ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to applaud the most eyebrow-raising signing of the summer...
Considering the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal were all looking at central midfielders this summer, it’s something of a surprise to see Esteban Granero turn up at Queens Park Rangers. The Spanish midfielder was surplus to requirements at Real Madrid following the signing of Luka Modric, who does something similar: reliable distribution from the centre of midfield.
But Granero wasn’t completely out of the picture under Jose Mourinho. He started seven times in Madrid’s La Liga success last season and made a further 10 appearances from the bench. Mourinho liked using him as a substitute in big games – he appeared in the crucial 2-1 win at the Nou Camp in April, plus both Copa del Rey semis against Barca, and then in the two Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich – giving Madrid an extra level of control in the centre of the pitch.
So what type of midfielder is Granero? Spain has such a defined footballing identity that it is easy to stereotype their players, but Granero’s game is probably more complex than his compatriot contemporaries. He’s not a pure deep-lying midfielder like Sergio Busquets; he doesn’t specialise in long-range passing like Xabi Alonso; he plays higher up the pitch than Xavi Hernandez, but isn’t the direct threat of Andres Iniesta. He is, of course, not at their level yet either.
Granero’s role is probably somewhere in between all of them – he’s best in conjunction with a holding midfielder behind him, and a true creative player ahead. Granero’s role is to keep things simple; sideways distribution is his main quality. He circulates the ball quickly and intelligently, although generally leaves the incisive balls to other players. Mikel Arteta might be a decent comparison.
Having played in the Champions League for the past couple of seasons, Granero is in evidence on StatsZone's 2011/12 and 2010/11 data, which demonstrates that his passing style remains the same regardless of which area of the pitch he’s in. For example, when Madrid travelled to Ajax having already qualified from their group last season, they played a passive game and sat quite deep. Granero was there in the engine room, winning possession ahead of the back four, then knocking the ball out wide.
The home match against APOEL at the quarter-final stage was completely different. Madrid were in complete control, and played the majority of the game in the opposition half – but Granero’s passing remains methodical rather than inventive. Despite playing 61 passes, the majority close to the penalty box, Granero didn’t create any chances. He instead focuses upon ball retention, although he did have a couple of attempts from long-range.
It’s also worth remembering that in his days at Getafe, Granero first emerged as a wide player in a midfield four – although he wasn’t exactly a mazy dribbler; his role was about drifting inside and keeping the ball.
QPR certainly require better distribution from the centre of the pitch. Mark Hughes’ midfield partnership so far this season has been Samba Diakite and Park Ji-Sung, a combination which seems disjointed without the ball, and not cultured enough with it. Park’s passing in the draw against Norwich last weekend showed how vertical and unreliable it was, while Diakite tended to play backwards passes.
Granero alongside Diakite would make more sense, with Park pushed out wide into the position occupied by Jamie Mackie so far this season. Hughes is a big fan of Mackie, who performed impressively in the second half of last season, but the expensive new signings are likely to be favoured. QPR have already signed Park, Ryan Nelsen, Andy Johnson, Rob Green, Junior Hoilett, Jose Bosingwa and Julio Cesar, but Granero is their most astute purchase of a busy transfer window.
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