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How to Play Defensive Midfield

Updated on August 17, 2014

Defensive midfield is usually the position that has the most impact on the flow of the game. If you want to be an effective defensive midfielder you have to be willing to battle it out in the trenches. A hard tackling defensive midfielder can severely disrupt any team's build up play through the center of the pitch. Being able to pass and defend in tight spaces is required, defensive midfielders spend all their time in the most congested area of the field. Having your head on a swivel whether on offense or defense is also important since as a defensive midfielder you are the fulcrum of your team. Lastly, positioning is extremely important since you are the last line of defense that can step to the ball without harming the integrity of the back line. Cutting out passing lanes, gaps form in any system, should always be taken into consideration. They are called defensive midfielders for a reason, these players are absolute warriors, on offense distribution and keeping shape to prevent counter attacks are the primary concerns.


On offense defensive midfielders play a support role, orchestrating attacks by switching the play. Whenever an outside back or center back has the ball the defensive mid must be showing to the ball for a short pass. Quality offensive play by a defensive midfielder is characterized by a high number of short passes, they are usually team leaders in completions at the professional level. Of course having a high pass completion percentage is also a sign of a quality defensive back. Defensive midfielders should focus on simple quick passes, 1-2s, and the occasional aerial clearance. Unlike forwards and wingers defensive midfielders spend their time in too dangerous of a position to attempt dangerous high risk passes. Depending on the tactical system that is being employed defensive backs should usually attempt to constantly move the ball from side to side across the field. This movement prevents the other team from parking the bus on one side of the field and congesting ball movement until they force a turnover. There is always space somewhere on the field, and if the ball has been on one wing for too long it is the defensive midfielders responsibility to collect the ball and distribute the ball to space. Weak side outside backs are usually the best target when you want to switch the point of attack since they are usually open on attack.


Interceptions and positioning are the two most important defensive skills for defensive midfielders. Unlike center backs who focus on winning the ball in the air, communication, and one on one defending defensive midfielders are there for one thing: disruption. A defensive midfielder is defending properly when passing lanes to forwards are blocked, and there is no fluidity in the oppositions attack. If you have ever seen a game that looked "chippy" that means that the defensive midfielders are doing their job. Midfield is the only position on the field where players from both teams are occupying the same position and role. Unlike the defender/attacker roles that occupy the rest of the players on the field, opposing midfielders have the same objective. This is why many coaches and commentators say that games are won or lost in the midfield. This allows players to make effective tactical adjustments by asking themselves "What could the opponent do to disrupt my game?" Defensive midfield is a position that requires adaption, midfield is a game of chess and the best players always find a way to strategically stack the odds in their favor.


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