, it is David Silva that falls under the microscope. The light-footed Spaniard has been in scintillating form for City as they sit five points clear of second placed Manchester United at the summit of the Premiership. Having arrived in 2010 for a fee of around £24m from Valencia, it could be argued that the 25-year-old initially struggled to adapt to the rigours of the Premiership.

Looking rather frail when up against some of the leagues hard-hitters, it wouldn’t be long before the Spanish international begun to adapt to the league. Or rather, the league has had to adapt to accommodate Silva. This season has seen the best of the player and there is more to come from him. Plaudits up and down the country have been salivating at his displays, in both the Premiership and the Champions League.

With the capability to drive at defences with his excessive pace, low centre of gravity and terrific dribbling ability, Silva has combined the above attributes with his exceptional vision and keen eye for a back-four splitting pass to turn into one of the league’s better performers. And having already equalled his league goal tally from last season, while contributing two less assists before December, many are expecting Silva to be in with a large shout for PFA Player of the Year.

With that in mind, compatriot Juan Mata is next under the spotlight and, following his summer move from Valencia to Chelsea, looks to have taken to the Premiership like a duck to water. Heavily linked with Arsenal and Tottenham during the transfer window, it was the Blues who stumped up the £23.5m required to bring the 23-year-old to Stamford Bridge.

Similar to Silva, both in a positional sense and style of play, the player of the U-21 European Championships already two league goals and four assists to his name, very impressive considering he has only played nine times for his new club. Often utilised as a winger under Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, his trickery and flair has helped his new club to fifth in the table.

And it is these moments of brilliance that have often helped ease the ever growing pressure on the Portuguese tactician. His performances for the West London side, like Silva, has won him plaudits up and down the country from his peers, pundits and fans alike. Even though positioned out wide, the France born Spanish international wouldn’t look at all out of place in the middle of the park, pulling the strings behind a front-man in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Finally, a player who doesn’t look at all out of place in centre-midfield; Luke Modric. The Croatian moved to White Hart Lane and, like Silva, initially struggled to adjust to the physical aspect of the English league. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger claims he could have signed the 26-year-old before 2008 but turned down the opportunity because he felt Modric didn’t look up to surviving the rigours of the Premiership.

Compared to his performances over the past 18 months, Wenger couldn’t have been further from the truth. Often churning out displays of the highest quality, Modric has been linked with the White Hart Lane exit door countless times, especially over the summer when Chelsea were reported to have lodged a £40m bid in order to secure his services.

Spurs held firm and resisted the temptation to sell and they are certainly reaping the rewards with the North London side currently settled in third spot in the league. His hard work ethic and, despite his fragile appearance, tough-tackling capabilities has enabled Modric to establish himself as one of the league finest centre-midfielders. Also comfortable out wide, although Spurs lose his creative influence when he is shifted out to the right or left, allows for Harry Redknapp to alter his tactics around the diminutive schemer should the need arise.

The three players that look to be shaping the Premier League for the better. Their respective ability, coupled with the slight exterior, could see an influx of similar players making the move to England due to the success of the trio and with it, improving the already exemplary standards of the country’s football top tier.

Ben McAleer

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