As the game of soccer has become more and more tactical over the last 20 years and with the physical conditioning of players now far superior than before, a number of positions on the soccer field have altered greatly. Today we explore how to be a good right midfielder, taking tips from some of the greats and looking at the skills a modern right midfield player needs to succeed in soccer.
Soccer players can cover more ground, cover it quicker and are expected to do more things than their counterparts from 20 years ago. A prime example of this is the position of right midfield where at one time you either ran up and down the inside right channel of the soccer field to support your team or stayed out by the touchline to provide an option of width.
Nowadays the best right midfield players in soccer can do all of the following:
With so many more soccer teams choosing to play out from the back you will receive the ball into your feet from your defenders much more regularly and need to be aware of your body position getting on the half turn wherever possible to be able to switch play; play forward and get the game moving in the right direction.
With so many more attacking full backs in the game you are likely to be required to drop in as cover on the right side of defence much more often as you're right fullback raids ahead of you. If they turn back inside and want to play backwards to keep possession of the ball you need to provide an easy option for this too.
With specialist holding midfield players usually occupying central areas it places a burden for other midfield players to weigh in with their share of goals. This means you also need to be a threat in the opposition penalty area arriving at the far post for crosses from the left side, striking clearances from first phase attacks for long range goals and flashing across the front post for crosses from your own side are ways in which right side midfield players often score goals.
Providing an option for a deep lying number 10 or an advanced number 9 with his back to goal is crucial to link play and is often the job of the right side midfield player.
The ability to pass the ball is crucial for all right sided midfielders not only keeping possession with neat and tidy passing with your fellow midfield players but also dropping off or ‘setting’ the ball for long passes forward from your defenders.
It is also crucial that you can deliver dangerous balls into the penalty area from anywhere from approximately 40 yards from goal on the right hand side of the pitch. This is where some of the best right midfielders earn their reputation as greats in the game.
The ability to deliver dangerous, goalscoring balls across the face of the opposition goal is a prime skill to have.
Arguably the greatest exponent of the skill in the last 20 years in English football was David Beckham who redefined how to be a great right midfielder. He was renowned for not needing to beat his opponent in order to deliver dangerous balls into the box. He only needed half a yard of space and a split second to get the ball out of his feet, lift his head and deliver.
Check out some of the classic goals he set up for the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid here:
Beckham had every type of cross in his right foot.
Making the right choice about which type of cross to hit was another of Beckham’s great skills. In a split second he could spot which type of cross would be the most difficult to defend and easiest to score from. One ball, one pathway, he had the vision to spot it and the skill to deliver it.
Check out this great drill for teams looking to encourage their right midfielders to deliver more high quality crosses. The focus is on driving down the wing channels and delivering high quality crosses to your strikers.
By having a ‘safe’ channel on the right hand side of the pitch for both teams you offer the opportunity for your right midfielders to practice their delivery.
A right midfielder will often stay on the side of the soccer pitch when their team is building up play providing an easy pass for either a defender or another midfield player. This move allows them to receive the ball in the safest space in the attacking areas of the pitch. Defenders will rarely mark tightly out wide as they become isolated and exposed to players running at them. For this reason some soccer teams favour playing right midfielders who are outstanding dribblers of the ball and can strike fear into opponents by running at them.
Although they will both go down in history as two of the greatest strikers to ever play soccer both Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi started their careers as right midfield players. Both made their early reputations by staying near the touchline to receive the ball and then running at the opposition defence.
Messi was one of the first players to start the trend of attacking players playing on the opposite side to their favoured foot. By having a left footed player on the right touchline Barcelona enjoyed the threat of Messi being able to move the ball inside on his strong foot and manipulate passes through the defence to set up chances for the strikers.
Barcelona also worked on Messi driving inside with the ball, beating defenders and linking with their central strikers or having cross shots and curling shots aimed at the far post.
Likewise, Christiano Ronaldo made his reputation at Sporting Lisbon as an exciting right midfielder with the skills to beat defenders and create chances.
Watch this skills video from when Ronaldo first burst onto the scene at Manchester United. He displays a full range of skills but watch how often, when he receives the ball on the right touchline, he drives inside with the ball committing defenders and setting up chances.
Neither Messi and Ronaldo would class themselves as right midfielders any more but even when they play as central strikers if they find themselves drifting out of the game and struggling for possession of the ball, both of them will use the tactic of finding space on the touchline as a wide right midfield player and drive inside.
In the modern soccer game, it is fashionable for full backs to press high up the pitch and provide width meaning that modern right midfield players often do not stay on the touchline in the way they once did. They often support inside offering an easy pass for a defender to “bounce” the ball out to the other side of the pitch or back to another defender.
Many of the best midfield players can receive the ball on the half turn meaning they can easily take the ball in the opposite direction, play forward or switch play effectively.
In one of the best midfields of all time Barcelona legends Xavi and Iniesta would play on the right and left of midfield on either side of Sergio Busquets. They played a new and exciting brand of soccer which became known as tikka takka. It was a brand for the purists and involved a high number of lightening quick passes through midfield to set up goals.
Xavi and Iniesta played as narrow midfield players, they wouldn’t often go to the touchline to find space, instead they would trust their skills and their teammates to be able to play through tight situations and they would interchange between right and left.
Watch them at their finest in this video.
Notice how they receive they ball with their shoulders open on the half turn so they can find the next pass. Notice too how, contrary to common belief, they played forward as much as possible. They didn’t play soccer to just keep the ball, they played to set up and score goals.
Xavi and Iniesta were both masters at playing in the narrow right midfield channel. If you can provide an option to receive the ball into feet and move the ball quickly to a teammate you can also be an effective right midfielder.
Check this video out for a great drill for passing and moving with interchangeable short and long passes to replicate the quick incisive passing that made Xavi and Iniesta’s Barcelona one of the greatest teams of all time.
In addition to the skills listed here the best right midfielders are in peak physical shape. Several of those who play in the EPL will complete 7.5 – 9.0 miles in every match, the majority of which is at a sustained and intense speed.
Right midfield is not a position where there is a clear advantage to being tall though, none of the great right midfield players we’ve talked about here were especially big, but the ability to cover the ground with intense running is crucial.
If you can marry this physical attribute with the skills of good passing (both short and long), dangerous crossing and incisive running with the ball you can become a great right midfielder.