Most top clubs compete on multiple fronts, which means squad depth is essential to avoid burnout come May.
The pressure to perform in both Europe and domestically has led to managers being very active in the market — though, of course, this is not a recent trend.
When Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea completed the double in 2009/10, they had a central midfield that contained the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Deco, John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack and a young Nemanja Matic. Real Madrid once had Ronaldo, Raul and Michael Owen all vying for the No. 9 berth.
Of course, more recently, clubs have started to splurge a little more — and here we look at those said teams who have absolutely insane depth in a single position.
Real Madrid’s central midfield
Players: Toni Kroos, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde, Luka Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni, Dani Ceballos
The foundation of Real Madrid’s Champions League success in the modern era has been built around their midfield. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro formed the backbone of a side that claimed five Champions League titles in just eight years. And the club appear desperate to maintain a spine of similar class.
With Casemiro leaving for Man Utd last summer, and Modric and Kroos now a year older, Florentino Perez has flexed his financial might to try and find his future midfield trident. Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni have already been captured from France, while Federico Valverde has exploded onto the scene.
The Galactico-obsessed owner now looks set to sign another midfield sensation, with Jude Bellingham inching ever closer to a Bernabeu switch. That would give Ancelotti some serious central midfield firepower next term, and Madridistas can rest a little easier at the thought of a post-Modric/Kroos world.
Bayern Munich’s right-backs
Players: Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Pavard, Noussair Mazraoui, Josip Stanisic
Having such stacked talent in a single position can often be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a manager has variety to switch up his tactics, while stiff competition may drive up performance levels through fear of being dropped. But, it can often lead to unrest and discord if a player isn’t satisfied with game time.
That is exactly what has happened to Noussair Mazraoui this season. “I feel forgotten. The situation is disappointing. I’m no longer second or third option in my position – but third or fourth,” he told Bild earlier this month. “If the situation stays like this, that’s not what I want. And not what I deserve.”
You can understand the position of Thomas Tuchel, who has to try and find room for Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Pavard and Croatia international Josip Stanisic all in his side. No easy task, particularly when the Bundesliga is far from wrapped up and every point is crucial. Now is certainly not the time for needless rotation.
Man City’s centre-backs
Players: Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Manuel Akanji, John Stones, Nathan Ake
There was a time when Pep Guardiola used to hoard full-backs like Panini stickers, but now he seems to have a new obsession. For a manager so renowned for the devastating attacking style upon which his sides are built around, he certainly doesn’t mess around when it comes to signing defenders.
From the Johan Cruyff school of positional flexibility, Guardiola’s centre-backs are each capable of filling in across numerous roles, as we have seen with John Stones’ recent redeployment as a central defensive midfielder, as well as Nathan Ake at left-back and Manuel Akanji at right-back.
Such versatility across his backline has allowed the City boss to not only keep everyone happy (bar perhaps Aymeric Laporte), but also experiment with various formations and styles. Ever-evolving is Guardiola’s tactical mindset that having five centre-backs of varying styles is no doubt the stuff of dreams for him.
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Chelsea’s left wing
Players: Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount
I don’t think anyone can be shocked to see Chelsea pop up on this list, such has been Todd Boehly’s scattergun approach to transfers this season. The American co-owner has been firing emails and cheques across the continent at free will, and that has led to a traffic jam of talent in numerous positions.
One of those is on the left flank, which perhaps makes the appointment of Graham Potter all the more baffling. Renowned for embracing a wing-back system, the former Brighton boss struggled to transpose his tactics on a bulging squad that had an influx of traditional wingers, not least Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk (signed in January) and Christian Pulisic.
The problems remain evident even now, with Mason Mount also capable of playing on the flank as an inside forward. And the result? You guessed it. Plenty of murmurs about dissatisfaction from some players, with Pulisic even omitted altogether from Frank Lampard’s squad against Arsenal recently.
Major surgery is required this summer for Chelsea.
Barcelona’s central midfield
Players: Sergio Busquets, Gavi, Pedri, Franck Kessie, Frenkie de Jong
Xavi certainly knows how far a world-class midfield can take you. When he was orbiting the turf with Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, he dominated the centre circle and collected European titles aplenty. Lionel Messi was doing a lot of the magic up top, but the Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta trident formed the spine of the side.
Now in the Camp Nou hotseat, Xavi has assembled a talent-laden midfield that offers a range of skill sets. From the anchorman exploits of former teammate Busquets, to the metronomic quality of Frenkie de Jong. Gavi and Pedri offer elegance and tenacity, meanwhile, and Franck Kessie brings energy, robustness and class.
Pick a winning combo, Xavi.
Players: Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez
At one point everyone knew exactly how Jurgen Klopp’s attack would line-up. Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane formed the attacking trio of his Champions League- and Premier League-winning Liverpool side, devastating countless defences who set up knowing exactly how they were going to play.
Unfortunately, though, that triumvirate was split up last summer, and Klopp now has an attack with vast possibilities, not least in the central forward position.
Such is the versatility of his attackers, bar wing-wizard Luis Diaz, who is, in every respect, a traditional wide-man, Klopp has five players who could play through the middle. Firmino, Salah, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez are all capable of playing as No.9s (false or otherwise) and have done so this term.
It’s a good position for a manager to be in, but Klopp must now work out which one suits his tactics best.
Napoli’s deep-lying playmakers
Players: Elif Elmas, Piotr Zielinski, Stanislav Lobotka, Tanguy Ndombele
Luciano Spalletti’s frontline is stacked full of talent, not least goal-fiend Victor Osimhen, the delightfully fleet-footed Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and the explosive Hirving Lozano. But spare a thought for Napoli’s creative midfield. Embracing a 4-3-3, Spalletti’s wonderfully fluid and incisive midfield contains plenty of playmakers who can unlock doors further back and surge forward with quick transitions.
The likes of Elif Elmas, Piotr Zielinski, Stanislav Lobotka and Tanguy Ndombele have all been utilised in his 4-3-3 — usually alongside the more defensively robust, box-to-box exploits of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa — and flourished pulling creative strings, setting the tempo and dictating the play.
Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia have shone in the final third, but the rhythmic tempo-setters and chance creators behind them have allowed them to fully let loose and find space. It’s a wonderful blend of midfield creativity, and Napoli have duly reaped the rewards.