Center-Midfield’s Positioning Guide

by Philip MacDonald | Last updated

Many young soccer players have never been taught exactly where to play on the field for their particular position.  They do not understand their roles specifically in the offensive attack and defensive end of the field.  This blog will educate the reader as to where exactly the center midfielder should be on the field with regards to the different scenarios possible.    

What to do offensively: with the many different formations in the game of soccer the center midfield role can be very different.  The center midfielder helps create the offensive threat and thus is supposed to go as far up the field as the opposing teams 18-yard box.  This is not to say that the center cannot enter the 18-yard box, however, this area will be generally occupied by the forwards and does not require you to be so deep.  On corner kicks and set pieces the center midfielder can be inside the box.  Hovering just above the 18 yard box is a common place for center midfielders as many balls are often cleared out of the “danger zone” and thus land here.  Collecting the ball here could be the difference between a shot on goal or the start of a quick counter attack.   

How far back should you play?  Conversely the center midfield does not need to go any further back defending than his own 18-yard box during.  These are not strict rules but simply guidelines so you have a better understanding of your role and positioning on the field.

How far wide should you play?  Your job as center-midfielder is also to go wide and support the wingers.   Do not go too far wide and thus be drawn out of the middle creating a big open space.  A point of reference would be to not go any wider than the 18-yard box and the sideline.  This area can be easily covered by the wingers.   

Staying in no-man’s land: Often the case, the center-midfielders do not run forward enough in the attack or do not track back enough to support in defending.  You are not restricted to these parts of the field and if you have to mark your man depending on the movement of play then most certainly do.  This could mean the difference of a goal being scored or not.  These are simply guidelines to follow.

Steven Gerrard of Liverpool FC is an example of a center midfielder whom you often see score great goals taken by shots outside the box.  Conversely he is a great defensive strength for his club.  If you have the chance to watch a professional game live, watch the center midfielder (or your playing position for that matter) and how they move.  You will learn a great deal.  

Common mistakes my amateur players are to leave their position creating a gap or open space in the field.  This in itself creates problems for the rest of your team and allows the opposing team to expose those areas.  Being in the right position and part of the field will make you a smarter player and save you a lot of energy throughout the game.  You will start to find that you suddenly have more time and can make better decisions when you have the ball.  Do not run all over the field thinking you have to do everything.  In professional games it is not uncommon for center midfielders to run upwards of 12km or more per game.  Center midfield is one of the most physically demanding positions on the field and you must be smart about how you use your energy.  Unnecessary running will only tire you out and thus create opportunities for the opposing team. 

Set play marking: depending on your height and other players on your team your coach may put you in various parts of the field on the defensive and offensive side for free kicks and corner kicks.  Often the case the center midfielder is located around the top of the 18 yard box or just outside of it.  

Depending on the system your team plays your coach may ask you to concentrate more on the offensive third of the field or you may be asked to hold a more defensive midfield role.  Other various possibilities include the roaming midfielder who has free range and limited defensive responsibilities or quite simply a center midfielder that is simply holding.  Your role could change depending on the opposing team you play or the formation for that particular.  Nevertheless it is important to understand the different aspects of your position and where you should be with regards to each.     

Remember, your job as center midfielders are the main link from the defense to the forwards, to help create offensive opportunities for your teammates all the while marking the opposing center midfield and winning 50/50 balls.  These are not simple duties but are necessary for this position.  You skill level must be high and complete to face any scenario on the field.  You must have great stamina and strength to win the battles, tackles and head balls.  Your teammates will thank you greatly for your hard work.  For more on this watch this video of Zidane Zidane.

As always your comments and feedback are appreciated.

2 Responses to “Center-Midfield’s Positioning Guide

  • awesome way Zidane does that twirling on the ball. I think a lot of people will be inspired to be a center mid when they read this article. OMG! So awesome!

    • Thanks for the comment, Bob. I will make two supplemental points here.

      1. I think positions are overrated. People get too caught up in where exactly they are to be placed on the field. This sets limits to your game. More important, I think, is team movement. I am preparing a blog on this so check it out.

      2. Zidane is one of the most unbelievable players of all time. To do that spin move in a game with such control is mind boggling.

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