The 17 Qualities you find in Every Great Defensive Midfielder


17 qualities of every great defensive midfielder in soccer

If you want to improve your game and be the best defensive midfielder you can be then this is the post for you. Or if you are just interested to know what it takes to be a great defensive midfielder keep reading and you’ll soon know.

Firstly, let’s cover a few basics.

What is the role of a defensive midfielder? In soccer, the main role of a defensive midfielder is to break up the flow of play when the opposition has possession of the ball. Their role also involves supporting the defense and being a link between defense and attack when needed.

Why is a defensive midfielder important? A defensive midfielder is so important in a game of soccer because they can dictate the flow of the game. From this position, a top defensive midfielder can completely control the game and is the link between defense and attack.

Now we’ve established what a defensive midfielder does and why their role is so important to a team lets look at those qualities, characteristics and attributes that every defensive midfielder needs.

Qualities of a defensive midfielder

1. Defensive Skills

It almost goes without saying and is written in the job description that a defensive midfielder should have great defensive skills. This is probably the most important factor to play this role. If you can do everything else on this list well but you can’t defend then you’re unlikely to even get a look in for this role on the team.

Being good in defense means a few things. One is knowing how to consistently tackle well. You need to be able to stick your foot in to stop the ball at just the right moment that you don’t foul the other player. And be able to get your head on the ball before the opposition when the ball is coming in the air.

If you want to know how to head the ball well without it hurting then click here to read the article I wrote all about it recently.

You also need to be able to shield the ball when you have it to stop any other players from getting it off you. Losing the ball near your own goal is the last thing you want to happen.

2. Awareness

Having a 360-degree awareness of everything that is going on in the field is a vital part of the role of a defensive midfielder. In fact, I listed it as one of my 4 reasons why soccer is harder than football in this article here.

Now, this may seem impossible, and sure, no one is ever going to know exactly where everyone is and what is going on everywhere around them. But when you observe a great defensive midfielder it almost seems as though they do have this ability.

A huge part of their role is to be able to open up the play as soon as possible whenever they have the ball. The quicker they can work out where they should play the ball, the faster they can turn a defensive position into an attacking one for their team.

A defensive midfielder needs to always be observing what is going on around him or her.

If you’re looking to improve your game in this area then spend the next few games you play intentionally observing everything that’s going on around you. Make it your mission to see as much as you can on the field. The more you do this the more natural it will become.

3. Conditioning/Strength/Stamina

man doing a pull up

Playing in the role of defensive midfielder requires an exceptionally high level of fitness. It has been worked out that some of the highest performing midfielders can run over 7 miles(11km) in one 90 minute period. And research has shown that this includes “up to 1,300 changes in exercise intensity during a 90-minute game”. This is no small feat!

They need to be able to cover the width of the field at all times and always be ready to be where the ball is and stop any attacking players.

To maintain this level of performance throughout a whole season the player needs to follow a strict conditioning regime. This will include –

  1. Regular exercise to maintain and increase a high level of stamina.
  2. Rest to properly recover from the punishing routine they consistently put their body through.
  3. Proper daily nutrition to give their body the fuel they need to operate at its peak
  4. & Hydration to replace all the lost fluid. All these things will contribute to achieving their peak physical fitness that allows them to be the best they can be.

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4. Discipline and positioning

When it comes to playing this role for a soccer team having discipline is key. The team will be relying on you.

This applies to the whole team, not just a defensive midfielder, but for a defensive midfielder, this is especially important. Some teams are set up around this midfielder.

All their plays are designed to go through this player. And as with anything in life, if the key part is missing then the whole machine can fall apart.

If this player does not have a high level of discipline when it comes to keeping their position then they won’t be in the right place when they are needed. They need to be able to resist the temptation of running out of position when it’s not necessary. They need to be there for their team when needed.

To understand more about positions in soccer have a look at this guide I wrote explaining everything you need to know about soccer positions.

5. Superior passing ability and vision

The defensive midfielder is often playing the role of a playmaker for the team as well.

They are responsible for controlling the flow of the game. Moving the ball from side to side, or from front to back as needed.

To move the ball around effectively and efficiently they need to have the ability to pass the ball exactly where they want to pass it. Just kicking the ball in one direction and hoping for the best is not enough!

To know where the ball needs to go they have to have expert vision as well. They have to be able to see where the ball needs to go.

If a defensive midfielder can look up, see where one of their attacking players is going to be before they get there, and then pass the ball to that exact spot, they can be the difference between their team winning or losing a soccer game.

6. Ability to read the game

The ability to read the game means the player has an incredible ability to see and understand what is happening in the game sometimes even before it even happens.

They seem to be able to predict where a player will pass the ball before they even pass it or be able to see where an opposition player will be on the field before they get there.

The better a defensive midfielder is at reading the game, the better they will be at playing their role in the game, and the better their team will be because of it.

7. Tackle well

two men kicking a ball

We mentioned this in passing above but this is worth highlighting on its own as well. The ability to tackle well can be the difference between the opposition getting through to the goal or not.

When tackling another player timing is everything. Go in too soon and the other player will see you coming and potentially change the direction they’re going and run straight past you. Go in too late and you could end up taking out the other player and giving away a free-kick in a dangerous position.

Being able to tackle well takes time and practice. Learning how to time a tackle well and actually doing it can be what sets apart the good from the great defensive midfielders.

The type of tackle that looks most impressive but also needs to be timed to perfection is the slide tackle. If a player can successfully complete a slide tackle they can get their team out of trouble and also look good doing it!

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8. Communicate well

Effective communication on the field of play during a game will allow each player to play much better as part of the team.

Any good team needs to know how to communicate well among themselves. I even listed this as one of my top 21 tips for every soccer player.

They need to understand what they are all thinking, where they are heading, what they are planning to do. Without this, each player could be in their own little world trying to do something that no other player on the field realizes they are trying to do.

And this can only lead to confusion which is never going to end in good teamwork only a mess and an ineffective team.

The defensive midfielder has the advantage in the area of communication in that they are playing right at the center of the team. They are within shouting distance of any other player on the field.

If anyone is going to be able to communicate with the rest of the team it is them. Because of this position and role any good defensive midfielder will spend time outside of games learning how to communicate most effectively with the rest of their team.

9. Stay calm

When the ball is coming your way and you have to make a split-second decision on what to do a defensive midfielder needs to be able to stay calm.

Panicking at this moment or struggling to think straight is going to cause you to make all sorts of mistakes. The player needs to be able to objectively observe the situation and sometimes instinctively decide what he or she is going to do.

Now, remember, being calm isn’t the same as being relaxed. If the midfielder is just relaxed then they won’t be ready to act when needed. They may not be aware of what’s going on, and the game and the opposition players could fly by them before they’ve even realized.

But the skill of being able to stay calm in any highly pressured environment is going to allow the player to operate at their best without being negatively influenced by everything that is going on around them.

10. Maintain a high level of concentration

a woman soccer player in sunlight

Having the mental strength and stamina to stay concentrated on the game you are playing for 90 minutes, or sometimes more can be a struggle unless you have prepared well for it.

In a game of soccer, the game can change suddenly and the players need to be ready to respond straight away.

If a player allows their mind to wander at those times where they are not directly involved in the play then they will be unprepared for the ball suddenly coming their way and they will be behind the rest of the players in working out what they are going to do.

Because of the role the defensive midfielder plays they need to always be concentrating on what is going on in the game around them. Even if the ball is in a different part of the field, they need to be observing and taking in what is happening.

Concentrating at all times will greatly increase the player’s speed of decision making when they are needed to step in.

11. Ability to break up play

The ability to effectively break up the play during a game is another basic, but so important, part of the role of a defensive midfielder.

When the other team is running towards your goal and looking like they could be about to start an attack on your goal the ability to be able to step in and intercept the ball, or somehow disrupt the flow of the other team, can be a game-changing moment. A great defensive midfielder will be able to do this time and time again.

It can frustrate the opposition if they constantly feel that every time they get forward with the ball their attack breaks down because of a high-quality defensive midfielder. And this can lead to the other team making even more mistakes.

Having a player that is highly skilled at breaking up the play can give his or her team an ever-increasing level of optimism as well. And this will give the team not only a greater level of confidence in their abilities as a team but a greater chance of winning the game.

12. Tactical awareness

A defensive midfielder needs to be tactically aware throughout the game of soccer.

Because they have the ball regularly and are often involved in moving the ball around the field and starting attacks they need to know what the expectations are of the team when it comes to the tactics.

Before a game, the coach will often spend time with the defensive midfielder explaining in detail what they want to see the team do in this game. The defensive midfielder will then make sure that the decisions they are making during the game reflect the wishes of the coach and coaching staff.

They also need to be aware of what is happening during the game so that they can adapt well to the ever-changing flow of the game. The defensive midfielder will often dictate how well the tactics for the game play out.

13. Effectively shield the defenders

Part of the role of the defensive midfielder that we haven’t yet talked about is their role in being a shield for the defense.

The defensive midfielder will often stand a little bit further back than the rest of their team so they are closer to the defense. They become the first line of defense. The role is to get to the ball and stop it from even getting as far as the defenders on your team.

You will see defensive midfielders doing this by roaming the width of the field. Making sure they are where they are needed as the ball comes down the field towards them. They will do everything they can to get to the ball first before it reaches any of the defenders behind them.

The defenders still have an essential role to play in any game, and if you are interested, you can check out the 21 qualities of a great defender in this article I wrote here.

14. Confidence in abilities

A defensive midfielder also needs to be confident in their abilities.

They need to have put in all the hours they can give to practicing and training and preparing themselves to be the best they can be when they go out to play the game. This preparation beforehand is what will give them the confidence to know they are performing the best they can at that moment.

The reason that being confident is so important to the role of a defensive midfielder is that it gives them the belief that they can do what they need to do.

If you’ve ever spent time around someone who is struggling to be confident you will have probably observed that they are not very good at making their presence known. A great defensive midfielder needs to let everyone around them know they are there.

They need to dominate the field of play and assert themselves throughout the entire game.

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15. Speed

man in red soccer jersey running with ball

Being a fast player is a significant advantage.

You will be able to get around the field quicker. You’ll be able to run with the ball faster. And you’ll be able to recover from any mistakes quicker.

When training for a game of soccer it is worth spending as much time as you can working on improving your speed.

For a defensive midfielder, this is no different from any other position. The faster a defensive midfielder is the greater their ability to be more effective in their role.

It does have to be said, however, that some of the best defensive midfielders were not actually that fast. They performed their role so well due to their uncanny ability to read the game well and be in the right place at the right time.

But I’m sure all of them would agree that if they could have combined their abilities with even greater speed they would have been able to be even more effective for the team.

This Speed & Agility Training SetOpens in a new tab. on Amazon could be exactly what you need to increase your speed and effectiveness in a soccer game.

16. Effective leadership

Being a great leader during a soccer game can inspire your team to achieve great things.

Because of the role a defensive midfielder plays in orchestrating so much of the way the team plays the other players naturally look to the defensive midfielder to lead them.

If the midfielder is not ready to bear the weight of this kind of responsibility or doesn’t perform this role well it can affect the whole team.

When we talk about leadership we’re not just talking about telling the other players what they should be doing (although this can be an important part of leading). We are also talking about leading by example.

As we just mentioned, the other players will naturally look to the defensive midfielder for leadership. If they can see that player giving their all to the game, putting in the hard yards, keeping going at their absolute best even when things are looking hopeless, then that will inspire the other players to do the same.

17. Willing to sacrifice

Being prepared to sacrifice what may make you look better for the sake of what makes the team work better is an important part of this role.

No one wants to see a selfish player. It looks bad and just frustrates everyone. The role of a defensive midfielder often doesn’t get the attention or glory that some of the other positions in soccer receive.

If a defensive midfielder decides he or she no longer likes this and goes looking for more attention and glory they will probably find they are out of position at the very moment their team needs them to be in their position.

This can lead to poor team unity and potentially the player getting kicked out of the team because they were not willing to do what was required of them.

Although it can seem hard to make the sacrifice at times, the defensive midfielder needs to remember that they are playing as part of a team and if the whole team does well then they will also do well.

If you’re looking to improve your performance and skills click here to check out my post on my Top 10 Soccer Drills

*Check out the next blog post – Everything you need to know about a Corner Kick in Soccer*

Or find out everything there is to know about the number 6 in a soccer team here.

Ben

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Sign up to the yoursoccerhome.com newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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