Midfielder In Soccer

The position of midfielder is one of the most varied in the whole of soccer, and two different players who are both described as midfielders might both play very different roles within a team. 

In this article, I’ll break down the role of midfielder, looking at several of the different types of midfielders, what exactly their jobs are, and what skills they need to succeed. 

If you’re a midfielder for your soccer team (or would like to be) then this article’s for you!

Midfielder In Soccer

The Basics

The basic definition of a midfielder is a player who plays in the middle of the field.  This means that midfielders are generally in front of the defense and behind the forwards.

And one of the main jobs that most midfielders have to do is to provide the link between these two other parts of the team. However, as I said, there are lots of different kinds of midfielder, most of which even have various subtypes. 

There are also some regional differences in what kind of players are considered midfielders. For example, in English-speaking countries.

Wingers are usually considered part of the midfield, whereas in continental Europe and South America, they’re considered forwards.

This depends to some extent on what kind of wingers we’re talking about (yes, there are different kinds of wingers too).

But since wingers in the modern game have a much more offensive role than in the past, I won’t include them as part of the midfield for the purposes of this article.  

What I’ll do now is explain some of the most common kinds of midfielders and what their main roles are in the game.

Central Midfielders

Probably the most straightforward kind of midfielder there is. The main job of the central midfielder is to keep control of the ball in the middle of the pitch and pass it forward to help build up attacks.

In general, central midfielders have to balance between attack and defense. They need to be able to contribute to attacks while also helping out the defense by blocking passing lanes and intercepting balls coming from the opposing team.

However, even “central midfielder” is quite a vague description of a role, as central midfielders can play all kinds of different roles.


A playmaker is a player tasked with creating chances for their teammates. This means having a sharp anticipation of what’s going to happen next in the game before it happens.

The ability to pass well, and the ability to see opportunities that others might not spot. A clever ball from a playmaker can unlock an opposition defense or start an attacking move that leads to a goal.

Playmakers do not have to be central midfielders, but they often are, as being in the center of the pitch usually grants the most passing options.  

Arguably the best playmaking central midfield duo in history was the pairing of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta for both Barcelona and Spain.

These two playmaking central midfielders, each regarded as among the best ever in their own rights, had an unparalleled ability to read the game and both pass the ball perfectly and then always find the exact right position.

To receive a pass and make the most of it. Iniesta also famously scored the only goal in the 2010 World Cup Final.

Though this was one of only 13 goals he scored in his 131 games for Spain, demonstrating that his role was more focused on starting attacks than finishing them.

Attacking Midfielders

Attacking midfielders are midfielders that play higher up the field than most, linking up with the team’s forwards more closely than a regular midfielder would.

For this reason, they have more offensive responsibilities and fewer defensive responsibilities than most other midfielders.

They also usually have more goal-scoring opportunities as a result of their playing just behind the forwards.

Many of the great attacking midfielders are considered playmakers (e.g., Zinedine Zidane and Kevin De Bruyne), but not all of them are. 

Frank Lampard, for example, was an attacking midfielder who had more of an eye for goal than even some strikers, and is one of only 9 players – and the sole midfielder – to have scored more than 150 goals in England’s Premier League.

Defensive Midfielders

If an attacking midfielder is an offensive player, then they have their counterparts in defensive midfielders. As the name suggests, their primary role is more defensive than other midfielders.

Holding midfielder vs Defensive midfielder in Soccer

One particular kind of defensive midfielder, the holding midfielder, will sit deep, just in front of their own defense.

From this position, they will attempt to break up attacking moves from the opposition by blocking off space and crowding them, helping out the defense. 

They are also playmakers and when they win back the ball, they will usually make a pass to a teammate to start an attacking move.

Sergio Busquets, who played behind the aforementioned Xavi and Iniesta for Barcelona and Spain is the perfect example of the holding midfielder in the modern game.

Defensive midfielders can also take the form of more combative, less technical players who use their physical attributes (strength, speed, stamina) to defend their back line.

A great example here is another former Barcelona player, Javier Mascherano. Known for his determination and ability to make spectacular last-minute tackles.

Mascherano sometimes looked able to defend through his strength of will and grit alone. 

Wide Midfielders

I know I said I wouldn’t include wingers in this article, and I’m not per se. However, wide midfielders are borderline cases where midfielder meets winger, so they’re worth mentioning here.

As you can guess from the name, wide midfielders are midfielders who play wide, i.e., on the wings, although not as wide as a winger generally does.

Wide midfielders, as opposed to wingers, are relatively uncommon these days, but a good example from the recent past would be David Beckham (in the first half of his career, at least).  

Whereas a winger would use their pace and dribbling skills to run up the pitch to spearhead attacks, a wide midfielder like Beckham played more like a central midfielder who happened to be on the edge of the pitch.

This means relying more on passing ability and positioning than speed, and also playing crosses from deep areas of the pitch, rather than running into more advanced positions as often as a true winger.

This also means that they have more defensive responsibilities than wingers usually do, in the manner of a more balanced central midfielder.

Box-To-Box Midfielders

There can be a bit of overlap with playmakers and attacking midfielders here, but this is a position that does have its own defining characteristics.

It gets its name from the fact that players who play this position have to run from one end of the pitch to the other to contribute both in attack and defense.

For that reason, box-to-box midfielders typically end up running more than any other position on the pitch – Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is a great example, as is Arturo Vidal.

Stamina and work rate are key for box-to-box players, as well as the ability to be versatile and be effective offensively and defensively.


The name for this position comes from the Italian phrase meaning “half winger”, and that gives a pretty good clue to what mezzalas are.

A fairly specialized position, mezzalas are used in a midfield three, where the central midfield player is a defensive player who stays deep. 

One or both of the outside players (the mezzalas) are free to advance further up the pitch and to use the space in between the wings and midfield to create opportunities. This requires great decision-making abilities as well as great technical skill to do well. 

Ángel Di María played this role brilliantly at Real Madrid, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to move into the center to receive passes and score goals. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic likewise plays in this position to support attacks for his club, Lazio.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, a quick breakdown of the midfield position in soccer. As we’ve seen, it’s not really one position at all but rather a variety of connected positions that can have all kinds of different responsibilities, both attacking or defensive.

If you want to play as a midfielder, you need to be aware of the different roles so that you can play yours to the best of your ability.

Remember that many top players have played more than one of these roles in their careers, and sometimes even from match to match, so you don’t necessarily have to stick to just one!

Learn more about soccer positions