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Why Are Midfielders so Important in Football (Soccer)

Nigel is a football (soccer) fan since his childhood days. He also plays football as a left-back and is a long time fan of Liverpool FC.

A little background

Top Midfielders in 2020

Top Midfielders in 2020

Midfielder as the name presents, is the position of players who play in the middle of the field, right in between defenders at the back and forwards at the front. In today's game, midfielders have different roles, for instance, some midfielders play in a lower position of the midfield, which is called, defensive midfield and their job is to support the defense.

However, it wasn't always like this, in traditional football, midfielders weren't always called midfielders. For instance, in a 2-3-2-3 formation (which was a common scene in the past), midfielders either played as an Inside Forward or a halfback and there were only 2 defenders who played predominantly at the center-most part of the field.

Traditional Football Formation

Traditional football's 2-3-2-3 formation.

Traditional football's 2-3-2-3 formation.

Road to modernity

Eriksen was playing as an attacking midfielder while Tottenham was attacking to create a 4 man midfield.

Eriksen was playing as an attacking midfielder while Tottenham was attacking to create a 4 man midfield.

The proper role of a midfielder wasn't defined until the creation of the 4-4-2 formation in the late 60s, which is pretty much the default formation in most Football teams, as it is the most balanced formation. This is when midfielders start to get roles given to them, which will be covered later in the article.

It was at this time, we started to see central midfielders play in defensive roles or attacking roles and the formation that includes flank players, which are the left and right midfield, who acts as the support to the attacking front and the defensive back.

FUN FACT: Midfielders are normally the fittest players on the field as they typically travel the greatest distance during a match, which can range from 9-12 kilometres in total and holds the most possession on the field.

Roles in a 4-man midfield

LEFT: traditional 4-4-2 RIGHT: Diamond 4-4-2

LEFT: traditional 4-4-2 RIGHT: Diamond 4-4-2

Wide Midfielders

Left & Right Midfielders, as they are known officially, these wide players have a demanding role as they are expected to provide defensive cover for the full-backs and attacking support for the strikers. To cover the full-backs, wingers are tasked to fall back and try to regain the possession of the ball, however, as support to the forwards, wingers need to provide excellent crosses into the opponent's penalty box whilst looking for an available forward.

Central Midfielders

In a traditional 4-4-2 formation with 4 midfielders, there are normally 2 central midfielders, sometimes with 2 different roles. They're tasked to dominate the center of the pitch and they make decisions whether to pass the ball to forwards or defenders. Central defenders are tasked to support the attacking contingent, positioning themselves around the opponent's penalty box to find forwards to pass to or create chances themselves, as they are commonly long-shot specialists.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: In some cases, a 4-4-2 diamond formation is a narrow midfield formation, which utilizes a narrower left and right midfielder closer to the central midfielders, which was, used in England's 1966 FIFA World Cup triumph, infamously known as "Wingless Wonders".

Notable Roles Of a Modern Midfielder

An example of a box-to-box midfielder's movement on the field.

An example of a box-to-box midfielder's movement on the field.

Box-To-Box Midfielder

These are hard working central midfielders who have all round abilities both defensively and attacking. They can track down a defensive box to make tackles, block shots and carry the ball forward to support the attacking play or to score. For instance, in a 4-3-3 balanced formation which normally deploys 1 or 2 Box-To-Box midfielders in which, their role is to either be a "holder" or a "creator". Some of the notable Box-To-Box midfielders in Football History are, Steven Gerrard, Patrick Vieira, Yaya Toure, Roy Keane, Frank Lampard and Jordan Henderson.

Holding Midfielder

Not to be confused with defensive midfielders, a holding midfielder often stays close to a team's defense, however, they move forward with the other central midfielders during an attack, in which, they do not make runs into the penalty area, but support the attack from outside the penalty box. Holding midfielders can either be creators responsible for creative passes or destroyers responsible for tackles and regaining possession, similar to early central midfielders. Some recent notable Holding Midfielders are, Xabi Alonso, Michael Carrick, Fernandinho, Fabinho, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric.


Play-makers can be divided into 2 positions, a Deep-Lying Play-maker or an Advanced Play-maker. Lets start with the Deep-lying Play-maker, where they have a slight similarity with their holding midfielders. Deep-lying Play-makers are holding midfielders who have the ability in creative passes, which they often create complex passes to forwards, making it difficult for the opponent's defense to predict the pass. While the Advanced Play-Maker, makes runs into the penalty area by predicting the opponent's defense and splitting passes to the striker. Advanced Play-makers must posses the ability to pass and dribble. Xabi Alonso may be a notable deep-lying play-maker and Zinedine Zidane is a notable Advanced Play-maker.

Check out a video on Midfielder's Analysis by Understanding Football here!

What are the technical skills needed?


No matter where you play in the midfield, passing determines how your team moves during the match. Accurate passes help to catch opponents out, especially if you're a play-maker (Both Holding & Advanced) and increases the tempo of your team's movement. A "Tiki-taka" or "Gegenpressing" tactic is an example of how accurate and fast passes, win the game.


This is key for a an Advanced play-maker or attacking midfielders as a good skill of dribbling, can help these players move into the penalty area quickly and shutting off opponent defense. This is important for attacking roles, which require the player to move the ball upfront.

Positioning Awareness

A key element on the technical side of being a good midfielder is to make yourself available for passes at all times and sometimes, you can use these positioning opportunities to divert the opponent's defenders to create space for your teammate holding the ball to move forward and then make yourself available for the follow-up pass.

Know your role

As part of awareness, a midfielder needs to be constantly aware of their roles so that they do not divert from the task at hand. A midfielder who moves out too far from their role can cost the opponent to create opportunities past your original position and start an attack.

The Importance Of Midfielders

Fabinho, the holding midfielder for Liverpool FC

Fabinho, the holding midfielder for Liverpool FC

After reading the article, you may understand the works into becoming a midfielder, and that you may have a huge role in how your team moves from back to front or front to back. Sometimes, you don't need to score 100 goals to be important to your team, sometimes you just need to be a good passer, technical player and one who can lead your team to glory.

One recent example of how midfielders can change the team's dynamics, is Liverpool FC's final 10 games winning run, when key players like Fabinho, returned to his original position as a holding midfielder, thus controlling the movement part of the midfield, which Liverpool was lacking throughout the season and the extra touch of class from play-maker, Thiago, with the Box-To-Box skills of Gini Wijnaldum, the midfield became a stronghold, thus, balancing the team's style of play and a key element to Liverpool's season successful claim for a spot in next season's Champions League by finishing 3rd in the Premier League.

© 2021 Nigel Koay Talks Football

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