Positional Insight: Center Midfielder
Central Midfielders are such a special blend of athlete, with their roles often undefined and constantly evolving in the middle of a game. For example, a striker’s main task is to score goals, obviously. Defenders, must, of course, defend their goal at all costs. But what about Central Midfielders? Are they offensive? Are they defensive? If they move up too far, their defense will be vulnerable to a rapid counter-attack. However, if they stay too far back then the offense will have no legitimate options moving forward.
So, if you haven’t caught on yet, central midfielders need to be skilled on both sides of the ball and have the ability to get up and down the field for a full ninety minutes. There are plenty of soccer drills worth knowing, but it would be a misstep not to mention the simple, inherent importance of endurance and foot skills. Soccer tactics dictate that players must be skilled in tackling, disrupting the opposition, but also have the ability to lead an immediate counter attack.
Over the years, the position has become so nuanced that soccer coaches and managers often split the pair of central midfielders into two types — attacking or defensive. It may seem simple in concept, but it’s actually very difficult in execution. Check out our positional insight on these athletes, learn the traits, and start impressing your coach today!
These players must be able to pass with pinpoint accuracy, shrug off physical attacks, and be able to get shots on target when the opportunity presents itself. Of course, that does not mean these players are not responsible for playing defense, but, in this situation, it may not be their forte or speciality. Which traits do you possess?
(Xavi, Toni Kroos, Andrea Pirlo)
For attacking midfielders, there might not be a more important trait to cultivate. Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, for example, is incredible at cross-pitch passes and through balls. However, that’s just one part of the responsibilities. It’s just as important to be able to piece together long chains of simple passes, full of one and two-touch movements. The best central midfielders are able to control the tempo of the game with their passing, whether it’s forwards, sideways, or backwards. Additionally, they must be able to operate quickly and consistently under pressure and physical tackling threats.
(Kevin De Bruyne, James Rodriguez, Paul Pogba)
Paul Pogba is on the verge of becoming the world’s next household soccer name, even mentioned alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The central midfielder dominates for Juventus on both sides of the ball, but it would be nearly impossible to ignore the strong boots that Pogba possesses. For center midfielders, the ability to keep possession is key, but being able to launch shots from behind the eighteen is an absolutely invaluable trait. Launching (and scoring) difficult shots can change the entire makeup of your team and Pogba is the perfect example of that! Even if you don’t score, it may force the keeper to release a fortuitous rebounds!
Vision + IQ
(Mesut Ozil, Lionel Messi, Christian Eriksen)
The Arsenal midfielder is an absolute treat to watch on the pitch as he silently lurks and picks teams apart each and every game. Ozil’s vision is unparalleled and he often sees passes and movements two or three seconds before they even happen. Of course, Ozil has a bevy of flicks, twists, and no-look passes in his bag of tricks, sneaking the ball into areas that would’ve been impossible if he hadn’t just executed it with ease. The German International is the linchpin of a dangerous Arsenal attack and makes everybody around him better. Having great vision comes with experience, practice, and a disciplined approach to the game and film study.
(David Silva, Luka Modric, Andres Iniesta)
Manchester City’s David Silva is a creative mastermind, undoubtedly. Check out the above video to watch him dribble, weave, and fool any poor defenders in his vicinity. Silva’s coy foot skills allows him to navigate in close-quarters, create space for himself, and effectively move the ball in a reliable fashion. City are so secure in the middle of the park because they know that Silva, along with Yaya Toure, won’t give away cheap turnovers. Possession, as always, is key. It may seem cliche, but the other team cannot score if they don’t have the ball — so Silva’s advanced technical skill is a huge advantage. The next time you think dribbling is overrated, we urge you to watch this video again!
Defensive Midfielders are part of the team’s spine and identity, crucially influencing each game in often a make-or-break fashion. These players must patrol the center of the pitch with fervor and ferocity, but also the intelligent ability to not become reckless. If they opposing team is counter attacking, the onus often falls upon the defensive midfielder to clean it up. These players are typically born-leaders, unafraid to organize their squad, bark orders, and make the nitty-gritty players that others may avoid. Becoming an elite defensive midfielder is not glamorous, but if you possess these traits in your soccer DNA, you’re already well on your way to competing at a higher level.
(Francis Coquelin, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sergio Busquets)
Francis Coquelin has been an absolute revelation for Arsenal since his return from loan thanks to an injury crisis. His intensity, tackling, and interception-ability has galvanized the less physical English team. The thing is, they aren’t particularly reckless tackles, either, they’re smart and intelligent, but they’re also calculated and purposeful. Coquelin’s fierceness and reliability have saved many, many goals for Arsenal and younger athletes should take his approach towards stopping the opposition’s goal-scoring threats!
Winning 50/50 Battles
(Arturo Vidal, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Yaya Toure)
Of course, this comes in the same vein of the aforementioned category, but teams need a defensive midfielder that will consistently win the 50/50 balls. Teams that control the midfielder win the game, more often than not. So for players like Arturo Vidal, his ferocity keeps the ball in Bayern Munich’s possession and, most importantly, away from the other team. 50/50 opportunities like loose balls or goal kicks are great chances to secure an extra chance for you team, so be effective, determined, and willing to do whatever it takes and your team will thank you later. The best to improve these skills during soccer workouts or practice is to give every moment 100% of your focus. If you take practices off, your mind shuts down, making you less likely to react and execution these opportunities when they matter the most.
(Thiago Motta, Daniele de Rosi, Philipp Lahm)
Now, just because Vidal and Coquelin posses great tackle skills, that doesn’t mean they can just come in with reckless abandon. Players, particularly in the defensive midfielder, must be not only adapt tacklers, but incredibly intelligent about when and where they’re going in for the ball. One mistimed tackle could lead to a penalty kick, or yellow and red cards. Perhaps the best at tackling during all the right moments is Germany’s Philipp Lahm. He’s been a staple in the Bayern Munich lineup for years thanks to his clinical and impressively smart way of playing. Watch the above video to see Lahm dominate in a style that is incredibly effective yet not reckless at all.
(Related: Read about playing the number ten role here.)
So there you go! There is no simple formula for being an advanced and skilled central midfielder, so what do you excel at? Are you great at passing? Are you looking to shoot? Or would you rather keep pressure on the opposition and tackle them every time they come near you? All and all, these skills require the athlete to be incredibly focused, disciplined, and ready for whatever the game throws at them. Soccer 101 dictates that the more time you spend practicing at full speed and learning the game, the more you’ll understand potential situations and opportunities when they arise.
If you’re having trouble with any of these skills, consider booking one of our private soccer coaches to help you out. Our talented team will have you playing elite soccer in no time. What are you waiting for?