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Central Midfielder:
The perfect all-rounder

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Whether on the #6, #8 or #10 position - Central midfielders have to be versatile. In addition to outstanding tactical and technical skills, the versatility of this position also requires tremendous physical abilities. In the fourth part of our blog series "Physical Demands of the Soccer Player" we explain to you, what characterizes players at this position.

When currently looking for the best central midfielders in the world you can barely get past Kevin de Bruyne. Manchester City's No. 17 is playing a world-class season and shows why especially the central midfielders are known as all-rounder. After 32 games in the current Premier League Season De Bruyne ranks third in passes, second in ball touches and first in tackles among all Man City players. His style of play shows a high degree of creativity, quickness and, above all, efficiency, making him a valuable player on both sides of the ball. In addition to individual ability these stats are also a result of De Bruyne’s position.

Central midfielders are the link between defense and attack. They literally strengthen the team in its core and are characterized by constantly being in position to receive and pass the ball. In addition to a number of defensive tasks, they lead the offensive gameplay after receiving the ball from the center backs. Especially #6s are controlling the attack like a Quarterback and play a key role in the implementation of their team’s game plan. The importance of the central midfield position in modern-day soccer also leads to changes in the position-specific requirements. While a clear distinction was made in the past between #6s, #8s and #10s, the positions now seem to blend in. The tasks of a #6 can vary a lot in modern tactics. Depending on the strategy they will be more offensive, other times more defensive or act as an “In-between player” like Toni Kroos.

The scientific facts

The gained variety of the game also has an effect on the physical demands of the players. The modern central midfielder stands out due to high total distance covered and a lot of explosive sprints. His significant role in the combination play is reflected by a high number of passes played, which makes him the offensive leader of a team. However, this change does not only take place subjectively, it can also be substantiated by numbers as shown by numerous studies. Over the course of seven Premier League seasons, the number of explosive sprints rose from an average of 11 to 29 per game, for this position. Additionally, the total distance covered at high-intensity speed by central midfielders increased by about 34% and ranks with approx. 783m per game as the second highest among all positions. Besides the improved running performance, the pass stats show an impressive increase as well. In the 2012/13 season central midfielders played up to 4 times as many short passes (<10m) and up to 10 times as many passes over a distance of 11-24m as in the 2006/07 season. At the same time, the ratio of completed passes increased by 7%. The numbers show impressively the increasing importance of ball possession and the associated high-quality passing game in modern-day football.

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Especially when considering the played formations, it becomes clear that modern game philosophies have a significant impact on the physical load profile of central midfielders. While in the classic 4-4-2 Diamond the tasks of attacking and defensive midfielder were clearly defined and separated, they will start to blend in modern game tactics, especially when playing with a “double #6”. Nowadays, midfielders will make more situational decisions than ever before, which ultimately results in a higher total distance covered. Studies show that central midfielders in a 4-3-3, 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 run an impressive 8% more than in a 4-4-2. As for the modern full-back and the playmaking center-back, a 3-5-2 also demands the most from the central midfielder.

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Position-specific training

The scientific data clearly shows that central midfielders are characterized by highly developed passing skills. They must constantly distribute the ball over short and medium-long distances, if possible with both feet equally well, and thus be the leader of the combination play. The central position on the pitch also requires explosiveness, which will allow the player to release into open space immediately after playing a pass and therefore supporting the attack. Explosiveness is also of great use after an intercepted pass as it will help the midfielder to immediately switch to counter-pressing or alternatively to move back to a defensive position.

These requirements must now be implemented in your drills. The conditional components, such as explosiveness and soccer-specific endurance, must be successfully combined with the technical requirements of the passing game. Small-sided games are perfectly suited for that. Our exercise "Controlled Passing Game in tight space" will make a good warm-up drill for your team. The two midfielders will have to focus on good ball receptions and moving the ball as efficiently as possible from one end of the field to the other.

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The exercise then can be progressed to a “3 vs 3 plus wall players”. The field is now bigger and the number of players higher, which will ultimately increase the complexity of the drill.

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The main objective of this exercise stays the same – The midfielders have to learn to position themselves well enough to receive the pass in a way that allows them to immediately start setting up the attack. The high intensity of the 3 vs 3 will also improve your players physical abilities.

Your Team


[1] Tierney, P. J. et al (2016). Match play demands of 11 versus 11 professional football using Global Positioning System tracking: Variations across common playing formations.
[2] Bush, M. et al (2015). Evolution of match performance parameters for various playing positions in the English Premier League.
[3] Bradley, P. S. et al (2013). Match performance and physical capacity of players in the top three competitive standards of English professional soccer.
[4] Bradley, P. S. et al (2009). High-intensity running in English FA Premier League soccer matches.
[5] Bradley, P. S. et al (2010). High-Intensity Activity Profiles of Elite Soccer Players at Different Performance Levels.
[6] Di Salvo, V. et al (2007). Performance Characteristics According to Playing Position in Elite Soccer.
[7] Dellal, A. et al (2010). Physical and technical activity of soccer players in the French First League - with special reference to their playing position.

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