Understanding soccer positions is an important step to becoming a great soccer player, this knowledge will allow you to choose the position that suits you best.
Soccer is played between two teams comprising of 11 players. Each team has one goalkeeper and ten outfield players. The outfield players are loosely grouped into the following soccer positions, “Defenders,” “Midfielders” and “Attackers/Forwards/Strikers.”
Soccer positions and Formations
Over time the line up and breakdown of the above groups of players has changed, but here are some examples;
4 defenders, 4 midfielder, 2 attackers (4-4-2)
4 defenders, 3 midfielder, 3 attackers (4-3-3)
3 defenders, 5 midfielders, 2 attackers (3-5-2)
4 defenders, 5 midfielders, 1 attacker (4-5-1)
Misconception of Soccer Positions
Everyone is a defender!
It is a common misconception that there are only a set number of defenders on the team (3 or 4 in the above examples) because when the team does not have the ball and it is possessed by the opposition the fact is all soccer positions have a role at defending their goal and trying to win back possession of the ball. So a common mistake that a player can make is to think that they do not have to defend because they are playing an attacking soccer position
Typically however, when a coach puts together a team he/she looks for certain attributes of players to help him/her decide in which soccer positions to place the player.
Soccer Positions – Defenders:
The defensive unit is usually comprised of 4 players, with two central defenders and a right full back and a left full back. So they are spread across the field and then move and compress according to where the ball is. The two central defenders can be very similar in attributes, are typically at least 6’ tall and are often “big and strong.” Think of players like John Terry at Chelsea, Vidic at Manchester United, Christopher Samba at Queens Park Rangers and Puyol at Barcelona. These players make up for in grit, determination and bravery what they may lack in terms of skill and technical ability. They have to be good in the air winning and challenging for headers. They are leaders, “Brave heart” kind of players and role models.
Some coaches like to have some soccer positions played by big and strong players, for example the “stopper” position, this players job it is to mark the star forward from the opposition and to attack the ball when it comes towards the team from central positions. Then, playing just behind the “stopper” is a smaller, quicker and “smarter” player often referred to as a “sweeper.”
On each side of the two central defenders are the full backs. These are often slightly smaller than the central defenders, quicker and more attack minded. A perfect example of a world class full back is Ashley Cole at Chelsea. The left back typically is a left footed player and the right back is typically a right footed player. Defensively they have to be quick at closing down players and quick to recover and compress space. When in possession of the ball they like to advance up the wing joining in attack and love to overlap midfielders to deliver crosses into the opposition’s penalty box. Although many coaches have preferences for the physical size of players playing in defensive soccer positions, you should not let this stop you from playing soccer positions you enjoy.
Soccer Positions – Midfielders:
Typically there are central midfielders and outside midfielders. Midfielders can also be set up in the middle as an attacking midfielder and a defensive midfielder. They can also be set up in a diamond formation with an attacking midfielder, a defensive midfielder and two close by outer midfielders.
A coach looks for all round competent and flexible players that can play a number of soccer positions within the team. They have to be able to defend well by compressing space, putting pressure on the ball and winning tackles. They need to understand how to manage space in terms of creating it when the team is in possession and compressing it when the team is trying win the ball back from the opposition. Midfield players have to be incredibly fit and possess amazing stamina. They are often referred to “Being in the engine room” of the team, or “box to box players” referring to the fact that in one second they may be working in their own penalty box and a few moments later they are in and around the opposition’s penalty box. A great example of a “Box to box” central midfielder is Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
Midfield players need to know how to and when to support either the attackers when their team has possession of the ball and is advancing towards the opposition’s goal, or when to and how to support the defenders when the opposition has the ball and their team is trying to win it back.
Within the midfield the left sided midfield player (e.g. Ryan Giggs at Manchester United) is predominantly left footed and the right sided midfield player (e.g. James Milner at Manchester City) is predominantly right footed. Central midfield players can be either right or left footed. Often you will see a coach switch their outside midfielders during the game so that now the left footed player is on the right and the right footed player is on the left. This is done to cause some confusion for the opposition and to allow the midfielder to cut inside onto their stronger foot making them more likely to and more effective at shooting on goal.
In central midfield it is often an advantage to have a taller player to win headers and a smaller player to be quick to compress space and to be quick at running from penalty box to penalty box. Teams often have a defensive midfielder who plays just in front of the two central defenders to help them with their defensive duties. The same player is often the one who collects the ball from the defenders and then can set up the attack playing long balls to team mates. Soccer positions like the central midfield role require huge amounts of skill, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes from Manchester United are great examples of this.
In front of the defensive midfielder is the attacking midfielder who is the link player between midfield and the attackers. This player has to be quick, possess a good shot, be able to dribble past players and to play short quick passes with his attackers. Good examples of this kind of player are Xavi and Iniesta at Barcelona.
On the outsides of the midfield on both wings you have players who love to dribble past players and cross the ball into the penalty box. Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon at Tottenham Hotspur are great examples. These players not only enjoy their attacking responsibilities but they also have to work hard on tracking back defensively as their counterpart from the opposite teams tries to get down the wing when they have possession.
The “Playmaker” or “Libero” is found in the middle of midfield and used to traditionally wear the number 10 shirt. Modern examples of this kind of player are Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona, David Silva at Manchester City and blasts from the past are Maradona, Zico, Paul Gascoigne and Socrates. All legends and all just incredible players that you would pay money to watch them.
Some coaches like to have a central midfield player whose job is just to close down the opposition and “rattle their cage.’ An example of this kind of player is Nigel de Jong from Holland. He literally scares the opposition, kicks them, intimidates them and does whatever he can to win the ball back from them. He is then smart enough to know that he does not possess bundles of skill and technical ability, so once he has won the ball back he quickly plays a simple ball to a team mate so that they can go use it better than he would.
Soccer Positions – Attackers/Striker/Forwards:
Players in these soccer positions get all of the glory, these are the match winners, the players who put the ball in the back of the net.
There are all kinds of combinations of strikers available, let’s start with a simple two up front system. Often there will be a big and tall center forward (Dzeko at Manchester City, Crouch at Stoke, Ibrahimovic at PSG) in combination with a smaller, quicker, more skillful player (Aguero at Manchester City, Messi at Barcelona, Suarez at Liverpool). This kind of combination allows the bigger stronger player to do all the hard work, winning the ball in the air, holding on to possession of the ball and laying it off for the quicker more skillful forward.
Often the smaller striker will drop a little deeper as well so as to give the other central defender a problem…does he go with the forward and therefore leave space at the back to be exploited, or does he stay back and mark the space but then allows the smaller striker to receive the ball and turn towards goal and attack by dribbling the ball or playing quick little passes. Central defenders do not want to defend a skillful forward running at them with pace.
This leads us to a combination you see now at Manchester United with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. RVP plays up high against the defenders and is always available to pounce on chances in the penalty box. Wayne Rooney however, is free to go where he pleases and pulls defenders out of position and causes them all sorts of problems.
As teams become more flexible and fluid, it is hard to fathom out if they are playing a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 and that is the idea. During a game a forward may be asked to play three or four different roles and he/she needs to be knowledgeable and practiced enough to be able to do so.
Forwards need to be able to head crosses on goal. They need to be able to shoot with both feet. They need to be able to hold the ball, turn with the ball, dribble with the ball.
Strikers need to be able to finish with one touch by poking the ball in the net, volleying it, striking the ball first time, heading the ball including diving headers. They need to be able to ride challenges.
Strikers also need to know that they will be required to make lots of runs off the ball in order to create space for themselves and their team mates.
Strikers need to have that killer instinct, they need to be able to read the game and anticipate opportunities. A good example of this is Hernandez of Manchester United and Mexico. He scores all kinds of “poachers goals” suddenly appearing from nowhere to somehow bundle the ball into the back of the net. Forwards need to be ruthless, greedy, arrogant and have a swagger. They are not team players, they are game winners.
Strikers need to be able to take free kicks in and around the penalty box. The should be the designated penalty takers as well. They need to be able to overcome disappointments when they are not scoring goals and they need to recognize when they are on fire and exploit it as best they can.
They need to be aware that the other team is going to kick them, antagonize them, try to get into their head. They need to be able to handle the pressure and be cool, calm and collected when needed.
They just need to have an eye for goal and they need to practice, practice, practice putting the ball into the back of the net so it is like a second nature to them.
Skill Set Is King
So throughout the team there are certain characteristics or attributes needed for players playing in the different positions. As a player becomes more experienced and matures he may well develop into playing a different position. There are many examples of center forwards who end up being defenders and vice versa.
The key is to work on your skills, maximize your strengths, work on your weaknesses and be prepared to work our tail off for the team. You need to be the kind of player that can play anywhere, but you also need to specialize on your strengths so that your coach knows exactly where to play you for the benefit of the team.
Remember that soccer is a team sport, where a team full of individuals that play their soccer positions correctly is powerful. Take responsibility to develop and exhibit brilliance in all of the soccer positions you decide to play. Find your strengths and make them even stronger with dedication to your training.
Links For Soccer Positions