Man in green is being chased by a man in orange while playing soccer

How to Play Center Mid in Soccer

Normally regarded as one of the most skillful, intelligent, and in-shape players on the pitch, the center mid position has pretty big shoes to fill—especially when looking at the history of superstar players who have laced their cleats on and played in that position.

Whether you are just starting soccer now or are looking into switching positions, learning all you can about how to play center mid can definitely translate well when you’re on the field.

​What Does a Center Mid Do in Soccer?

​Before diving into how to play the central midfield position in soccer, its important to identify what this position does on the field.

Man in green is being chased by a man in orange while playing soccer
  • ​Field General: The center halfback keeps the entire team working as one unit. During a game, this position must adapt to how the game is being played out. At times, this means dropping back to provide defensive support or double teaming an opposing player. It can mean coming back to receive the ball, and moving it forward to attacking players. It can mean providing an outlet on the attack, and even joining the attack as a goal scoring threat. Through it all, the center halfback must see the entire field and now how to adapt to every situation.
  • Main Passer: More often than not, the center midfielder ends up making the most passes during a game. This is because so much of a team’s play works through its center. Even the best defenders will look to the halfbacks to play the ball forward, and strikers will routinely play the ball back to midfielders to reset. While the ball is often brought up on the wings, it typically makes its way back through the center of the field. As such, the center mid position ends making a lot of passes during the game.
  • ​High Possession: Defenders and Strikers don’t tend have nearly as much possession of the ball as a midfielder. And, out of all the midfield positions, the center mid has the most possession. The game is often won and lost in the center of the field, and holding high percentages of possession separates an average midfielder from a good one.
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    Transition the Bal​l​: A center midfielder must have good pace in order to transition play from defense to offense. While sometimes defenders will rely on long balls to Strikers, more often than not they will play the ball up through the midfield. A center mid that can take the ball and quickly transition is a vital asset to a team.
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    Vision and Movement: In order to bring all of these components together, a center midfielder must be aware of the surroundings, and have fantastic vision to see (and know) where to play the ball. Good vision will help the center mid to play the ball to the best teammates and into the best space, to give the team the best chance of scoring possible.
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    Flexibility in Position: As mentioned before, the center mid possession has to be a jack of all trades. In certain games, they will be playing more defense than offense. And, in other games, it will be the opposite. A center mid must be good with their head, be able to retain ball possession, and have fantastic passing abilities - all at the same time.

Now that we’ve identified what role a central midfielder plays, let's go through the requirements and characteristics that a player must have for the position.

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​Center Midfield Requirements and Characteristics

​A center midfielder has to complete awareness at all times on the field. Not only should they be personally aware of where they are, they should also know where all of their teammates are (at least those in the best playing position), where their opponent is, and where the goal is.

They have to be physically fit to be able to participate both offensively and defensively. They can make a humongous difference in games, on both ends of the spectrum. Not only can they help their teammates score and defend goals, they can also score them themselves.

When looking to become a good center midfielder, you should work on these 5 skills:

​Being Able to Pass Accurately

​Dishing out an accurate pass means playing the ball with the right amount of power, pace, and direction—even when your teammate is only 5 yards away. You have to be able to play an effective long pass, through pass, in-the-air pass, and even a give-and-go.

​Should Have Incredible Ball Control

Some are born with natural ability, however, ball control is definitely something that you can always work on. Especially since a center midfielder is situated in the spotlight of it all, they have to be able to work early through the chaos and crowded area without losing the ball from a bad touch. 

Everyone knows that good ball control is ​essential​. On your own, you can practice with some drills​ to improve.

​Take Players On Effectively

Even though a center midfielder is no strikes, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to take an opponent on 1v1. In the middle of the field, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to get past players.

Ability to Shoot Well

Just because a center midfielder is normally known for their unselfishness, that doesn’t meant that they can’t take shots. At the middle of the field, especially as an attacking center mid, you will probably find yourself in great positions to score or at least take a shot on goal.

You have to really be able to do it all—especially under pressure. If your shot goes wrong, you are not the last line of defense—but you’re not the first either. There is risk in everything you do so a center midfielder has to be an all-around kind of player.

​Being Able to Shield the Ball

Since it is essential that you keep the ball away from the other team and as a center mid you are constantly under pressure—or just about to be—it is extremely important that you also know how to shield the ball away from the other team and oncoming opponents. Using your body to protect the ball is an extremely important skill to learn.

Now that you know the basics behind the technical skills it requires to play center mid, you should also be familiar with the mental capacity and soccer intelligence it takes to do so effectively.

​How to Play Center Mid in Soccer

​When you’re in the middle of most situations, your teammates are often relying on you to be able to do certain responsibilities on the field effectively.

Especially if you are new to the position, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Never Stop Moving

Especially since you are playing in such a crowded area, it’s important that you don’t make yourself an easy target to mark for the opposite midfielders. If you are moving around constantly and finding the open space, you’ll not only wrench yourself from the congested areas, you’ll also give you team an optimal opportunity to find you on the field.

2. Handle the Pressure

You’re going to have to get used to playing one or two-touch passes. The other midfielder on the other team will be on your back quickly and aggressively. Since you are in such a closed off space, you will more often than not only have the opportunity to get a couple touches on the ball before you have to dish it off again. This also means that you should be aware of what—or who—is around you at all times.

3. Always Look for the Shot

Your opponent won’t be expecting it—and sometimes neither will you. If you find yourself in an optimal position in front of the goal (even if it is a few yards out), chances are the goalkeeper is expecting you to play the ball on and won’t even be ready for the shot. You should always take a look at where the goal is, and more importantly, where the goalie is when you get the ball near the goal

4. Work on Your Vision

Whether that means keeping your head on a swivel, always being aware of your surroundings or seeing runs that other players don’t, it’s important that you pride yourself on the vision of the game. When you’re watching other soccer games, try to imagine yourself in the place of the center midfielders who are playing. Try and read the game in that particular situation they’re in. Take note of the decisions they take and which pass they believe is the best.

Group of women wearing the same jerse running away in the field

5. Take Control of the Game

As a natural playmaker, you have the influence, the opportunity, and the talent to be able to really control how your team plays. Your hectic or calm nature can dictate how the rest of your team will also react. You can switch the ball to the other side of the field much easier than other positions and thus control which side of the field has the ball. An effective center mid will always look for the opportunity to control the game—whether it’s through their actions or through their communication and leadership role.

In any sport, offensive and defensive players carry out major roles for bringing the team to victory. In soccer, both can fall on midfielders, making them some of the most versatile and important members of the team.

​It can be quite hard to determine what midfielders can do and how far they can go. The several versions of the central midfielder positions alone can throw you off track if you don't pay attention. Knowing their differences matter in understanding the game in its entirety.

Various Versions of the Central Midfield Position in Soccer

​Central midfielders don’t typically garner the notiariety that other positions on the pitch do, but it is one of the most demanding positions on the field. A center mid’s role is “divided roughly equally between attack and defense and to dominate the play around the centre of the pitch.”

The purpose of central midfielders are spread out, so they can go into defense mode and sometimes even attempt at scoring goals themselves by moving past to the other team's penalty area. With soccer's longstanding history, it's no surprise how this one position has gotten many sub-positions over the years, which have made it the one with the widest array of roles in the team.

All Around Midfielder

​From the aforementioned definition, it's only right to assume that central midfielders will either fall under the defensive or attacking roles. However, there also exists an all-around midfielder that has the ability to do both at the same time. Being at the center, they have the most convenient position that allows them to perform various roles, but it demands tremendous physical strength.

Box to Box

​All-around midfielders are commonly called box-to-box players. Apart from the role of the goalkeeper, box-to-box midfielders serve almost every other roles there are in soccer. According to Jordan Bishop, these end to end players move “forward when their team is attacking and back when their team is defending.”

Moving forward includes trying to shoot the ball to the opposition's goal themselves, while moving back can sometimes involve tackling the opposition's players in defense of their own team's goal.

The 4-3-3 formation, which can either be an attack- minded midfield or defensive midfield, is one that depends largely on the box-to-box player and where he or she can perform his roles more efficiently. The 4-2-3-1, however, which is focused more on the acquisition of the ball and stopping the opposite team's attacks in the midfield area, combines the solid midfield strength of the 4-3-3 and the standard 4-4-2 formation.

A synonymous name to box-to-box player in recent years is Arturo Vidal, who came to form and found his own style as a box-to-box midfielder for Juventus. As Forza Italian Football writes, “he just might be the best [box-to-box central midfielder] in the world”.

Defensive Midfielder

​From the name itself, defensive midfielders are more in charge of the defense, with the purpose of protecting the goal and preventing the opposite team from scoring. These players are either manning a certain area within the field in front of their team's goal, or keeping an eye on specific attackers of the other team who might attempt at scoring.

Central defensive midfielders have a wider boundary, which allows them to take the position of wide midfielders on the left and right side of the midfield. Players in this position may go to the full-back for direct defense or center-back to join an attack or pass on the ball to any of the players positioned in front of him.

Ongoing soccer match with one defensive player

Holding/Deep Lying

​A holding midfielder remains in the defense of the team. Holding midfielders used to be distinguished as destroyers or creators. The former being the one who tackled and acquired the ball while the latter is the one who keeps it moving and passes it on to his attacking teammates.

Former soccer player and now coach, Claude Makélélé, was once deemed one of the best holding midfielders in the world while with Spain's professional soccer club Real Madrid. He reigned in the 2000's and was known to be an exemplified example of a destroyer.

The diamond variation of the 4-4-2 is a usual formation to find a holding midfielder in. Their tackling skills as well as passing the ball to attacking players are better utilized from this position.

Deep Lying Playmaker

​Deep lying playmakers are a type of holding midfielders who specialize in passing the ball more than tackling other players. You could say they're considered more of a creator than a destroyer.

Xabi Alonso is a renowned, now-retired professional soccer player who excelled as a deep-lying playmaker. To quote sports journalist Jonathan Wilson, Alonso “focused on keeping the ball moving, occasionally raking long passes out to the flanks to change the angle of attack” more than he made tackles.

Holding and deep-lying players were typically positioned together so they could simultaneously carry out each of their roles. In this way, the 4-4-2 diamond formation stays truly efficient for the deep-lying playmaker to be in alongside the holding midfielder, or more specifically, the destroyer counterpart.

Attacking Midfielder

​Attacking midfielders are usually found in the advanced midfield in between the center and their own team's forwards. Unlike the defensive midfielders, their roles are more on the offensive. As they are just behind the striker, Jordan Bishop says they “can almost be considered a forward, but their defensive duties are needed from time to time as well.”

Attacking Playmaker

​Said to be playing “in the hole”, the advanced playmaker is usually put in the famous 4-4-2 diamond or 4–1–2–1–2 formation. When positioned there, the advanced playmaker is the attacking player and he is alongside the defensive midfielder with a more defined defensive role. Together, they replace the other traditional central midfield pair mentioned previously.

The attacking playmaker are the players who have the opportunity to go into the opposing team's penalty area to try and score a goal, if not passing the ball to the striker or the team's forwards. Zico was one such player in his time. As a player who was made an advanced playmaker, he was known for his “flair, speed, exceptional technique, ball control, and dribbling skills.”

Man in white tries to attack against two men in red soccer

Traditional #10

​Advanced playmakers are usually the star players of the team. Their movement will obviously still depend on the coach, their formation, and the team's strategy, but generally they're the players allowed to roam the field and direct their game according to the situation.

Traditionally this position will ​wear the number 10 on their shirt and it easily distinguishes them from the other players. According to Wikipedia, Diego Maradona was an advanced midfielder skilled in “dribbling ability, vision, close ball control, passing and creativity, and is considered one of the most skillful players in the sport.” He used to wear the classic number 10 on his shirt while he was still a professional player.

False 9

​The false 9 is a role a false attacking midfielder goes into to seem like an attacking midfielder. They usually do this from a 4-3-1-2 formation so they can go deep into the midfield, drawing the central defenders of the other team towards himself, and opening up space for other teammates to run into and be one-on-one with the goalkeeper.

The famous Lionel Messi has been put into this role, where he proved to excel in when playing with teammates Neymar and Suarez. This tactic of putting Messi in the false 9 could may as well be the reason for the player's thriving career in the professional league.

False 10

​The false 10, also called the central winger, has a role similar to the false 9 but instead of misleading the opposing team alone, he provides a sort of distraction. By running towards the wider field while in possession of the ball, he could either draw the central midfielders toward him and get an opening for his teammates or keep them in their defensive positions, giving him opportunity to attempt a goal.

The false 10 can also work simultaneously with the false 9. Their formations are sometimes also false in the sense that they could be doing a 4-6-0 formation, which is typical, but disguised as a 4–3–3 or 4–2–3–1 formation.

The false 10 is a trend that only recently boomed in the world of soccer. It's a role that identifies Christian Eriksen as a good example of. In the manner as explained, this tactic has Eriksen bringing goals to his team under Mauricio Pochettino.

Positions and roles change as trends and tactics come and go. Central midfielder positions do not usually stay the same. These are just some of what we know are typical of soccer teams nowadays, but both require good cleats for training-- and if your feet are on the wider side, make sure to get the appropriate footwear.

​Think You Have What it Takes?

Being a center mid requires much more than a desire. You have to have vision, quality ball control, and the ability to play both defensively and offensively efficiently.

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