How to Dominate as a Midfielder in Soccer (Tips and Secrets)
"Games are won or lost in midfield.”
Talk to anyone who knows their soccer, and this will be one of your essential takeaways.
In many ways midfielders in soccer are the heart, brains, and lungs of the team.
They’re the engine that tirelessly drives the team forward. And they’re willing to put their bodies on the line for their teammates, inspiring everyone on the side to greater heights.
Midfielders have many roles to play.
Be it in defence or attack, almost every move goes through them.
They’re the key to a smooth transition from your defense to your forward line, they set the tempo for the team, and are crucial for retaining possession of the ball.
You can imagine the incredible work-rate demanded of them in the average game...
They’re usually the players on the team who travel the greatest distance, take the most touches on the ball, and make the most passes.
And, more often than not, it’s a thankless job.
Who actually remembers the middleman who supplied the pass leading to a goal?
Or the one running around blocking passing routes, making interceptions, or marking key opponents?
It’s usually the goalscorers, last-ditch tacklers, or goalkeepers making wonder saves who are hailed as the heroes of the match.
Make no mistake about it…
A team will quickly collapse without quality play from the midfielders.
6 Traits of a Great Soccer Midfielder
A midfielder must be something of an all-rounder as footballing abilities go.
Even the midfield specialists have important roles in attack and defence they can’t afford to neglect.
To influence the game in both attack and defense, and to control the flow of the game, midfielders will need some key traits:
1. Great Positioning and Understanding of the Game
Midfielders need to make sure that they are always in the right position.
Their fantastic understanding of the game helps in this respect as they should know when and where to be to receive passes and to help their team to keep possession of the ball.
If they are caught sprinting up field without a care in the world, the team risks being open to the counterattack.
This means they need to know what is expected from them at any given time.
While there is a time to attack, it needs to be done at the opportune moment involving the least amount of risk.
2. Disciplined and Know Their Role on the Team
With so many different responsibilities tied up in just one position, midfielders must clearly understand their role and what is expected of them.
The midfield role is very important...
If they are out of position or neglect one side of the game, the team can quickly get overrun and concede a goal.
3. Know What’s Around Them at All Times
By keeping their head up and constantly moving into pockets of space, the midfielders can give themselves more time on the ball.
This helps them to keep possession within the team and limits the opposition’s goal scoring opportunities.
This awareness of their surroundings (which they gain through quick looks over their shoulder) also enables them to know where each player is on the pitch.
Whether it is passing the ball on to a teammate or screening an opposition player's run, knowing what is around them at all times is a key skill to have for a midfielder.
4. Keeps Possession Under Pressure
A great midfielder is calm on the ball, executes a great first touch, and has impressive technique.
This helps them to keep the ball within the team.
Their fantastic passing skills and ability to find space and time means that they can escape the relentless press of the opposition and help their team to move the ball around the pitch.
This is an important aspect of being a midfielder…
Without this ability, the team will struggle to assert their dominance.
5. Loves the Ball and Has Great Decision-Making Skills
The best midfielders love having the ball and constantly demand it off of their teammates.
They do this by showing for the ball and moving into space to create better passing angles.
Passing and moving comes naturally to them, and with their great technical skills, they should usually have a high pass completion rate.
Much of this has to do with their fantastic decision-making skills…
Being able to weigh up the different options available to them and then quickly make the correct decision time and time again in a high-pressured environment.
Along with the previous traits, their decision-making and love of the ball will help the player to steer their team to victory, dominating the opposition as they go.
6. Able to Cover Every Blade of Grass on the Pitch
With so many things expected of them, the midfielders need to be supremely fit and be able to run non-stop for the whole duration of the match.
Because without a high level of endurance their effectiveness will drop towards the end of the game and they will start to make silly mistakes.
To remain focused and give their best performances, midfielders must have great stamina.
Whether it is striding forward to support the attack, dropping back into defence to make a last-ditch tackle, or sprinting out to the wings to help overload the opposition...
All of these jobs require a supreme level of fitness.
7. Be a Great All-Round Player
As their role involves a wide range of responsibilities, the complete midfielder must have nearly every skill in their locker.
They need to win their battles and have a high tackle success rate, muscling the opposition off of the ball and pressing the space intelligently.
When it comes to the final third of the pitch…
They have a good degree of vision and creativity to help out around the opponent's box. And also get on the scoresheet from time to time with their decent shooting skills.
The Roles and Responsibilities of a Midfielder
Central midfielders are crucial to the success of a team, you understand that already…
But what are the actual responsibilities that they have on the pitch?
Let’s take a quick look at the specific things that a midfielder is tasked with:
1. Providing Smooth and Efficient Transitions Between Defence and Attack
Defenders are needed to cover spaces in defence and mark opposition attackers.
While forwards and strikers are meant to stay up to, look for threatening runs, and receive passes forward in order to score goals.
So clearly, a link is needed between the two.
That’s where midfielders come in.
The play goes through them...
Whether it’s an attack from the pack, a temporary retreat and regroup from the front, or a switch-up from one side to the other.
When the ball has been recovered at the back, midfielders need to provide passing options to the defenders on the ball if they want to play their way up the pitch.
In the final third, one central midfielder usually stays back while the others advance the ball up the pitch and then assist the attackers.
2. Maintaining Possession and Dictating Tempo of Play
While the transitioning and link-up play may be their primary function in the team, midfielders are famed and celebrated for this role in particular.
Keeping possession and dictating tempo.
Midfielders are required to pass the ball from side to side, probe for opportunities, and work the ball into dangerous areas where possible.
With their brilliant touch, high-level intelligence, and ability to make skilful, quick passes, midfielders open the gate for the attackers to run through.
They can do this by:
- Speeding up or slowing down play to suit the team’s gameplan.
- Changing approaches when needed.
- Moving the ball between attack and defence to frustrate opponents.
They’re also frequently called upon to bail out teammates in trouble using their skill on the ball and quick thinking.
You will often see other players looking for a midfielder when they’re stuck.
Also, great midfielders always have the odd trick up their sleeves to dribble out of tight situations and keep the ball for their team.
3. Stopping Opposition Attacks
This responsibility especially applies to holding or defensive midfielders since their main job is to break up attacks and shield the defence.
Midfielders are the first line of defence for a team.
Good midfielders are always alert to impending attacks and look to prevent them before the opposition builds momentum and threatens the defense.
In the defensive third, midfielders need to provide cover to the defenders and drop in if one of the fullbacks has gone on a run.
Also, if a centreback has been drawn out wide to engage in a battle with an opposition player, it again falls to a central midfielder to drop into the space they have vacated.
4. Assist and Score Goals
More often than not, it’s a playmaking midfielder who’s the primary assist maker in a team.
Without them, a striker’s supply runs dry and the team will struggle to get enough scoring opportunities to win games.
Even relatively withdrawn midfield positions, like holding midfielders, should have it in them to thread a good through-ball.
In fact, the deep-lying playmaker must be highly skilled in playing inch-perfect long passes to help attackers bypass the opposition’s midfield and defence.
It’s a devastating ability to have if the player is skilled enough and often leaves the opposition helpless.
However, merely providing assists isn’t enough.
A midfielder must be able to rack up goals throughout the season, too.
These usually come from:
- Long-shots from outside the box when there are openings
- Strikes after late runs into the opposition penalty box
- Brilliant individual runs using their dribbling skills to unlock defences
Not all successful central midfielders are natural goalscorers…
But the best ones always find ways to relieve the burden on their strikers and forwards.
5 Tips for a Soccer Midfielder
Now that you know the traits associated with the best midfielders and the many responsibilities which they have on the pitch…
It’s time to talk about improvement.
Here are 5 tips to ensure you dominate the midfield:
1. Keep Your Head Up and Constantly Scan Your Surroundings
Knowing what is going on around you at all times is a crucial component of being a midfielder.
Try and get into the habit of looking over your shoulder as often as possible.
This will help to give you more time on the ball and you´ll also have a better idea of what passing options are available to you before you receive the ball.
Admittedly, it is tricky to remember to do it with so much going on…
But once you get into the habit, it will soon become second nature.
2. Practice Until You Are Confident Using Both Feet to Do Everything
Having the ability to play confidently with both feet is a great skill to have in any position…
But it is particularly important in the midfield area as you get so little time on the ball.
When you can use both feet equally well in the congested centre of the pitch, it will save you time on the ball and mean you can confidently revert to one-touch passes instead of taking a touch.
3. Think About Your Teammates When Making the Pass
Is your teammate right-footed or left-footed?
Where do they like to receive the ball?
When making a pass to your teammates, you want to put it in their preferred position so they have the best chance of controlling the ball and playing it on.
Which is why you must take into consideration their preferences when making the pass to their feet.
In the right place, they will be able to take the ball in their stride without the risk of losing it to an opposition player.
When a player takes other’s abilities and preferences into account, mistakes will be minimised and the team will retain possession easier.
4. Move Into Space
With so many players occupying the centre of the pitch, it can be tough to find space in which to play.
Whenever you pass the ball on to a teammate,make sure that you take up a new position which gives them a passing angle.
This will mean that you see more of the ball and that the team retains possession for longer.
You also want to move into space whenever you receive the ball.
To do this, you must control the ball in such a way that it takes you into a small pocket of space away from the opposition player nearest you.
This will give you a couple more microseconds in which to make a decision on what to do with the ball next.
Static midfielders are easy to mark, one constantly on the move is a nightmare to track.
5. Improve Your Stamina
If you can’t cover every blade of grass during a match, then you’re going to have a tough time.
Since a midfielder must constantly move up and down the pitch while helping out on the wings before dropping deep to prevent a counterattack…
A great way to see improvements in your game is to work on your stamina.
The fitter you are, the better you’ll play.
This is true because all the silly mistakes that come from fatigue will be erased from your game.
The role of a midfielder in soccer is crucial to the team’s success.
Due to its importance, you want to play disciplined players with great technical skills and a good understanding of the game in the centre of the park.
With a good engine on them, midfielders are required to tear around the pitch, passing the ball around and retaining possession until an opening opens up for the team to exploit.
They’re the heartbeat of the team and connect everything together.
Although it’s possibly the toughest position to master due to the multitude of responsibilities, playing as a midfielder is a great experience as you are involved in absolutely everything.
With time, practice, and dedication, your skills in the centre of the pitch will improve and soon you will be dominating the midfield position in soccer.
Further Reading: 11 Soccer Positions Explained (Roles and Responsibilities)