Unlike defenders and strikers, the central midfield position requires a special type of player. This is because he does not have a defined role and needs to be skilled on both sides of the pitch. Additionally, this role changes from time to time and requires the player to play the whole length of the match.
Though this may sound like a simple concept, many people especially young soccer players do not understand the outright role of the center midfielder.
This article will simply explain to you a center midfielder’s role in soccer given the different scenarios where you are required to either play offensively or defensively.
As most of the play will come through the midfield, the central midfielder’s main role is to support all the players on the pitch with exception to the goalkeeper.
When playing a flat 4-4-2 formation, there are two central midfield players needed and they are usually the ‘8s’.
Depending on the type of player, the central midfielder tends towards the 6 or 10 but is often a hybrid of the two positions.
Playing just behind the strikers, central midfielders probably run the most during the match, maybe with the exception of the Wingbacks.
They can switch roles depending on the game situation, that is, pick up the slack when the strikers are not attacking or drop further back to get the ball from the defenders.
Additionally, the central midfielder is required to maintain possession of the ball while playing long and short ball to the outside midfielders and strikers.
In case your team plays without a defensive midfielder, the central midfielders can step in and play both positions.
This however requires effective communication and the player be in a great physical state to play this position effectively.
The center midfielder is often assigned to the playmaker. Their main job is to assist the forwards when the team is making a play as well as get on the defensive when the opposing team has the ball.
To make a great center midfield, you must be a good team player and have the confidence to remain calm so you can make prudent decisions wherever necessary.
Every center midfield would need the following skills to ensure they improve their game and make it happen:
This position may not seem like a lot of work compared to a defensive player or forward but in some aspects it is. The center midfielder has access to just about all the players and therefore has to make snap decisions in no time to distribute the ball intelligently.
This player should be confident to receive the ball and make simple passes under pressure and also has to shield the ball away from the opposing team without making panicked decisions.
To be an excellent center midfielder you should be able to play offensively and defensively depending on what is required of you during the game.
The center midfield is one of the most versatile positions to play in football. This is because they are not attached to other players for anything and can easily switch between a 6 or a 10 as required of the game play.
Ideally, a center midfielder can dribble excellently, shoot goals and make great long and short passes to support either the forwards or defenders.
Center midfielders are often fouled by the opponent’s defenders in an effort to stop them from distributing the ball. This makes this position not only physically demanding, but also gets most of the physical abuse compared to other players.
Seeing as the center midfield’s main role is to make passes, their ball control and possession skills have to be on point.
A good central midfielder should be able to get the ball away from their feet and manage to look up, which makes for a great first touch on the ball.
The center midfielder makes short and simple passes as well as vital interceptions when playing defensively.
To improve your game play, ensure to get as many touches on the ball as possible while working on your ball control movements.
As mentioned earlier, center midfielders make a lot of runs on the field and have to be both offensive and defensive minded.
This requires the player to be in good physical form so as to have the stamina needed to play this position.
The center midfielders shoulder a lot of responsibility as the main link between defenders and forwards while targeting the opponent’s center midfield and gaining possession of the 50/50 balls.
These simple duties take a lot to master and below are a few tips to help you as you get your skills refined and get you fit for any scenario on the soccer pitch:
The center midfielder is always marked by the opponent’s defenders, which means that when you get the ball you will likely be swarmed be defenders quickly. Therefore, you need to be able to dribble, pass or shoot the ball on first touch so you do not give your opponents a chance to get hold of the ball.
You can easily master how to control the ball out of feet by practicing with a partner or against a wall. Make passes to your partner or the wall by hitting the ball back with the inside and instep of your foot from a distance of about 5 yards.
You can practice on juggle type passes that will keep the ball rolling rather than slow it down and bring it to the ground. For example, you can control the ball with your thigh and play back the ball with the inside of your foot. This will obviously depend on your game play but is a great way to control the ball without slowing down the rest of your teammates.
To be a successful, center midfielder, it is crucial that you set the ball for your teammate just right, usually in the space they are running on to.
You should also try to disguise your pass from opposing defenders as much as possible and always be confident on the target you have chosen to send the ball to.
Wall passing is a great way to improve on your passes. Standing 10 to 15 yards from the ball, play it against the wall while hitting with the inside of your foot, ten times on each side.
Ensure to keep the ball out in front of you at a few feet while making simple, precise passes with the same foot.
The goal of a center midfielder is to get as many touches as possible on the ball. This position is always marked by defenders and your team relies on your creativity to create opportunities for yourself. Good center midfielders will find a way to disguise a pass rather than run straight for the ball.
This skill takes a lot to master but is worth it when you have it under your belt.
To improve on your turning, hit a ball extra hard and then turn with it using both your feet. While turning, control the ball with the inside of your foot, use the outside of the foot to control it and then half turn as you send back the ball at an angle with your body already turned.
Additionally, practice three sixty degree passing with your teammates to improve quick one touch passes and work on your juggling, turns and dribble work to ensure you master all ball movements.
To be a great central midfielder, you have to make decisions based on the best play for the team rather than the best pass. You should be able to shoot when the chance arises and you can do this simple drill to enhance your shooting when your opponents think you will pick out a pass.
To make a powerful shot, take shots with both feet and land on the foot you aim the goal with. The longer the distance you shoot from, the harder the kick, and always ensure your knee stays over the ball while keeping it low.
Depending on different game formations, the central midfielder role can easily change from offensive to defensive. The central midfielder helps make an offensive attack and usually only goes up to the opponent side’s eighteen yard box.
Central midfielders often hang just outside the box and therefore collecting a ball at this point is important for the team to either start an aggressive counter attack or shoot on goal if they can.
The central midfield is a versatile position and based on the players’ accuracy, their role could also be to take free kicks and corner kicks. Furthermore, a central midfielder could play the roaming midfielder with free range and limited defensive duties.
It is important to be well articulated with the position you play as well as be in sync with your teammates.
One common mistake central midfielders make is to try to do everything. Whilst this is a physically demanding position and central midfielders can run more than twelve kilometers per game, ensuring you are always at the appropriate place at the right time is crucial.
Ensure not to leave your position open as the opposing team can take advantage of this.
Lastly, be smart about how you use your energy so you do not get tired on the pitch.
Emulating a great player is one of the easiest ways to learn how to play your position well. Look up a player that favors your style of play and master two or three skills you learn from them to ensure you constantly improve your play.
Steven Gerrard who plays for Liverpool FC executes the central midfielder position to perfection. He is a flexible player with great defensive ability and is able to make crucial decisions for his team.
He is great at making passes and can score goals for his team while shooting the ball from outside the box.
Other players who have made the central midfield position fundamental to the success of their teams include: Paul Pogba, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Isco, Tony Kroos, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and many more.
Over the years, roles of players in soccer have slowly changed meaning and a given skill set does not suffice to make you a great player since most roles overlap.
It is important to remember your given role as a center midfielder but also stay focused and disciplined so you are ready for whatever game situation you are in. Your goal as a central midfielder should be to create and act as a main link between the forwards and defenders.
The surest way to ensure you are a great player is by practicing and learning the game during play.
This way, you will understand what is required of you in different case scenarios and how to take advantage of opportunities for the good of your team.
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