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Soccer Midfielder: A Complete Guide

Even those who aren’t fans of soccer probably know one of its midfielders, even if it is only because he married Posh Spice. David Beckham and other midfielders are uniquely placed to have incredible impacts on the game of soccer in individual matches, as well as in the course of the game as a whole. 

Playing midfield is a challenge, and midfielders have a large responsibility within the team. As such, it’s a rewarding position to play, and many of the most famous names in the game have played the position of midfielder at some point in their career.

What is a midfielder? A midfielder is a player who plays between their team’s defenders and forwards, acting as a liaison between offense and defense and helping to control the pace of the game. Some midfielders favor a more defensive role while others play closer to the net and have scoring opportunities.

Field Positioning

Although specific roles of midfielders can change depending on their unique talents, in general, the midfielders play in, well, the middle of the field. This is generally considered to be the area between the two penalty boxes. 

Depending on the formation, midfielders will have different responsibilities. While most formations (like the 4-4-2 in the picture above), play with 2 central midfielders and 2 wingers (left and right midfielders), there are some formations that have a defensive or/and an attacking midfielder. As the name suggests, they got more of a defensive or attacking role in the team.

Additionally, some midfielders play more in a winged position, providing support for the team closer to the sideline.

Soccer positions are not as rigid as positions in other sports, like American football or baseball, and so sometimes roles can overlap, with strikers playing midfield positions and midfielders having more of a striker position.

Players can also change positions throughout the course of a long career, which can be unusual in other sports.

Roles and Responsibilities

Creative Passes

Since a lot of critical plays pass through the midfielders as they occupy the space between the two penalty boxes, it is crucial that the midfielders are able to control the ball, read the field, and make an accurate pass to their teammates. 

This is true for both offense and defense, as a midfielder can both pass the ball up to the strikers or back to defender or the goalie in order to keep their team in possession of the ball.

In fact, deep-lying playmakers are players who specialize in being able to get the ball where they need it to go, often having the strongest passing skills on their team.


Some midfielders are considered attacking midfielders, and they’re quite often presented the opportunity to score for their team. In fact, the Brazilian player Zico (Arthur Antunes Coimbra) was a midfielder who had an immense 476 goals throughout the course of his career.

In the British Premier League, Frank Lampard got 303 balls into the net, and he holds the record for the highest-coring midfielder in the Premier League.

While there are players whose position is forward and focused on scoring goals, attacking midfielders offer great support to these strikers. Most soccer fans would have to agree that having more people on the team who can score, regardless of the title of their position, is better.

Tackling/Playing Defense

On the other side of the pitch, there are players who put up part of their team’s defensive front. In fact, the Italian player and manager Vittorio Pozzo is credited with developing the first official defensive midfielder position, using his metado strategy to increase the number of players committed to defense. 

His two “half-backs” would also then begin the attacking plays after regaining possession of the ball.

Since the 1930s, a strategy of using midfielders in such a defensive manner has been seen fairly consistently, and having additional support on defense is key to putting a winning team together. Commentators may still refer to these defensive-minded players as half-backs.

Midfielders who play a more defensive role can, however, keep a game from becoming too defensive and dull. Midfielders who favor defense still tend to have incredible ball-handling skills and can create plays and opportunities on goal.

They’re also critical to the other midfielders pushing forward, as the team may be more aggressive if they know that they have an additional player on defense to help out if a risky play goes wrong.

Occasional Responsibilities

  • Set Pieces

Being able to capitalize on a set piece is crucial for teams to succeed in the long run, and it is often midfielders who play key roles in these plays. Sometimes a midfielder will kick the ball on a free or corner kick, or they may be responsible for receiving the kick and placing it into the net.

Players looking to excel at the midfield position, no matter if they specialize in attacking or defending midfielders, should practice their set pieces.

  • Take Penalty Kicks

Since midfielders are known for their ball control and accuracy, they’re often chosen to line up if a game goes into the dreaded realm of penalty kicks.

The ability to stay calm under pressure comes in during a penalty shoot-out more than perhaps any other time in football, and the composure that midfielders cultivate throughout the course of the game often comes in handy in those clutch moments.

Tips For Becoming a Better Midfielder

1. Build Up Your Stamina on The Field

Midfielders need to be able to move, both with the ball and without it. Having the foot skills to dribble and dance around will serve a player very little if they’re gassed in the first few minutes of the game. Since midfielders flow up and down the field, it’s crucial that you have have a strong aerobic base and a high level of cardiovascular fitness.

2. Become An Accurate Passer

Work on passing drills and learn to communicate with your teammates, so that in-game situations flow smoothly. It’s not about just having a powerful leg, but a great midfielder needs to combine power with precision. 

Midfielders also need to know how to make quick, short, simple passes instead of only relying on their power to clear the ball across the field. Having lots of different skills for moving the ball around means the other team won’t be able to always predict the next move the player will make.

3. Play To Both Sides of The Field

Soccer fields are large areas, and you should be able to use the entire field. This skill makes a midfielder a menace to their opponents. 

Don’t always rely on passing to the same side of the field or get in the habit of only passing to whichever side you’re on at the time. Keeping the ball moving around will create more opportunities for your team to score while scattering the defense of your opponent.

4. Study The Game & Your Opponent

One of the most valuable assets a midfielder can have is field awareness. Since the midfield players act as a go-between, knowing what’s going on with the opposing team is a critical skill. 

Midfielders need to be able to be calm under pressure from the opposing team, knowing when to hold the ball and when and where to pass it, as well as being disciplined in their study of their opponents. Your mental acuity is perhaps more of an asset to your game than your physical skill.

Famous Midfielders You Can Learn From

Steven Gerrard

While his Premier League pal Frank Lampard scored more goals than Gerrard, there is no denying that Steven Gerrard was one of the best players in the Premier League.

In his career with Liverpool, Gerrard was known for keeping his cool during high-pressure games and being able to score when the team needed it the most.

On the field, Gerrard was an all-around midfielder, capable of passing, scoring, reading the field, and performing well in those clutch moments.

Andrea Pirlo 

Known as the man who perhaps most embodies a deep-lying playmaker, Pirlo dominated the game with his creativity and passing ability.

The Italian was also reliable on both free kicks and penalty kicks, ranking among the best in the world. He also had a wonderful ability to curl the ball, so perhaps instead of “Bend it Like Beckham,” fans should instead be chanting, “Piegare like Pirlo.”


This Spanish player is renowned for being able to find space on the soccer field. He was so good at finding space that he could have worked for NASA, but not only did he find those open areas, he could keep the ball away from opposing players.

Xavi had a signature feint where he would practically pirouette away from the opposition and keep hold of the ball. One of Barcelona’s best, Xavi was a small player with a big impact on the game. He controlled games so well that he became known as “The Puppet Master.”

Playing as a midfielder requires a lot of strength and skill, and this central position is key to any good soccer team being able to work together. The midfielders link the offense and defense, work hard to keep the ball for their team, and utilize both their physical skills and knowledge of the game to lead their teams to victory.

I listed the greatest midfielders of all time in this post.

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