In the last 50 years, we have been graced with some of the most talented soccer players of our time, many of whom held the position of a midfielder in the beautiful game.
The likes of Xavi, Zidane, and Iniesta who stand amongst the likes of the celebrated Maradona all made their names playing and dominating that midfield role.
Be that as it may, the role of a midfielder is not limited to just one job, there are many different dimensions and requirements needed of those who obtain the midfield position.
The general role of a midfielder is to connect the defense and the attack by passing the ball accurately and trying to keep the game as fluid as possible.
They must be confident and strong in keeping possession and have the ability to strive forward to attack and also sprint back to help the defense.
All in all, the midfielder position directs the rhythm of the game and without the midfield, the game would go to madness.
This is just an overview of the role of a midfielder, today we’ll be taking you through a complete guide of the 11 essential roles of a midfielder in soccer.
If you are a midfielder yourself, then this article will be beneficial to help you become and improve your game or if you’re simply here to find out more about what a midfielder does in a game of soccer then you’ll certainly be in the know in no time.
Before we delve into the 11 key roles of a midfielder, you have to understand that there is not just one type of midfielder, but 4. We’ll first cover the 4 different types of midfielders in soccer to help you understand how diverse the role can be.
These midfielders will focus primarily on certain aspects of the game and who will be in charge of trying to control the way of play for whichever type of role they are playing in.
- The Attacking Midfielder
- The Defensive Midfielder
- The Wide Midfielder
- The Central Midfielder
4 Different Types of Midfielders
The Attacking Midfielder (AM)
As you would assume from the name, an attacking midfielder holds more responsibility out of all the other midfielders to go attack the opposition in the hopes of scoring a goal or setting up a goal for someone else.
An AM does not carry as much responsibility to get back and defend their own goal as much as other midfielders and defenders in their team.
However, in a matter of pride and team spirit, AM’s who find themselves losing the ball to the opposition will often retrace back very deep into their own half, tackle opponents, and regain possession again.
The attacking midfield will play slightly further forward than their midfield teammates on the pitch but often sitting behind the more attacking players or the defined striker.
The attacking midfielder will often hold the number 10 shirt and are often the playmakers in the game, the ones who possess the most skill and technical ability to dribble past the defense and create goal-scoring opportunities.
A modern-day attacking midfielder is one of the most creative players on the pitch, they need to be able to unexpectedly pick a good pass to catch the opposition off-guard and also create space for attacking players to run forward onto their through balls.
Often AM’s will have top-level ability and awareness of those around them without having to look up, this permits them to have the intuition to play a pass to let another player through on goal without thinking too much about it.
The attacking mid is often redefined as a second striker for the team, they sit directly behind the number 9 (main striker) and they often have a good partnership and know when to hold the ball up to allow their attacking counterparts to get into a better position or take a shot at goal themselves.
Often teams who lack a decent attacking midfielder struggle to score goals or open up goal-scoring opportunities, whilst those who have an abundance of talented AM’s will find it easy and almost effortless to get on the score sheet.
Famous attacking midfield players include:
- Ronaldinho (Brazil)
- Maradona (Argentina)
- Bobby Charlton (England)
- Johan Cruyff (Holland)
The Defensive Midfielder (DM)
The defensive midfielder is often known as the holding midfielder and they play directly in front of the defensive line and are the furthest back out of all the midfielders.
When the opposing team is in position and on the attack, the defensive midfielder will often drop back deeper to provide extra help in defense to break up play and for their team to regain possession.
Just like an attacking midfielder, a DM must be able to read the game well and anticipate what is coming or could come next. This mastery allows them to close down the opposition by intercepting passes and also putting in important tackles to avoid the opposition from attacking further up the field.
Defensive midfielders are some of the best tacklers on the pitch and can perfectly time a tackle to dispossess the opponent without fouling them.
However, the rate of play can sometimes get away from a DM especially when they’re against top-quality opposition and they often end up being the player who fouls the most and also receives a high number of yellow or red cards in the season.
A poorly timed tackle or a tug back on the shirt of the opposition by a DM will result in a foul or yellow card, but it is something they gladly take on the chin to avoid the other team progressing up the pitch at rapid speed.
DMs need to have a strong work-rate to be able to close down the opposition, force errors upon the other team, and also disrupt the opponent's attacking moves and pass before it reaches the defense.
Famous defensive midfield players include:
- Claude Makelele (France)
- Edgar Davids (Holland)
- N’Golo Kanté (France)
- Patrick Viera (France)
The Wide Midfielder (LM or RM)
The wide midfielder often gets misconstrued with those who hold the right or left-wing position, this is not to get confused as the winger is considered as a forward or at the very least an attacking midfielder.
A wide midfielder should have good passing skills and also be strong at shielding the ball from the opposition. They should be confident in supporting the defensive players but also supply accurate forward passes to the more attacking players whether that be down the touchline or a long pass across the other side of the pitch to a teammate running onto the ball.
A wide midfield player is effectively the wider playmaker with a big passing range. Left and right midfielders (wide) or often played in the 4-4-2 formation where there are two strikers in front of them, two other midfielders in between them, and 4 defenders behind them.
The wide midfielders are often too used to stretching and tire out the opposition, often causing them to run either side of the pitch chasing the ball.
The more central positions will play out to the touchline where the wide midfielder resides which then draws out the opposition’s players and leaves gaps in the middle of the field where the attacking midfielders and forwards can exploit to score goals.
Famous wide midfield players include:
- David Beckham (England)
- Ryan Giggs (Wales)
- Michael Laudrup (Denmark)
- Christian Pulisic (United States)
The modern-day age of soccer is seeing the formation 4-4-2 fade from the game as players in the full-back position are playing more offensively so there is not always the need for a refined wide midfielder.
The wide midfielder is considered to be merged with the role of a winger (attacking midfielder/forward) nowadays and their role is to run quickly up and down the flanks with the ball at their feet to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.
Central Midfielder (CM)
Central midfielders are one of the most hardworking players on the pitch, they play offensively and defensively depending on where the ball is and are always ready for action.
A CM is often the engine behind a team. They can frequently be found in different positions of the pitch and will have good ball distribution to allow other players to more effectively around the field.
Central midfielders are very vocal during games as they can see what is going on around them and give guidance to other players to improve play. CM’s dictate the tempo and speed of a game and often hold onto possession more to slow down the game if the team is rattled from a conceded goal.
They are very strategic and will increase the rate of their passes to speed up the game to get the ball moving better and further up the field towards the opposition's goal. Center midfielders often pop up in little pockets in the field and are constantly moving around to allow other players to look and pass to them.
Famous central midfielders players include:
- Xavi (Spain)
- Iniesta (Spain)
- Luka Modrić (Croatia)
- Kaká (Brazil)
However, there are outliers to these 4 types of midfielders. Some players don’t sit in one particular role and have free roam of the mid to upper part of the pitch.
These are often the most talented players of our time. Barcelona’s Lionel Mess is sometimes considered a striker even though he plays out on the right-wing in an attacking midfield position. Cristiano Ronaldo also plays on the left-wing as an attacking midfielder but has the goalscoring capacity of an out and out striker.
One of the best examples of versatility in the role is Liverpool midfielder James Milner, who over his career has played as a central midfielder, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, on the wing and has done his defensive duties as a fullback.
His preferred position is a central midfielder but his professionalism and ability to adapt to the requirements of these roles epitomizes the caliber of a midfielder.
11 Essential Roles of a Midfielder in Soccer
Linking up the defense and attack
The role of the midfielder is to link up all the players who sit between the defense and attacking, they are essentially the main playmaker. Despite there being 22 soccer players and referring officials on the pitch, there is still loads of space uncovered by people and little pocks to run into to retrieve and pass the ball on.
When a defender is the possession of the ball, they will try to seek out a midfielder to pass the ball onto, this could be a short pass to a defensive midfielder who will carry the ball on or even a long ball up to an attacking midfield who will run onto the ball and hopefully get into a good position.
Once the midfielder has received the ball they will try to get it into an attacking position via either a striker or powering forward themselves and taking a shot from long distance (this will depend on the ability of the player).
As the midfielder is the one primarily moving the ball about the pitch, it allows the defenders and forwards to stay in their necessary positions. If a defender was to dribble forward too far down the field with the ball and lose possession, they could get caught out at the back and leave it open to concede a goal as the defense has lost a person.
The same thing goes for a striker/forward, if they were to sit deeper or come back to look or gain possession of the ball they would not be in the correct positions to secure a goal if the opportunity arises.
Midfielders sometimes go unnoticed in a game as they aren’t the main talisman like a star striker or making game-saving blocks like a goalie or a defender. However, the game would not run as smoothly without them and they make a huge contribution to the success of a team.
Assisting the defenders
The defensive midfielder is mainly responsible for helping the defense if they may ever need it, they are positioned just in front of the defensive line.
However, it is not only the defensive midfielder who can assist with any defending if necessary. The rest of the midfielders, even including the attacking midfielder must help out in defense when their team is under increasing pressure from the opposition.
Defensive midfielders must try and avoid or prevent an attack from the opposition before it gets too close to their own goal. If the opposite team can be dispossessed or outplayed in the middle of the pitch then they’ll have less chance of scoring than if they were right in front of the goal.
A good midfielder will be able to spot trouble or possible forward passes by the opposition to disrupt play and regain possession. They technically act as an extra barrier against the other team’s forward and more attacking players.
You can often see defenders shouting at their defensive midfielders when they’ve failed to close down a team in the middle of the pitch as it means the defense has to try and deal with the attack entirely on their own.
Defenders will sometimes take it upon themselves to drive the ball forward if their team needs an extra push, in this instance the defensive midfielder will step into their position to cover them until they sprint back up to the field.
If a defender gets injured and there is not an adequate substitute to replace them, then the defensive midfielder will normally be the one to move into the line of defense for the rest of the match.
Assist in attack
Attacking midfielders’ main role is to assist most in attack with the strikers. However, anyone of the midfielders can assist in attack if needed or when in the right positions.
The attacking midfielders tend to be the most creative and technical on the pitch, finding pockets to run into away from opposing players and also using their skills to dribble and deceive the other team.
They get into good positions and their aim should be to play the ball through on goal for another player, mainly the strikers. They should always look for positions or passes to increase the likelihood of scoring a goal or opening up a goal-scoring opportunity for someone else.
Midfielders have good communication with the forwards as they play just behind them, you’ll often find strikers and midfielders linking up with little 1-2’s to play the ball through. Midfielders also possess a range of passing skills that should allow them to pass the ball over 50 yards up the pitch to a striker and execute it perfectly.
A midfielder who can also contribute goals themselves is well needed in a team, as the goalscoring role should not rely solely on a striker.
Every player in the team can score a goal if they want to, even the goalkeeper. However, due to the positioning of midfielders, they have a better advantage to score goals than the defense as they are further up the pitch.
As midfielders help out in attack, they may find themselves in on goal or in a good position to take a shot at goal, sometimes it may be better to pass to a more convincing player like a striker who is in a better position but sometimes it can be better to take the shot right there and then. A good midfielder will know when to pass to someone else or to take the shot themselves.
Midfielders across the world hold the record for being the highest goal scorer for either club or country. Frank Lampard scored 211 goals during his time at Chelsea even though he was a central midfielder and not a forward player.
Keeping possession of the ball
Retaining possession of the ball is one of the main responsibilities of a midfield player in soccer.
Being able to keep possession during important periods of the game can help teammates get into better positions to defend or attack and it also means the other team has a less chance of scoring a goal.
Midfields will have the highest possession rate of any player on the pitch during a game. They are also the first person teammates look for to retrieve or pass the ball to. Midfielders should always be working on drills and skills in training to keep possession between them and use their body as a shield without fouling the opposition.
Tiki-taka football is a Spanish style of soccer played by the likes of Barcelona which involves short passes, working the ball through various parts of the pitch, and retaining complete control of the ball.
Passing the ball accurately
As the ball lies mainly in the possession of midfielders throughout the game, it is primarily their focus to pass the ball on, and they should accurately do so.
Midfielders need to pass accurately or their pass could be intercepted by an opposing player. Losing possession in the midfield has negative effects on the defense as they have to pick up the pieces of midfielders’ mistakes. They also need to be able to pass precisely to their forwards who can run into free spaces to get a better shot on goal.
The weight of a pass from a midfielder can sometimes dictate and change a game, a pass that has not been struck hard enough by the boot of the midfielder can result in the ball not getting to their teammate in time and being intercepted by the opposition.
A pass-through on goal to an attacking player that is too heavily weighted can cause the ball to go too far before the player can reach it and often it goes out of play.
Midfielders will often be the ones to carry out the set pieces. This can either be a corner, freekick, throw-in, or a penalty. As they are normally the players with the most accurate passing they assume these duties.
A corner kick can be an absolute gift if you’ve got a talented midfielder to whip the ball in the box in the hopes that it'll find a teammate’s head or boot to grab a goal.
There have been some rare occasions where midfielders have scored directly from the corner flag, one most memorable would be the Michael Bradley goal scored for the US against Panama in an international match.
Freekicks are a great goal scoring opportunity if you’ve got the correct players to take them. Different players take on the responsibility of a freekick depending on its positioning on the pitch and whether they are left or right-footed.
Brazilian Paulista, Ronaldinho, David Beckham have all scored over 60 goals from free-kicks in the time playing as a midfielder.
Any player can take a throw-in, however, the midfielder normally takes this role as they are positioned in between the defense and forwards so they can throw the ball in a good area where possession will be kept and then back into position easier.
More often or not, the striker or forward will be the go-to player to step up to the penalty spot, however, if a midfielder has goal-scoring prowess then they may also be given the opportunity.
The likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who dominated the English Premier League were some of the most iconic midfielders of their time who held the privilege of penalty kicks for their team.
Controlling the game
Like we briefly mentioned in the introduction, the midfielder is often the one who controls the game, this is because they sit in the center of the field and can run in attack and back into defense if needed very quickly.
They also have a clear view of other positions on the field and can communicate well if they want to pass to someone or shout to someone if they need to track-back.
The midfield can control the tempo of the game and can speed up or slow down the game as they see fit. For instance, if they can see that the opposition’s defense is a bit slow, they could increase the pace of passing and catch the other team off-guard to score a goal.
Midfielders have to be good decision-makers and can often be called upon to use their instinct and show strong leadership to control the game and lead the team to victory.
Communicate effectively with everyone
The dugout/touchline in soccer where the coaches and first-team staff stand throughout a game is normally central to the pitch.
So often the midfielder is the nearest person to the coach to receive feedback so they can share with teammates on the pitch.
Centre-back is the most common position for a soccer captain to hold, but the midfielder is the second and it's not hard to see why when their position allows them to communicate with everyone efficiently.
Maintaining high levels of fitness
Being a midfielder in soccer requires you to have high levels of cardiovascular endurance as you are required to run up to 10 miles in every game.
Most soccer players are extremely fit, especially if you play professionally, however, the person who plays in the position of midfield needs to be able to withstand running up and down the pitch constantly.
Soccer players will always be required to take on different roles during the match depending on how the match is going. If the team is losing then the midfield players will be required to play more attacking to try and score a goal, often by having to run with the ball up the field.
If the opposition is constantly on the attack and your team can’t quite compete in quality, then midfield players will be required to sit deeper up the field, chase the ball and try and regain possession to protect the defense.
Things can change in a matter of seconds in soccer and midfielders can be required to have to sprint up and down the pitch in numerous moments of the game.
Many midfielders will try to keep up their cardio by doing extra running or biking at home in their spare time so they can upkeep maximum fitness levels, especially when they are not making the first team.
Being disciplined throughout the game
Midfielders must be disciplined in soccer and they should always know when to maintain their position. Midfielders have the freedom to be the playmaker and move the ball around the pitch, however, if they exploit this freedom and drift too far out of position then it can cause problems for the rest of the team if they are dispossessed.
Midfielders should know when to sprint forward, when to pass to another player to keep team possession, and also chasing down the opposition. Their positioning on the field can make or break a team.
So there you have it, the 11 essential roles of a midfield soccer player that makes them one of, if not the most important player on the pitch. Midfielders have the power to influence a game as wherever the ball passes to after being distributed by the midfield can completely change a game. The role is diverse, dynamic, and not limited to just one responsibility and it takes a true professional to execute the role well.
We hope you enjoyed it regardless if you played soccer or not, and maybe you found out a few things you didn't know before.