Within a soccer team, each player has a different role to play. They’ll position themselves on the field in the place they are expected to play in. One of the most important players in any soccer team is the midfielder.
But what does a midfielder actually do?
A midfielder in soccer is a player positioned in the center of the field between the defenders and the forwards. The role of a midfielder is to provide the link between the attack and the defense. They are expected to defend as well as attack and will attempt to control and dictate the tempo of the game.
Although this is an overview of what a midfielder does, there is a whole lot more that a midfielder can and should do when needed.
I’ve broken down into 11 different areas the roles a midfielder is expected to perform in a game and what they actually do.
Whether you’re here looking to simply learn more about what a midfielder does or you’re actually looking to improve as a midfielder yourself, hopefully, you will find this useful.
But first, before we look at the 11 areas, let’s quickly look at the 4 different types of midfielder.
- The attacking midfielder
- The defensive midfielder
- the wide midfielder
- and the central midfielder
Different types of Midfielder
As the name suggests, an attacking midfielder has more of a responsibility for helping out with the team’s attacks on the opposition than the other midfielders.
The attacking midfielder will often play slightly ahead of the other midfielders but behind the attacking players on the team. They don’t have as much responsibility to go back and defend and will leave that to other members of the midfield and defense.
The freedom from the responsibility of defending allows them to be further up the field of play and nearer the opponent’s goal when they are needed.
The attacking midfielder is often one of the more creative players on the team. They are expected to create opportunities for the forwards. They need to have the vision to see where they need to pass the ball or where another player is about to run before anyone else.
A great attacking midfielder can be the difference between goal-scoring opportunities being created or not during a game.
A defensive midfielder’s primary role is to assist the team in defense. They will be positioned just in front of the defenders and the furthest back of the midfielders.
When the opposition has possession of the ball, the defensive midfielder will drop back to provide extra numbers in the defense. This numerical advantage can help to break up the attack and return possession of the ball back to the midfielders team.
A good defensive midfielder is an expert at reading the game. They can see what is happening and what is likely to happen next. This ability enables them to intercept passes and stifle the opposition’s tactics at will.
A defensive midfielder should also be a good tackler. They will often be in a position where they need to stop an attacking player from advancing any further up the field. For this reason, they should have an acute sense of timing in a tackle and be able to accurately anticipate the other player’s moves.
(If you want to find out more about defensive midfielders, check out this other post I wrote – The 17 Qualities You Find in Every Great Defensive Midfielder)
A wide midfield player is often called a winger. They are based on the outside edge of the team or on the “wings” by the touchline.
The wide midfielders are usually some of the faster players on a team. They run up and down the field, chasing the ball when it’s passed to them and running with the ball at their feet towards the goal as quickly as they can.
They are also expected to have pinpoint accuracy in their crossing ability when crossing or kicking the ball into the other team’s penalty area.
This midfield position is often used to stretch the opponent’s team. If they stay out by the touchline, they will hopefully draw the opposition plays out towards them. This will leave more space in the middle of the field for the attacking midfielders and forwards to exploit as they try to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
In a soccer game, the central midfielder does the hard work for the team, and for this reason, they are often referred to as the engine room of the team. They need to have a high level of stamina and a strong work ethic.
It can sometimes seem as if the central midfielder is everywhere on the field as they follow the play and position themselves where they will be most useful.
The central midfielder is the one who is responsible for dictating the speed of play and the tempo of the game. The rest of the team will often look to this player to be in space and position to receive a pass.
With the ball in their possession, they will then either play the ball quickly to keep the pace of the game up, or they may linger in possession if they feel the game needs to be slowed down.
This requires a strong strategic mind and awareness of what is happening on the field at all times. For this reason, you will often find the central midfielder is also the captain of the team.
Check out my list of the 8 Best Soccer Drills for Midfielders if you want to improve your skills in this area.
The 11 Things a Midfielder Does
1. Link defense and attack
The soccer field covers a large area. Although there are 22 players, plus a referee, on the field, there is still a lot of open space for the players to cover with the ball.
One role of a midfielder is to be the link between the players on the field.
When the ball is with the defense, then the defenders will look to pass to a midfielder who will be positioned a little further up the field than them. The midfielder will then take the ball and look to pass it ahead of them to a striker, transitioning the ball from defense into attack.
This also allows the forwards and defenders to stay in the areas they need to be on the field. If the forwards started drifting backward looking for the ball, then they would not be in the position they need to be when a goal-scoring opportunity arises.
Similarly, if a defender had to come too far up the field to pass the ball to a striker, they could be caught out of position when the opposition next attack.
This is why a midfielder who is effective at linking the defense and attacking can make a huge difference to the success of a team.
2. Assist the defense
In midfield, it is the defensive midfielder who does the majority of assisting the defense. They are positioned nearest the defenders and are primarily focused on that.
However, this doesn’t mean it is only their responsibility. The rest of the midfielders, and also the team, have a responsibility to help out in defense any time they see a need to.
The idea of having a midfield player focused on defense is to prevent an attack before it gets too close to the goal. If the opposition team can be stopped in the middle of the field rather than in front of the goal, there is a much lower chance of them scoring a goal.
A good midfielder will be able to break up and disrupt the other teams’ play whenever they can. They provide an extra shield for the defense and will do their best to make sure the ball doesn’t get past them.
Assisting the defense can also mean stepping in to cover a defender if they are out of position for any reason. The midfielder needs to be aware of where the defenders are and be willing to help them out when needed.
3. Assist in attack
Similar to the previous point, it is the attacking midfielders who are the ones who assist most in attack. But, again, this is not the sole responsibility of the attacking midfielder. It is the responsibility of all the midfielders when they are needed.
An attacking midfielder is expected to do a lot of creative work for the team. They need to be good at finding space on the field between or away from the other players.
When they receive the ball, they should be instantly looking for the other players on their team and aiming to thread a pass through to them that releases them into a goal-scoring opportunity. The majority of their role is to assist in attacks by creating opportunities.
Most attacking midfielders play just behind the forwards on their team. This places them as close as possible to their opponent’s goal. Other midfielders can be just as helpful in attack. Midfielders often have a range of passing and can see a pass from a long way out and execute it to perfection.
The ability to score a goal is also an important way they can assist in an attack.
A midfielder is permitted to score in a game of soccer. They are under the same rules as every other player on the field. As long as they don’t handle the ball or commit any other foul in the process of the ball going over the goal line, then the midfielder will have scored a goal.
Because the aim of a game of soccer is to score more goals than your opponents, having as many goalscorers as possible in the team is an advantage.
Being able to score a goal is an important part of what a midfielder does. Due to their role in assisting in an attack, they will often find themselves in the opponent’s goal area with the ball. and although it is sometimes the right decision to pass the ball at this moment, it is often better to take the opportunity to take a shot at the goal.
Some midfielders, such as Lothar Matthäus and Frank Lampard both scored well over 100 goals each throughout their soccer careers.
5. Keep possession of the ball
Being able to maintain possession of the ball is a quality heavily relied upon by the rest of the team.
The midfielder is in possession of the ball for a large portion of the game. They are often the first players that the rest of the team looks to pass to, and they are the players the rest of the team receives passes from.
When a midfielder receives the ball, they should be able to keep the ball and not allow themselves to be tackled. Using their body as a shield between the ball and the other team’s players is a skill every midfielder needs to master.
It is also important that when they pass the ball, it goes to the player they intended for it to go to.
6. Pass accurately
When soccer was first invented (you can check out my article about the invention of soccer here if you’re interested), the tactics were usually to kick the ball as far as you could up to the other end of the field for the other players on your team to chase. In modern soccer, this is no longer the case.
The game is now a passing-based game, and the midfielders on a team carry the responsibility for the majority of the passing as the ball is in their possession more than another member of the team.
With this amount of passing, it is critically important that they pass as accurately as possible. The last thing a team needs is a midfielder who regularly loses possession of the ball when they try to pass it. This negatively affects the whole team, and that midfielder probably won’t be playing for long!
The ability to pass accurately can release other players on the team to find the space they need to perform their roles in the most effective way they can. This benefits the whole team.
7. Take set-pieces
One role that often falls to a midfielder is the taking of set-pieces.
This can be taking:
- a corner
- a free-kick
- a penalty
- or a throw-in
Because of a midfielder’s ability to pass accurately, they are often the ones given responsibility in these situations. They are trusted to deliver the ball to its intended destination. Usually, the feet or head of another player on their team.
The set-piece that it isn’t as common to see a midfielder taking is a penalty. You usually, although not always, see a striker take this as they are the players with the specialty in shooting and scoring goals.
8. Control the game
Part of the role of a midfielder is to control the game.
Amongst other things, this means setting the tempo of play, carrying out the coach’s tactics for the game, being aware of everything that is going on, and displaying leadership in communication and the way the game is played.
The midfielder has a unique opportunity to set the tempo of the game because they see the ball so regularly. This allows them to decide how quickly or slowly they will pass on the ball.
In some instances, they may decide that their team or tactics would be better served by slowing things down, or sometimes, if they need to score a goal urgently, they may try to keep the ball moving quickly.
This is where being completely aware of the team’s tactics for the game is important. If, for instance, the aim is to play the game at a high pace to pressure the opponents, then the midfielder is in a key position to make sure that happens. Or, if the plan is to draw the opposition defense out, they may play lots of sideways passes instead of passing forward.
This is why it is important that a midfielder shows strong leadership on the field as well. They have to make many decisions throughout the game and need to have the self-confidence and assertiveness to “put their stamp” on the game.
9. Maintain a high level of fitness
The role of a midfielder requires a high level of fitness. Midfielders have been tracked running almost 10 miles in a game!
Being in the middle of the field of play means the midfielder sees a lot of the ball and, therefore needs to keep moving. They will be chasing the ball, running with the ball, covering the defense, and helping out in attack. Sometimes, all within the space of a minute! Being a midfielder means you rarely get a break.
A midfielder has to be able to keep going. Their stamina levels need to be high, and they have to have the mental strength to continue playing in any circumstance.
10. Communicate effectively
Communication is key in a soccer game. Every player needs to know what they are doing and what is expected of them.
The midfielder is in a great position in the middle of the game, the team, and the field. They are central to everything that is happening.
This also means that they are in the best physical position to be able to communicate with everyone else on the field. They are regularly near the strikers, the defenders, and the other midfielders and can talk to them throughout the game.
Because of this, they will often be the players entrusted to communicate the information the coach wants to get across. A midfielder should have great communication skills and keep talking to and encouraging the other players at all times.
11. Maintains position and discipline
Having a strong sense of discipline is vital for what a midfielder does.
Having the option of moving all over the soccer field throughout a game offers great freedom and opportunities but can also create huge problems if this freedom isn’t balanced with good discipline.
When a midfielder decides to chase the ball or another player, they have to be careful they are not drawn too far out of position. They have to know when to leave it to another player and when to go themselves.
A midfielder who is out of position when they are needed can cause problems for the rest of the team. If they leave a gap, someone else may be pulled out of position to cover them, which can cause a domino effect of problems.
A good midfielder knows when to hold their position and when to move away from it.
Why Midfield in Soccer is so Important
As you can hopefully see from this, what a midfielder does in a soccer game is of huge significance.
The midfield is so important because it is central to the team and the game. The ball passes through the midfield hundreds of times in a game, and where it goes from the midfield can change the whole outcome of the game.
To discover why some other positions in soccer are so important as well, click on this link to go to a post I wrote about the significance of the number 10 in soccer. Or click here to go to a post I wrote outlining the 21 qualities of a defender.