Center Midfielder in Soccer 101: The Definitive Guide (Tips & Tricks)

Updated on 
March 5, 2022

Are you looking for a comprehensive guide on how to play as a center midfielder in soccer?

You're in the right place! Today I will cover everything including:

  • The main definition of center midfielder.
  • Playstyle & Key roles.
  • Tips on how to dominate the center of the field.
  • Ways on how to improve as a soccer center midfielder.

Small note: This guide is a part of the series called "Soccer positions 101". It's basically covering all the soccer positions and I'm trying to build the best online resource possible. If you're interested in checking other positions, I made guides for fullbacks, strikers, wingers goalkeepers, and center backs as well!

Let's dive right into it!

What is a center midfielder in soccer? Explained

Many of you probably can imagine a player playing center midfield. But since this is a comprehensive guide, I feel like it's my duty to give you an encyclopedia definition.

So what is a center midfielder in soccer?

Soccer midfielder (also known as box-to-box player) is a soccer position in soccer, that is being played mostly in the middle of the soccer field. They support attack plays and defense, depending on the situation on the pitch. The soccer midfielder is a creative brain behind most of the team plays.

There you go. In a few sentences, we described what it is.

Now let's have a look at the heatmap and actual position on the soccer field:

position of a center midfielder in soccer

As you can see, they cover mostly mid zone and also go over to defense/offense - depending on the situation.

Now, this doesn't mean they run most from other positions. It just shows that they have to be smart about it.

When you think about it, some of the best center midfielders in the world like Luka Modrić, Iniesta, or Pirlo are usually the most smartest and creative brains. They see the plays seconds before a regular viewer could spot them. They spot opportunities nobody else can.

That's why this position is really hard - but very rewarding. With that saying, let's have a look at some of the main roles and jobs of a central midfielder.

Main roles of a center midfielder in soccer

There are many hats a center midfielder has to wear throughout the game. Sometimes they have to support offense more than defense - and vice versa.

That's why I am splitting these roles into offensive and defensive. Let's start with the most fun ones.

Offensive roles of a center midfielder

1. Making the plays

There is nothing better than having a creative player on this position.

In my opinion, the most important and crucial role of a central midfielder is making the plays.

The Center midfielder needs to be able to come up with passes that will eventually lead to goal-scoring opportunities. Midfielders are usually players that are exceptional on the ball, and that's also a reason why FC Barcelona players that have the most passes per game are midfielders.

If you are playing this position, my tip would be to start off the game slowly with simple passes between your teammates. That way you get more comfortable on the ball so you can make more dangerous passes and plays - and that way do your job really well.

2. Dictating the tempo

Since center midfielders tend to have the ball on their feet most of the time, they are responsible for dictating the tempo.

They have to know when they should push their team into the offense more, and when to allow their team to get their energy back.

There are many situations when the team is playing without the ball (so they run more) and they get too fatigued in order to make a good counterattack. If that's the case, slowing down the tempo and just making passes between midfielders and defenders is sometimes the best decision.

However, when the team is losing they need to constantly look for opportunities to attack and they also need to play more straightforward to the offense.

So to put it simply.. center midfielders are responsible for dictating the tempo.

3. Keeping possession of the ball

Having a high possession of the ball is very important. Why?

Well, there are two things:

  1. It helps the team to save energy - in other words, the enemy team has to run a lot more
  2. You are more likely to create more goal scoring opportunities

A very good center midfielder is able to save the ball and get out of a difficult situation without any problems. These kinds of players are very valuable to the team.

4. Scoring goals & assists

While there is not a big pressure on soccer midfielders to score goals, there is definitely an expectation for the assists.

This position is a creative one - and you will have many chances to create goal scoring opportunities if you are doing everything correctly.

Now I don't mean getting assist every single game since it depends a lot on your team - but you need to be part of goal scoring opportunities at least.

Defensive roles of a center midfielder

1. Support defense

Another role that is very common for center midfielders is supporting the defense. It doesn't matter if it's pressing, or covering the space - helping to defend is very crucial.

Especially in modern soccer, when everything is faster. The times when you could just run forward are gone. Now you have to make sure you guys win the ball from the enemy and keep it.

2. Maintain position discipline

Another way to help your defense is to maintain the position. Of course, it depends a lot on the type of defending style - but most of the time you want to be in the right place at the right time.

What could happen if you wouldn't be there?

Well, the enemy team could easily get through the midfield zone closer to the box, and that's where most of the goals are scored. Keep them away and you'll be good.

What qualities make a good center midfielder

Let's move on to another topic. If you want to improve, you need to know what qualities make a good center midfielder first, so you can try to work on them by yourself.

Qualities that make a good center midfielder are:

  • Great decision making - if you are playing this position, you want to master this skill. It's absolutely crucial that you make decisions fast. But that's not enough. You need to do a good decisions, and that's where most of the players struggle. That's the thing that seperates professional players from amateur ones. If you struggle right now, don't worry. Even decision making can be taught. Remember, good decision making in soccer comes from hundreds of hours of playing.
  • Ability to read the game - No matter if you are more offensive or defensive midfielder, the ability to read the game is your priority. This can be gained with experience of playing a lot of the games, but also by studying the professional players, analysis and etc.
  • Excelent ball controll - Since center midfielders tend to have most passes, we can say with confidence that you must have a great ball control.
  • Precise passing - How many passes you can make without making a mistake? This is a question every players should reflect on. If your number is too small, consider practicing passing after each training session.
  • Finding space - no matter against who you will be playing, you always need to be able to find the space so your teammate can pass you the ball. That way you give more options to your teammate and you will get the ball more times.
  • Thrives under pressure - Everytime center midfielder receives the ball, you can be sure that there will be at least one player attacking him. A great players are comfortable on the ball under pressure. This is related to having a great ball control.
  • Creativity - This is very common trait since every center midfielder wants to be included in most of the plays.

So these are most of the qualities and traits I can think of right now.

Remember, everybody has certain and specific genetic predispositions. However, it depends on you how you utilize them to the fullest potential.

It's fine if you don't have all of these traits as a center midfielder. Most of them can be acquired with experience and hard work.

Tips to get better as a center midfielder in soccer

Now it's a great time to learn a few tips, that can help you to become a better center midfielder in soccer.

1. Study the game

By studying the game you learn two very important skills: decision making and you get better at reading the game.

But how to study the game?

Well, you can study either specific players or whole team tactics.

There are many videos on Youtube that literally break you down every play style. Just search something like "center midfielder in soccer analysis".

2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes

Everybody starts somewhere. Do not be ashamed or afraid to make mistakes. You have to make them.

That's how you learn and evolve as a player.

3. Practice ball control and passing

As you already know, ball control and passing are extremely important for midfielders. By practicing ball control and passing you will improve dramatically.

4. Develop good habits

I don't want to dive deep into habits, so if you are not familiar with them, just check out this guide by James Clear.

Creating good habits in soccer could be a difference between having one more split second for making a better decisions and not having it.

Habits like:

  • Always looking for free space before receiving the ball
  • The way you receive the ball
  • How you shield the ball

There are many habits that you unconsciously do so you need to reflect and see what are your weaknesses and strengths.

Once you find out, then move on to developing these habits in your daily training routine. Again, if you are not familiar with the habits, go to the link I attached above and dive deep into the topic. It's great stuff.

5. Talk to your coach

One of the best ways to receive constructive feedback is to simply talk to your coach. Ask him what is missing in your game, what do you need to improve and etc. etc.

Sometimes this kind of talk helps you immensely to build a relationship - and also gain insights that you didn't see before.

Wrapping it up

If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to reach out to me and we can talk!

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Tom Lindeman
Ball Athlete project
Hey! My name is Tom and I created this blog in order to help people wherever they are in their sport journey. Inspirational posts, guides, reviews and much more! Read about the project here.
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