What does it take to be a midfielder? (Part A)

Playing the midfield on attack and defense: game analysis and practical training suggestions. 

In today's soccer, a flexible, powerful midfield is one of the most important keys to victory. And the midfielder's job is more complex than any other positions-the midfield provides the essential link between attack and defense. So what roles do midfielders fulfill, and what qualities do they need to have? 

Introduction

"The midfield is where the game is decided." This bit of soccer wisdom sums up an important trend in contemporary soccer: Today we see an unusually dense concentration of players in the middle of the field.

There are two factors behind this trend: First, lots of teams forego a second attacker in favor of a "trailing forward" who operates out of the midfield. And second, the sweeper often moves up into the midfield, especially in the attack building phase.

The result of this pile-up of players in the midfield is that both teams cancel each other out. For spectators, this usually means attractive game, as long passes and tense moments in the goal box are becoming more and more rare.

The only effective way to counter this trend is to give players the tools they need to handle even the most challenging situations (increased time and opposition pressure) with creativity and technical skill.

That applies to midfielders above all. However, we should note, first of all, that in modern soccer the prototypical midfielder does not exist. Instead, we have attacking and defensive midfielders, left and right midfielders, insider and outside midfielders, man-markers and playmakers, depending on the playing system and game formation. This variety of midfield positions simply reflects the complexity of the demands (in both attack and defense) these players face.

Therefore, the goal of our study was to determine more precisely what it takes, technically and tactically, to be a central midfielder, based  on the results of qualitative and quantitative game analysis. These results also produced new ideas for realistic, position-specific midfielder training.

The match analysis

In the course of our analysis, we examined all plays involving the ball (both attacking and defensive) from 20 selected matches. These 10 matches included 5 home and 5 away games against opponents who were either weaker or equally strong. In some, the team had to defend a lead, while in others they tried to catch up. 

Our observational procedure for each match  consisted of the following sequence of steps:

  • quantitative observation/recording of all defensive plays involving the ball
  • quantitative observation/recording of all attacking plays involving the ball
  • qualitative observation of attacking and defensive performance.

General results

How often is the central midfielder involved in plays involving the ball? (Please click here for Part B)

How often is the central midfielder involved in 1 v. 1 play? (Please click here for Part B)