In the previous posts, we talked about defenders and attackers. We will end this trilogy with an article concerning midfielders: what is their role and what qualities should they have.

Everybody knows that midfielders run longer distances within a game than defenders and attackers. What we think is not known is that they run more at low-speed, but the average running at “high-speed” (breakaways, sprints) is almost the same for all categories: defenders, midfielders, attackers.

The midfield line of a team is its laboratory. Here is where offensive actions are being prepared, it is the redoubt that opposes the opponents’ attacks. The quality of a team’s game is the expression of individual abilities of the elements that compose the medial compartment.

In modern football execution times and available space are extremely reduced. That is why, if some years before the player was taught to receive the ball, watch, make the decision and play accordingly, nowadays this algorithm has changed (or must be changed by all coaches) in the following way: watch, decide, receive the ball and play. Therefore, modern player must have fast legs but fast thinking as well, so that no matter the level he plays at, the technical-tactical level raised the importance of the medial area, this encompassing most of the game.

The role of the midfielders depends on the technical-tactical evolution, involvement in different systems, requirements of game modules. For instance, lateral midfielders’ tasks are not the same with those of wingers, neither being the sweeper’s with those of the attacking midfielder’s (regista). That is why in today’s issue we shall analyze the game of central and lateral midfielders.

Having offensive and defensive competences, they must get close, in what regards their athletic and technical-tactical abilities, to “ideal players”. Thus:

  • From a technical point of view, the midfielder must use both legs and have a good kinetic sensitivity, at the same time being able to deliver both short or long precise passes, or to shoot;
  • From a tactical point of view, he is an intelligent player who reads and adapts rapidly to different game situations, owing to his sense of motor anticipation

Within the non-possession phase, he must be the filter that stops and recovers, maintaining a suitable pitch position permanently to support and aid his colleagues or to recede at the level of the defensive line when it is necessary.

He must be aggressive, pressurizing the ball carrier and must have qualities for anticipative marking when organized pressing unfolds.

Within the offensive phase, he needs to find the effective attacking solutions, alternating short and long balls, being thus unpredictable. Central midfielders determine the rhythm of the game, controlling the timing and the spaces, taking the turn and assuming responsibilities, taking over the role of central pivot from handball.

Because playing in this position requires a lot of personality, the central midfielder has leadership qualities, taking over the captain armband many times.

Within the possession phase they must be able to pass their opponents in one-to-one duels and penetrate from lateral to central position, capitalizing thus on vertical passes and improvising.

Within the non-possession phase, they must block the lateral sides and cover for the defender on his side when the latter has a direct duel with his respective opponent. If the opponents’ attack unfolds on the other side, he has to take an optimal position within the pitch, rationally covering his colleagues and the area. He must know, just like all the players involved in the defensive phase, how to perform the so-called “defensive diagonals” specific to the zone defense.

Technically, it is compulsory for them to be the players getting the last pass, crossing perfectly while speeding, but also scorers when they come within the penalty area.

From an athletic point of view, wingers must have speed and a good physical resistance at speed, to be able to cover repeatedly, in both phases of the game, the lateral sides of the pitch.

A special category is represented by the so-called wingers (extremes) from the systems employing 3 forwards (i.e. 4-3-3). Normally, they are part of the offensive compartments, but there are situations when they become part of the medial compartment. This is visible when the opponent focuses its attacks on the lateral sides. Within the defensive phase, wingers can and must recede to cover their area or to support their respective defender when the opponents attack in that specific area. If the action unfolds on the other side, he must recede to capitalize an eventual recovery of the ball, so, practically, they become the 4th element from the medial compartment. Within the possession phase, they stick to the edges of the pitch, coming diagonally or vertically towards the opposing goal to receive eventual passes. They take part in deviations, combinations, second line breakthroughs and, at the same time, they are capable to pass their direct opponent in 1^1 duels or to shoot effectively at goal.

Prof. Ciprian Urican

translated by Prof. Cristian Sandor