The defensive midfielder is the player who brings displeasure to the opposing team by suddenly stopping an attacking move.
Though slightly different in terms of their roles, the holding or defensive mid normally acts as the missing jigsaw piece between the attack and defense units in a soccer team.
Even though most of the accolades get directed to the resolute defenders or ruthless attackers, winning or losing a match often revolves around the invaluable input of this midfielder.
The midfield has a variety of playing positions including the central, playmaker, left/right and defensive midfielders.
He is positioned between the defensive and midfield lines and is able to go back and forth on these roles as needed.
As the name ‘stopper’ suggests, the main role of the defensive midfielder is to stop any play coming through the middle of the pitch.
Additionally, they can also keep possession of the ball through smart one on one defensive play therefore opening up the game for fellow teammates.
Good defensive midfielders should be able to make a calculated pass to initiate their own attack.
When playing the defensive midfielder role, you are expected to carry your team through to the last minute.
Additionally, losing the ball in this position can give the opposing team an advantage through dangerous counter attacks.
In order to execute all the roles mentioned above to finesse, all defensive midfielders require a great skill set and below are some of the most essential ones:
Defensive midfielders should always remember to put their teammates first and have the vision to distribute the ball effectively to the rest of the team. In this position, the player is expected to tackle the ball from the opposing team effortlessly and if need be, with great discipline.
A good defensive midfielder should be attentive on where his teammates are positioned at all times. This way, they can allow the strikers to get forward while maintaining his position without making a play for the goal.
On the rare event that the defensive midfielder has to fill in as a forward, the player should be intelligent and proactive. This will ensure that the decision he makes is the best for the team and his unmanned position will not cause any dangerous counter attacks.
The defensive midfielder plays through the 90 minutes and is responsible for opening up the game to the rest of his teammates by being at the right place at the appropriate time.
Besides being tactically aware of the position of his teammates, he should be able to make short and simple passes for the strikers without slowing the momentum of the game.
The defensive midfielder should be able to control the ball under pressure and anticipate his opponent’s move so as to make efficient and solid passes.
Great ball possession skills are absolutely necessary as losing the ball in this position could lead to a scathing attack from the opposing team.
The defensive midfielder plays the full length of the game including extra time which is physically tasking. To be able to play brilliantly, you have to ensure you are physically fit and can build up stamina to support your team all the way through.
Defensive midfielders always need to react fast in different situations of the game play.
This requires that you have a quick first step and also be able to quickly drag your feet from opposite sides of the field.
The defensive midfield also requires an aggressive player that can anticipate an attack from the opponent’s team and be the first player to offer good, clean tackles to the opponent’s team.
By being an agile player, you cement your role of defensive midfielder by disrupting the opposing team’s attack flow.
Playing the defensive midfielder requires that you keep up with some of the fastest players on the field.
It then follows that the most essential drills for defensive midfielders are made to help with pace to improve your speed of play and stamina.
Here are a few you can start off with:
A great warm up exercise for defensive midfielders teaches you to maintain compact distance between players during the game while keeping movements quick.
An easy example is working in threes with one holding player and markers setting out the midfield shape. The coach then makes passes to one player who passes it back while the other two play defender in sequence.
This teaches players great communication and balanced gameplay no matter what the game situation on the pitch.
Defensive midfielders need to train to make accurate passes and smart, snap decisions on where to send the ball.
For this exercise, you will need a partner and five cones that will act as your imaginary teammates. With your body positioned to the pitch, have the right back pass you a ball placed where at a cone where the right fullback would be. To decide which player to pass the ball to, check your shoulders and then take a set up touch to the player you want to make your pass.
Do a few sets of these then change the starting position of the ball from the fullback to other player positions such as the winger, center midfielder and so on.
Additionally, if you do not have a partner to practice with, use a bench to pass off the ball instead.
When playing the defensive midfielder it is advisable to keep your game play simple. This is because losing a ball in this position can easily lead to a goal for the opposing team.
The best strategy is to creatively pass the ball to your team’s attacking unit so if it is a bad pass you simply fall back to defend without costing your team a goal.
As mentioned earlier, the defensive midfielder is also known as the stopper. This is because he is positioned between the defensive and midfield lines and acts as a security wall in the middle of the pitch.
The defensive midfielder therefore protects outside midfielders by stopping entry passes to the opponent’s forwards and can also cover them when they are playing out of position.
The defensive midfielder acts as a ‘wingman’ for most players in the team as they strive to score a goal.
He can disrupt plays coming through the midfield from the opposing team for example, by breaking tackles as the central midfielders play to pass the ball to the forwards. This requires an attitude of a leader and creative thinking, if you are to play this position effectively.
In general, the defensive midfielder can act both a defensive role and move forward to assist the team’s attack unit. In any situation, it is always advised to spend eighty percent of game time protecting your team’s center backs and the rest of the time, passing the ball forward.
Playing the defensive midfield requires discipline and lots of practice for it to look easy.
A good defensive midfielder will know to pass the ball if faced on by a defender rather than turn into one or make the decision to play forward if possible.
Great examples of defensive midfielders who have made crucial success for their teams in different times include:
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