What is a Midfielder in Soccer (Key Role)

Some of the absolute best players I’ve ever played with in soccer have been central midfielders. It makes sense, as midfielders must have a well-rounded arsenal of skills and excellent tactical awareness to succeed. 

But, what exactly is a midfielder in soccer and what does it take to be the best?

Today, we’ll dive deeper into the midfield position reviewing:

  • The responsibilities of a midfielder
  • Different midfield positions
  • Top midfield talent in the sport 

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about midfielders in soccer!

Sam Mewis, right, of United States women's national soccer team passes the ball against Julia Zigiotti Olme of Sweden women's national football team in the third round match of Group F match during the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 in Paris, France
Sam Mewis, right, of the United States women’s national soccer team passes the ball against Julia Zigiotti Olme of Sweden women’s national football team in the third round match of Group F match during the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 in Paris, France

What is the Role of the Midfielder in Soccer?

Midfielders in soccer have a fairly challenging job. In fact, they don’t have just “one” role. 

Overall, the midfielders aim to help with the transitional play. As they sit between the defenders and forwards, they must work heavily on both sides of the ball to defend and attack. 

Some of the key aspects to this role include:

  • Helping stop counter-attacks from the opposition
  • Offering an outlet to defenders who have won the ball 
  • Attacking opponents on the dribble and with penetrating passes
  • Crashing the box for opportunities to finish on the net 
  • Winning 50/50 balls and ball out of the air
  • Serving as a link between defenders and forwards on both offense and defense

To see a truly talented midfielder, check out some of USWNT Rose Lavelle’s skills!

What is One Responsibility of a Midfielder?

  • Protect the defense
  • Organize the team
  • Cover for players out of position
  • Receive the ball from the defense
  • Dribble with slotted passes
  • Penetrating passes to break the lines
  • Long ball/flighted pass
  • Combination play in the midfield/ with the outside players

As you can see, there are several responsibilities of a midfielder. One of the most essential is the ability to deliver balls to the forwards. Midfielders must be able to get open and receive the ball from defenders before working it to the forwards.

There are many different ways the midfielders can get the ball to the forwards. Some ways that midfielders may bring the ball from defenders to the forwards include:

The midfield is the heartbeat of a football team, it’s the centre of the action, so you can’t just do one thing.

Casemiro 

Skills Midfielders Need

  • Dribbling
  • Passing and combination play 
  • Turns 
  • Long/flighted passes
  • 1v1 defending
  • Aerial duels
  • Striking (especially from distance and top-of-the-box)
  • Checking their shoulder, head on a swivel 
  • High level of tactical awareness 
4-4-2 Traditional - Soccer Formation
4-4-2 Traditional – Soccer Formation

Soccer Midfielder FAQ Section

Types of Midfielders 

Attacking Midfielder Role 

One type of midfielder is the attacking midfielder. This is typically the “8” or “10” on the field, playing above the 6 (defensive midfielder). 

While the attacking midfielder will be involved defensively, their primary objective is to fuel the attack. They contribute offensively in several ways. They may take on the opposing team’s defensive midfielder/ defenders, thread balls through to forwards, sprint in the box for late runs, and even score goals. 

Here are some tips for playing this role:

Defensive Midfielder Role 

Another type of midfielder is the defensive midfielder. The “d-mid” is known as the 6, and teams often play with one or two of them. 

The 6 is in front of the central defenders. They are heavily involved in starting the attack and defending against opponents. While the attacking mid usually take more liberty to dribble and roam the field, the 6 must be very aware defensively. 

The defensive mid commonly fights to win balls out of the air, chase down the other team’s attacking mid, and generally help the backline with defending. 

What is the Difference Between a Winger and a Midfielder?

What about a winger? A winger is a player who plays primarily in the width. Depending on the formation, the winger could be a wide mid, outside forward, or outside back. This is why many people do not view a winger as a midfielder even if they are a “wide mid.”

The role of the winger is quite different than an attacking or defending mid. Their main area is the width of the field, where they typically make numerous sprinting efforts. Talented wingers are often very fast, good at 1v1 attacking, and extremely fit. 

Is Midfield a Good Position?

Overall, the midfielder is a good position for players who understand and see the game very well and have well-rounded soccer abilities. 

Every position in soccer has good qualities and challenges. Due to the demand for well-rounded skills and overall fitness, the midfielder is not an ideal position for everyone. 

Still, midfield comes with many great aspects. Midfielders are involved in many parts of the game. They get to contribute defensively and offensively. As a midfielder, you are often in a good position to score or assist, but may not face as much pressure to score like a forward. 

Where is the Weakest Soccer Player?

Teams at all levels may have to play with a weaker player on the field. As a coach, it can be difficult to know where to put a weaker player. 

However, if you must play with a weaker soccer player you should absolutely not place them in the midfield. The midfield is a very challenging position, because of the extreme awareness and demand for comprehensive skills. 

A weaker player will get lost in the midfield, and likely hurt your team both defensively and offensively. The midfield is not a place to “hide” a player who lacks skills or tactical understanding. 

Best Midfielders in Soccer 

Given the challenging demands of this position, it can be hard to find an excellent midfielder. So, who is the best midfielder in the world? Midfield can be a difficult position to analyze.

Midfielders may score goals, but this is not necessarily the best measure of their contribution. There’s a lot to consider when evaluating midfielder players. Still, some players consistently stand out amongst the rest. 

ESPN’s top 50 Female Soccer Players ranking lists American midfielder, Sam Mewis, as not only the top midfielder but as the top player overall. The 28-year-old most recently played for Manchester United and is a key member of the USWNT.

Known as the “Tower of Power” she’s progressed tremendously over the course of her career to become a consistently USWNT starting midfielder. 

According to USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski, she is;

Sam Mewis is a true example of what the USWNT stands for

Vlatko Andonovski via ESPN

As for the best male midfielder, many different experts will hand the title of “best midfielder in the world” to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. He is also a Belgium national team star and is currently ranked as one of the best in the game of soccer. 

De Bruyne has 51 goals and 81 assists in 202 appearances. For the 2019/2020 season, he earned the Premier League player of the season. He’s also a 3x Premier League Champion and was the 2017/2018 and 2019/2020 Playmaker of the year. 

Let’s take a look at some of the all-time great midfielders in men’s soccer:

Best Midfielders of All-Time

NamePositionTeam StatAwards
Kevin De BruyneMidfieldManchester United/ Belgium51 goals, 81 assists in Premier League 2019/2020 Premier League player of the season
Bruno FernandesAttacking MidManchester United/ Portugal78.3% pass success, 18 goals, and 12 assists so far this season2018 and 2019 footballer of the year
Andrea PirloDefensive midAC Milan, Juventus, Italy 58 goals and 94 assists in Serie ASerie A champion, 4x Juventus Champion
Didi (Waldry Pereira)Attacking midFluminense FC , Botafogo FR/ Brazil150 goals in 51 appearances for Fluminense1958 and 1962 World Cup winner, Golden Ball
Lothar MatthausDefensive mid, center backBayern Munich/ Germany 121 goals and 43 assists in 464 Bundesliga gamesMost World Cup appearances before age 25, most capped German player
XaviMidfieldFC Barcelona/ Span58 goals and 129 assists in 5050 La Liga games4x  IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker 
RonaldinhoAttacking mid, wingerPSG, Barcelona/ Brazil70 goals, 50 assists in 145 La Liga appearancesBallon d’Or in 2005, 2x FIFA World Player of the Year
Zinedine ZidaneAttacking midJuventus, Real Madrid122 goals and 130 assists in 633 total appearancesBallon d’Or in 1998
Andreas IniestaMidfield Barcelona/ Spain35 goals and 86 assists in La Liga9x FIFA FIFPro World XI, 6x UEFA Team of the Year
Michel PlatiniMidfield Juventus 68 goals, 11 assists in Serie A3x Ballon d’Or winner
Lionel Messi Player of the Year 2011 running

Is Messi Midfielder?

Messi has played as both an attacking midfielder and a forward. According to an article by Goal.com, Messi believes he is more likely to transition in the midfield as he continues to age. 

A lot of players drop deeper when they move into the later stages of their career, and that’s certainly an option for me, to become an out-and-out midfielder

Messi, via Goal.com

Was Ronaldo Ever a Midfielder?

Currently, Ronaldo is a talented striker (forward). In the past, Ronaldo has played midfielder. He started out in the midfield and wing, originally more of a playmaker than scorer in his youth. 

As Ronaldo developed his finishing, he became a true danger on the attack. For Madrid, he often played on the left wing. He now plays as a forward for Manchester United. Thus far, he’s scored 96 Premier League goals in 220 appearances

dribbling before shot

Conclusion 

Midfield is one of the most challenging positions in soccer, and one of the most crucial. Midfielders play in the center of the pitch, heavily involved in both the attack and defense. 

To succeed as a midfielder, you must have a diverse skillset. You must also be able to read the game quickly and accurately. Overall, this position can be difficult to succeed in, but often showcases some of the most talented players. 

Essential Equipment You Need

20 Pieces of Gear Soccer Players and Coaches Need For Soccer - With Pictures

Playing Soccer FAQ

Is soccer a contact sport?

While tackling with excessive force, charging, and striking opponents are illegal in soccer, players often overstep the boundaries. Although this generally results in appropriate sanctions being awarded, it doesn’t prevent significant contact from occurring.

What do soccer teams do at halftime?

At halftime, soccer teams exit the field. They return to their bench area. For youth teams, they may not have a locker room. However, many college and professional teams do head back to the locker room. 
The break is an opportunity for teams to collect themselves. They may talk about what is going well in the game, and what they need to resolve.

How do I join a soccer team?

Attend trials for schools, teams in your local area. If no trials are due, then contact the coach to see if you can join a practice. Search for local soccer teams and try a few to see if it suits your ability and it also needs to be a place that you would enjoy. Scholarships are also available depending on your age, ability, and location. 

Why does a soccer ball curve?

The angle and speed with which the soccer player’s boot strikes the ball determine how far the ball travels. The ball won’t curve or spin if the player hits it right in the middle with their foot following through in a completely straight line.

What are some injuries players get when playing soccer? 

The most common knee and ankle injuries are mild to severe sprains, strains, and tears. Other less common knee and ankle injuries include dislocations and fractures.

What are some ways to pass a soccer ball?

+ Inside foot: Using the area above and inside of the big toe.
+ Outside foot: This creates a spin on the ball to swerve the ball around players
+ The Laces: A powerful volley can be performed with a straight leg swing.
+ Spin: If the toes get underneath the ball with some force you create a backspin.
+ Back heel: Connect the heel with the ball to reverse play.
+ Header: Often used for clearing and shooting, but can be a creative passing move.
+ Body: Use any part of the body to deflect the ball into the path you desire.

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