Midfield is the most important area on the football (soccer) field, where games are effectively won and of course lost. Losing control of the midfield and defense will be overrun. Winning the midfield battles and your team will have a platform from which to launch attack after attack and dominate the match, or shut down opposition attacks, frustrating their attempts to score while you run out time.
Several different types of midfield players exist, and not all of them can play together in the same midfield. Midfielder players can attack or defend, create or destroy, play near the front or the back, on either flank, or with a floating role.
Usually a team fields between three to five midfielders. A general rule of thumb is that a team with three midfielders plays them all in the central area; a team with four plays two in the center and one on each flank; and a team with five plays as a team with four, but with an extra free-floating player.
The central midfielders are often the most crucial players on the park.
Their remit is to attempt to control the game, helping out the defense when required, and the attack where possible. The most fit and active central midfielders, who are able to run all around the field for 90 minutes without tiring, contributing to both attack and defense, are known as box-to-box midfielders because they run so frequently from one penalty area to the other. Top-quality box-to-box midfielders are as adept at executing a crunching tackle as they are playing a sweet 40-yard pass.
Most central midfielders, however, concentrate on one job above all else. They often operate as a partnership with at least one more central defender: Usually there is a defensive central midfielder and a more attack-minded partner.
The defensive midfielder patrols the area just in front of his defense, acting as a stopper. He breaks up opposition attacks, harries and hounds opponents, and does anything it takes to win the ball before giving it to a more creatively minded team mate, often his central midfield partner.
The attacking central midfielder dictates the pace and direction of play, instigating attacks by either passing the ball around to better-positioned team mates or making runs forward with the ball. He is likely to be a frequent goal- scorer and a good free-kick taker, and is confident at running with the ball.
Attacking central midfielders are often known as playmakers for their ability to change the shape of a game. However, the definition of a playmaker is fairly loose: Deep-lying forwards are also often referred to as playmakers, with the line between both positions blurred.
Wingers (or left- and right-sided midfielders)
In the old days, on either side of the field in midfield, teams deployed wingers. Their job was to take up the ball in the middle of the field, race down the touchline, and, with a combination of tricky ball skills and pace, beat the full- back and send a dangerous cross into the box. They had little or no defensive responsibilities whatsoever.
However, in the modern game even the most talented wingers, such as Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, require other strings to their bows. Players positioned on the left and right wings still need to try to beat their man, but they must also be able to link up with their central midfielders, interchanging with them as play unfolds. They also have to track back and assist their full- backs in defensive duties.
Midfielders are usually the fittest players on the field because their workloads are, in theory, greater than any position.
Midfielders of all persuasion but especially central attacking midfielders are increasingly expected to chip in with a large number of goals, taking some scoring responsibility off the shoulders of the strikers.