Defensive Midfielder In Soccer – The Ultimate Guide

Defensive midfielders (also known as holding midfielders, central defensive midfielders, or CDMs for short) are not only the players who stand in the center of the pitch and defend the midfield. On the contrary, defensive midfielders have fundamental roles in soccer games, and they are required to possess technical and tactical skills that will contribute significantly during matches. So, what does it take to play the defensive midfielder in soccer? 

To become a defensive midfielder in soccer, a player needs to show solid positional discipline and establish control of the ball in the most crowded area of the field. Defensive midfielders are required to prevent attacks in the middle of the field and create scoring chances by acting as the link between defense and attack.

The position of the defensive midfielder is one of the most challenging positions on the soccer pitch. If you want to become one, you will need excellent tactics, conditioning, and techniques. This article will teach you the role of the defensive midfielder and the strategies they use in games. Keep reading to find out why this position is considered the key to every soccer team’s success. 

How To Play Defensive Midfielder In Soccer?

how to play defensive midfield

Most of the game is conducted in the midfield, meaning that the defensive midfielder plays a vital role in the game. Becoming a competent defensive midfielder requires being a well-rounded player with a nose for the ball.

However, it is essential to point out that this soccer player is not only responsible for defense. Although the position’s primary role is to provide defense, the defensive midfielder has a significant contribution to attacks. Defensive midfielders are responsible for link-up play to the attackers and transitioning the team from defense to attack upon winning the ball.

Any player that intends to play defensive midfielder needs to be prepared to perform both attacking and defensive techniques. Nonetheless, before performing these techniques, the defensive player needs to understand defensive midfielders’ roles and responsibilities.

Offensive Vs. Defensive Responsibilities Of The Defensive Midfielder 

As mentioned earlier, the defensive midfielder needs to be prepared to act as the link between the attackers and the defense. In other words, they have to:

  • Win the ball from the opposition
  • Get possession of the ball
  • Push and distribute the ball upfield. 

Defensive midfielders control the transition and flow of the match on the pitch. This level of impact on the game requires midfielders to know when to be aggressive in attack versus pulling back into a more defensive role.

The Role of Defensive Midfielders in the Attack

Ball Distribution to Attacking Players

Midfielder passing the ball
Midfielder passing the ball

The defensive midfielder has to work on their passing techniques in order to transition the team from defense to attack quickly and effectively. Decisions need to be quick and the passes need to be accurate to put the receiving attacking player in the best position to create scoring opportunities.

Playing Long Balls to Wingers

Playing a long ball to wingers
Playing a long ball to wingers

Many times scoring opportunities are created when players are passing the ball into wide areas. Defensive midfielder needs to have well-developed techniques that will give them the ability to serve balls to attacking players both on the ground as well as lofted balls to open spaces that the attacking players to run onto quickly.

Controlling Possession of Ball in Defensive Third of Pitch

midfielder dribbling the ball
midfielder dribbling the ball

Midfielders need to control the pace of play, especially when possessing the ball in the defensive third of the pitch. Maintaining possession helps the defense realign and rest as well as makes the opposing team expend more energy trying to win the ball back.

The Role of Defensive Midfielders in Defense

Slowing the Opposing Player with the Ball

Slowing down the opposition is one of the most important responsibilities of the defensive midfielder. In order to slow down the opponents, this player needs to have the ability to read the play and aggressively engage the offensive player to slow down the opposition and win the ball back.

Marking attacking players migrating from midfield to the defensive third 

The defensive midfielder should always be prepared to prevent the opposition from scoring. This is especially true when defending in transition when the opposing team has won the ball and is aggressively pushing the ball up the pitch.

Defensive midfielders need to be able to engage the attacking player that is dribbling the ball and slow their progress upfield. This allows the midfielder’s teammates to chase back and aid in the defense.

Winning the Ball from Attacking Players (destroyer)

The defensive midfielder needs to be aggressive enough to make sure that the opposition does not have the ball in their possession for a long time. That means that the defensive midfielder has to be prepared to tackle, close the space around the opponent, and finally win over the ball. 

Coordinating the Midfield Defensive Posture

The defensive midfielder needs to be able to coordinate and communicate with their fellow midfielders to position themselves effectively in defense. This includes marking assignments, switching off players, and general positioning.

Techniques That Every Defensive Midfielder Needs To Perfect 

Every defensive midfielder needs to work on particular techniques and strategies that will help them to be the best in their position. Only through well-developed techniques, a midfielder can do what is expected of them to do. These techniques and strategies include:

  • Learning to pass the ball accurately.  
  • Taking the right positions for attacking and defending.
  • Mastering shooting skills.  
  • Improving strength and stamina.
  • Taking control of the game. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Are Some Common Mistakes That A Defensive Midfielder Can Do? 

Leaving the center of the pitch and taking wide positions are some of the most common mistakes made by defensive midfielders. This allows the opposition to create an attacking opportunity and score a goal. 

Do Defensive Midfielders Score Goals? 

It is a rare occasion for a defensive midfielder to score a goal. However, they play a very important role at the beginning of the attack, meaning that their position is of huge significance. 

Who Is The Best Defensive Midfielder In Soccer? 

Currently, the best defensive midfielder in soccer is either Joshua Kimmich who plays in Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga, or N’golo Kante of Chelsea in the English Premier League. However, the player who is perceived to be the best fluctuates over time.

So, in order to answer this question completely, enclosed below is a table of the 100 most prominent defensive midfielders in soccer:

Top 25 Defensive Midfielders in Men's Soccer
RankNameClubLeagueNational Team
1N'Golo KanteChelseaEnglish Premier LeagueFrance
2Joshua KimmichFC Bayern MunichBundesligaGermany
3FabinhoLIverpoolEnglish Premier LeagueBrazil
4RodriManchester CityEnglish Premier LeagueSpain
5Declan RiceWest Ham UnitedEnglish Premier LeagueEngland
6Franck KessieAC MilanSerie AIvory Coast
7CasemiroReal MadridLa LigaBrazil
8Sergio BusquetsFC BarcelonaLa LigaSpain
9Kalvin PhillipsLeeds UnitedEnglish Premier LeagueEngland
10FernandinhoManchester CityEnglish Premier LeagueBrazil
11Idrissa GueyeParis Saint-GermainLigue 1Senegal
12Fernando RegesSevilla FCLa LigaBrazil
13Marcelo BrozovicInter MilanSerie ACroatia
14Wilfred NdidiLeicester CityEnglish Premier LeagueNigeria
15Axel WitzelBorussia DortmundBundesligaBelgium
16Pierre-Emile HojbjergTottenham HotspurEnglish Premier LeagueDenmark
17JorginhoChelsea English Premier LeagueItaly
18Tomáš SoučekWest Ham UnitedEnglish Premier LeagueCzech Republic
19Jordan VeretoutAS RomaSerie AFrance
20AllanEvertonEnglish Premier LeagueBrazil
21Marten de RoonAtalantaSerie ANetherlands
22FredManchester UnitedEnglish Premier LeagueBrazil
23Frankie de JongFC BarcelonaLa LigaNetherlands
24Douglas LuizAston VillaEnglish Premier LeagueBrazil
25Danilo PereiraParis Saint-GermainLigue 1Portugal

What Number is the Defensive Midfielder Position?

4 or 6. Defensive midfielders are typically referred to as either the 4 or 6 in a soccer formation.

What Formations use Defensive Midfielders?

The formations that do/can make use of defensive midfielders (CDMs) are:

  • 4-4-2
  • 4-3-3
  • 4-2-3-1
  • 4-2-2-2

Soccer Formation Guides

Soccer Position Guides
PositionLink to Guide
False 9link
Defensive Midfielderlink
Left backlink
Right backlink
Center Backlink

Final Thoughts 

You have read everything that you need to know about the position of a defensive midfielder in soccer. Now, it is up to you to put everything you have read into practice. So, do not waste any more time and start working on your skills right away.          

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