Does Kerem Demirbay belong in the Premier League?
For a while, the formula in the Premier League was pretty simple: 4-2-3-1 with a skillful number 10 sitting in the middle of the three, unlocking back lines so the wingers and striker could go for goal and occasionally scoring himself. And the league had its share of great attacking midfielders. But the days of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, and Mesut Ozil pulling the strings are pretty much over, and the league is returning to its roots. The playmakers – even the likes of David Silva – are sitting deeper, opening the door to a different kind of player.
Kerem Demirbay is in many ways a classic 8/10, an aggressive passer who's active on both sides of the midfield line and does his best work on the edge of the final third. He's not an artist of tiki-taka, just a player who knows how to get the ball and move it up the pitch quickly. His smartermap shows that he has a mix of short and long passes from almost everywhere on the pitch:
Demirbay is also excellent in aerial duels in open play by the standards of Bundesliga CMs, another asset in the Premier League, and he's very strong on the ball. His overall attacking output has been outstanding in the Bundesliga:
In terms of attacking, Demirbay hasn't always been able to reach the same heights in European competitions. The tougher opposition might make it tougher for the forwards to get ahead of him and open up passing lanes, as well as requiring him to expend more effort on defending.
Demirbay has generally been quite a forceful defender, actually, though his effort in that department seems to have slackened slightly this season. It helps that Bayer Leverkusen has a strong defensive setup than Hoffenheim did last season. And perhaps Demirbay's being a bit choosier about when he engages with the opposition, since he's still disrupting lots of moves and recovering plenty of balls. He has those actions in common with a couple of notable Premier League midfielders:
The clubs where Joao Moutinho and James Milner play are part of the new wave in the Premier League. Wolves and Liverpool are about fast, efficient attacking rather than tiki-taka passing. Rather than holding possession endlessly to limit the opposition's chances to score, they take their chances quickly and then press hard to win the ball back. Perhaps not by coincidence, Demirbay was a teenager at Dortmund in the middle of Jurgen Klopp's seven-year stint as manager.
These new-wave clubs have the kind of squad where Demirbay could fit in. At age 26, he's been playing his first season in the Champions League, and there's no obvious reason for him to move. But having played for four clubs in the past six seasons, Demirbay might want to keep challenging himself – and get paid a bit more – by coming to England.
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[Photo: Marco Verch]