When Javier Mascherano was at Liverpool he formed part of a truly excellent midfield trio with Xabi Alonso playmaking beside him and Steven Gerrard doing what he does so well a little further ahead. He was quickly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s best unsung heroes.
It was this form that attracted Barcelona to his services in 2010 but his first season was deemed unsuccessful. Struggling to make it into the first team he was also used mostly out of his position in the heart of Barca’s defence. However he looked the part when filling in at that particular role and now he has become a regular centre half for Barcelona and even his national side Argentina have started to deploy him in this position when called upon.
Of course playing centre back in the Barcelona side is completely different to anywhere else in club football. With an influence on being able to play out from the defensive third the implementation of a midfielder in that role makes sense as long as they can do some of the core things necessary for the position.
Firstly Mascherano is a fantastically intelligent reader of the game. Even Xabi Alonso explained his admiration for the Argentines understanding of the game and ability to analyse in every moment of the game.
As good as any player is at reading the game to play at the back one must also be able to do a certain set of skills to a high level to be truly effective. Dispossessing your opponents and winning the ball in the air are two of these core skills.
So looking at all these factors is there any Premier League midfielders who could ever do a Mascherano and slot in at centre-back?
We have all seen Michael Carrick attempt the role with limited success so it is certainly not as easy as Mascherano sometimes makes it look. But having a look at some of the statistics there are certainly some regulars who could achieve the feat.
First contender is Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. The Frenchman has made more tackles in the Premier League than any other player this season and while his tackling success rate sees him lie in sixth place it is his ability to win 62% of aerial duels that helps his cause.
Then there is Geoff Cameron of Stoke City. He has played centre back in the past but has been used mostly as a right back or central midfielder during his time at The Britannia. He has a similar tackling rate to Morgan Schneiderlin but is better in the air; winning 72% of his aerial duels which is the fifth best record in the Premier League.
Believe it or not there is also a good case to make for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. An excellent reader of the game and an intelligent experienced player he is also deceptively good in the air where he ranks higher than Ashley Williams, Winston Reid and Jonas Olsson; regular centre-backs.
Of course this is all based on circumstance and hypothesis but in theory could these players do a Mascherano at the heart of defence?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald